This article is from 2006.
Our guest editor Irvine Welsh talks to Craig McLean about his latest novel, fledgling film career and why he just can’t settle down.
Irvine Welsh loves hate. More specifically, when he was writing his new novel he found himself ‘fascinated’ by the ‘dedication’ required to develop - and sustain - a loathing for someone. It’s hate that unites and divides the two central protagonists of The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. Bon viveur Danny Skinner and social misfit Brian Kibby are employed as Environmental Health Officers with Edinburgh Council. With each lad wrestling with a host of personal crises - alcoholism, virginity, father issues, careerism - they project their frustration onto each other. The intense hatred warps them: literally.
‘You’ve got to be really dedicated to focus on somebody like that,’ says Welsh. ‘I think if you can actually muster that kind of energy and focus you probably actually could put a spell on somebody.’ Well, perhaps. But given his track record at creating such legendary and vivid nutjobs as Trainspotting’s Begbie and Filth’s Bruce Robertson, as well as more likeable rogues like Glue’s Juice Terry and the older, wiser Renton of Porno, if anyone knows about the corrosive possibilities lurking in the depths of the male conscience, it’s Welsh.
Thirteen years since the publication of Trainspotting, Welsh is busier than ever. He’s hoping to direct his own adaptation of Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks for the big screen. He has a raft of writing projects on the go, from TV and film screenplays to the play Babylon Heights, a (oh yes) Wizard of Oz spin-off that recently had its world premiere in San Francisco. Welsh says that if this imagining of Munchkin mayhem (co-written with old pal Dean Cavanagh) takes off after this month’s second run in Dublin (his current domicile), he’d like to see it as a touring production that begins life at next year’s Edinburgh Festival.
But before that, comes this eighth book, and a reading date at the Book Festival. If Welsh elects to read The Bedroom Secrets passage that he read in Aberdeen last year, hold on to your hats. Actually, hold on to your lunch. The new novel may have a wider, more thoughtful familial sweep, but, as the scene involving sex between Danny Skinner and a fusty pensioner in Tranent demonstrates, age and professional diversification have not dulled Welsh’s capacity for the jaw-droppingly gross.
In your previous life you were a training offer at Edinburgh District council. Did you draw on those experiences when writing about the frustrations and tension of the workplace in The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs?
‘I think so. It’s weird because I’ve always felt that it’s when I’ve been viewed as being really successful that I’ve been my most fucked up. You’re ticking all the boxes but somehow there’s something missing. It’s trying to tap into that feeling. So I’ve probably used a bit of that rampant restlessness to keep on getting into other things.’
Keane get a bit of a sideswipe in the book. Yet you directed, and co-scripted with Dean Cavanagh, a video for their track ‘Atlantic’. Is it fair to say you did that to get some experience behind the camera rather than because you’re a big fan?
‘Eh, yeah, basically, aye. But the brief was great: ‘do an eight-minute tribute to Ingmar Bergman. You don’t have to be in it. Just do anything you want.’ That was fucking great. I’m not interested in making pretty young boys look prettier. They let us tell a story. And it was a great discipline to have to tell a story in pictures with no dialogue. To think in that purely visual way.’
How does writing books compare with writing all the other stuff?
‘With the books I’ve got deadlines, and you get paid big bucks for the books. And we’re starting to get paid decent money - at last - for the screenplays. But there’s no money in theatre. It’s the poor relation. And you have to workshop plays, you have to get actors reading the scripts. You can’t just write it then hand it over.’
You’re busy in all manner of artistic areas. Is satisfaction difficult for you to come by?
‘No. I am quite a happy camper. But I’ll be in totally contented bliss for six months then wake up and want to do something outside the box. Something’s welling up in me. I just think there’s something inside me that I’ve not realised yet. I don’t know whether it’s to do with a book or a screenplay or a project. But it’s something I’ve got to get out. You know when people say everybody’s got a book inside them? Well I think I’ve got a book in me I’ve not fucking written yet.’
You still have a flat in Edinburgh, but you’ve lived all over Europe and America in the last dozen or so years. Why all the moving? What are you looking for?
‘It’s not so much looking for something as just looking. Wanting to see. Just the hunger to see things and experience things. I really just love fucking travelling. In my office I’ve got a big map of the world. I spend all day looking at it. It’s not even exotic things; about four or five years ago, I’d never been to Nottingham before, so I went. Checked into a B&B for four days, and sat in a couple of grotty pubs with old boys, just cracking away to them. It’s great to be able to do that.’
12 Aug, 4.30pm, £7 (£5).