From Fife to Syaung-un: a Personal Remembrance of Iain Banks

It's hard to know how to write this; it's hard to even know where to begin.

The tributes and obituaries have already been flowing from thousands of pens, as writers and readers across the country remember Iain M. Banks following the announcement of his death yesterday. To that chorus I will add my own sorrow and sense of loss. There are few authors I have followed as closely as Iain Banks, and few that I have held as close to my heart. Not every novel was perfect, but each seemed to make the world a little wider, and the act of reading filled with a little more wonder. His wit and his wisdom will be missed in equal measure.

I was lucky to have crossed paths with Iain on a number of occasions. My university dissertation was on the perception and representation of 'Scottishness' (that slippery, nationalistic cliche) in Banks' works, a decision spurred by my love of and admiration for The Wasp Factory. As part of that dissertation Iain was kind enough to answer the few questions I had, swapping handwritten letters in a snail-paced Q&A. His answers were always entertaining, and all of them found their way into my finished dissertation. In his typical way, Iain knew how to cut straight to the heart of the matter.

Following university I got to interview him twice more, and when The Business was launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival I attended his tented party under Auld Reekie's grey skies. I was able to chat with Iain for a while without the pressures of deadlines or interview questions, and found him to be even more fascinating and charming than he was when wearing his professional suit. Many of the partygoers were close friends of his, yet he welcomed me with open arms, introducing me to his lifelong friend Ken MacLeod and Scottish musician Derek Dick ('Fish'). He even introduced me to his mother, with whom I chattered over a genteel cup of tea. For a writer who was already considered one of Britain's greatest wordsmiths, the lack of pretension was refreshing.

When Iain announced his illness I was tempted to send my essay on his Scottish themes (originally published in Cencrastus) out to magazines once again. Since Cencrastus went under the article has vanished from sight, but it still seemed to have some interesting things to say, despite the young me's writerly naivete. Selling the article felt wrong, however. Instead, I've decided to put it online in its entirety, should any scholars of Scottish fiction wish to put it to better use than I was able. The article is now on Google docs, and can be found here: A Song of Scotland: Iain Banks as Cultural Ambassador. All I ask is that you credit it if you ever feel the need to quote it (Cencrastus No.62, Spring 1999).

Iain will be fondly remembered by any who met him, either in person or in print. His greatest achievement was his ability to move between genres, to maintain his uniquely clean, witty and entertaining voice whether he was writing about alien empires or Scottish pubs - or, indeed, his own cancer.

Scotland - and the Culture - has had no finer ambassador.