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.

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
artVoted for by the public, artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried