Celebrating the life of Iain Banks, whisky and Scottish creative writing

A new society aims to honour Banks’ work by further exploring his passion for Scotland’s national drink, discovers Sean Murphy

Published 16th Aug 2017
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Iain Banks once wrote: “After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink.”

A simple statement, it quickly conveyed not only the acclaimed Scottish writer’s trademark wit but also his passion for Scotland’s national drink.

The words, which featured in his book Raw Spirit, alluded to his spiritual journey around the country in search of the “perfect dram”.


A wonderful example of not only Bank’s talent, the book also shines a light on a subject which has often been hinted at but never fully explored - that of the relationship between Scotland’s single malts and its creative writing.

Now, four years after the much-loved author’s untimely death at the age of 59 to cancer, a new society has been set up to not only celebrate his life and works, but also to take up the baton in further exploring that connection.

Dr. Gordon MacMillan PhD, assistant director of strategy and business development at Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, founded the movement after struggling to find a focal point for fans of Banks’ works.

Inspiration struck at the hill fort at Castle Dounie in Argyll, where MacMillan first heard of Banks’ passing in 2013.

Interestingly, it’s a location that features in one of Bank’s most successful novels - the Crow Road - and one that would go on to serve as the first meeting point for the new society.

Iain Banks

Picture: Castle Dounie, Iain Banks Appreciation Society

“I happened to be on this hillfort when I heard about his death, and I just sat up there and had a dram and reflected upon his work.

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“At the time, I thought it would be quite interesting to see what legacy came from his death, but as a few years passed, I couldn’t really see anything happening that would function as a meaningful point of focus for people who appreciated his work.”

It was then that MacMillan decided to take matters into his own hands, forming the kernel of the idea that would eventually grow into the Iain Banks Appreciation Society.

Iain Banks

Picture: Iain Banks, TSPL

For MacMillan the decision to further explore the relationship between writing and whisky was inspired by the pair’s shared passion for the drink, he said:

“I was fully aware of the work he had done profiling the distilleries throughout the Highlands and Islands and his excellent book Raw Spirit, and so I thought there might be an opportunity to bring the two together and see if it gained much traction.

"I was really delighted with the response and the support from the Scottish whisky industry.”

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“I think single malt whisky is unique, it’s very individual. It taps into something which is quite rooted in the Scottish psyche, and for me, it has particular resonance with Scotland’s landscape, and in particular, its wilderness.

“There’s something very deep there in terms of that relationship between single malt whisky and creative writing, which are both very personal experiences.

Iain Banks

Picture: TSPL

MacMillan has received bottles of whisky and support from several distilleries, with industry names such as Diageo’s Nick Morgan and whisky writer Dave Broom showing a keen interest in helping the group to grow.

The first meeting, which took place at the hill fort at Castle Dounie, was in June this year, and though the weather on the day wasn’t great, turned out to be a success for all involved.

MacMillan said: “A handful of us gathered on the hill looking across to the sound of Jura and raised a dram to Iain Banks and discussed our different perspectives on his work.”

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The Society is now set to host its second event next June, and has plans to further its expansion until then.

MacMillan said: “We would like to have creative writing competitions and events which draw like-minded people together and we’d like to stimulate more creative writing not just in Scotland, but also around the world.”

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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