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The Needle That Men Do
With Trainspotting, he made underclass drug culture fascinating. Now Irvine Welsh has written a prequel to his bestseller, which also doubles as a rumination on how the soaraway capitalism of the ’80s may well have knackered society for a generation. He talks about being the bete-noir of the chattering classes, international popularity and saving Iggy Pop’s career.
Olaf Tyaransen, 30 May 2012
You’re currently living between homes in Chicago and Miami. Did you write the book in the US or did you return to the UK to work on it?
Kind of both. A lot of it was done over here when I was living in Dublin. Some of it was done in the UK and some over there. I’m quite itinerant by nature so I’m writing on the run the whole time.
So you write a lot on the road?
Yeah, I do. That’s what laptops are for! I can’t really understand people who say, “I can’t write unless all the stars align in a certain way.” I just get on with it.
There’s always something of a shock factor to your books. You’ve just read about the ‘shiteing’ competition in Skagboys, and I can assure everybody that there’s far worse to come (audience groans collectively). But do you ever shock yourself?
Oh yeah. That’s why you write basically. You write to get a reaction from yourself. If I read something that’s quite shocking, I go, “Oh, you fucking dirty bastard! I’m never reading that guy again.” And then I start typing away and then I look at the pages I’ve written and go (pulls disgusted face) “Oh, fucking hell! My ma’s gonna see this!” So you want to get a reaction from yourself. If you don’t get a reaction from yourself, you’re not gonna get a reaction from anybody else.
Do you ever say to yourself, “Oh fuck, I’ve gone too far this time”?
Oh yeah, yeah (audience laughs). That’s usually the point where you just go to the pub. Or the toilet.
You’ve often been accused of glamorising drugs. What’s your response to that?
I think every drug has got a narrative to it. Anything you write about drugs, if it’s being honest and sincere, it’s got to combine two elements. It’s got to have a kind of celebratory element, and it’s got to be a cautionary tale as well. Drugs to me are like a microcosm of life, basically. The whole point of drugs is they’re about celebration and festivity. You’ve got human life, you’ve got celebration of that human life, you’ve got a festival for that celebration, you’ve got intoxication at that festival, and you’ve got drugs that enable that intoxication. So that’s the whole dialogue of human life. But it’s also got to be a cautionary tale as well, because what you also have is people that aren’t really in a position to celebrate. And because they’re not in a position to celebrate, they’re using drugs for different reasons – they’re using drugs to hide because things aren’t going well. You’ve got whole communities, for generations, that are using drugs to hide. They’re medicated against any kind of resistance or any kind of self-improvement or any kind of life-change, just to maintain the status quo. The horrible thing is in this kind of consumer capitalist world, we just consume more of everything – whether it’s drugs or shoes or jackets or coats or drink or boots. We just have to consume. It’s like we’ve created this zoo for ourselves. We’re like these polar bears walking around in this horrible narrow concrete enclosure that we’ve built for ourselves. It’s not working, but nobody in power has got the balls or is interested enough to change it. And everybody else has been too beaten down to say, “This whole gig isn’t working out for us.”