Irvine Welsh is an author, a screenwriter, a playwright -- a genuine composer of the written word. Born in 1958 in Leith, the gritty port district of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh, which would go on to influence much of his writing, welsh migrated to London in the late 1970s, just in time to soak up the city’s peaking punk scene. He also went through a period of being arrested for petty crimes and vandalism that likely aided his unique perspective on postmodern life. The UK’s mid-to-late-’80s house music scene further stimulated his creative impulses, but inspiration really struck when the acid house (rave) scene was launched circa 1988 to ’89.
Working from old diary entries, welsh successfully transformed his documented drug reality into cutting - edge fiction. His groundbreaking first novel, Trainspotting, was published in 1993 and became a similarly celebrated motion picture in 1996. Welsh subsequently returned to the subject of drugs in novels and story collections like the Acid hHouse, Filth and Ecstasy: three tales of chemical romance (the latter becoming the first paperback original to become a number one bestseller).
In 2012, he released his long - awaited trainspotting “prequel” with the evocatively apt title Skagboys (skag being the wordsmith’s favorite term for heroin). The novel reintroduces us to the complex characters of Trainspotting -- Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and the rest -- during the period when they first began dabbling in skag. While on a promotional tour for Skagboys, Welsh -- arguably the most influential drug scribe since Hunter Thompson -- finally sat down to hash things out with HIGH TIMES.
Like your other works, Skagboys is told from the alternating perspectives of the characters. Why is this a recurring element of your fiction?
Because there is no real truth, but a series of different truths. I have my own views, but I’m interested in how different people feel about things. It gives the book a richer texture -- and I get bored real easily. That’s why I put the tapeworm in [as a narrator] in Filth: just to have a different voice and mix it up a bit.
Do you have any concerns about being typecast as a “drug author”?
Not really so much. It kind of concerned me at first, but drugs are now so ubiquitous in the urban landscape, it’s like writing about trees and rocks -- you can’t avoid it, it’s so accepted as part of the normal social fabric.
Is there a legitimate drug culture?
There’s something about the straight world that makes people comfortable in the subculture of drug taking. But it’s hard to sustain it because it becomes mainstream. It’s hard to maintain a subculture these days. Acid house was the last [legitimate one], and now that’s mass-marketed.
Do you smoke pot?
I never really liked it -- I just go to sleep. Occasionally, it’ll make me a bit giggly. It doesn’t stimulate my imagination; it dulls it. I’ve done speed, ecstasy, mushrooms and heroin, but never been a pothead.
What do you think about the rise of pot use in the UK, as evidenced by the record number of pot gardens raided there in 2011?
Pot use will increase -- the whole thing has changed over the last 20 years with hydroponic technology. Pot is so versatile, and that’s one of the ways it’s such a great capitalist product: because it has so many beneficial uses. The ubiquity of it will increase. Mentally, people don’t think of it as illegal; it’s not in the cultural mindset that it’s dangerous and illegal.
Do you use any drugs in a creative capacity?
Not now. Once you hit 50, you get to a stage where the hangover is severe and the buzz doesn’t hit you the same way. When the drug stops showing you something new, it loses its appeal as an intoxicant. It’s like sports: Drugs are a young person’s game.
For better or worse, what is the significance of the drug experience?
Once the consciousness is altered, it gives us permission to behave in other ways. Life is about celebration, celebration is about festival, and festival is about intoxication. But so many people don’t have much to celebrate, so drugs become a way of hiding.
In the film Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, the character Lloyd says that he digs dancing because he misses the church and the spirituality he believed in as a child. Is the drug/dance culture a viable substitute for religion?
In some ways, yes -- because there is a spiritual crisis. The church is seen as a bureaucracy, not in touch with spirituality, but more doctrinaire. Christianity and Islam have become more about irrelevant scripture and doctrine. There’s a void no religion or church can fill.
As your novels occasionally hint, do you think doing drugs well into adulthood represents a state of not wanting to grow up?
Honestly, if I were getting the same buzz off drugs the way I used to, I’d do them all the time. Your psychology and physiology change as you get older. If I were starting over with a blank slate, I’d be doing drugs, no questions asked.
What does the future of drugs hold?
There will be all sorts of new drugs. People want bigger and faster experiences. Like DMT, there will be more drugs that are powerful but not so long – lasting -- a very short but intense trip, where you get back to get on with your life. Problem is, rich people will get the good drugs and poor people will get the more toxic ones.
Would you say you have to write? Does the need to express yourself creatively burn inside of you?
I’m always working on something. You can sit on a beach for two weeks, writing and constructing chapters in your head, and then you sit down and it all comes flying out. You can pretend you’re on holiday when you’re really writing a book in your head. I don’t even know when I’m working or not, because writing is an extension of play and enjoyment, not sitting down and typing -- that’s just a small part of it.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer to the next generation of novelists?
The most important thing is to finish the story. Not every sentence has to be perfectly crafted ... it’s not like sculpture.
What You Don't Know About Irvine Welsh:
• In the late ’70s, Welsh played guitar and sang in punk bands the Pubic Lice and Stairway 13.
• Welsh’s favorite soccer team is Hibernian F.C., and he describes his fellow fans as “avant-garde leftists.”