Last night I took another trip to the book festival, this time to see Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks if you're a science fiction fan). I must confess at this point that while I have been an Iain Banks fan ever since The Wasp Factory
came out, I've never actually read any of his SF. Annoying, then, that when I got to ask him a question (which was "Which is your favourite scene from your books?") the answer turned out to be one from Consider Phlebas
(the bit where (someone) finds out they're all after him and takes his ship out from inside another ship, up to the point where someone says a really funny line) . OK, now I have to read that book. (He remembered me at the signing because he'd taken some time to answer that question, coming back to me later. I said my favourite scene was the bit in Espedair Street
where Danny Weir is convinced he's been conned and is actually in a helicopter simulator, and goes to climb out only to find himself 5,000 feet over a power station in a real helicopter. IB giggled a lot when reminded of that scene, so I think he likes it too...) I also got to ask whether there were any major revisions he'd like to do to already-published books, to which he reckoned that Canal Dreams
is the one he's least satisfied with and which he thinks could definitely be improved. However, he doesn't know how...and he still likes it! Apparently he added too many degrees of difficulty to the writing (the main character - unlike IB when he wrote it - is middle-aged, Japanese, a woman, and a professional cellist); also, it's the only book he's written under the influence of a drug, in this case alcohol. Because of the aforementioned difficulty, he was suffering a kind of writer's block (he'd do anything rather than write). So he'd get to the evening, give up on the book for the day and break out the single malt. After a few of which, the inspiration would strike and he'd toddle off to the computer...............
A propos the "when he wrote it" above, Iain Banks is still (AFAIK) neither Japanese nor a woman. And definitely not a cellist of any kind. He is, however, middle-aged (18 months older then me, na-na-na-na-na, 51 last Feb 16th should you wish to send him a card). Which I hadn't guessed (I had him pegged a few years younger than me).
In general, I thought he was the best fun I'd yet had at the Book Festival (and I've seen some pretty fun people over the years, including Alasdair Gray, Val MacDermid and Ian Holm).
In case you're waiting, his next book will be a mainstream (Banks without the M) one, and may
come out for Christmas 2006. However, for the first time (if I understood aright) he's asked for an extension from his publisher, so it may not appear until early 2007. he wasn't saying anything about the new one, though he is on record as being keen to try another multi-layered novel such as The Bridge
(his favourite of his works). What he needs for that is a lot of short story ideas, which is effectively what he plugged together to create The Bridge
I am extremely fond of The Bridge
, also Espedair Street
. However, my favourite remains The Crow Road
. I'd already fallen completely under Banks's spell (I bought "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" by The Pogues because the protagonist of The Bridge
is listening to it when he has his car crash) but TCR
just wiped me out. I especially liked the scene where the topic of "Purple Haze" comes up, because like Prentice I thought for years that Hendrix was singing "'scuse me while I kiss this guy". Hey, it was the sixties.
Technically such mishearings are known as Mondegreens (as in the ballad "They have slain the Earl of Moray, and Lady Mondegreen"). Classic uses of the idea are the ad for... Memorex I think?...with the guy producing Dylan- style flashcards for "Israelites" culminating in "oh..oh..me ears are alight"; and Wagner's version (possibly the first ever Mondegreen) in Die Meistersinger,
where Beckmesser's attempt to memorise the stolen Prize Song ends up in a load of wonderful mishearings which sadly don't translate well:
(Original)Morgenlich leuchtend in rosigem Schein,von Blüt und Duft geschwellt die Luft,voll aller Wonnen nie ersonnen,ein Garten lud mich ein, Gast ihm zu sein.
Shining in the rosy light of morning,
The air heavy with blossom and scent
Full of every unthought-of joy,
A garden invited me to be its guest.
(Beckmesser's version)Morgen ich leuchte in rosigem Scheinvon Blut und Duft geht schnell die Luft;wohl bald gewonnen, wie zerronnen;im Garten lud ich eingarstig und fein
In the morning I shine with a rosy light,
with blood and scent the air moves fast;
probably soon won, as if dissolved;
in the garden I invited
horrid and fine.
For this aficionado of Monty Python and the Bonzo Dog Band, Beckmesser's version has much to commend it....