OK, so it’s not music and he’s not actually dead yet, but that’s how I felt when I read the news. I owe him everything. Everything.
I must have been eighteen when I picked up a book he’d written and read the paragraph that made me reconsider my whole life. I was going to be a scientist, probably. I certainly wasn’t going to be a writer until I read, “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
I’d always read voraciously but never discovered Iain Banks until then. And I knew I wanted to learn how to put words together like that. The words were just ordinary, usual words. But maybe nobody had ever before put them together in that order. I wanted to do that too and to change people’s lives, even just one or two.
I changed what I did and headed my life in that new direction he pointed out. I’m getting pretty good these days and I still remember why I do what I do. And now I have read another paragraph which is heavy with as much portent as the first. The author probably won’t live to see another year. And there will be time for just one final book, already written to be published before he dies.
It almost feels like someone in the family is passing, or a dear, dear friend. Numb with grief would be something I’d pick out to edit in a novice writer’s work, but that was how I felt when I heard. Funny how we feel we know people who are famous even when we barely do and how we take their tragedies into our hearts.
No doubt the sad news will bring countless new readers to uncover his work. How I envy them, knowing the fabulous discoveries they have to come. And I feel a little jealous, that I have to share my special favourites with them. I’ve known of him for years, even without this recent press. Why couldn't they discover him properly too, when there was still plenty of time.
His body may die but his words and ideas and stories never will. I like to think Don McLean wouldn’t mind me borrowing his song, just for a while.