Why Irvine Welsh loves the 80s
September 23, 2009
From Trainspotting to skagboys, Irvine Welsh can’t keep away from Begbie, Sick Boy and Renton. He explains why
You’ve appeared at Henley festival before, what made you want to come back?
Henley is a great place for a literary festival. It’s relaxing and easy on the eye, close to London, but far enough away to make it a nice trip for the metropolitan classes.
My friend Sue Ryan is a director and founder of the festival and she’s a terrific host, so it’s always nice to spend time there.
Why did you choose to talk about your new novel Skagboys?
It’s great, as a writer, to talk about a work-in-progress. When you talk about a book it’s generally to promote it, so it’s usually about a year old to you by the time its gone through the publishing process.
Whereas the one you’re currently working on is fresh and you’re more enthused about it.
What can we expect from you at this year’s appearance at the Henley Literary Festival?
I’d be disappointed if nobody walks out in response to my graphic descriptions of all manner of bodily fluids being exchanged.
Your books have been translated into many different languages, do you think it loses anything in translation?
Undoubtedly, but it’s flattering that they seem well received when they go into other languages’ cultures.
All translators have their own approaches and you really have to let them get on with it and hope for the best.
I’m sure some of the books might in some ways be enhanced by the translation.
Your books have been placed in the Scottish literature section in book stores, is this how you would categorise your novels?
I’m not sure, I’m happy to leave that one to the booksellers. Everything gets categorised in some ways, so I suppose that label’s as apt as any.
There have been reports that Danny Boyle is ‘edging closer’ to making Porno, can you shed any light on this?
Not really. I think there is a big aspiration by some movie goers and sections of the media, to reunite the old Trainspotting crew, which seems to continually gather momentum.
Myself and John Hodge and Andrew McDonald have talked about trying to sit down and get a script together for Danny to look at, but we’ve all been working on other things.
Would you like to see any other director do it?
No. I’ve now come to almost associate these characters as much with Danny now as I do with myself.
Robert Carlyle said he would do Porno tomorrow ‘for nothing’ but Ewan McGregor isn’t so keen to star as Renton again, who would you like to see play Renton in his place?
Again, I feel very much the same with Ewan and Renton. A big problem was that there was no real role for Renton in the book, it was more Sick Boy’s story, the script would have to bring him back to prominence, I would imagine, before it would appeal to Ewan. But this is academic, as at present we don’t have a completed script.
I’m sure Bobby will be reminded of that comment, if and when the casting director talks to his agent!
Do you explore the same kind of themes in Skagboys as Trainspotting and do you touch on anything new?
Trainspotting was more about the lives of hardcore heroin addicts. Skagboys is more about the changes in British society in the 80’s, when a new underclass was created and how a group of ordinary long working-class guys became heroin addicts. It centres more on their family dynamics and peer relations between them.
How much of your books and the characters in them are based on your own experiences?
It varies. I try to retain a personal element in all my books and let my own life inform them, but they are all emphatically novels, not thinly-veiled autobiography.
What made you want to do a prequel?
Apart from the fact that the rough draft was already there, I really like the main characters. It’s a first love sort of thing.
Would you like to see Skagboys turned into a film?
I’d love, at this stage, for it to be turned into a book!
You’ve done some directing yourself, could you ever see yourself directing Skagboys?
No. I’d like to write and direct something specifically for the screen, but I wouldn’t fancy adapting or directing one of my own books. I think it needs a fresh face to breathe new life into it.
Do you think you can do anything else with Renton and Sick Boy or is Skagboys the last we will hear of them?
I’d like to think it was the last, but I’m quite interested in Begbie as a middle-aged man.
You touch on a lot of issues relevant to the social issues which were rife at the time of writing, is there anything you would like to write about now which you think would reflect today’s society?
I’m obsessed with the 80s, which makes me feel now almost like a historical novelist, no just because I lived through them as a youth, but in retrospect they seem a huge point of transition for British society.
We made choices then, whether they were good or bad or both is a moot point, but the ramifications of them are more apparent than ever. I’m interested in youth culture today in globalised world, but I wouldn’t be on it like younger writers. It’s their territory.
Did you always intend to write a prequel?
Yes, the first draft was written before Trainspotting. I didn’t always intend to publish it though.
Trainspotting has enjoyed a cult following, are you worried Skagboys won’t have the same impact?
I’d be very, very surprised if it did. You can only be responsible for the quality of the book, not how it’s received. That’s to do with a myriad of factors beyond your control.
I’ve written better books than Trainspotting, but it would be hard for another book I write to make a bigger impact.
You’ve written some short stories and will be telling some of them at the festival. Which do you prefer to write? Which are the most difficult to write?
Short stories are great fun, and they have their own discipline. In general the novel is more of a challenge, but a great short story writer like Alice Munro or Annie Proulx can produce a short story as dense as a novel.
What is on the agenda for you next? Any new projects in the pipeline?
I’m directing a film called the Magnificent 11. It’s a mad romp about football, cowboy builders, Indian restaurants and gangsters. Very British, and daft crazy fun.
It would be great to have it ready for Scotland winning the World Cup in South Africa... whoops...
After Henley I go to Miami for three weeks, then I’m back at Sheperton to prep the film, which will take us up to Christmas.
Finally, what are you happiest doing?
Lying on Miami Beach, thinking about the winter in Britain.
- Irvine Welsh appears at the Kenton Theatre in Henley on Saturday, October 3, at 8pm.
- For more details, log on to the festival’s website, www.henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk or call 0845 519 0450.