Edinburgh Book Festival Review – Iain Banks

August 15, 2007

Iain BanksIain Banks bounds onto the stage in the RBS Main Tent like any 53-year old man might do who doesn’t look anywhere near his age. Comical anecdotes about his curry-proof shirt out of the way, he settles down in front of a packed audience, and asks what reading they wish to hear: “the Glasgow one, or the Paris one.” Remarkably, it’s the Glasgow one that is voted in, and he begins with a passage from his latest book, The Steep Approach To Garbadale.

Garbadale is Banks’ 12th novel under the Iain Banks name, and his 23rd if you include his science fiction offerings under the name, Iain M. Banks. His career, which began back in 1984, has seen him become one of the country’s best-loved fiction authors, both in mainstream and the science fiction genre.

Born in 1954 in Dunfermline, Scotland, he fondly recalls his young life as an only-child, and describes these circumstances as conducive to expanding the imagination that has seen him write so many critically acclaimed novels. “Living inside one’s head,” he says, “meant he made up stories constantly” as a child, to the point where he could not sleep.

He would often make up his own games, too, a theme that has run consistently through his novels, and this would often be fuelled by the maps given to him by his Admiralty Seaman father. Nowadays the games he plays are carried out within the pages of his books, and the complications that arise from this are not lost on his readership.

One Spanish lady in the audience questioned while reading The Bridge, the book he proclaims as his proudest moment, whether pars of it were even written in English. Banks looks back at her perplexed, but not surprised.

Another critical point levelled to him was his tendency to create stereotypical American characters, and this was one error he admitted he had often made, however unwittingly. When an American was handed the microphone during the half-hour long Q&A session, he declared an opinion that the American characters were in fact the most believable of all his characters. A writer, it seems, can never please everyone.

Banks’ politics have never been far from the public eye either, and he was jocular when recalling the headlines he hit in 2004. While protesting at the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he attempted to have Tony Blair impeached. He tore up his passport in protest, stuck the remains in an envelope, and posted it to Downing Street. A letter arrived some weeks later thanking him.

His contribution to the environment is as unquestionable as his politics, as within the last year he has down-scaled from a love of four cars (BMW Turbo, Land Rover, and 2 Porsches), to a respectable Toyota Yaris Diesel.

Banks left a happy crowd in the main tent this evening, and I for one will be seeking out more of his work in the future. And in closing, he now has a new passport, but does not intend using it to visit America any time soon.

Related Links

~ Colin Galbraith ~



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