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Irvine Welsh: Master of cuss words
Irvine Welsh is feeling his age. At 51, he's just finished writing a book about 21-year-olds, a prequel to the cult classic Trainspotting. The Scottish novelist, who was at the Jaipur festival, has just sent Skagboys to his publisher and is waiting to go through the six-month tussle of crossing out paras and saving special sentences with his editor before the book finally hits the shelves sometime next year.
The author of eight books, four collections of short stories and a number of film and TV scripts, Welsh made his debut in 1993 with Trainspotting, a tough-as-nails novel set in the 1980s that follows the lives of six heroin addicts in Edinburgh. Welsh, who usually writes about working class Scotland, has since written a sequel to it.
Welsh himself has lived the life he writes about - the son of a Scottish dock worker who grew up with people like the ones he populates his books with, doing heroin, working multiple jobs and finally finding himself in writing.
What is Skagboys about? And why a prequel 18 years after Trainspotting was published?
Skagboys looks at why the boys in Trainspotting became junkies. Trainspotting is about the lives of junkies and the consequences of addiction. As you get older you reflect on life, and I wanted to show what led the boys into addiction, something so many people I know have gone through. It was a common experience we all had back then and I wanted to understand why we made the decisions we did. Trainspotting is essentially the middle of what was originally a 300, 000-word novel. I just threw away the first part since it was too large. The end was cannibalised into other novels and stories. I've now resurrected the first part to show how regular guys messed up and became what they are in Trainspotting.
How different is Skagboys from Trainspotting in terms of content and style?
When I wrote Trainspotting, I was about 27 and the boys I was writing about were 24. It felt like a huge gap then. With Skagboys, they're 21 and I'm 51 and it was terrible. I looked at the draft that I'd written earlier, but it was too much like Trainspotting. In some ways, Skagboys is the alternative version of Trainspotting. I've worked on Skagboys for three years, while I was doing other things as well. I also think I needed age to reflect on how one gets drawn into addiction.
You used heroin yourself. Did you go to rehab?
Heroin is a funny drug. When you take it you know you're headed for addiction. It's actually a miserable experience to use it. Once you're away from it, you wonder why you did it in the first place. I'm still trying to work out how I got involved in it. In a way I'm doing Skagboys for that reason, to understand. Rehab programmes are not much use because most of the time, you get your life in order and get back in the habit once you're off the programme. I never wanted to be a poster boy of AA or NA or whatever it is. After I wrote Trainspotting, every drug advocacy group wanted me to be involved in their work. I just wanted to get on with my writing.
You just read from Skagboys and like your other books, it seems quite full of four-letter words. Do you think there'll be more controversy?
(Chuckles) When Trainspotting first came out, it was banned in a lot of places and that made me very rich. I find it hard to see that happening now. I use swear words differently from other writers. People speak that way;it would be pretentious not to use four-letter words while writing about the kind of people I write about. And swear words are not necessarily cuss words.
Trainspotting was a hugely successful film. Which of your books are now being turned into films? And what are the books by other authors you'd like to see as films?
Danny Boyle did Trainspotting, which was great. He's good with people on the set, pays great attention to detail, and casts really well. I'm currently producing Filth, which is being directed by Jon Baird, who co-wrote the script with me. Ecstasy is being shot by Rob Heydon in Canada right now so there might be some dodgy Scottish accents in it but otherwise it should be a great film. I want to turn Alan Warner's book The Man Who Walked into film. So that's something to look forward to.
Characters from Trainspotting keep cropping up in your other books. Why?
Yeah, that does tend to happen. I guess after a few books, you don't want to keep re-creating the same characters. But the characters of Trainspotting kind of gate-crashed Porno. So I made that the sequel. That spoiled it a little for me. It was swamped by the Trainspotting crew. The thematic concerns of all my books are the same - how we f*** up in life. It fascinates me that we all make these self-sabotaging moves and terrible life decisions.
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