Gothic Dimensions (2013)

Gothic Dimensions: Iain Banks, Timelord (2013)

About Iain Banks

In March 2013, with his customary grace, Iain Banks announced his forthcoming death: "I am officially 'very poorly'."

He had just been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer and the prognosis gave him, at best, a year. His first action was to marry his long-term girlfriend, declaring that he had asked her to do him the honour of becoming his widow.

The press release was typical of Iain; people were often surprised to discover that the man behind so many dark and violent stories was so affable, friendly, funny and well-balanced. Perhaps they were expecting him to be a psychopath?

As a writer, he was a one-off; one of those authors who make other writers feel glum, simply because we are forced to acknowledge that we can never be so skilled with words or acquire a breadth of imagination so unique.

Unusually, he wrote both science-fiction and "mainstream" fiction, alternating between the two genres every year (he had produced a book pretty much annually since his first published work, The Wasp Factory, in 1985).

But added to that was the inimitable humour he managed to inject into even his darkest tales. The Crow Road's now-famous first line, "It was the day my grandmother exploded" - the lady's pacemaker didn't take to cremation very well - is a typical Banksian example of this grim touch of lightness.

I was devastated when I read Iain's statement about his own imminent death. My doctoral thesis had been about his canon of work, and when you spend six years reading, researching and analysing every word that someone has ever written, you feel an uncanny bond - a sense of closeness - to a person.

Entirely one-sided, of course  - I expect stalkers feel much the same way. For I might have admired his writing greatly, but he was never my actual friend

However, I'd met him several times, the most recent being an unhurried interview a few years ago in the Champagne bar at the Hay Festival, where Iain had been speaking about his latest book release. Genially, he had asked during the interview if he could see some of the chapters of the thesis - just out of curiosity, he said.

So I emailed them to him and he replied a few days later, telling me graciously how much he had enjoyed reading them. "I never realised I was Freudian," he said.  (The email is reprinted below).

I emailed again in March 2013 when I heard the terrible news, expressing my disbelief and sadness and railing against the unfairness of the gods (not that Iain believed in any of that nonsense - "an evangelical atheist" he had described himself). Mine was one of thousands of such messages of love and support he received.

Again, ever-mindful of politeness, Iain emailed back, as he doubtless replied to all his other shocked admirers. Yup, he said, it felt unfair to him, but stuff like that just happens, and at least he'd lived a good life for nearly 60 years: "...children diagnosed with cancer... with bleak prognoses - that's unfair" he said.

But I was also plagued with guilt. I had told Iain during that Hay interview that I would adapt the thesis into a book one day - it was the right thing to do since it was the first full-length study of all his work - but had I put any real effort into doing this? No I had not; thinking that my literary hero was probably immortal, this plan had slipped down my list of work priorities.

Now, while I'm sure that Mr Banks had not been feverishly scanning the shelves of book-stores over the four years since I had made my pledge, all the same, this awful news made me feel very bad.

I had wanted him to read it, for him to feel pleased to receive such a tribute to his remarkable writing; I'd even imagined him contacting me to say, "Now steady on - that conclusion you drew wasn't what I'd meant at all!"

Spurred, belatedly, into action, I spent three months editing, re-writing and updating, turning a scholarly work into something which, while still fairly academic, was more accessible to people who were not Eng. Lit. students.

The result was Gothic Dimensions: Iain Banks, Timelord, so called because it outlines the manner in which Banks was able to draw upon the intrinsic literary devices of historical Gothic writing, renovate them for usage in the present-day and then project them, reinterpreted, into the far future of his science fiction (which he wrote as Iain M. Banks).

But as the completed book went to press, Iain died. The possibility of another year had, it seemed, been optimistic.

So my personal regret is that he never held a copy of Gothic Dimensions in his hands. But more importantly, none of us, the awestruck admirers of an imagination which knew no limits, will ever read a new Iain Banks book again.

How unbearably sad is that?

* Iain Banks, by email, 2009

Dear Moira; thanks for all that.  I had no idea I was Freudian!

Seriously, I was most impressed; I'm very flattered to have such attention paid to any of my books and your arguments/points actually made a lot of sense.

I've had a few such theses and papers to read over the years and sometimes struggle to find something constructive to say but in this case I can honestly say Well Done.

It's been a pleasure reading your work; I hope it wasn't too great an ordeal reading mine!

Best wishes

Iain Banks

Buying This Book











Gothic Dimensions: Iain Banks, Timelord is available in paperback from Amazon (

If you would like a paperback copy (£9) signed by me - Moira Martingale - please contact me on

I also have a small number of the first issues which had already been printed before  a couple of errors in the notes for the first chapter had been spotted. These are available from me at a reduced price of £8 - signed if required.

For this, please contact me on


It is available for download from all the major sites offering ebooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo etc.  See for example: