Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh believes sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are even more important in your 60s than in your 20s.
“You’re not gonna have much more of them, you know, not many days left to squeeze ‘em in,” 60-something Welsh said in the Scottish accent that’s a signature of his writing. The world-renowned author sat down for a chat with Asia Times at the recently concluded Ubud Writers Festival in Bali.
With drugs, “As soon as you know the residual effects it’s gonna have on you, it’s not so much fun,” Welsh warned. “I don’t know whether it’s psychological or physical, but as you get older the intoxication goes down and the hangover goes up…It doesn’t make any sense anymore. You start to think it’s not worth it, and you might as well just go home and sleep.”
After professing to use “a lot” of the natural hallucinogen DMT early this year, Welsh, whose books largely chronicle the hard drugs and petty crime underbelly of Edinburgh, Scotland, declared, “I’m still pro-drugs for hedonistic purposes, but not for medicinal purposes.”
Welsh blamed “Big Pharma” for medicating people the wrong way. “It’s a scam like the banks. You can live to 100, but you’ll spend half your time being miserable. But you can watch TV and be fed this propaganda that somehow you can roll back the clock to when you were young and healthy and happy.
“Our politics, from Trump to Brexit, is people being duped by having all this crap fed into them. It’s a kind of brainwashing.” Welsh shrugged, “In most places, it seems like they’ve been lookin’ for the bigger wanker in the country and when they found him, they made him leader.”
For writing, drugs can be tricky. Welsh said his 1995 Marabou Stork Nightmares was based on his withdrawal from heroin, and getting off heroin was a key to his long term success as a writer. Time can be tricky, too.
“I wrote Trainspotting when I was 28, writing about being kind of 20, 24, and it seemed like such an enormous gap. But then when I wrote Sky Boys, which was a prequel to Trainspotting, I was a 50-year-old writing the book about being 22, and that seemed like no time at all,” he said. “It’s distance, seeming you sometimes you got better perspective the farther away you are.”
In a similar vein, Welsh mainly lives in Miami, Florida. “I still have a place in Scotland, so I go back a lot,” he said. “Together, you get away from it a little bit so I can see it through a different lens and appreciate the strangeness of it.”
But most important is being grounded in the here and now rather than “obsessive” about the past, Welsh contended. “You have to live very much in the time that you’re in here. I mean, you can’t really look back and kind of lament things you’ve done in the past, things you have to sort out.
“I mean, everyone does things in the past they will regret. You have to kind of get beyond them and live in the present moment, you know. There’s nothing you can do, but the past is going to go on, you know.”
Welsh’s past features a series of misadventures that led to writing. An electrical shock from a screwdriver in the back of a television set drove him out of an apprenticeship in TV repair. A quick thinking colleague found a wooden broom to break the circuit and save him from electrocution.
Welsh made his first stab at telling stories publicly by writing ballads for bands he played in. “I got rid of the music because it was gonna get rid of me,” he told an audience in Ubud. “I saw an ad for a bassist, and I recognized the phone number.” His own band was trying to replace him.
For a time, Welsh seemed to live the dream. His employer sent him to get an MBA, “I was married to a beautiful women, had a beautiful apartment, but I hated it. I thought I had to do something creative,” he recalled. “In music, you can only be as good as the other people in the band. Writing is very much on your own.”
Welsh admitted, “The thing about being a writer is that nothing is wasted. You tend to steal things and keep things and recycle things. Relationships break down, drug addiction, mental breakdowns, these things become, ‘Oh, that’s great, I can use that.’ But if you just brought some heroin and you’re staring at the wall, you’re not saying, ‘I’m going to use it.’”
It literally took an accident for Welsh to begin writing in earnest. “A bus turned over. I was on the top deck at the front and went out the window. I got a settlement from the bus company and local council, a few grand. It seemed like quite a bit of money, so I’m taking some time off to write,” he said. He gave himself a “few months” and found a career.
Getting immersed in characters, mainly drawn from his Edinburgh youth, gives Welsh the greatest satisfaction and amusement. “So many people I knew think characters are them. Or then there’s people who don’t realize it’s them.” Welsh called his eleventh novel, Dead Men’s Trousers, published last year, “the last hurrah for the Trainspotting four.”
Trainspotting, published in 1993, became a film directed by Danny Boyle in 1996.
Its 2017 sequel, Porno, set 20 years later, became T2 Trainspotting, and was again directed by Boyle. “There’s no such thing as a bad movie made from your book. Film is a win-win,” Welsh, who has written scripts and directed short works, said.
But there is a downside to the marriage of words and pictures. “Eventually, it’s all moving toward content, not books…It’s kind of like you write a book but you expect it to be adapted, and it’s better to have a second life.”
He worries about threats to privacy and big tech reducing us to “data biometrics” and increasing control over lives. “My fantasy is just to go offline. Thanks. Hello. Please, someone just write for the sheer fun of it, not necessarily for publication.”