Iain Banks: Fear and Loathing is a work of demented genius

The late Iain Banks explains how 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' helped him become less serious and describes 'Catch 22' as scabrously profound.

Iain Banks was the author of 26 novels, including The Wasp Factory, which was voted one of the top 100 books of the 20th century in a poll of more than 25,000 readers. He died in June 2013 of gall bladder cancer just after completing his final novel The Quarry.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

Ah, the mad yet ruthlessly sane fella who gave us gonzo journalism and inspired a thousand careers in the fifth estate. An undiminished masterpiece of Americana; a blistering odyssey of two desperate men against polite (well, Las Vegas) society, and their daring raid on convention aided only by two enormous cars, an unlimited expenses account and a collection of drugs sufficient to waste a bull elephant.

It’s a work of demented genius, fit to remind any writer that fun and transgression can be part of the literary mix. It helped stop me being over-serious. Though, of course, don’t try any of it at home.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I read Heller’s phenomenal best-seller five times in two years back when I was about 14, and thought it was just the funniest, most scabrously profound novel I’d ever read (and I’d read a few books by then, having been, like most budding writers, a voracious reader from an early age).

Catch-22 helped me think about what I wanted to write and the effects I wanted to produce. It’s still brilliant and it was eventually made into a great, underrated film.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

I’m not claiming it’s on the same level as the other two mentioned here, but it’s the book that changed my life more than any other. I’d wanted to be a writer since primary school, and spent my teens and early twenties writing novel after novel, attempting to make this happen.

Finally, I learned a few things, such as not over-writing, leaving more to the reader’s imagination, and writing a second draft. By persevering, maybe I just had the right book at the right time. I was lucky, too, as the manuscript found its way to a man who was a brilliant editor and became a good friend: the late, great James Hale.

(Photo credit: Geoffrey Swaine / rex features)