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Irvine Welsh and the Freedom of a Blank Page

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Irvine Welsh describes his younger self as "a tortured boy soul". However the tortured soul put Edinburgh on the map storming and shocking the literary world with his first novel 'Trainspotting'. In my opinion he couldn't have done it better if he had walked down the street with fireworks coming off himself. He made his mark and the rest is as they say history. I'm not sure what is cutting edge but I do know Irvine Welsh is the very edge, and no one is coming close. He's not what I would describe as someone for the faint hearted. He speaks with a strong Scottish twang, and is not someone who see's life through rose tinted spectacles. He is also a realist. Sat in front of him he somehow has that look of someone who has been there and done it and to do it again would be boring. He's confident but not in an annoying way, in a fun way. He's pushed boundaries and done what others could n't even dream of doing. He's got a mischievous glint in his eye, and something tells me he knows and likes it.

Imagine being in school with him? Irvine tells me what it was like growing up. "I was pretty moody sometimes. I kind of was one of the boys, sometimes I was the tortured soul that would go off on my own and draw in his book and that kind of stuff. I really liked artsy kind of stuff which was seen as a bit poncey at the school I was at, writing and drawing and all that. On one level I was kind of isolated and on the other side I also really loved football and sports, which was seen as acceptable. It was kind of strange kind of thing for me I always felt that there was a big dichotomy between art and sport but your normally either a kind of academic kid or a sporty kid. I think because I wanted to be both I was neither really, and didn't excel at anything at school. I think it was because I could never really wanted to throw myself into something at the exclusion of something else. The friendships that you have with different groups of people all seem to be set up in one way or another. You were either one of the sporty football guys or one of the tortured muso/poet guys. I was kind of both really".

So when did Irvine realise he could write? He responds "I think that I always have done. As a kid I was always writing, drawing, painting and that kind of thing I was always putting stuff down on paper whether it was words, drawings images and designs of things. I just thought that this was always something that I had done so I did not really think about it in terms of applying myself into a certain way. Music, I kind of really liked first and I got into playing in bands and writing songs, which were always very lyrical they were like kind of ballads and I think from the songs these ballads kind of grew into stories. So from songs I was then writing longer, more ambitious ones and turning them into novels and stories".

What was his decision behind moving to the states because he mostly writes about the working class in Scotland but he is now living in Chicago? "There was not any real kind of decision as such; it was like personal family circumstances. My wife is American and her dad was ill and she fancied moving back. We had been in Ireland for six years. We'd thought about maybe going to London again, but I have spent so much time there that I did not want to do that. I thought about giving New York or LA a try but she likes Chicago. And I thought, well my manager and agent are in LA and my publishers are in New York and it was kind of easy to get to from Chicago to deal with them. I don't drive so I find LA kind of a bit much to deal with if your there all the time. I love going there for a week every two months or so to do meetings with my manager and agent, but that's usually enough for me. It's good that I don't have to deal with it and I don't have to spend time on buses and the metro. New York's easy as it's only an hour away from here by plane so you can do something there in a day basically".

From Trainspotting to Ecstacy its interesting to know what Irvine thinks of his accomplishments and his past achievements. "I don't really think about it in these terms. It's not really in my make up to look back in that way. I think that when you are doing stuff you are submerged in the project that you are in. And anything that's kind of gone is dead basically. Sometimes it resurrects, like I've been working on this Trainspotting play in Chicago that's been going for the last five weeks and it's kind of interesting that it's still kind of got it's legs and works as an American play. I find it amazing that people are still interested in that film and book 'n all that. There may come a time when I can't be bothered to do any more stuff, and I'll want to look back and reflect. Right now there is just too much on the horizon for me to indulge myself in that way".

Does he consider himself a Film writer or a novelist? "I'm just a storyteller really I don't really see the importance in the difference in the medium. I like books, I love them. I love movies too and TV. The medium is not the most important thing to me. You can start off with a blank piece of paper and think your going to be writing a book a novel or a short story and you think well is actually feeling more of a stage play or a film script and you know you can do the reverse and think your going to write a film script about this kind of thing and then you can think maybe it's a bit more dense to be told in a very stripped down or story. So maybe it needs the density of a novel to make this thing right. Sometimes the thing you are writing does not become the thing that you are going to write".

