Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Meeting Iain M Banks
IanMBanksspeaksreallyreallyquickly. Here he is, in Manchester’s Waterstones, all wavy grey hair and stubble, introducing his new Science Fiction novel Surface Detail.
“You’ve no whisky, but there’s plenty of water,” says the Scotsman, pouring a glass from the jug behind the lectern.
He stops and starts with his intro- he’s going to start reading this segment soon.
“I always think these lecterns are like spit guards for the front row,” he says, gesticulating to the audience with one hand, book in the other.
He reads the first line. Breaks off.
“Oh, just so you know,” he says, and updates us on the plot for our understanding, talking at about ten words per second, and then the reading begins- at a more comfortable pace. A war breaking out in outer space is a heavily-trodden SF scenario, but Banks has written it well.
“So as you can see,” he says after the reading, “it’s a kitchen-sink drama of the surrealist style…” This gets a laugh. Banks is, from the moment he appears in front of us, an extravagant, zany, and hilarious man. He gesticulates a lot, waving his arms around. His Fife accent is strong and he swears a fuckin’ loat, but he’s great to listen to. He explains, “I make a fool of myself so you don’t feel intimidated.” Then he pretends to jump out of the 1st story Deansgate window.
Banks’s own presentation, coupled with the Q&A session, weaves through a galaxy of strange topics. He has his own IPhone app. The M in his name, he says, stands for “marketing.” A major film studio is considering his novel Consider Phlebas. His “wee Banky eyes” prevent contact use, so the glasses-wearing Banks isn’t too keen on 3D. Hence, you probably won’t see any of his novels made into 3D movies. His eyesight also hindered him, he tells us, when he went to a nudist beach with a friend. His friend could see the goods- Banks couldn’t. Gutted. On the issue of nudity, he says he has a drawer at home stocked with unpublished story drafts. “It’s absolutely full of sex and violence,” he says, “none of which I have any experience of.”
One of his unpublished works, a collection of short SF stories titled TTR, is chock-full of puns. According to Banks, it has a pun-to-word ratio of 1-10. In a moment of bizarre anti-promotion, he says “If someone ever brings them out, don’t buy them ‘cause they’re shite.”
He goes on to mention how the bad guys in his stories aren’t always brought to justice. This isn’t a hint at an impending sequel, he says, but he points out that in real life, this happens. And cites Tony Blair. I can’t argue with that.
“I’ve just noticed there are children in here,” he says, embarrassed after using the F-word maybe 70 times. “Flippin’ heck!”
In case you didn’t know, Iain Banks and Iain M Banks are two writers, amalgamated in the same human body. The former of the two writes contemporary fiction. The latter pens SF. The two writers sit at the same desk, juggling projects inside their one impressive brain. Banks says that writing as both is “like spinning plates.” He juggles projects as he has two markets to keep his place in. It looks like he's doing well in SF- The Guardian has called him "the standard by which the rest of SF is judged".
It’s his choice which name gets printed on the book, which genre he writes in. “I could be Iain X Banks,” he says, “writing pornography!” Well. Let’s see if that happens. It could be good.
There is one other Banks project in the pipeline. He tells us of a phone call he recently received from his editor. Miming the phone in his hand, he says, “What’s that? A book? On whisky? You want someone to tour Scotland? Tasting sessions?... I’m your boy!”
That would be awesome, I think. I wonder, while we get our picture taken, if he knows how hard it is to write drunk. I suspect he does.