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Iain Banks reveals he is dying of cancer

Iain Banks revealed his cancer diagnosis on his website. Picture: Ian Georgeson/TSPL

Iain Banks revealed his cancer diagnosis on his website. Picture: Ian Georgeson/TSPL

  • by STEPHEN McGINTY
 

IAIN Banks, the celebrated Scots author of The Crow Road and Complicity, has announced that he is dying of cancer.

• Writer Iain Banks announces he has cancer

• Author of The Wasp Factory says he is unlikely to live “beyond a year”

In a moving personal statement published on his website, the author of both science fiction and literary novels that have delighted a generation of book lovers around the world, said that he was not expected to survive beyond the year.

As tributes flooded in yesterday from fans, the literary establishment and the First Minister, Banks, 59 – who married his partner, Adele Hartley, at the weekend and has managed to complete what will be his last novel – set off on his honeymoon.

In an example of the black humour that runs through all his books, Banks said he asked his partner if she would “do me the honour of becoming my widow”, adding: “Sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps.”

The couple intend to spend the remaining months of his life visiting friends and family, as well as places in Scotland that have meant a lot to him.

• Stuart Kelly on Iain Banks: ‘An imagination from small-town Scotland to outer space’

Yesterday, tributes and messages of good will flooded in after the news was announced.

AL Kennedy tweeted: “Very sorry to hear about Iain Banks. Very lovely man and a great writer.”

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, tweeted; “Iain Banks cannot do his usual event at #edbookfest 2013, but one way or another he’ll be a star of the show… The Wasp Factory changed everything.”

Playwright David Greig tweeted: “A lovely man and an inspiration to so many Scottish writers. Wish him well,”

Ian Rankin tweeted: “Typical of Iain to propose marriage to his partner Adele with the words ‘will you do me the honour of becoming my widow’.”

Last night, First Minister Alex Salmond said: “This is terribly sad news.

“Iain Banks is a remarkable writer who has made a lasting contribution to Scottish literature and culture, inspiring and enthralling readers for 30 years. My thoughts are very much with Iain, his wife and family and his friends at this very difficult time.”

Banks, who was born in Fife and studied at Stirling University, published his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984, to largely negative reviews, though it went on to be rated one of the top 100 books of the 20th century. His first science fiction novel, Consider Phlebas, was published in 1987 under the name Iain M Banks and since then he has alternated between mainstream fiction and “space opera” science fiction. In 1996, one of his most popular novels, The Crow Road, was adapted by BBC Scotland. Banks praised it as “annoyingly better than the book”.

His 1993 novel Complicity featured journalist Cameron Colley, a writer for the Caledonian, a thinly-disguised version of The Scotsman, on the trail of a serial killer and was made into a film in 2000. In 2008, he was named one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945, in a list compiled by the Times.

A political figure, Banks refused to renew his British passport until president George W Bush had left the White House and he did not like to fly for environmental reasons.

Yesterday morning, as the literary world and his legion of fans came to terms with the grim news, he and his new wife were in a departure lounge as he prepared to embark on his first flight in seven years.

In an e-mail to The Scotsman he wrote: “As I might be saving on 20-30 years of personal carbon output, I reckoned I could spoil myself a bit over the next few months.”

The writer said the “grisly truth” was discovered at the beginning of March. He had developed a sore back in late January, but blamed crouching over the keyboard all day. However, in mid-February, a blood test and scans revealed the full extent of his condition.

As he explained: “The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that … it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.”

He said he had withdrawn from all planned public engagements, adding: “My heroic publishers are doing all they can to bring the publication date of my new novel forward … to give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.”

Mr Banks’ statement in full

I am officially Very Poorly.

After a couple of surgical procedures, I am gradually recovering from jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct, but that – it turns out – is the least of my problems.

I first thought something might be wrong when I developed a sore back in late January, but put this down to the fact I’d started writing at the beginning of the month and so was crouched over a keyboard all day. When it hadn’t gone away by mid-February, I went to my GP, who spotted that I had jaundice. Blood tests, an ultrasound scan and then a CT scan revealed the full extent of the grisly truth by the start of March.

I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.

The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for ‘several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.

As a result, I’ve withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing friends and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us. Meanwhile my heroic publishers are doing all they can to bring the publication date of my new novel forward by as much as four months, to give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.

There is a possibility that it might be worth undergoing a course of chemotherapy to extend the amount of time available. However that is still something we’re balancing the pros and cons of, and anyway it is out of the question until my jaundice has further and significantly, reduced.

Lastly, I’d like to add that from my GP onwards, the professionalism of the medics involved – and the speed with which the resources of the NHS in Scotland have been deployed – has been exemplary, and the standard of care deeply impressive. We’re all just sorry the outcome hasn’t been more cheerful.

A website is being set up where friends, family and fans can leave messages for me and check on my progress. It should be up and running during this week and a link to it will be here on my official website as soon as it’s ready.

Iain Banks

 

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