What I am interested to know about is the drugs, so I say "Lets talk about the drugs. Back in your day you obviously got stuck into them. I find that middle class guys just experiment with drugs and then end up in the Priory, but the working class guys just get bang on it?"
"Well for working class kids there is not really a lot else for them to do. They do it because there is not really anything else to do; I mean if you go into a scheme or project, there's not a lot going down for people in terms of educational opportunities and employment or ways to make money. So drugs tend to become the raison d'etre for everything, you know your economy your status in the community your reputation is all kind of based around drugs. They win by default. If your middle class or upper middle class you can do something on drugs and have a bit of fun but you have other options and you can move towards something else. I think that is basically the difference. I think everyone can have a drug phase but there's nothing else to go to when you've had that, and you can kind of get stuck in that".

He understands the whole scene, is that because he lived it? Observed it? Or both? "Yeah kind of both. You can live it but it's not something you want to do for too long. Apart from anything else I don't think it teaches you anything new after a while, you know what I mean? The repetition of it is kind of boring after a while. I think one of the reasons why people get less interested in it the older they get is because they just don't learn anything from it and it takes a lot more out of you and your more physically and mentally fragile so you resist. In some ways they got replaced by work for me because when I am working and doing different projects with different people and I have this freedom of the blank page, so I'm kind of learning a lot more now. The only way I can learn now is through work, through research and things and I want to keep learning. I mean if I said I was going to a club and I wanted to get fucked up and all that it would be like well I know what's coming. Because you anticipate it, so then you don't really get the enjoyment of it all as you're thinking about the hangover the next day and you should not be thinking like that".

With his characters does the Scotsman recognise himself in his novels? Or are any of the elements of the characters based on his life? Casually he says "Yeah I think they all are really. I think every character is kind of an aspect of you, or an aspect that you have repressed in some way. It does not matter the age or the gender or ethnicity of the character that's not important. You can always recognize yourself. I'm doing a book now, in which the narrators are two women. One is a dippy artist and one is a fascist personal trainer, and they kind of come into each others orbit. My wife read the draft of it and she said 'god, these two characters are you, you know these are more like you than any other characters I have ever seen'. So that was interesting. I think every time in your life you become close to certain characters and then you move away from them. I think that is the way a lot of novelists work, especially if you're doing character driven rather than plot driven work".

When he wrote Trainspotting he did shock the literary world, did he expect it to have such an impact?" I kind of thought it was good and interesting but I did not really think it would get the kind of global exposure it has had. I thought it would become a book that would become one of these Scottish classics. But I did not think anyone outside of Scotland would know that much about it. I was surprised it seems to have done so well but the characters are pretty universal even though they've got this accent".

'Trainspotting' is a novel about heroin in the eighties and 'Ecstasy' is about ecstasy in the nineties. Do people get confused between Trainspotting and Ecstasy and fail to see the difference? "Everybody I am kind of writing for does get the distinction. It's like the people who don't understand the difference now are probably the type of people that would never actually pick up one of my books or watch one of my films".

Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy is also a romantic novel. Would he call himself romantic? At this question when others men would go quite shy Irvine's voice picks up as he says "Yeah I think so. I think everyone is. I think you kind of have to have romance in you. Without romance in your soul your kind of nothing really. I think the capacity to love and see the world in a romantic way is a very important thing to have".

Ecstasy was a film about Scotland film filmed in Canada, how on earth did that happen? In a matter of fact tone while quitting his brows Irvine says with authority "The reason behind that was we could not get any money. We came close a number of times. Before Gordon Brown changed the tax laws, we were actually ready to shoot; we were a week off shooting it. Then the tax laws changed and we just lost half our budget instantly. It just proved impossible to do so the Director Rob is Canadian and he just moved it to over there so we could actually shoot the thing, you know?"

Irvines tells me about his cameo appearances where he ended up on the cutting room floor. Laughing out loud Irvine tries to remain matter of fact, "Ecstacy and it's the same in 'Filth', which is our forthcoming film. I think they are trying to tell me something about my acting!"

