Interview: Irvine Welsh on his new novel, Trainspotting and Trump
The best-selling author believes the team behind the two hit movies would not have the “collective bottle” to attempt a third, even though he has written a brand new novel about Renton, Spud, Begbie and Sick Boy.
He admitted that the making of last year’s long-awaited sequel, T2: Trainspotting, had been the impetus for him to return to the characters in print - along with Hibernian’s hoodoo-busting Scottish Cup Final victory.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the new novel, Dead Men’s Trousers in Welsh’s native Leith tomorrow, the author revealed that the loss of a number of family members and friends in Edinburgh had prompted him to kill off one of his much-loved characters.
Welsh disclosed that he is already working on a new novel, which tackles the fall-out of mass shootings in Donald Trump’s America, where Welsh lives. The Miami-based author has admitted he hopes Mr Trump avoids impeachment and serves a full term to avoid spoiling the plot of the book, which is set in an “imagined future” America in 2019.
Welsh is back on home territory for a special book launch at the Biscuit Factory in Leith, which is being staged by arts collective Neu! Reekie! and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The new book, set two years ago against the backdrop of Hibernian’s Scottish Cup Final victory and the Brexit referendum vote, sees Renton, now a jet-setting manager of international DJs, run into psychotic arch-nemesis Begbie on a flight, only to discover he has reinvented himself as a successful artist. Before long the four characters are embroiled in a new series of globe-trotting exploits.
However Welsh said he was wary of any attempts to get a third film off the ground.
He said: “The big issues is we’ve two really good, successful films. We did a fantastic original film and a really decent sequel.
“When you think about The Godfather or Terminator, nobody ever thinks about the third film. To do a holy trinity and get a third one right is a massive challenge. I can’t think of a third film that is successful.
“I think we should quit while we are ahead. I don’t know if we have the bottle collectively. I think it is unlikely.”
Welsh revived the character of Begbie two years ago for the stand-alone novel, The Blade Artist, but said it was the lengthy talks before filming began on a Trainspotting sequel that persuaded him there was more life in all four characters. The lengthy impasse over a sequel was only broken when Welsh, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge hired a flat near Edinburgh Castle to thrash out ideas for a script.
Welsh said: “After I finished The Blade Artist I went straight into working on T2. We were discussing the characters and the storyline for months.
“When we hired that flat up at the castle all we were talking about was the characters, about Edinburgh and how it has changed.
“I was completely immersed in that world. I felt that I just had to write out these characters.
“Sometimes I think you’ve got no choice when you’re a writer. With film and TV, you have to be very strategic about who your audience is, and a lot of people have to say ‘yes’ at the one time to make a project happen.
“When you’re writing a book you’re on your own. You just think: ‘This is the book that I have to write at this point in time. This is what is coalescing within me.’”
Welsh, a die-hard Hibernian fan, revealed he was filming his own scenes with Robert Carlyle in T2 just hours before his heroes defeating Rangers at Hampden, an event which sparks a rare reunion of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie.
Welsh said: “It was the last time that I could see these characters doing anything together as a group.
“I’ve got a view of my network of friends, which is very much based on the 1980s. I’ve not actually lived in Edinburgh consistently since I was a teenager. You are not really part of their ongoing history. You think they are all still best mates, but they’ve not actually been for years.
“I felt that the one thing that would bring them together in a book would be Hibs winning the Scottish Cup.
“Without being too dramatic about it, it was a bit of a catharsis for a whole wounded community. It made everyone one of those years of hurt seem beautiful. Hibs could win the cup 10 years in a row, or win the league, and there wouldn’t be an atmosphere like that again. There was a whole letting go of pain and a massive validation.
“In some ways, it was a metaphor for these characters, and other people’s lives. When you get to a certain age you feel: ‘Let’s just let go of all this nonsense, hurt and pain.’
“The first book was really about betrayal, the second book was about revenge and it made sense for this book to be about redemption, but in a really twisted way. In reality, the characters would have mellowed, but for the purposes of fiction you’ve still got to entertain within a realistic landscape.”
Welsh, whose new book is published on 29 March, said he already completed a rough draft of his next, as yet un-named novel, which will tackle fall-out from recent gun killings in America and the generational schisms that have emerged during the Trump era.
He said: “The book I’m writing now is very different. It’s actually set in an imagined future in Trump’s America next year, when it will hopefully come out. There is no way that I can’t write that book. It starts off with the Mandalay Bay shootings and involves a fictitious set of characters who react to it. It ends up with a fictitious shooting two years later.
“It’s really about the unhealed wounds in American society and the idea of a whole nation being under some degree of post-traumatic that is generated by these things.
“It’s about three different generations of the one family and how they react and cope to everything that is going on.
“America under Trump is a bit like Britain under Brexit. On the one hand, people are getting on their lives, but on the other you are aware of this thing in the background, that is a menace.”