Iain Banks Interview

Rich people tend to jet their friends off to Tahiti for parties. I do a low key version of that for my birthday hoo-haa every February, by booking out Glenfinnan House hotel at the head of Loch Sheil in the Highlands, and inviting all my friends. It’s my perfect weekend.


iainbanksI drive up from North Queensferry, across the Forth from Edinburgh, with my girlfriend Adele. I used to choose from my two Porches, BMW and Land Rover, but I’ve reduced my carbon hoofprint so now it’s the wee Toyota Yaris diesel. I don’t preach environmentalism, but hopefully one or two people who like my work might be influenced.

My friends are mostly from high school days in Greenock, near Glasgow. We’ll arrive in clumps, and have a few drinks and something like stovie or shepherd’s pie for supper. I’ve tried saying no presents, but it doesn’t work. My friends are remarkably inventive and usually manage to surprise me, in a good way. This year someone got me two radio controlled tanks that you can have desktop battles with.


The hotel is a proper old Highland hunting lodge, about 150 years old, with antlers on the wall and great open fires. It’s very welcoming, but the trick on Friday night is not to enjoy yourself too much, in an alcoholic sense. Two big nights in a row has laid many a good man or woman low.


We’ve been going every year since my fortieth. In those 14 years, we’ve only had one or two really horrible, cold, rainy weekends. So we usually wake up to glorious weather on the Saturday, and head outside. With no roads, towering hills and a monument to Prince Charles [the bonnie one], Loch Sheil is quiet and beautiful. We’ll either charter a boat on the loch and look for eagles and stags and stuff, or go for a walk. There are excellent routes around the village, with great views through the hills to the summit of Ben Nevis.


People often assume the real world is drab after a week inventing sci-fi scenery, but actually it’s always more vivid. No matter how good your imagination is, reality trumps it. I get a lot my ideas walking alone in the Ochil Hills, just north of home.


I’m a bit of a pyromaniac, so when it’s dark we have fireworks. We used to get these big 125mm mortars, but some idiot somewhere blew his head off checking why one hadn’t gone off, so they promptly banned them. We actually formed a fireworks company to circumvent the ban, with headed note paper, personalised mugs, key rings, and pens… but it didn’t work. So we make do with lots of little ones.


After fireworks, we have a big buffet meal and turn to drinking. Lots of drinking. We’re Scottish, it’s a national past time. Sometimes in Glenfinnan, which is an even wee-er and dafter wee village than North Queensferry, musicians will pop out of the woodwork, and a fiddler and a guitarist might have a jam session in the bar.


On Sunday morning people tend to be nice to each other, there are no loud noises or sudden movements, and if we’re lucky it’s not too bright either. Irn Bru is a great hangover cure, as is black pudding, tatty scones, bacon, sausages and so on for breakfast.


After maybe a short walk, we pack, say our goodbyes, and head back to North Queensferry, the village beneath the Forth bridges where I lived until I was nine, then moved back to in 1991.


It’s very possible that growing up at the foot of the Forth Road Bridge is the root of the gigantic structures in my Sci Fi novels. I remember being so proud of it as a child. Then, I was proud of being Scottish and British, but, as with a lot of us, that pride in Britain has gone. It began with Thatcherism’s appalling ‘greed is good’ doctrine – the Scottish prefer cooperation to competition – and continued with the gradual destruction of everything I think of as British: the NHS, the Post Office, the railways…. Because that’s been continued by New Labour, I think the Scots have had enough.


I’ve voted SNP a few times, not because I have a passion for Scottish independence, but because they’re the only ones with refreshing policies. I think Scottish people have been surprised at how well they’ve done, and we could see an independent Scotland soon.


Ideally, independent or not, we’ll be back in time to go into Edinburgh for a curry. We live two minutes from North Queensferry station, and three minutes walk from Edinburgh’s Haymarket station is a brilliant curry shop called the Omar Khayyam. I always have the same meal; fish pakora then chicken jaipuri (hot) with tarka dahl. Then it’s back across the bridge to bed.




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