Seminal author Irvine Welsh talks reunions, being (sort of) teetotal and taking the odd shot of DMT.
You’ve lived in the US for more than two decades; reckon you’re less Scottish now?
I think in some ways you get more of what you are. When I go to get my sandwich from the local shop, I always say ‘to-mah-to’ instead of ‘tom-ay-to’. They ask me: ‘You want lettuce and tom-ay-to?’ and I’ll reply [in a thick Scottish accent]: ‘Aye, lettuce and tomato mate, yeah.’ Me and the cashier play this game with each other where he pretends to not understand me. We’ve been doing this for six years. You’d think I would compromise, but I can’t.
Would you ever move back?
I think about it every year. I’m the guy who’s been sent out for a pint of milk and he’s wandered into the pub and got a bit lost. I really should come back with this pint of milk now, shouldn’t I?
What’s the secret to being a prolific writer? Bashing out a book every year?
Not necessarily, no. Find something you want to do. I was meant to be a writer – it took me a long time to accept that – but it’s how I express myself. I’ve always got something on the go. I wish I could stop. But when I stop and try to not do anything, I tend to get involved with other things. The devil makes work for idle hands…
Do you have a favourite character from your books?
It’s like any relationship: you’ve got to love the one you’re with. You’ve got to be invested in that relationship. My favourite character is whoever I’m with at the time.
So who are you with at the moment?
Quite a few, actually. I’m writing an extended piece on Vegas, about this young American couple and older woman who are plotting a suicide pact. And I’m with the Trainspotting characters again, because I’ve been working with [screenwriter] John Hodge, [director] Danny Boyle and [producer] Andrew Macdonald. I’m working on some stuff related to them. It’s exciting.
I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out. If you’re writing something as a book you can’t fall into the trap of seeing it as a film or a TV show, you have to see it as a book.
Speaking of that Nineties juggernaut, have you been involved with Trainspotting 2?
I’ve reprised my role as Mikey Forrester, so I was on set for a bit. But I’ve kept out of the way, really. It’s not through lack of interest – you just want to see an almost-finished version so you can feel the energy in it.
Are you worried it won’t be as good as the first?
It might not be as well received because it doesn’t have the shock of the new, but I have absolutely no doubt that it will be a better movie. Everything’s just better now.
What is the best sentence you’ve ever written?
The very first one, in the very first book [Trainspotting]: “The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice the c*nt. He wis bringing me doon.” That basically set me on the road. It’s also about the only sentence I can remember.
What’s your favourite swearword?
I like c*nt because of the consonance of it. I can’t use it in America, though, because it means something different over here. It’s very misogynistic.It’s quite misogynistic over here. But it’s always directed against women in America and I don’t feel comfortable with that. In Scotland you never call a woman a c*nt, you always call guys c*nts. So it seems very sexist to use the word in reference to women’s genitalia rather than as an emphasis, like: “What a c*nt of a day” or “He’s a great c*nt” and all that.
I read that you used to drink Guinness on the way to work in Edinburgh…
[Laughs] Not every single day, just on Fridays before work. It was prepping for the weekend.
But you don’t drink now?
A lot, lot, lot less. I’ve gone off it. What I find hard is sitting in a pub with a bunch of guys, which I used to love. Now it’s got to be men and women and there’s got to be food involved. I can’t just sit and talk the same sh*te. Also, the hangover the next day is so intense. It’s a bit like being on heroin in the Eighties, you get to the point where you think, “This is just making me sick, it’s not actually making me intoxicated.”
Just how good is heroin? It looks bad but surely it’s great, or why else bother?
[Laughs] The first time you’ll have a ball. And if you’re really lucky you might get a couple months of good fun out of it, but after that it’s a job. It becomes a full-time job.
Do you miss those days?
I miss being young and stupid and all the strange places it takes you to. But I don’t miss sweating, being sick and sitting on the back of a bus thinking about how I can distract my mother to go through her purse when I get home. I had mad times on cocaine, but I can’t do that now, because it just doesn’t physically feel the same. It’s all to do with youth – that unexplored, new frontier kind of thing. I’ll still have the odd shot of DMT, though.
Welsh is performing at this year’s Festival No6, which runs from 1-4 September in North Wales; festivalnumber6.com