Irvine Welsh on writing Trainspotting, adaptations of his work, and how Edinburgh has changed over time
Irvine Welsh says that it is sad that Trainspotting continues to resonate with young people. The Internet has destroyed youth culture and ossified things from the past that are quality, he says
Irvine Welsh, who will be at the 2019 Jaipur Literature Festival, said the subjects of sex and drugs fascinate him because they are manifestations of the conflict between the human reason and the animal instinct.
About adaptations of his work, Welsh said that filmmaking is a collaborative art and that book adaptations need an inspired filmmaker with vision, not a curator.
The Internet has destroyed youth culture and ossified things from the past that are quality, he said.
If there is one thing you will read about the iconic book Trainspotting, it is that it defined an entire generation. Written by Irvine Welsh, published in 1993, and brought to life on the screen by Danny Boyle, it immediately caught the fancy of the 90s punk generation that identified with it instantly. Its four main characters — Renton, Begbie, Spud and Sick Boy — found immediate resonance with a generation familiar with finding solace in drugs and a life of crime, which was a result of the political and economic situation prevalent at the time.
Other books chronicling the lives of these four friends followed — T2 (a re-packaged version of Porno) and the final instalment, Dead Men’s Trousers. They bring these characters (minus one), now in their 50s, together for what could be called the last hurrah. The underlying line of thought in Welsh’s books concerns the working class and the Scottish sense of identity, societal hierarchies, football, sex and the vices of drugs and alcohol. Irvine Welsh will be at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, and in this email interview, he talks about taking a plunge into writing, adaptations of his work, and how Edinburgh has changed over the years.
If one were to summarise the premise of Trainspotting, T2, and Dead Man’s Trousers, one could say they are about four friends and their journeys. How would you describe the journeys of these four cult characters, drawing from the personal influences for each?
Well I wouldn’t. I am the annoying sort of writer who tends to let the subconscious do the heavy lifting and I’m militantly non-process aware. So I’d assume the characters are bits of me and bits of people I’ve known/observed, but I can’t be sure.
These four characters have made an appearance in many of your later works. Were you trying to create a unique universe for them?
No, but sometimes they can do a job. It’s a bit like being a casting agent. You see what’s already on your books before you send out a general request.
Sex, drugs and violence – these are subjects that sell really well and subjects that your books seem to revolve around. Why do they feature majorly in your work?
Maybe because, as you say, they really sell well!
I think it’s because the conflict between the human reason and the animal instinct has always fascinated me, and those things are manifestations of that. It’s where the drama lies.
You have had the quintessential 'bad boy' image. Was this always the case, or an association due to Trainspotting?
Have never really been conscious of that image. Not really sold on the idea that good and prolific writers can be bad boys. If you are putting in the hours required, you don’t really have much time for mischief.
The book and the characters quite literally defined a generation in the 90s. Do you think it has the same or some effect on the current much spoken-about generation – the millennials?
Sadly, yes. I say sadly because the Internet has destroyed youth culture and ossified things from the past that are quality. Trainspotting and say, Pink Floyd’s Dark of the Moon are as relevant and accessible to new generations as they were to mine.
What was your experience of creating and evolving the characters of Begbie, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy? Did they come naturally to you, did they have influences from your life, was your life influenced by them?
Back to above — yes they seemed to come naturally, from within if you like. Which is worrying...
A career in writing was not something you were into from the get-go. What made you take the plunge?
Serial failure at other things I loved (music, football, boxing) and an inability to do a 9-5 job for any length of time.
You have spoken about wanting to make your novels a more interactive experience – have you found a way to do this?
No. I think it’s posturing on my part. Ultimately I’d probably hate relinquishing control.
What is your writing process like? Do you closet yourself away in nature and amidst silence, do you write intermittently or do you have bursts of inspiration? How do you write?
All of those things. And I mix a lot of music when I write.
You were born in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is the setting for Trainspotting. How has the city changed, over the years?
Well, change is constant in any cityscape, and Edinburgh is no exception. Wherever I go; Miami, Barcelona, London, I hear the same story. The city is for tourists and wealthy visitors and working people should be marginalised and not seen or heard. Neo-liberalism has brutally destroyed all our cities.
What has been the experience of adapting these books into movies? Were the characters reproduced in the way you visualised and wrote about them in the book? Did you have to change things around a bit?
Filmmaking is a collaborative art. The novel and movie have to be different. What you want is exciting change that uses the potential of the form to tell the story. And you want an inspired filmmaker with vision, not a curator.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Especially those looking at writing about sub-cultures like drugs, societal evolution, sex etc?
Get out and have fun. Live a life. Travel. Take shit jobs. Have multiple romances. Take a lot of drugs. Only then, write. No great books came from a bedroom.
If your young self and current self were to meet, what would you talk about?
My younger self wouldn’t talk to my older self, and my younger self would be right not to do so.
What do you read? Any authors and their works that you would like to share?
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