Irvine Welsh talks Renton, Sick Boy and "Trainspotting USA"

NEW YORK Tue Sep 18, 2012 12:01am BST

Scottish author Irvine Welsh, best known for the gritty Edinburgh novel ''Trainspotting,'' poses at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, August 14, 2006. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Scottish author Irvine Welsh, best known for the gritty Edinburgh novel ''Trainspotting,'' poses at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, August 14, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two years after "Trainspotting" author Irvine Welsh moved to the United States, his infamous imaginary Scottish working-class heroin addicts are now descending upon America.

The 53-year-old Scottish writer is working on a new play, "Trainspotting USA," in which the likes of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie live in America, but first he has a new novel out, "Skagboys," a prequel to "Trainspotting."

Released in the United States on Monday, "Skagboys" explores how Renton and friends burst onto Edinburgh's heroin scene in the early 80s amid both personal and social demons before the time of "Trainspotting" and its sequel, "Porno."

The novel has so far received mixed reviews, with The Financial Times calling it, "Everything else you expect to enjoy or deplore in Welsh is present ... It's a bit of a mess. But then ‘Moby Dick' is a bit of a mess ... the cumulative force of Skagboys is something close to magnificent."

Welsh talked with Reuters about "Skagboys," drug addiction, and how "Trainspotting USA" Americanizes his infamous symbols of Scotland's working class.

Q: Why now write a prequel to "Trainspotting"?

A: "I was moving and packing everything up, and I found these old discs from a computer I had written ‘Trainspotting' on. I realized there were parts of ‘Trainspotting' I hadn't used - about 100,000 words. I read through it and I got back into the characters again. Everyone knows what's going to happen to them basically, so it had to be done in more of a why-did-it-happen rather than a what-happens, getting more into the politics, changes in the society and in the community. So looking over it, I focused on another approach."

Q: Is it easier or more difficult for you to write in Scottish working class dialect?

A: "It's harder, because it's not coming at me. I find that a lot of people think that I can just sit there and get into it after a few drinks, but it doesn't really work that way because I'm used to writing in standard English, so I start off there and then build in some changes. It probably takes me a lot longer to write like this. It takes about 30 pages I think (to get into reading) because you're not used to seeing the words on the page in that way."

Q: Renton says he doesn't buy the common rehab rhetoric about accepting powerlessness over one's addiction, and asserts that his addiction is an act of will and choice. Do you take that stance as well?

A: "I think it's complicated. You see characters like Spud for example. He's got no skills or education, so when manual trades and labour collapse, he's going to let time fly and he's basically kind of redundant almost as a person and a worker. With Renton, the position is much to do with existential dreams he's been working through. It's also to do with the relationship he has with Sick Boy, and family pressure. So you can't really say it's one thing or another. What you can say is when you take employment and education and all that opportunity out of a place and substitute it with drugs … it's never going to end well when that happens."

Q: You have a play coming up, "Trainspotting USA." Was it difficult to translate the characters and their stories into a U.S. milieu?

A: "Some characters, like Renton and Sick Boy worked very well. Spud also went well. Begbie was a difficult one because I think that the whole nature and culture of the way violence is expressed is very different in Scotland than in America. American psychopaths are very quiet, and for a Scottish psychopath it's difficult to make (that transition). We tried to mould it to the culture's landscape. They go down to Mexico and all that, have a drug deal down there with prescription drugs. It's got a very different feel to it, to me it feels very American."

Q: Any film plans for "Skagboys" as a film?

A: "We're talking about it. The guy who produced Trainspotting, Andrew MacDonald, I'm going to have to talk to him about doing it rather as a movie or as a TV series. It might work better as a TV series. I think with the premium cable thing you can do some real art. I'm enjoying working with HBO because you can do so much stuff with your characters. They work more novelistically on television than you can in a two-hour film. There's more time to develop the characters."

Q: You've been working on a lot of projects in television, film and theatre. Any other novels in the works?

A: "I'm doing a novel. The two lead characters are both American, and they're both women. One's a personal trainer and one's an artist. They're set in Miami, and their paths cross, and they become kind of obsessed with each other."

Q: Do you have a preference for writing books or scripts?

A: "It's great to do both because when you work on your own as a novelist, you can do what you want to do, but it gets lonely. You get a bit psychotic and cut off from the rest of world. Then you talk with other people, and it's great fun. You learn a lot and get energized by their ideas."

(Editing by Christine Kearney and Steve Orlofsky)

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