In Ecstacy Irvine plays a Scotland against drugs Businessman? I think that must be his way of taking the piss? "Yeah I was a Scotland against drugs Business man in 'Ecstasy' and I was a journalist in 'Filth' and they both ended up in the extras, rather than the feature. I have to say it was for good reasons. Both scenes were pretty superfluous to the story line. I think when it comes to cinema you have to be very ruthless and make a strong choice about what you are actually going to film from a book. You have to make a very determined choice about the story you want to tell and what goes into it. With a book you can tell a lot of stories at once with a film you can only really tell one story. If I were pitching 'Trainspotting' to somebody as a film I would say that it's Renton about trying to come off drugs whereas if I was pitching 'Ecstasy' it's about Lloyd trying to decide if he is in love or whether he is on ecstasy. It's like you have to do it in a very one line way. But I would not do it that way if I were pitching the books to a publisher, never. I would have to look much more deeply into the all the story lines. Going back the fact that I played the Drugs against businessman in 'Ecstasy' everyone would say that's my way of taking the piss, it is not it was Rob the Directors idea. It was good fun filming a nice way to have a bit of a laugh".

"So come on then" I say what's your opinion on the whole Scotland against drugs thing? "I mean the whole Scotland against drugs thing was just fucking ridiculous and useless and it deserves to have the piss taken out of it to be honest with you".

I ask if there is to be a follow up to Ecstacy? "I don't think there will be no I think it's been done now. The next film I am going to have out is 'Filth'. I also have something that I have been doing some of the screen writing on and producing on called 'The magnificent eleven which is kind of a remake of the magnificent seven'. We've got Robert Vaughn so that was good fun to do".

"I know you love your music", I say "so what song sums up the nineties for you"? "I would probably have to go for an Oasis song something like 'Don't look back in anger' or one of the 'Trainspotting' ones". After mentioning Oasis I now know why he and Alan Mcgee are such good pals. They are both of course Rock n Roll stars!!!

In Irvines professional opinion I ask is ecstasy addictive, or will it just make me dance like a prat if i have a go? "The drugs not addictive. I used to go out raving every weekend and when things started to get too much i'd just get a couple of DVD's and stay in. Ecstasy, cocaine and drugs like that they are not physically addictive. They can be dangerous if you go off on a tandem and get into lifestyle but they are not addictive in the same way heroin is. There is a difference between a bad habit and an addiction".

I reply with "in my professional opinion with addicts it's always one last time, one last deal, one last pill, one last line, and guaranteed the one last time always ends up in chaos, as in 'Ecstasy' is that a message you were trying to get across?" " Yeah well I think it's that thing. Drugs are like working for an organization really you get promoted to your own level of competence and then you get fired. Drugs are the same. You do as much as you can and then you fuck up. You either think well that's me done now or you keep doing the same thing over and over again. That's what the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. I'm not saying I have not done that but you know after a few times you have to see the writing on the wall and see where it's going".

So what does a man whose raved his way through his younger days do when he's not writing? And just like his pal Alan Mcgee his wife also has a horse, does he horse ride? "I am not a great horse rider. I can climb on them and all that and trot on some placid old boy, but its not my thing. I go to the cinema or I go and read or I'll go for a run, head to the gym or the boxing club and get myself punched by guys that are twenty five years younger than me. Just the kind of things I have always done, you know like watch sport on TV".

In one sentence I think it would be rather interesting to hear how he describes himself? "Interested, yes definitely Interested. Keep myself busy and curious".

"What's next then Irvine I ask him?" "There are two movies that will be announced 'The magnificent eleven' and 'Filth' will both be out next year and I think they will both do well in their own ways. One is a low budget feelgood 'Carry On' type British film. The other is a very dark masterpiece with a stellar cast who take things by storm. I've got a movie that I am going to shoot next year in Chicago, which I'll produce and direct. I've also got a TV pilot on the go which we hope to shoot that next year and there's an exciting TV project in Miami Arthur Baker, Jonas Akerlund and I are developing with Iggy Pop".

So how long does it take to write a book? "One took me three years and another took me a month. It all depends really".

Laughing I say "C'mon I've looked at your twitter and done my research. Who is the biggest prat Donald Trump or Piers Morgan?" (Massive laughs, Irvine's head goes back, he slaps his lap and this raucous laugh just comes up and out). "Yeah I mean they make life interesting. It's like you've not necessarily got to love them but you've got enjoy people who are unlike yourself or they don't share your kind of politics and world views. You've just got to enjoy the sheer fun and sport of them being arrogant and pompous".

As I walk down the road away from the coffee shop where we have our chat I'm kicking myself at having not been born in 1950's, to have been a part of his crowd would have been just epic. However something tells me there's still life in the Scotsman yet and plenty more to come! What a genius and what a nice guy. I just love him and admire how he just gets it.