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Vienna | 2.5.2005 | 13:48 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

 
 
The Last Great Shit-Arse
  "It might just be because I'm fucking lazy or whatever, but I've no fucking respect for the writer's craft. It's a lot of fucking nonsense. It's all application. It's nothing to fucking do with skill." (Irvine Welsh)

Irvine Welsh has recently become an amateur boxer, which seems rather appropriate, because an Irvine Welsh sentence often feels like a short jab in the stomach. It doesn't look like much at first, but it takes your breath away and leaves you feeling rather sick.

And I'm sorry, but for once the cult Scottish writer is wrong: this effect has everything to do with skill.
 
 
 
Who is the man behind the writing?
  Twelve years down the road from the publication of Trainspotting, the man who for years claimed he wasn't really a writer will bring out a his 8th novel in the near future. Over the course of those twelve years, Welsh has become more and more difficult to pigeon hole:

The voice of the 'schemie' - an angry Scottish generation of football-loving, pill-popping drop-outs - has recently worked as a Chicago columnist for the conservative Daily Telegraph newspaper 'I wrote a lot of anti-Bush, anti-Gulf War stuff and they printed it all".

Meanwhile, the man who still enjoys the most horrendous drinking binges and who is known to punch even his good friends has recently become a major campaigner for the charity UNICEF- a campaigner for peace in Sudan.

So Welsh has a reputation for brilliance, violence and compassion. At the weekend, he was in the Austrian capital for the Vienna Writer's Festival and, like a teenager on ball night, I looked forward to meeting the man behind that reputation with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation .


 The mysterious Mr Welsh. Who is the man behind the reputation?
 
 
The musical writer
  I was half expecting, perhaps even half hoping, to meet the real life incarnation of Trainspotting's psychopathic Frank Begbie, but instead I was greeted by a soft spoken and quietly charming Irvine Welsh, who was visibly pleased to be in the studios of a radio station.

You see, music has always been important to Welsh, who says he is more of a failed musician than a successful writer. He cites Iggy Pop as the greatest influence on his books and claims that the rythyms and patterns of house music have dictated the tempo and shape of his prose.

Welsh says that when he creates his characters, the first thing he does is go out and buy all the records he thinks the characters would listen to. By listening to their sort of music, he is able to creep into the skins of his fictional characters.

"I've got a character now, who is one of those guys who thinks he is really cool, but isn't. I am assembling a music programme for him and listening to the sort of music that I wouldn't normally listen to - music like Coldplay, Maroon 5 or U2. The other character, who is his nemesis, listens to a lot of hip hop, so I am listening to a lot of that too.

In a strange way, you start to appreciate music you didn't think you would like. To me, it says a lot about the power of music."

 Irvine Welsh: sees himself as a failed musician more than a successful writer.
 
 
Generation E
  As well as about music, Irvine Welsh writes about drugs. It's a subject matter that has seen him fall foul of the morally self-righteous, who claim he has glamourised illegal substances.

Perhaps they should start reading the books before they condemn them. Irvine Welsh's books do not glamorise drug taking. His stories are about the hangovers, the come-downs, the disappointments or even the fatalities of the drug culture.

What Welsh does do, is explore the attractions of drugs, the brief escape they offer from a monotonous, futureless life of the Edinburgh housing estates or the wrong parts of London. It might not take a rocket scientists to link a futureless society with drug abuse, but few have dealt with such a world as vividly and honestly as Irvine Welsh.

 Glamourising drugs?
 
 
Porn - the new opium of the people
  In his earlier works, Welsh has written about heroin and extacy, but in his latest work, the good old boys from Edinburgh's Leith district have found a new 'drug' - making cheap homemade pornography. He says in Leith, the practice is rampant:

"I think there is that element of escapism. It is easy now for people to get their hands on a video camera, go down to the pub, have some cans of lager, come home and start filming some gonzo porn film."

Welsh sees some positive aspect to this, saying that it is one of the few creative outlets that ordinary working class people' have available to them. He even says that these films have awoken a passion for camera angles and directing that has led the most unusual characters to the main stream film industry.

None of this, however, means that Irvine Welsh would call himself a fan of pornography:

People get in to pornography for all sorts of reasons. There are a lot of people who do get empowered by it , but there are an awful lot of vulnerable, exploited people involved as well. If we get a fix off that in mainstream society, then we are getting a fix off people's vulnerability and inability to make real choices for themselves.

 Irvine Welsh's latest book Porno.
 
 
"Sobriety is the new getting fucked up"
  Irvine Welsh is renowned as one of the great hedonists of a British culture that prides itself on hedonism. He confided in me that he had only agreed to come to Vienna after getting dunk with a literary agent in Prague. But now he is in his 40's, the highs are getting shorter and the hangovers longer.

"Before, I used to be able to get completely wasted and get up the next day. Now, if I do that, I have to lie in bed for two days feeling sorry for myself.

Besides, now a veteran of the British literary scene, he has begun to think about ageing gracefully.

"It's quite cool to see a young person wasted off their tits and stumbling around. However, if you see some who is older acting like that, it is quite undignified and quite nasty."

After heroin, extacy and pornography, Welsh has found a new drug: serious conversation. The shunting around of ideas with friends has given him new highs:

"It is almost like sobriety is the new getting fucked up. You are getting a buzz from sobriety."


 Ewan McGregor, in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.
 
 
The Graham Greene of Dirty Realism
  Through his column work for the Daily Telegraph and his engagement for UNICEF, Welsh has been travelling around a lot in recent years. He has begun writing short stories from such distant parts of the world as southern Sudan, Calcutta, Kabul, Havana and San Francisco.

So, I asked him, can we expect Irvine Welsh to develop into a sort of Graham Greene of dirty realism?

He smiles. "Yeah. That would be quite nice actually."

 Recently, Irvine Welsh has been writing from and about distant locations such as Havana. (photo CC)
fm4 links
  Lesestoff: Irvine Welsh - "Porno"
In der Fortsetzung zu "Trainspotting" suchen alte Bekannte einmal mehr den Weg zum großen Geld. Diesmal nicht mit Drogenhandel, sondern als Pornoproduzenten.
   
 
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