Iain Banks from the Archives

Click here to buy the booktimiainbanksYesterday, we heard the sad news of the death of Iain Banks at the unacceptably young age of 59. Iain was never the darling of the literary establishment, but he was the favourite author of hundreds of thousands of passionate readers, and Tim had rated him one of the best of his generation since his stunning debut with The Wasp Factory in 1984.

In 1995 Tim interviewed Iain on the occasion of the publication of his fourteenth novel, Whit. Iain was unfailingly friendly and forthcoming whenever we asked for access to him. With grateful thanks to Iain for his kindness to this site, we present this slightly edited version of that interview.

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Christopher Fowler – Film Freak

There was a time when film publicity consisted of having a poster painted, and sending the posters with the reels of film in the van when they were delivered to the cinemas.

And then advertising industry foot-soldiers Christopher Fowler and Jim Sturgeon had an idea. What the movies needed was somebody who did film publicity in a much more imaginative way. They were right.

What happened after that is laugh out loud funny, indiscreet and revealing, and treads cheerfully on the feet of silver screen glamour; and it is all weirdly plausible.

Whether he is telling the story of his ill-judged first visit to the Cannes Film Festival (everybody’s first visit to Cannes is a horror story), facing up to his responsibility for the Brentford Nylons advertising campaign, or offering his insights into the darker corners of movie history, Fowler is excellent company.

But Film Freak is also a thoughtful meditation on what has been lost in movies, and a tender account of the final days of the British Film Industry in Soho.

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Martin Amis from the Archive – London Fields

London Fields is in many ways the quintessential Martin Amis novel. At the end of the Twentieth century – ten years in the future when Tim interviewed him in 1989–there are looming portents of global catastrophe, which stand in for Amis’s fear of nuclear annihilation. There is sex, there is mystery, there are post-modern games with authorship, there are degenerate underclass characters, including one of Amis’s immortal creations in Keith Tallent, the would-be darts magus, and there are bucketloads of scabrous humour. But there is also tenderness and a heartfelt investment in children and the future. If Amis has never written anything better than London Fields since then, there is no shame in that.

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Gore Vidal from the archive – Palimpsest

After half a century as a great novelist and America’s finest essayist, in 1995 Gore Vidal got round to writing… well, not an autobiography, but at any rate a memoir. Why a memoir? Gore told Tim that by the age of seventy he found that he figured in hundreds of other people’s memoirs, and that from his point of view they had almost all got it wrong. Whether this was due to self-serving lapses in memory or shameless lying, Gore decided to
proffer a few corrections. If this also meant indulging in a spot of high class gossip, that was OK too. He had plenty to gossip about.
Vidal had an enviable pedigree. His maternal grandfather was the legendary T P Gore, Oklahama’s first senator. His father was FDR’s Secretary of Aviation (and incidentally had an affair with Emilia Earhart). Gore himself was born at West Point and was intimate with the cream of Washington society. His political friends included Eleanor Roosevelt and JFK. His artistic peers included Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando. Vidal had known everybody, and was not shy of dishing the dirt on any of them.

Tim fell upon Palimpsest as a starving man upon food, and couldn’t wait to pump Vidal for gossip about some of the great and the good, and especially the liars.

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John Mortimer from the archive – Rumpole And The Angel Of Death

John Mortimer occupied positions at the very top of not one but two professions. He was a great writer – we need think no further than A Voyage Around My Father, and he was one of the most eminent barristers and QCs of his generation. The happy collision of these two strings to his bow was of course Rumpole of the Bailey, and in 1995 Tim had the pleasure of discussing with him the tenth collection of stories, Rumpole And The Angel Of Death.

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Salman Rushdie from the archive – The Moor’s Last Sigh

Salman Rushdie is one of our most distinguished writers, having made a shattering entrance with Midnight’s Children (now coming out as a film). He ascended to an unwecome level of notoriety when The Satanic Verses provoked Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against him. But despite the terrifying contingency into which his life was pitched, he continued to write novels of seething vitality and, in 1995, Tim spoke with him about one of these: The Moor’s Last Sigh.

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Terry Pratchett from the archive – Maskerade

Sir Terry Pratchett is a legend. The Discworld series set the gold standard for comic fantasy. Tim has been a fan since the very first book, and in this rare interview from 1995 he talked to Terry about the eighteenth Discworld book, Maskerade. Tim was delighted with the return of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, but the book really takes off when Agnes Nitt decides that she wants to become a diva, and we are treated to the grand guignol Discworld take on the world of opera…

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Philip Norman – Mick Jagger

Fifty years a star. Gracefulness incarnate. Irresistable to women. Vain and arrogant, perhaps, but with so much to boast of.

But enough about Tim.

Mick Jagger is by contrast an accountant.

You think you know him. The drugs. Marianne Faithfull and the mars bar. The murder at Altamont. The parsimony. The priapism. The seven children with four different women. The ruthless wresting of control of the Rolling Stones from first Andrew Oldham, then Brian Jones, then Keith Richards.

Jagger has lived his life in the public glare, and yet he remains an enigma. He never much liked doing drugs. He was a wonderful friend to both Brian and Keith. He was admittedly a lousy husband, but a terrific father – the children all adore him. There is much more
to Jagger than meets his eye.

Philip Norman is a past master of the rock biography (Buddy Holly, Neil Sedaka, the Stones, the Beatles, John Lennon). He first interviewed Mick Jagger in 1965 and knows the period intimately. In his new book he turns his forensic brilliance on to the
quintessential rock star.

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Iain M Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata

The Gzilt came close to being one of the founding civilisations of the Culture, but they have come to the point where they are ready to Sublime to the next level of existence. You might think that their minds would be on higher things, but there are still political shenanigans to stir the pudding before they’re ready for Nirvana. Not least, there is the vexed question of which of the competing scavenger species lays claim to the technology and territory the Gzilt are giving up.
Iain M Banks thinks of the Culture as his virtual train set, which he periodically takes out to play with for another five hundred pages. The Hydrogen Sonata is the thirteenth book in this superb series of science fiction novels.

Tim Haigh appears to many of us to be a modestly unprepossessing human being, but he is actually the humanoid avatar of a Culture ship named the Kindle With A Vast But Inflexible Memory. He fired up his neural lace and downloaded his mind-state one more time to discuss The Hydrogen Sonata with Iain, and find out why in the future ‘sublime’ is a verb.

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Christopher Fowler – Bryant and May and the Invisible Code

A woman dies for no apparent reason in a church in Fleet Street. A pair of children were playing Witch-Hunter nearby and they placed a curse on her. This is meat and drink to Bryant and May, the superannuated detectives in Christopher Fowler’s entertaining series. Further equally inexplicable deaths follow, but the detectives are obliged to undertake a job for their political boss whose glamorous, foreign wife is showing increasing signs of instability.
Christopher Fowler gained an enviable reputation as a writer of what he calls ‘dark fiction’ and his brilliant feel for the underside of life feeds in satisfyingly to his more recent persona as a writer of cheerful murder mysteries.
After spending a delightful week with Bryant and May in the shadows and basements and secret places of London, Tim met Chris in the airy reassurance of a penthouse terrace in London to make a couple of confessions of his own.

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