A Year to Say Goodbye

Just about one year ago, my favorite author Iain Banks died of cancer. Before he died, a site was setup to let people post messages to him, which he tried to read before his time ran out.

His cancer and subsequent death came very quickly and I don’t think I ever took the time to say goodbye. But as a good friend of mine recently reminded me, there is always time to say goodbye. Now seems like a good day…


Dear Mr Banks,

Long before I read your books, I wanted to write weird, crazy stories. It’s something that’s lived in me all my life, but I never knew what it truly meant. I couldn’t see what it would take to sit down, take all these strange and wonderful ideas in my mind, and commit them to paper. To bring it all together and have it come together into something someone else would not only want to read, but to also transform imagination and creativity. We read to escape, yes, but we also read to be inspired by authors whose vision resonates with us. We love authors that not only tell amazing stories, but allow their personalities to become part of their work.

Twenty years ago, I lived in Glasgow for six months, living with another aspiring author (Neil Williamson) who shared with me a number of new authors, including yourself, Neal Stephenson, and Michael Marshall Smith. Again, good writing does not just lead us to sharing a good story, but also brings enthusiasm for that writer. Finding a new author with any number of books is like winning the lottery – you now have a back catalog of imagination and creativity to pour through again and again, returning to a well that continues to provide a connection for the rest of your life.

This is what I felt like after finishing The Wasp Factory, like I had won the lottery and found a writer and his books that could continue to reward and inspire my imagination. Then I read The Bridge and my life was changed. That was the book that I had wanted to write all my life, a strange concoction of amnesia, 20-something angst, and dream-state that proved to me that I could write any story I wanted. You had cracked the code for me.

Returning to the states, I found your books hard to find, but over the 1990s collected most of them so that I could not stop talking about you. All my friends know you are my favorite author, and many of them became fans of yours as well. The connection had been made, and you had yourself a lifetime fan.

So it was with great sadness that I heard of your illness. My friends sent me emails and texts because, again, they knew how important to me you were. But I didn’t know what to say to you, how to express my deepest gratitude to you for your work. Because it wasn’t just that you wrote The Wasp Factory, The Bridge, The Crow Road and A Song of Stone (my favorites), but it was the sheer amount of work that you put into your writing.

If you had written four or five books, you would have still been my favorite author. But you did so much more than that. Your work ethic and ability to write and write and write – that is what truly inspired me. As an aspiring writer, I always have more writing to do. I know that. But what you helped me see was that the authors that I admire the most (you, Philip K Dick, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.) all built careers writing and writing and then writing more. You refused to get caught in the pretentious headspace of considering your work too precious to let go – you knew and proved that the best writers write and leave their works for others to judge, because there is always more writing to do.

This is the gift you gave me – setting the bar high, leading by example, showing us that a writer’s job is to write, nothing else. You gave us dozens of books over a 30 year career that 99% of writers will never – and can never – replicate, just by sheer effort alone.

And so that is what I will miss most. I always hoped to meet you in person, but now you are gone and so your fans must move on with what you have already provided. Fortunately for us, it is a lifetime of stories to be read and read again. Your imagination excites, but your work ethic inspires. You showed us the way by giving the world the ultimate gift: art, deep and transformative, that we can experience again and again. And again.

Thank you so much. I will miss picking up your newest book. But I will not miss your work, as my bookshelf has everything I need to read your stories. Again.

Rest in peace.


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