Interview :: Irvine Welsh (Sydney Writer’s Festival)
May 29th 2014
“I’m interested in focusing on humanity – in all my characters…”
Irvine Welsh hardly needs an introduction; as the author of Trainspotting he scared half a generation of teenagers off drugs and he’s one of the most diverse, passionate and innovative writers around. He’s also super into dance music.
Bridie Moran chatted to Irvine Welsh about music, Twitter and what’s wrong with the federal budget…
An acclaimed author, playwright and screenwriter, Welsh is also a self-described “mostly-retired DJ”. He blames his former collaborator, (UK music journalist and DJ) Kris Needs for some of his most comedic moments on (and off) the dance floor:
“Kris and I spent so much time when we were doing our gigs missing flights, and winding up wasted at the airport trying to work out where we were going…having promoters calling us, not knowing where the club was…”
Although he says he loved it, DJ-ing was “too much fun” for Welsh.
“Successful people in dance music now are the ones like Calvin [Harris, who is currently working with Welsh is currently on a HBO electronic music comedy], who take it seriously, work at it, all the time. That’s when you’re going to succeed – if you’re serious.”
Welsh is serious about his writing, and says that he finds the process of working on the HBO series, “a different process. You’ve got more people there, more of a team waiting for you – there’s more pressure to deliver. Whereas with fiction, you just go off on your own… and come back a few months later.”
Welsh’s latest novel is the critically acclaimed The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, which follows two female protagonists in a sticky, sweaty, icky murder, sex and kidnap filled romp. Lucy Brennan – a Michelle-Bridges wannabe-type trainer – takes on a gunman, meets Lena Sorensen, an overweight sculptor and find their lives start to fuse together.
Prior to our phone conversation, I’d found @WelshIrvine on Twitter and noticed Welsh tweeting back and forward with… a bunch of his characters?
For instance, Begbie’s tagged Irvine in his nuanced reviews of ‘Sex Lives’…
These character profiles, created by fans of Welsh’s work, are heartily supported:
“I think it’s amazing. I like to encourage them by following them back. I actually feel like they’ve come to life sometimes – they add to my characters. Some have these new narratives, and they start bantering with each other. Every now and then some of the lesser known guys will pop up – like Albert White –chime in for a bit, then disappear again.”
‘Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’ is a departure from Welsh’s other work. While the smutty language is still there, thank fuck, the Scottish drizzle is replaced by Miami haze and Trainspotting’s Begebie and Sick Boy are left well behind for Lucy and Lena. Welsh said that he didn’t change his approach when writing female characters:
“I don’t think of it as being different, writing them felt the same as writing the boys. I’m not going to sit down and say ‘I’m writing women’. I’m interested in what motivates, repulses, attracts them – and that’s not a gendered thing. In a world of industry and commerce, feminism is a necessary thing, but commercialism exacerbates the divide between genders. I’m interested in focusing on humanity – in all my characters.”
For Welsh, a key part of these characters’ humanity is their music:
“I have a playlist I develop for each of my characters. When I write, I want to make them so real… that you can feel their breath, hear their teeth. I have the playlist for each of the characters, and then I have a playlist for the whole book. I listen to them while I’m writing.”
Welsh says he has entertained the idea of releasing these playlists – “but we could never afford all the copyright…”
As part of Sydney Writer’s Festival, Welsh is taking part in an event called Writing Bodies. ‘Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’ is very – obsessively – concerned with the body – with fat, blood, flesh, sex and diets. Welsh says this obsession is something he’s become much more keenly aware of since moving from Scotland to the US:
“If you go out in Britian, the strangers will talk about the weather. If you go out in the US and talk to a stranger, it’s always about food – about the diner they found, the hamburger they just ate, their exercise they need to do. It’s just so much a part of American society. It’s a survival topic – you need to eat – but it’s also a consumerist thing. The sensible rationale is that if you think you are eating too much, you eat less. In a consumerist society if you think you are eating to much you are going to go out and purchase something to make you eat less…”
I’ll admit that I’d expected a bit more swearing and less political commentary in this interview, but Welsh’s visit to Sydney coincided with the student protests and he’s taken a keen interest in what’s happening for Australia’s young people:
“I think my generation has failed miserably in resisting neo-liberalism and we’re in no place to be giving advice or making more decisions. We’ve handed over monolithic power to elites and left [young people] with debt.”
What Welsh can offer, though, is a protest song – he picked out something “nice and quirky for the FBi people”.
Bridie interviewed Irvine Welsh as part of his appearance at Sydney Writer’s Festival.