Tales of the dark side

As cult film Trainspotting celebrates its 20th anniversary, author Irvine Welsh speaks to Hannah Stephenson about his new novel The Blade Artist.
Author Irvine Welsh.. Picture: PA Photo/Rankin.Author Irvine Welsh.. Picture: PA Photo/Rankin.
Author Irvine Welsh.. Picture: PA Photo/Rankin.

News that filming is finally under way on the long-awaited Trainspotting 2 couldn’t have come soon enough for fans.

But did Irvine Welsh – who wrote the novel the first film was based on, and who’s follow-up, Porno, has again been adapted for the movie sequel – worry that it would be a tough act to follow?

It seems not.

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“The thing is, if you have your book adapted, you’re in the casino playing with the house money,” he explains in his tough Scottish burr.

“If it’s a failure, you can say, ‘They messed up my book’. If it’s a success, you can say, ‘Ah, well they had the source material from my book’. You’re in a complete win-win position.”

The sharp Scotsman is naturally funny, a trait which has seeped into his otherwise gritty, violent tales of life in Edinburgh among an eclectic mix of down-at-heel characters, often high on drugs or engaged in scams, murders and other criminal activity.

Anyone familiar with Welsh’s writing will recognise his psychotic Scottish anti-hero Frank Begbie, who first appeared in his debut novel Trainspotting, published in 1993, and in the screen adaptation which starred Robert Carlyle and Ewan McGregor, and achieved cult status.

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Begbie returns in Welch’s latest novel, The Blade Artist and his life has moved on. He has reinvented himself in the new book, as Jim Francis, and carved a new life in California, as an artist of grotesque celebrity portraits. He has a new wife Melanie – an art therapist he met in prison – and two young daughters.

But the violent murder of the drug addict son he hardly knew takes him back to Edinburgh, and some of the characters in the dark world of his old life.

Welsh has also made a better life across the pond. He’s lived in Chicago for the last six years with his American wife Elizabeth, who rides dressage horses, and before that lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles (as well as Dublin and Amsterdam). He still has a flat in his native Edinburgh, where he spends two or three months of the year. “I still see Scotland as home. It feels like I nipped out for a pint of milk, never came back and the milk’s gone a bit sour, so I really should get home. But now you’ve got email, Skype, Twitter and Facebook, I can have chats with my mates. Sometimes you can have Skype on and chat to family members sitting round in the kitchen making cups of tea.”

He’s prolific on Twitter – and welcomes trolls. “I’m trolled all the time. It’s one of the best things that can happen if you’re a writer, especially if you write dark stuff about characters that are messed up. You can go into the trolls’ timelines and see all the things they are into, and there’s usually a lifetime of pain and inadequacy there. It’s fabulous research!”

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He has adopted some of the US healthy lifestyle habits and says he’s cleaned up his language, although his conversation today is peppered with expletives.

“I’ve run marathons, I play tennis, I go to the boxing club all the time and do road-running. Now I’ve stopped all the hedonistic stuff, I just have that left.

“I used to do epic binges and parties that lasted for three or four days, but I can’t do that any more. It’s not just the fact that I’m not up to it physically or mentally, I don’t want to. I’m pretty bored by it.”

The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £12.99.