MY meeting and dinner with the late and great author Iain Banks is wholly memorable for so many reasons.
And it was totally unexpected.
I had long been an admirer of the Fife born author since I picked up The Wasp Factory at my local branch of WH Smiths in the late 1980s. It was a book I read in one sitting and returned to again and again.
Following that ground-breaking novel I began to consume almost everything Banks wrote. The Bridge and Espedair Street were similarly devoured in one go. Crow Road took a little longer and remains my favourite Iain Banks novel.
Well-thumbed copies of Complicity, Whit and a Song of Stone all sat on my bookshelves by the time I actually met the great man.
And the meeting was a complete and wonderful surprise.
It was early 1997, I was working as Chief Investigative Reporter at the Scottish broadsheet daily The Scotsman. I had been working closely with award-winning TV producer Sara Brown on revealing the dark and murky history of Scotland’s Dounreay experimental nuclear reactors. We had come close to proving that the plant almost suffered a Chernobyl type meltdown in the mid 1960s… but that is a story for another day.
After one particularly long day of research with Sara, she suggested I might like to have dinner with one of her old friends, who shared my passion in investigations and writing. I almost fell through the floor when she told me her old friend was Iain Banks.
And so it was a few evenings later we gathered at a small restaurant at North Queensferry (just over the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh) to share a wonderful meal.
I cannot remember what we ate, but do remember the wine flowed freely as Iain took centre stage. Star-struck, I just sat and held onto almost every word.
He waxed lyrical about the wine, the food and his passion for fast cars and boats. He talked about how his writing had helped fund one boat he kept moored on the west coast of Scotland.
He asked me in detail about my job at The Scotsman and talked about how his own enquiring mind sparked his journey into writing best-selling thrillers and science fiction novels.
As the meal and wine flowed I mentioned Iain’s amazing 1993 murder novel Complicity, which was clearly set at The Scotsman – named The Caledonian for the sake of his book – and which I had already read three times. He smiled and said it was his new Wasp Factory. Sara suddenly chipped in and suggested that the hero of the novel Cameron Colley was actually me! That was hardly likely as I was not even working at The Scotsman when Iain wrote the book. Iain seemed amused and asked for more details about my job. I filled in a few and he laughed out loud.
“Sounds like Cammy to me,” he quipped.
It was only when I watched the movie of the book, starring Jonny Lee Miller, some four years later, that I realised just how close the character of Cameron Colley was to my own at The Scotsman. There was also a sad irony that the trigger for the murders in Complicity stemmed from child sexual abuse.
Anyway, the meal and chatter lasted for more than two hours before we drifted off home.
Iain as the true bon viveur insisted on paying for everything.
I hoped to meet him again sometime soon. But life events meant that I moved away from Edinburgh later that year and the brilliant Sara emigrated to the USA a couple of years later. The link was lost and three respective lives moved on.
I was deeply saddened when Iain succumbed to terminal pancreatic cancer in June this year. The world has lost an amazing author.
As I proof this blog posting I sit with a copy of his 2002 book Dead Air next to me and a few tears in my eyes. I have some re-reading to do tonight.
- More details about Iain Banks’ work can be found here: http://www.iain-banks.net