I’ve had a post about rejection lined up to write and post for a couple of weeks now, which is why there haven’t been any posts in the interim, but yesterday something happened and I want to write about that. Iain Banks died.
I met Iain Banks precisely once, at a reading in Waterstones in Leeds. He was charming, intelligent, and funny. (There was also a man at the reading dressed all in black carrying a cane with a silver death’s head as the handle. That outfit is waiting to appear in a story.) I met him briefly when he signed the book he was there to promote. I was pleased. Not all your favourite authors are as great as their writing.
Banks wrote a socialist utopia in the form of the Culture. He wrote satires on modern life, and he wrote wonderful liminal genre-bending mind-bending fiction. Some things he wrote were uncomfortable to read, but they were always powerful. He had the big ideas and the tiny ones. I’m looking forward to buying his last novel, The Quarry, when it comes out in ten days’ time. He asked his publishers to bring it forward so that he could see it. I find it unbearably sad that he won’t see it in the shops, but he did get to see actual copies of it.
I’m not sure how it is that these people, some of whom you may never meet, manage to make such a big impact on our lives, so that we grieve for their passing. In some ways I think it’s because when you read what someone has written, you get an instant pass to the inside of their head. They may not know us, but we know them. Not in the easy how many sugars do you take in your tea way, but in the slightly sinister rummaging through an empty house when everyone’s gone out for the evening kind of way. And sometimes you find, rummaging in that house, that there’s a person you wish you knew.
Most of all, though, there’s the mourning for the words they’ll never write. The books we’ll never get. The stories that stayed inside their heads and didn’t make it into ours. Because they wrote stories only they could write.
Iain Banks was the kind of writer I want to be.