Hurrying through the rain to the Shakespeare Centre, I caught a glimpse beneath the rim of my umbrella the building in which Will himself was born. I remember visiting this place when I was little – long enough ago that all I can remember of it is a hazy vision of the cobbles outside, the dusky pink roses to the side of the house.
This time, I was rushing to get some last minute tickets to a talk by Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks, indeed) about his new book, Stonemouth. I was visiting Stratford-upon-Avon last week for a break from work with my boyfriend and was chuffed to discover that the Literary Festival happened to be on at the same time.
In need of some inspiration (self-editing the 3rd draft of my near future sci-fi novel is getting a little awkward), we wandered in and took some seats in the second row in order to look like keen book-readers but not zany fan-types.
Iain was fun. After reading an early passage of his latest release, we got onto the questions. I sensed a nervousness at the start and found myself sympathising that despite his success, like every author, he still has to go and do these talks and book signings. It must get dull. The nervousness I attributed to the worry that we would all be quiet as mice and not ask any questions. But they flowed.
I enjoyed hearing Iain explain about his life as a writer the most. Interestingly, Iain goes against Stephen King’s widely held view that an author should put down hundreds, if not thousands, of words each day, Banks writes his novels in three months: “January to March – the wettest and coldest ones”.
I asked him which part of the novel writing process he enjoyed the most (and silently implying which he enjoyed the least). The answer was the “bit at the beginning, while you’re still thinking about it all, whilst walking along and whistling”, as well as the writing of dialogue – a part of the writing process that for Iain, ‘flows naturally like a real conversation’.
Inevitably, someone asked whether he preferred writing sci-fi or standard literary fiction, a question that pricked my ears up. “Ah well,” came the reply. “Writing science fiction is probably about 5 per cent more fun – I have a preference for using the imagination.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival runs until 7th May.