Passed/failed: Iain Banks

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The Independent Online
Iain Banks, 44, is a novelist and, as Iain M Banks, a science fiction writer. 'The Wasp Factory' was his first published novel, later made into a play, and 'Inversions' is published today. 'Complicity' was his first No 1 paperback, 'A Song of Stone' his first No 1 hardback. 'The Crow Road' was turned into a Channel 4 four-parter and 'Espedair Street' became a Radio 4 series for which he wrote the rock songs.

Slate again, boy? At North Queensferry Primary School in Fife, we still had slates - not that paper hadn't been invented ... If you were good you got a wet sponge to wipe it down, because you could be trusted not to throw it and splat someone on the back of the neck. I ran home once; it was 50 yards away.

A-Team? When I was nine, we moved to Gourock, which was then in Renfrewshire, where I went to the primary and then high school. At primary school I was second, behind Mary Henderson; the time I was first was when she was away for a month with measles. At high school, I was in the A stream and it was expected you were going to university.

Didn't he ramble? In my early teens I wanted to be a writer and I wrote my first novel at 16: 140,000 words. The title was The Hungarian Life- Jet and it will never see the light of day. The second one was written in my first year at university, almost 400,000 words, TTR, which stood for The Tashkent Rambler.

Bon Banks? I decided to do Latin O-level; this was a big mistake. I was told it would help with my English but in fact it was the other way round.

Spelunca? I remembered that "spelunking" was another word for "caving", so it must mean "cave". I never did get the O-level; it was the only exam I really failed. I got the top grade in maths, 95 per cent; it was a freak result. I guessed well or happened to know the answers. I was top in English, which was the only exam I was not nervous before. I ended up with three French O-levels, which were "compensatory", that is, the result of first failing the "Higher" [A-level]. I got three Highers, in English, physics and history.

Stirling work? Although I was at Stirling University when the Queen was "insulted" by a student demonstration, I was playing ping-pong at the time. I thought university would give me time to write; I remember comparing my weekly diary at Stirling University with someone doing physics. He had 35 hours of lectures and practicals and I had five, sometimes as much as nine. I chose my courses with writing in mind: English, because if you are going to write it, you might as well study it; philosophy, because you have to have a theme and purpose; and psychology, to understand your characters. This was total nonsense and had no bearing on my actual writing.

Morning sickness? Stirling had continuous assessment; I had always felt nervous before exams and I thought I didn't want to go through life feeling nervous: I hated feeling sick in the morning of an exam. There was one essay written under exam conditions each year; and each year I got the best grades because it didn't matter - I had already got good grades in the relevant course work. I got an ordinary BA. The honours degree was a four-year course but the majority left after three years.

Can I Bank on it? I thought of myself as a writer from the age of 16. The first time I went abroad, hitchhiking in France, I put on my passport, "writer". It was a 10-year passport and I thought, "I'm going to be 26 when this runs out and I'm not going to be a student then, I'm going to be a writer." I had trouble getting into a French youth hostel because my passport said I was ecrivain instead of etudiant. In fact, the passport did run out before my ambition was fulfilled.

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