Iain Banks, one of Britain’s most revered authors, whose debut novel, The Wasp Factory, won international acclaim, has died of cancer.
Though it was widely known that his disease was terminal, many expected the 59-year-old Scottish author to live long enough to see his last book, The Quarry, hit the shelves in 10 days. He was presented with final copies of the book – which describes the battle with cancer – three weeks ago, having asked his publishers to bring forward its release. In one of his last public statements, Banks wrote only last month that he was considering chemotherapy in an attempt to prolong his life. It appears he never had time to make that decision.
The author had documented his final weeks with the disease in an often esoteric blog. He first broke the news of his gall bladder cancer last April with the words: “I am officially Very Poorly”.
The news prompted a shocked and emotional outpouring from fans across the world. But in the weeks that followed, the entries were imbued with a humility and optimism, and underlined with a signatory black humour.
“It’s only the fact that I’ve been able to pre-announce my own demise that has allowed me to realise my portion of that love in full while I’m still around to appreciate it,” he wrote.
Disclosing that he had asked his girlfriend, Adele Hartley, to marry him, he wrote in one entry that he had asked “Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps)”. Ms Hartley, who married him last Easter, left a final message on the blog yesterday, saying: “Iain died in the early hours this morning. His death was calm and without pain.”
Named as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945, Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory, in 1984, established him as a fresh and remarkable voice in literary fiction.
He continued to publish novels to great acclaim, but also, in 1987, ventured into science fiction, with Consider Phlebas, his first novel written under the name Iain M Banks. His 2004 sci-fi novel, The Algebraist, was shortlisted for two awards. His most recent book, The Hydrogen Sonata, was released last year.
Banks was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in 1954. An only child, he was the son of an Admiralty officer and an ex-professional ice skater. He studied English literature with philosophy and psychology at Stirling University.
In 1979 he moved to London where he lived in a flat above the Camden music pub, the Hope and Anchor, while working in a law company as a costings clerk. He wrote several science fiction short stories (collected in The State of the Art in 1991). But it was not until Macmillan bought and published The Wasp Factory in 1984 that he could finally give up the day job. The author’s publisher, Little, Brown Book Group, said he was “an irreplaceable part of the literary world”. It added: “Iain Banks’ ability to combine the most fertile of imaginations with his own highly distinctive brand of gothic humour made him unique.”
The science-fiction author Ken MacLeod said the writer had “left us a very significant body of work, both in mainstream literature and science fiction, and he’s also left a large gap in the Scottish literary scene as well as the wider English-speaking world.”
Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, wrote: “His determination not just to complete his final novel but also to reflect his illness in the pages of his work, will make that work all the more poignant and all the more significant.”
In his own words:
I feel treasured, I feel loved, I feel I’ve done more than just pursue the craft I adore and make a living from it, and more than just fulfil the only real ambition I’ve ever had – of becoming a professional writer…
At the same time, though, I’d like to think that it’s like this for every author, to a greater or lesser degree; we’ve each engendered more love out there than we think we have, and it’s only the fact that I’ve been able to pre-announce my own demise that has allowed me to realise my portion of that love in full while I’m still around to appreciate it.”