If you like Irvine you’ll love this
August 31, 2007
Novelist Irvine Welsh, 49, from Edinburgh, shot to fame with his 1993 novel Trainspotting, about a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh in the mid-1980s.
The novel was made into a film starring Ewan McGregor in 1996.
Since then, Welsh has written six novels, a collection of short stories, and multiple screenplays and short dramas for television. His style is often described as shocking and violent, but with a unique strain of humour through the depths of human experience.
Welsh’s new book, If You Liked School You’ll Love Work, is a collection of short stories featuring Welsh’s usual motley crew of brash, raucous characters.
He spoke to Fiona Gray about books, drugs, house music and his star appearance at the Henley Literary Festival.
Your website says you did not like school, so according to the title of your new book I guess you did not much like work either. What was the worst job you ever had?
I was a “slabby”, which is labourer, putting down paving stones. I detest physical work, so it was very hard for me. I started to get muscles and calloused hands, which was terrible as I was a New Romantic at the time.
When you left school you became a TV repairman until you had an electric shock and left. Was it a shunt into reality for you?
I got a big shock one time when my AVO meter lead hit the final anode on the telly tube and I blasted into outer space. I lost about 15 minutes where I didn’t know where I was – a bit like most weekends, I suppose.
Do you consider writing to be “work”?
The creative side is pure play and fun – there’s no sense of work at all. But the other 80 per cent of ordering material and battering it into shape is definitely work.
If You Liked School You’ll Love Work is your first book of short stories for 13 years. How different is it to write compared with full-length novels?
Short stories are great fun. I’ve always written them, but it’s usually for some anthology or charity book. It was great to sit down and write a bunch for a dedicated collection. I like the short story and novel equally, I couldn’t split them.
What is the thread that holds these stories together?
I think they are all about the very prissy, understated kind of racism we have in the western world today. That’s not to say we still don’t have a more overt, virulent variety as well, its just not what the stories are about.
Is this collection a departure from your previous style?
I’m not really sure. When I finish a book, I don’t look back. I think it’s a bit more light-hearted after last year’s novel, which was a bit heavier.
You are often known as “Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting”. Does this ever annoy you?
No. Everybody wants their first book to be wildly succesful. If I wasn’t known as the author of Trainspotting I’d be known as the author of another book. It’s just a short-hand term of reference.
Does it annoy you that people talk about the book having only seen the film?
No. They pay their money. It’s a free country.
Trainspotting was certainly a social novel, but was it a socialist novel?
I’m not actually sure what a socialist novel is or what it would possibly look like. Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is perhaps the only one I could think of.
Would it be possible to write an overtly ideological novel these days without sending everyone to sleep? I doubt it.
Are you political and what are your leanings?
I’m extremely left wing in my politics.
(On admitting he benefited from Thatcherism in the early 90s by buying up property in Islington) I’m not a Tory. In ideological terms I’m left wing. But I accept that my politics are out of kilter with the way the western world operates.
I’m relaxed about that – it’s a democracy. Yes, I’m a capitalist, but only because I realise the system isn’t going to change soon and you have to get on with your life.
Trainspotting describes the drug-fuelled society of the Eighties, a scene that you were caught up in personally. Was the novel a catharsis for you? A form of treatment?
Yes, I suppose it was. I didn’t really see it that way at the time, but with the perspective of distance there was an element of working out the whole thing to my own satisfaction.
How has the role of drugs changed in our society since the days of Trainspotting?
It’s capitalism at its best. Higher demand, greater supply, more diverse and cheaper product.
You live between Dublin and Miami. Why those two places?
The climate in Miami is good for me.
I came to Dublin a few years ago planning it as a short-term thing, but I’ve got a bit in with the bricks. I really like it so I’ll probably have to move.
That’s always been my logic – head off to the next party before you get fed up with the one you’re at.
You are a big fan of house music – what was the last gig you went to?
I’m quite excited about the 20th anniversary of house music next year and I might get out for the odd bop. It’s a youngster’s game though, because you really have to dance and I haven’t got a decent all-nighter in me these days.
Who do you admire as an author or artist?
You admire people who are friends who are writers and artists, basically because you know their modus operandi and are amazed that they continually produce quality work!
So it would be the likes of Alan Warner (Scottish author of Morvern Callar), John King (author of The Football Factor), Primal Scream (Glaswegian rock group), Alabama Three (acid house music group who wrote the theme tune to The Sopranos).
What’s next for you?
Tons and tons of dead trees. A new novel, more stories, a film next year, two screenplays to be filmed and writing a telly series for Channel 4.
Why did you decide to do Henley?
My friend Sue Ryan started the festival. Sue is one of the most resourceful people I’ve met and with her running things it can’t fail to be a resounding success.
You are the Grand Finale of the festival – any surprises up your sleeve for the performance?
It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.
Have you ever been to Reading?
I’ve been at the Reading Festival a few times. Obviously, I have absolutely no memory of it at all.
* Irvine Welsh will be appearing at the Kenton Theatre, on Sunday, September 23, at 6pm. Reading Evening Post readers can get two tickets for the price of one for this event – see page 17 for details.