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Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh on sex, drugs and rock and roll

December 4, 2015
Irvine Welsh (right) was one of the biggest name guests at the FIL this year.

Irvine Welsh (right) was one of the biggest name guests at the Guadalajara book fair this year.

Scottish author Irvine Welsh injected a heady dose of hedonism into the Guadalajara International Book Fair on Tuesday in a meandering but captivating talk that took in his thoughts on drug abuse, Scottish independence, the future of capitalism and his love of David Bowie.

Welsh, 57, is best known as the author of Trainspotting, a critically acclaimed 1993 novel about heroin addiction that was adapted into the iconic and hugely popular film of the same name by British director Danny Boyle. He proved one of the biggest attractions at this year’s book fair, with many disappointed fans left stranded outside a relatively small auditorium that was packed to the brim.

Welsh took part in a 40-minute conversation with Guillermo Fadanelli, a 55-year-old Mexican author whose work delves into the seedy underbelly of Mexico City in much the same way that Welsh explores the darker side of his native Edinburgh.

Dressed casually in a t-shirt that revealed his tattooed arms, the bald Scotsman was asked, somewhat unimaginatively, to talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll. Responding in a thick Edinburgh accent, Welsh revealed that when he creates a character the first thing he does is compile a list of “where they stay, who they lay and what they play.”

Deciding where they stay and what they play involves considering their background and putting on a musical playlist while he writes each character, Welsh said: “Sometimes it’s really great music and sometimes it’s not good music at all. Some of it’s horrible but it gives you a sense of their character.”

As for the significance of who they lay, he explained, “All the great humiliations, drama and stupidity in our lives are derived from the sexual side of our being, so it’s massively fertile territory for a writer. You can’t escape from it. So every character you write, wherever you do it consciously or subconsciously, you have to have a sense of their sexuality.”

Reflecting his debut novel, the hilarious but dark Trainspotting, which was widely lauded for its honest portrayal of heroin abuse, Welsh said, “I grew interested in writing about people who take drugs because I was taking a lot of drugs myself and I was trying to understand why and I was looking back on that period of my life and trying to make sense of it.”

His fascination with those who live on the fringes of society also stemmed from his own upbringing. “When I grew up I was always drawn to people who were a bit dodgy. One side of my family were very respectable, hard-working, working class trade unionists and socialists. The other side were very gangster orientated and into organized crime,” Welsh said.

“They had two very different ways of living their lives and I was very fascinated by them both without being particularly sold on either of them. I think because of that family background I was always drawn to characters from marginal communities who are into drugs and doing strange things.”

Having witnessed firsthand the impact of the closure of mines and factories in Scotland and northern England in the 1980s, Welsh noted that drug addiction typically thrives in places with high unemployment. In lieu of work, he said, drugs provide both the economic opportunities and the “compelling drama that everybody needs in their lives… that’s why people deal drugs and join gangs.” With modern technology making human workers increasingly redundant, Welsh warned that this will become the reality for the majority of people in the next 20 years.

For Welsh, who now resides in Chicago, hope for the future lies in the anti-austerity movements gaining pace across Europe and the drive for independence in places like Scotland and Catalunya.

“I was back home for the Scottish independence referendum (in September) and it was almost like a kind of revolution. People were suddenly politicized and they were talking about everything that’s happened in their communities in the last 30 years and they were really determined to make change. And although it didn’t actually come off it’s kind of changed the country forever,” he said. 

“The same things are happening in Greece, Portugal and Catalunya, it’s a global phenomenon that’s gathering pace. It’s a move towards democracy and claiming the world back from elites and trying to work out ways in which we can exist and survive and thrive as communities, as we should be doing.”

Moving on to rock and roll, Welsh was asked to name the album that most impacted his life. He chose David Bowie’s 1974 record Diamond Dogs, a glam rock take on a post-apocalyptic world inspired by George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

“I was a massive fan of Ziggy Stardust and all that stuff but Diamond Dogs was a different kind of album. It was regarded as a bit of a miss at the time but when you play it now it’s such a strong album,” Welsh said. “It’s both a concept album and a rock and roll album. At that age, when I wanted to become an artist of some kind, whether as a musician or a writer, it became a psychological template for me and a roadmap of how someone should progress as an artist.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 4, 2015 15:18

    Genial, pero me hubiera gustada más que hablaran también de Guillermo Fadanelli. Saludos

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