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The author talks about his obsessive-compulsive thing, which Trainspotting character he most resembles, and losing his temper. I rvine Welsh is doing just fine for money. But I have an obsessive-compulsive thing going on. Trainspotting, published inis a violent black comedy about working-class heroin addicts in Edinburgh.
In a Waterstones poll of 25, people, it was voted the 10th greatest book of the 20th century. It has sold more than 1m copies in the UK alone and is said to be the most shoplifted novel in British publishing history.
The film of the book had even more impact: init topped a poll of the best British films of the past 60 years. Trainspotting follows the exploits of five later four pals, and a pretty unwholesome group they are: liars, thieves, scammers and, of course, that unforgettable psychopath Francis Begbie.
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Their lives are desperate a baby girl dies because her parents are too mashed to save heryet Trainspotting somehow became a symbol of 90s cool. The novel is fast-paced, shocking, amoral, written in a sweary, phonetic, catarrhal slang. Welsh captured brilliantly what it felt like to be cocooned in a heroin haze, no matter how scabby the reality.
It could even be said that he created a new genre: kitchen-sink surrealism notably the scene where Renton fishes in his excrement for his precious opioid suppositories before disappearing down the toilet. In some ways they are transformed, in others not. When Spud and Sick Boy enter the world of organ harvesting, you know things are not going to end well. I meet Welsh at the tube in Farringdon, east London. In a woolly hat, jeans, Dr Martens and a parka, he looks like a recently retired football hooligan. We head for a pub. This is one of the areas Welsh used to go clubbing when he lived here in the 80s.
Like Edinburgh, London has changed a good deal over the decades, and this pub is as gastro as it gets. To be fair, Welsh has also changed.
He orders mashed avocado on toast and green tea, and bemoans the disappearance of the London that was. You sense nothing terrifies Welsh so much as the thought of growing up. Not surprisingly, he has no children. You could get anything in there: speed, coke, smack. Not particularly great, but it was always there if there was an emergency. There has always been an autobiographical element to Trainspotting. The original novel is set in Leith, the port district of Edinburgh, where Welsh was born to a waitress mother and dock worker father.
He became addicted to heroin in his early 20s. To some extent, the lives of the characters still mirror his own. And while Begbie is a renowned artist seeking sun and sanctuary in Los Angeles, Welsh is a renowned artist seeking sun and sanctuary in Miami. He moved there a few years ago with his second wife, American Beth Quinn, 23 years his junior.
I have always been fascinated by his relationship with the Trainspotting characters.
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Which is most like him? Welsh says he has most in common with the main narrator, Renton played by Ewan McGregor in both films. I write more self-consciously when I write as him. They search for something, they get it, then they think, what the fuck was all that about?
Was it worth spending all the time and energy on this quest? How would he describe Renton to somebody who has never met him? He oscillates between being really cool and in control of everything, and socially inept.
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Which is probably me! Welsh seems to have been far from inept in his relationships with women. He was not the type of man a woman would look to if she wanted to settle down. Despite having tied the knot twice, he never considered himself the marrying type.
Irvine welsh: ‘when you get older, it’s harder to be a bastard’
They saw me as a bit of a threat. They saw me trying to seduce their quirkier, more interesting mates. And were you trying to seduce them? Welsh was never going to be a model citizen. At the age of eight, he received his first conviction, for playing football in the street. Did he get in a lot of trouble? He smiles. His smile has a touch of the Hannibal Lecter s about it.
No, he says, he tended to get others into trouble. I was quite good at manipulating thicker kids and causing trouble. Welsh is good company.
You sense he enjoys his own company, too, that he would happily spend all day listening to himself telling stories. You can find any of dates of birth for him, for example, with his age ranging from 56 to late 60s; the most reliable appears to be I mention this and he bursts out laughing. Unlike many addicts, he says, he was not self-medicating to escape the horrors of life; for him, heroin was purely hedonistic.
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But it soon became a problem. I was moving in different circles. I was more unkempt. I ask what was so great about heroin.
He talks at length, and rather beautifully, about it. To have that feeling of invincibility. The good thing about heroin, and the worst thing, is not having to deal with other people. You can be sitting in your own fucking piss in a shithole flat, but it gives you that illusion of strength and power and wellbeing.
Welsh was addicted to heroin for about 18 months. He went cold turkey, and says it was awful. But he beat his addiction. He spent most of his 20s moving between Edinburgh and London, trying — and failing — to make it as a punk rocker in bands. By the mids, he was living in London, flipping houses in the crazy property boom. His big break was an accident — literally. He was on a bus going to a Hibernian football match when the bus was involved in a collision and toppled over.
How could he possibly go from a life of reckless abandonment to one of such disciplined self-interest? Why would you want to do that? You want to do something with your life, not fucking ponce around doing up fucking flats and selling them. In the late 80s he returned to Edinburgh and another new career, this time in local government.
And again he made a success of it. He received a series of rapid promotions to end up as head of training at the economic development department. I was really straight. At the same time, he started writing seriously. Much of Trainspotting, he claims, was written at work.
After publishing it inhe gave up his middle-management job and wrote full time. In Filthhis protagonist is the filthiest of police officers; Marabou Stork Nightmares is about a man in a coma who was sexually abused by his uncle; A Decent Ride features an oversexed cabbie; Bedroom Secrets Of The Masterchefs is about a hard-drinking football hooligan; and on it goes. Welsh returns again and again to the same themes of corrupt, destructive masculinity: drinking, scoring, snorting, raving, shagging, bragging, betraying and destroying. Trainspotting remains by far his biggest success.
Does it bother him that critics often say he has never matched it? He hates the process of revision. This is perhaps why they are so raw — at best fizzing with energy, at worst reading like first drafts. There is one act of violence in the new book that made me feel sick, I say, yet he seems to describe it with gusto.
I had that element of detachment from it.
I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me, because I could feel the excruciating pain and torment of everybody in the audience. Is there a bit of Begbie in you, I ask — do you have a temper? Anything that comes to hand is used. I hit somebody in the head with a bar stool once. It was quite a heavy stool. He was pretty fucked. I would probably rather have somebody do that to me than me do that to them, because the guilt afterwards is crippling. You can get over that.