Irvine Welsh hit the literary scene way back in 1993 with the publication of his novel “Trainspotting,” which told a series of interconnected tales of squalor among a group of junkies, conmen and other assorted lowlifes in Edinburgh, Scotland. The book was a cult success in America, but it was a major blockbuster across the pond — one reviewer said it “deserved to sell more copies than the Bible” — and it convinced many thousands of youths in the UK to do the unheard of: read for pleasure. Ten years ago, the book was subsequently made into a reasonably faithful film adaptation that helped boost not only Welsh’s profile but also that of its crew and cast, which included Ewan McGregor (and in a cameo, Welsh himself).
His subsequent books are all worth checking out, especially the hypnotically vulgar “Filth” (two words: sentient tapeworm) and the “Trainspotting” sequel “Porno.” Welsh’s latest novel is “The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs,” which depicts a clash of personalities, lifestyles and livers between Danny Skinner and Brian Kibby, two public health inspectors, both of whom struggle with daddy issues. There’s plenty of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, but there are also moments of poignancy and outright fantasy all shot through with humor and Welsh’s trademark use of the charming Scottish vernacular.
LEO: What were some of the inspirations for “Bedroom Secrets”?
WELSH: I think the first point was these two characters who seemed very different and who didn’t like each other. I suppose I was trying to understand the obsessive hatred people can have for each other, and how, like love, such a relationship demands so much from people. I very much like Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” When I explored the theme of duality and identity, I was influenced by Hogg’s “Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” and Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.”
LEO: “Bedroom Secrets” seems to be about people similar to others from your previous works, except they’re slightly less rough around the edges — they have jobs, for example. Are your characters growing up, for lack of a better term?
WELSH: I think I’d written so much about working-class people who opted out of the system, I wanted to write about aspirational working-class people with professional jobs, and the consequences of engagement rather than non-engagement … It’s somewhere between the urban realism of “Trainspotting” and the fantasy of “Acid House,” “Marabou Stork Nightmares” and parts of “Filth.”
LEO: Why is it that so many UK authors avoid using quotation marks when writing dialog?
WELSH: I stole the dash from Irish writer Roddy Doyle. It just seems more direct and less effete than quotation marks. Purely a stylistic preference.
LEO: Obviously you’ve had some experiences with drink and drugs. I’ve read articles about you staying up for days at a time during book tours. Are you still able to party like a rock star, or have you eased off a bit? Is this reflected in the Skinner/Kibby relationship?
WELSH: I’ve eased off a lot over the years. You have to, or you simply wouldn’t be able to survive. Also, you get bored waking up in the same fucked-up states and having to negotiate hangovers. I love writing and it was starting to interfere with that, so I’m more discriminate about my partying nowadays.
LEO: “Filth” got some pretty harsh reviews, but I think it’s a great book. Bruce Robertson was a vile character, but he was extremely funny, and the book utilized creative page layouts and other graphic elements. Would you attempt something in that vein again?
WELSH: Definitely. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve written. It was a bit much for some people to take and I wouldn’t want to spend too much time in somebody like Bruce’s head, but it was real writing, I was pushing it to the limit and it was a total buzz.
LEO: “Porno” was that rare sequel that worked. Was there always a plan to revisit the “Trainspotting” cast?
WELSH: They kind of gatecrashed. Originally, Nicky’s boyfriend in Edinburgh was a guy called Steve, but once I wrote him I saw that he was really Sick Boy 10 years on. Once you make a virtue out of necessity, you’re trapped into telling the back-story of the other main “Trainspotting” guys. I thought I wrote a lot of decent stuff on porn that perhaps got a bit lost in the “‘Trainspotting’ sequel” angle.
LEO: Who are your favorite authors? Living, dead, in between …
WELSH: Living: Alan Warner, John King, Niall Griffiths, Jim Kelman, Chuck Palahniuk. Dead: Too many to mention, but I love Tolstoy. I’m reading him again.
LEO: If you had to describe your work, how would you do so?
WELSH: It’s very hard to say. I don’t see it as transgressive. I try to get a strong reaction from myself. If I can do that, I’m happy.
LEO: What kind of music are you listening to these days?
WELSH: Dexy’s. Kevin Rowland is a genius and probably the greatest white soul singer ever.
LEO: Have you ever been to Louisville? Ever heard of it? You really should do a reading here.
WELSH: You’d have to be dead not to have heard of the home of “The Greatest.” I’d love to do a reading there.
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