Novelist Iain Banks announces he has terminal cancer

Author of 'The Wasp Factory' released statement this morning on state of health

Acclaimed novelist Iain Banks has left the literary world and legions of fans in shock after revealing he has terminal cancer and may just have months to live.

The Scottish writer, whose books include The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road, announced the news of his late stage cancer of the gall bladder in an emotional personal statement that was tinged with black humour. It started: “I am officially Very Poorly”.

The Quarry, which has been delivered to the publisher and is being fast-tracked for publication, looks like it “will be my last” book, he said.

Banks sent an email to his close friends with the news last month. Ken MacLeod, a science fiction writer who has known Banks “for a long time,” told The Independent: “It was a complete shock; it came totally out of the blue.”

He has seen Banks since learning the news. “Iain has that attitude of what he called ‘stoic cheerfulness’ in his email. It obviously gets to him, but for most of the time he has a very commendable equilibrium and equanimity.”

The author, 59, built up a huge following writing mainstream fiction as Iain Banks, as well as science fiction using Iain M Banks. 

Mr MacLeod said: “There’s nobody else who’s professionally active at the moment who has so consistently written very well received mainstream novels and at the same time likewise well received unabashed genre science fiction.”

“He’s very well liked in the literary and science fiction worlds. He’s great company and kind hearted and generous with it,” he added.

Fellow authors and fans posted messages of support on social networks as well as on the Friends of Iain Banks site that went online in the morning. Edinburgh crime writer Ian Rankin called the news “just awful”.

Science-fiction writer William Gibson wrote he was “speechless as the morning’s dreadful news” while Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh said: “Very, very sad to hear this. Amazing writer and excellent guy.”

Little, Brown Book Group has published all of the author’s work since the paperback version of his debut novel The Wasp Factory. Chief executive Ursula Mackenzie called it a “terrible shock for the whole company”.

She continued: “Everyone who has ever come into contact with Iain shares our shock and sadness.  Iain is a man whose vibrancy, energy and creativity seemed so unstoppable.”

In January, Banks thought a sore back was due to time spent “crouched over a keyboard all day” writing his new novel, yet a series of tests revealed the “grisly truth” that he has cancer last month.

“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,” he wrote.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and a friend of Banks, called him a “remarkable writer who has made a lasting contribution to Scottish literature and culture, inspiring and enthralling readers for 30 years”.

Banks is currently on honeymoon after he asked partner Adele Hartley “if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow” adding “sorry but we find ghoulish humour helps”.

“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,” he said. He has withdrawn from all planned public engagements.

His Career

Iain Banks, who was born in Dunfermline in 1954, had a “very happy childhood”. He says that he acquired a nautical gait from his father, an officer in the Admiralty, and his balance from his mother, a professional ice skater. 

In 1984, at the age of 30, he published his first book The Wasp Factory. The Quarry, published this year, will be his 27th novel writing as Iain Banks or Iain M Banks, the name he uses for his science-fiction writing, which includes the acclaimed Culture series.

Banks’s deeply held political views saw him tear up his passport after the invasion of Iraq and he has also publicly revealed his support for Scottish independence. He is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.

His Full Statement

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.

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