The View From Here Interview:
Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. He has since gained enormous popular and critical acclaim for both his mainstream and his science fiction novels. He is now acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation: The Guardian has called him "the standard by which the rest of SF is judged". William Gibson, the New York Times-bestselling author of Spook Country describes Banks as a "phenomenon".
I caught up with him after he finished writing his latest book, due out later this year.
For part 1 of this interview click here.
Alban muses towards the end of The Steep Approach to Garbadale that "the trouble was that so many people seemed to feel a need for certainty, for clear paths leading to set objectives with tickable goal boxes." Are you someone who needs these or do you like to be more spontaneous and go with the flow and just "travel hopefully" as Alban puts it?
I am when I'm writing; I like to complete a certain number of words per week. In everything else I try to be a bit more relaxed. In the context Alban is talking about I try to be as different from that mentality as possible.
Alban asks himself "What do I really want?" Is this a question you've ever asked yourself in the context of your writing career?
No. The career itself is the answer to the questions I asked myself as far back as primary school.
The Guardian said of The Steep Approach to Garbadale, "one can't help concluding that his heart wasn't completely in the job." How do you cope with reviews of your books, do you let them effect you/do you read them at all? The Times for example said The Wasp Factory was "rubbish" but now have changed their minds!
I tend not to read them. Reviews are written for potential readers, not for writers. As a reader/potential reader, I read and use reviews all the time, but as a writer - well, bad reviews make you want to stop writing and good ones make you think you need never be edited again, and neither response is really useful for you as a writer or for your readers. Don't get me wrong; reviewers do an important job, it's just not the one everybody appears to assume they do, which is telling writers where they've gone horribly wrong.
Alban makes a cutting speech towards the end of the book about American foreign policy. Is this something that you feel passionately about yourself?
Darn! What gave it away? I'm with Alban here... actually I'm not, I'm with Verushka; Alban was a suspicious supporter of the war whereas I was against it before the start. Long before; I remember thinking What the fuck are these evil right-wing bastards up to now? back before September 11, just because of some of the briefings coming out of the White House. It was obvious they were angling to attack Iraq (at least - maybe Iran too). And I absolutely believe Verushka's line about trying to justify the war being like trying to justify rape; no matter how fancy you dress your arguments up you should just be ashamed of yourself.
You describe yourself as an "ideas" writer - Do you find those ideas harder to come by these days?
Yes. Luckily one gets better at exploiting the few one does have as one gets older. One also starts to use the impersonal first person more often, one does.
Can you give some advice to those writers who are trying to get published?
Yes, I can. It's all about the three "P"s: practice, practice, practice. Actually it's about practice, perseverance and pluck. Except take the "p" off "pluck" I just put that there for alliterative effect. I meant "luck."
What do you think are the common pitfalls and mistakes new writers make in learning their craft?
Not practicing enough. Also, not loving writing for its own sake but just treating it as a career prospect that will in time yield vast amounts of money. The poor fools! Plus, not sending publishers return postage with the manuscript. (I have yet to work out how one does this with this new outerweb thingy on the computer, but I'm sure it's possible.)
What is your view of the publishing industry at the moment? And is your approach to writing a novel different now to how you first started out?
I don't know enough about publishing to comment beyond saying it seems to have got a lot more corporate over the last twenty-five years, which, as an observation, is not exactly sock-knocking-off in its originality. Anyway, I just write the books, and do so now pretty much as I ever did.
Can you tell us something about your next book?
It's called Transition, it's published in early September and it's mainstream. About as mainstream as The Bridge, admittedly, but still mainstream. Though not in the States. There it's going to be published as SF. Confused yet?
For Iain's web site click here.
This interview is available in the printed edition of the magazine in May.
Photo Copyright(Modified): John Foley /Opale