THERE really never was any question over what the young Iain Banks would do when he grew up.
He was around 11 years old, his teacher had asked the class to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they were older. The image he drew might not have been picture perfect, but it gained top marks for accuracy.
"My pals were drawing astronauts and firemen and train drivers and I didn't know how to draw a writer so I drew an actor with purple and orange hair looking like he was telling a story," he remembers with a grin.
"In the top left hand corner there was a bit of brown paper and I wrote on it in white crayon, 'writer'. So I rather nailed my colours to the mast at a fairly early age."
He laughs as he remembers the episode with total recall – handy for a writer – every detail from the texture of paper to the colours of the crayons described with crystal clarity in the kind of intricate detail typically found within the pages of his 25 or so novels.
Yet when he drew that picture almost four decades ago, he might well have included the words "anti-war campaigner", "dedicated environmentalist" and "sworn enemy of Tony Blair".
For a man who not so long ago ripped up his passport in an act of fury over the Iraq war, grabbed headlines when he publicly declared his backing for Scottish independence and renounced his "petrol head" status when he sold his beloved collection of sporty souped-up cars – bizarrely, he now drives a Toyota Yaris – Banks has earned an admirable track record for being outspoken, passionate and principled.
Yet it's as one of Scotland's leading authors that he is best known. His first novel, The Wasp Factory, hit the bookshelves to massive critical acclaim in 1984, his profile soared higher in the mid-Nineties when The Crow Road transferred to the small screen, followed by the albeit less successful adaptation of Complicity.
Among it all have been a string of other mainstream novels – his last, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, has received high praise as one of his best. For a more niche audience, the latest giant instalment of the sci-fi "Culture" utopia created under his alter ego, Iain M Banks – Matter, his new book, is a massive 250,000 words long – has most recently kept him busy.
Although "busy" in most people's understanding of the word doesn't fully apply to the North Queensferry-based author.
"Writing takes me about three months of keyboard clattering. Although I insist I'm working most of the year, to the uneducated it does rather look like I'm just loafing around. I'm actually working
'I reserve my right to have a sports car'
hard, going for a beer, having a curry, going for a walk," he laughs, "that's thinking time.
"Right now I'm in an important stage, thinking about thinking about the next book," grin broadening. "I'm due to start work on Monday, October 17, and I'll be finished just in time for Christmas."
It's a work pattern the Dunfermline-born author follows year on year which has succeeded in keeping his popularity high – he was recently voted the fifth- greatest British writer of all time in an internet poll.
And keeping a large chunk of the year free to "think" also gives him time to thrash out opinions on the key issues that trouble him – and clearly, there's a few.
He's recently just been reacquainted with his passport, the last one he ceremoniously chopped up and posted to 10 Downing Street, addressed to Mr T Blair in protest over what Banks passionately believes is an illegal war.
It was either that, or drive his beloved Land Rover through the gates of Rosyth Dockyard – luckily for British literature and the car, the passport got it.
"I felt ashamed to be British, my passport was a symbol of Britishness and I didn't want to be an ambassador for Britain," he declares. "I got it back last summer when Gordon replaced Mr Blair."
Reapplying for his passport was almost as surreal as popping his last one, in pieces, in the post.
"When you apply to get a new passport you have all these questions to answer such as if your passport is missing, when did you last see it? And I had to say, well it was somewhere between the post box in North Queensferry and No 10 Downing Street.
"I managed to squeeze a little explanation in this tiny box after the question that asked what had happened to it. I wrote that I had sent it to the Prime Minister in protest at the Iraq War," the grin reappears beneath the salt and pepper stubble beard. "I was expecting there to be a bit of rammy about it but in fact it came through very efficiently."
He nods in agreement that it might well have come back via M15, but he doesn't care. "Iraq is just criminal," he continues, anger rising. "Tony Blair should be in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. It is bad enough the man is a liar, but to be a warmonger is even worse."
He is less harsh on his North Queensferry neighbour who just happens to be Blair's replacement, Gordon Brown. Although he does gleefully point out that the two live within "mortar lobbing" distance of each other, their paths seldom cross.
Banks again nailed his colours to the mast when he became a signatory to the Declaration of Calton Hill which calls for independence.
"I voted for the SNP in the past because they were slightly more left-wing than Labour, but then Ted Heath had more left-wing policies than New Labour," he explains. "I have been pleasantly surprised at how well they have done. If that leads to Scotland being more progressive, that's a good thing as well."
In his youth he considered himself British – now, having witnessed the progressive destruction of nationalised industries and Thatcherism, he's less red, white and blue. The Prime Minister next door might want a British pledge but Banks dismisses the notion as "cretinous" and "bananas".
"I'm at a stage of thinking we have to leave England to its fate," he adds. "If it wants to leave the EU, then let it stew in its own past imperial dreamland. Scotland can be a great small country in Europe. We can make a success of it and be a more humane society than this privatised and selfishness orientated country."
He's not one for half measures – in opinions or his much-loved whisky glass – but it all comes at a price. There's a wistful look as he recalls the thrusting engine of his now departed Porsche 911 Turbo, the sleekness of his Porsche Boxster S, the comfort of his BMW M5 and the workhorse Land Rover Discovery – 100,000 worth of wheels given up in favour of a Toyota Yaris.
"I'm still a petrol head," he insists, "but after 30 years of reading the New Scientist, I thought it was time to make a decision. I don't fly either unless I really have to."
So he now dodges around in his little Yaris, thinking of his next mainstream novel, meeting sci-fi fans eager to snap up his latest Iain M Banks work, and dreaming of the day when he can get his hands on the latest environmentally friendly sports car, a Tesla Roadster. He may be embracing a new mode of environmentally conscientious living, but old habits clearly die hard.
"It's a battery-powered sports car made in Britain mostly for the Californian market but it's great, I've got to have one!
"Look, I reserve my right to have a sports car," he insists with a smile, "even if it will need to have a very long flex to get me from North Queensferry to London."
Matter by Iain M Banks is published by Orbit, price 18.99
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