Wednesday, 24 April 2013

gone mudlarking

(I have a new plan for my blogs, by the way, which is hopefully going to increase their frequency: 
1) Keep the text to around 500 words instead of my usual 2000+ ...
2) Lots of pictures
Let's see if it works ...)

Mudlarking (which is, as the word implies, larking about in mud - or muddy sand, anyway) has a long and colourful history, especially on the banks of great tidal rivers like the Thames. The incomparable Victorian social historian Henry Mayhew writes about them, and I vividly remember reading a book about a young London lad who becomes apprenticed to a tosher (a sewer scavenger) when I was a kid, and finding loads of treasures - though not so vividly that I can recall the title, alas. It was a great book.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

cried when an author died

The title of this post is mercifully misleading, because titan of sci-fi, literary novelist and all round top bloke Iain Banks is still with us; but, very sadly, not for long. And that's why I had a little cry just now.

Here's the statement he put out today.

Here's an interview he did for Litro when I was editing it, which is revealing, interesting and funny - and has the best answer to the "worst job" question we've ever had. I asked (via his publisher) whether he could answer our Q&A for the science fiction issue. About 99 times out of 100, authors of Banks's success and stature are far too busy and important to do such things for free. He did, which was incredibly generous of him, and got his answers back to me in record time. What a gent.

Banks has long been underappreciated as an author of literary/mainstream/general/non-science fiction, a fact which his fans have been bemoaning since pretty much ever. I'm not so naive as to imagine that the critics will suddenly do a Princess Diana and proclaim all his books works of genius (even the ones that are) but I am hoping that this news will send people scurrying off to re-read his absolutely fucking massive backlist (the man is a writing MACHINE) and especially some of the earlier Iain Banks (i.e. non-sci-fi) novels.

If anyone else had written books as daring and experimental as The Bridge and especially Walking on Glass, which has stayed with me very clearly for 15 years since first reading it, they would have been a darling of the litfic scene from day one, but for some reason (despite or perhaps because of the huge popularity of his Culture novels), a lot of mainstream readers have been slow to cotton on to the stone-cold awesomeness that is Banks. I'm glad to say Granta had the nous to put him on their Best Young British Novelists list back in 1993 (he squeaked in aged 39 - the limit's 40) but apart from that he's been far less garlanded than he deserves. Thank goodness he's been so productive in his 59 years (so far - let's hope he hits 60) and there's so much left for us (well, me anyway) to read.

If you love Banks's work, or you want to tell him he's a great bloke, or reminisce about that time he signed your book in Glasgow Waterstones, or just show the man some love before he leaves, you can sign his guestbook here.

Update: Iain Banks died after a short illness on Sunday 9 June 2013, aged 59. Guardian obit (including exhaustive rundown of the novels) here.