Irvine Welsh: "Honest, I'm Not A Tory"

The controversial writer, sometime hedonist and full-time scourge of the literary establishment on Trainspotting, hangovers and being outed as a fan of The Conservative Party.
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The controversial writer, sometime hedonist and full-time scourge of the literary establishment on Trainspotting, hangovers and being outed as a fan of The Conservative Party.

You came to writing quite late.  Before it became your job, did you write for your own enjoyment?

Not really. I started off in music and in bands, and started to write songs. I didn't seem to be getting anywhere with that, so I sort of forgot about it. But writing stories sort of grew out of writing songs, to some extent.  I started to write bigger and bigger stories, and it was just an organic thing really.  I've always enjoyed writing - when I was at school I enjoyed doing essays and that kind of thing - so I think I had a natural disposition towards it, but I wasn't really aware of that. The background that I came from, people didn't really become writers, so I wasn't aware that it was a viable option as a career.

You've had a whole host of jobs in the past.  What were the best and worst ones?

I think every job, however bad it is, has got its compensations. The best job I think I ever had was in furniture removals. You moved around a lot, it was with a good team of people, it was a good life. We used to go out and have a good drink after work.  I've done a lot of good jobs and met a lot of good people. I think it's the people you work with that make the jobs. I've had stuff that's been crap to do.  Cutting grass in the park is a bad job. You're just constantly doing it, all the time.

You came to writing late, but then Trainspotting immediately catapulted you to fame and notoriety.  What was that experience like?

It was weird. In some ways, I really didn't expect it to happen at the level it did. Looking back on it, it seems weird that, in the American election campaign, Bob Dole was running a campaign against  Trainspotting.  I kind of kept away from it all as much as I could. I moved to Amsterdam to be a bit out the way when it was at its height. I tried to get on with stuff, and disregard it as much as I could. When something like that happens to you, as a writer you don't really want fame.  You want to be as anonymous as possible.  I had to try and manage that situation as best I could.  When you're in that situation you want to dip your toe in and see what it's like.  I did do things like go to premieres and big parties and things like that, and I did have a good time and all that, but I kept it to a prescribed level, so it didn't interfere with the nuts and bolts of what I was doing.  It was an interesting time, and I'm glad it happened to me when I was about 32 rather than when I was 22.  I'd probably be in a nut house otherwise.

As a writer you don't really want fame.  You want to be as anonymous as possible.

You've also lived all over the place - London, Amsterdam, America, now Dublin.  Why does so much of your writing still return to Leith?

I don't know. I find it an inspiring place, really. I find Edinburgh an inspiring city, and I find Leith a really interesting part of the city.  I think it's just such a socially diverse place, and there's so much going on there.  Ports are always interesting, they've got a real ambience about them that's very much their own.  It just seems to inspire me. I wrote a big novella about warring tribes in Africa, and I actually used a lot of stuff about Leith and North Edinburgh  as an inspiration for that.  So even stuff that doesn't seem to be about Leith is often inspired by it.

You've also stuck quite a lot with gritty, working class characters.  Will we ever see an Irvine Welsh story that's all about doctors and lawyers?

You never know. I find the way that the world is now, the working class has been fragmented over the last 30 years.  The underclass have been squeezed as much as they can be. Over the next few years, the real pressure's going to be on people who are upper working class or lower middle class. Like, in the States now, you're seeing kids that are going to be poorer than their parents.  So I think there's going to be a major cultural, social and political realignment in America in the next 10-15 years, and that's going to have knock-on effects for the rest of the Western World.  So I wouldn't rule anything out.  I don't look around and pick things, it's just the things that interest me, and as the world changes, the areas I'm interested in writing about could change.

In your work, your sympathies are always with the poor and disenfranchised, but The Daily Telegraph said you'd come out as a Tory recently.

Yeah, the Telegraph are just making mischief. It's a couple of my pals on the paper - I used to write for the Telegraph, and they used to delight in winding me up for a bit of sport. But I can tell you that's very far from the case.

Another surprise was to read that you're a big fan of Jane Austen and George Eliot.  Have you always been into classical literature?

Yeah, I kind of read anything.  The themes that Jane Austen and George Eliot do really well are misrepresented in the TV adaptations.  It's become an export industry to America, this whole heritage stuff, with the big costume dramas and plummy voiced actors, when the reality is it wouldn't have been like that.  In real life they wouldn't have dressed like that or spoken like that.  I think it does them a disservice, the way they've been adapted.

You clearly love Leith and Edinburgh as a whole.  Why did you move away?

In a funny way, I don't really feel that I have.  I still have a season ticket for Hibs, I'm back about once a month, I still have a flat there.  I feel like a sort of half-arsed exile rather than completely away from it.  I'm still involved in things that keep me up to speed with it - I'm involved in the One City Trust, which is a great thing in Edinburgh. I still regard it as home, really.  But I've always travelled, and I've always liked moving around different places.

You appeared briefly in Granton Star Cause and Trainspotting.  Are you going to be like Hitchcock, and have a cameo role in all of your films?

Yeah!  I just shot a short film myself, and I play a drunk in that one. And I've just played an old French bohemian rascal in another film, in Dublin. I seem to be getting junkie or down-and-out or  pervert bit-parts.

Sticking with what you know, then.

Exactly. It's typecasting!

You're married now, and much more settled than 10 or 15 years ago.  Do you have any vices left?

Oh yeah, I've got loads of them, absolutely loads of them. But what I've learned to do is zone my life, put things in a box. So I've got working time, and then I've got socialising time.  I've never been able to do that before, but I've learned to over the years.  I've had to, because basically I can't handle hangovers now.  I can't work when I'm hungover, so I have to abstain when I'm working.  Ten years ago, I was able to be out all night partying, get back in, have an hour's sleep and then be back at my desk banging stuff out.  I can't do that now, I just want to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself.  I have to pick and choose the times when I party nowadays.

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