Light dances and refracts off the shiny bald dome of Irvine Welsh’s head. Some two hundred people perch on the edge of their uncomfortable seats as he shares a story. There’s laughter, there’s bits where nobody’s sure if they should laugh but then they do anyway, there’s plenty of “cunts” and “fuckers”. A four-year-old in the corner plays with the power-points, his mother not entirely fussed as she gets to hang out with Irvine Welsh. He reads as if he’s sharing an anecdote, shifting naturally from foot to foot, speeding up and slowing down perfectly; Irvine Welsh is a captivating reader, so much so that we forget that he’s reading at all.
Last night began with a reading of “A Fault In The Line,” from his latest book, Reheated Cabbage. The name for the collection comes from an old Italian saying which refers to relationships which split up, then get back together again: “it’s never a good idea”. Welsh thought this phrase an apt title for this collection, a reprinting of older work and previously published stories.
We all know the man, even if we don’t know the man. The man who wrote Trainspotting and The Acid House, author of cult novels Glue and Filth, life-lover and curiosity connoisseur.
Welsh himself attributes his immense fame to something he called “Scotchploitation” – “there was about five minutes in the 90’s,” he says, “where it was vogue to be Scottish.” Caught up in this, Trainspotting became a massive cult hit, and Welsh became an accidental expert on all matters “Scotland” and “drugs”.
There seems to be two sides to Irvine Welsh. There’s the present-day working-man side, which tells host Alan Brough that he’s “generally a happy person,” but there’s also the side which is linked to all the hardship that appears over and over in his writing.
The characters in Welsh’s novels are always intensely Scottish. Caricatures, yet absolutely believable in some absurd way. This idea of Scottishness and globalization seems to be a terribly important issue for Welsh. At last night’s event, he expressed concern about the “one-dimensional”ism of globalization leading to boredom, and a loss of the kind of culture that is so prominent in his writing, saying that “culture needs a place to be, and it doesn’t really get that now.”
Welsh’s writing, then, is an attempt to stop his culture from slipping through the cracks, and also a way of bringing to a wider audience the grittiness that goes with it. Welsh reflected on the “epidemic” of knife-crimes in the areas he grew up, which was never there when he was a child, upset that funerals are now more common than graduations in these areas. Welsh writes his gritty realism as a way of “trying to make sense of an epidemic”.
Welsh’s own experiences with drugs and making bad decisions seems, at this point in his life, to not be such a firm basis for his writing, while pure curiosity seems to be the starting point for the most entertaining and involving parts of his work.
As for his writing life, Welsh regards this with a bit of curiosity too. He says he has a regime, involving an early rise, exercise, breakfast – all the things that a normal functioning person does. But while his writing is “much better in the morning… I always seem to gravitate towards the evening,” which is when he violently pounds out his ideas until he collapses, and his wife scoops him up off the floor and into bed.
“I don’t really have a healthy relationship with writing,” he says. “I write til I drop.”
Welsh puts his novels into the “literary fiction” category, as opposed to genre fiction, saying that the former concentrates on characters and their psychology. His own psychology is also an interesting point, as he describes his writing habits.
He tells us about the inherent complications of “spending all this time alone with people who don’t exist,” and those moments when he looks as his work and thinks it’s “kinda nonsense,” resulting is “massive mood swings” between being picked up by his wife and telling everyone how fantastic his work is. He says he now prefers to spend time working on films as the close proximity with real people helps to ground him.
Irvine Welsh’s work is, and will continue to be, an incredibly intense combination of what he himself has been through, and what he finds “interesting”. Listening to the man speak, you know he’s in exactly the place he should be, able to regard the world with his writerly awe, and so absolutely able to connect with people when he feeds that back to us, no matter how far-fetched or foreign the situation.