IAIN Banks was once asked which three things about Edinburgh he couldn’t live without. He answered: the Old Town, the New Town and the Omar Khayam.
The bestselling author, from whom words flowed so quickly he could rattle out a book in three months – publishing one each year – may have been a Fifer by birth, but he always kept Edinburgh close to his heart and a certain Indian restaurant at Haymarket, closer even, to his stomach.
Curries – a chicken jaipuri hot in particular – and the odd dram were the fuel which saw him write an astounding 29 novels since 1984, books which made him one of Scotland’s biggest modern and science fiction authors and winning him a global audience.
His passing at the age of 59 last month just eight weeks after revealing he had gall bladder cancer sent shockwaves through the Edinburgh literary establishment – as it did through his worldwide fanbase.
But from the moment his illness became public plans were being discussed as to how best celebrate his life’s work. As a result, from this Thursday, the city he loved is loving him back with a month-long tribute to his creative talents.
There will be events from the spoken word to film and quizzes and, most appropriately, the Edinburgh International Book Festival will be ending its run with an evening dedicated to the man described by fellow author Ian Rankin as “a great guy to hang around with”.
“We had hoped that Iain would still be with us now and be able to attend some of the events that will be held, but sadly that wasn’t to be,” says Ali Bowden, director of Edinburgh City of Literature. “When we heard about Iain’s diagnosis there was great shock and sadness. A lot of us who programme events in the city are big fans of his work and very quickly, and naturally, the response was how can we celebrate his work.
“Initially, we thought he’d be able to come to some of them but sadly, because the disease advanced so rapidly, that won’t now happen. So the events are about showing how much we loved him and his work. He was a wonderful author, with an incredible imagination and wit, and his huge contribution to Scottish writing makes him irreplaceable. He might be from Fife, but we like to think of him as one of ours, that we took him under our wing as a city.
“And to prove that, word of mouth about the events has seen tickets selling already, so we think it’s going to prove very popular.”
The month-long Iain Banks mini festival, organised by Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust, kicks off on Thursday at the Scottish Poetry Library where there will be an exhibition of science fiction poetry, in honour of his series of novels about his fictional futuristic society, the Culture. Then on Sunday, Illicit Ink, a group of performing writers, will host This Side of Paradise at the Bongo Club, describing it as a “utopian show to celebrate the works of Iain [M] Banks, including the ideal worlds of Ken MacLeod, Hal Duncan and Ariadne Cass-Maran”.
Later in the month, Banks’ fans can test their fan knowledge of both genres of the author at a special book quiz at Central Library, while all month the Society of Young Publishers is encouraging writers of any age – who have been inspired by the work of Banks – to submit a short story in his honour, featuring an opening line from any of his books. Successful entries will be adapted into dramatic readings at Looking Glass Books in the Quartermile on July 31.
Of course, Banks’ work didn’t just stay on the page. His Edinburgh-based book, Complicity, about journalist Cameron Colley, who worked for a newspaper entitled The Caledonian, situated on North Bridge – the interior descriptions were uncannily similar to the former Scotsman offices, though Banks claimed never to have been inside the building – was made into a movie starring Johnny Lee Miller. Another of his most popular novels, The Crow Road, became an award-winning four-part BBC television series – launching the career of Joe McFadden in the process – and it will be screened in two parts on August 18 at the Filmhouse.
To round off the tributes, Rankin, Val McDermid and Ken MacLeod will discuss the literary and personal merits of their fellow author and friend in the closing event of the Book Festival, which is already sold out.
Director Nick Barley says: “It is entirely fitting that so many of Edinburgh’s literary organisations have joined together to celebrate the life and work of this giant of contemporary Scottish fiction. Tickets for the Celebration of Iain Banks sold out on the first day but this series of events will enable readers to appreciate, remember and perhaps introduce themselves to his writing.”
Rankin, who was friends with Banks for many years, says: The hope, of course, was that Iain would be with us for the celebrations. We will be flagging up his importance as a writer and sharing a few stories which will show the warmth of his personality, plus his quirks and eccentricities.
“He is a great loss to contemporary Scottish culture, and I just hope people continue to read and be thrilled by his books.”
Rankin has previously told how Banks had joked about his condition – suggesting that a cure would be a good wedding present [he married his partner Adele after his diagnosis]. “He was refusing to take cancer seriously, in the same way that he refused to take life seriously.”
But more recently in a television interview with Kirsty Wark, Banks was more philosophical. “I’ve had a brilliant life and I’ve been more lucky than unlucky, even including the news of the cancer. I’m leaving a substantial body of work behind me. Whether that will survive, who knows, but I can be quite proud of that and I am. I don’t have many regrets in my life.”
• For more information on the Iain Banks season, visit www.cityofliterature.com
SUCCESS GOES BY THE BOOK
BORN February 16, 1954, Iain Menzies Banks grew up in North Queensferry before his family moved to Gourock.
He was, in his own words, a “studious but slightly eccentric” pupil. He went to Stirling University where he studied English literature, philosophy and psychology.
He was working for a London law firm when his first novel, The Wasp Factory, was published in 1984.
Its success allowed him to write full-time and he moved back to Scotland, first to Edinburgh, and then to North Queensferry.
His first science-fiction novel, Consider Phlebas, in 1987, was published under the name Iain M Banks, a distinction that he continued. He went on to write a total of 29 novels – 14 works of science fiction and 15 mainstream titles – including his final book, The Quarry.
His biggest achievement, he said, was “getting, and staying, published”.