Photography by Mr Scott Trindle | Styling by Mr Scott Stephenson
Words by Mr Simon Mills
Uncharacteristically of a Scotsman, Mr Irvine Welsh orders a green tea from the waiter as we sit in London's Ivy Club, explaining that he's feeling somewhat fragile after a protracted two-city celebratory whirl to toast his latest novel Skagboys. First it was a night in Dublin with his pals, then a champagne supernova of a party with publishers and publicists over in London... followed by a self-prescribed detoxification.
Hangover clearing now, 53-year-old Mr Welsh is allowing himself to quietly gloat over the surprise success of what is essentially a "Trainspotting prequel". "The book business has been all about genre fiction for so long, so it's rare that a book such as this can sell so many copies," says Mr Welsh.
There are more launch parties to come, too. With the movie Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy on general release, and a film of the Filth novel, starring Mr James McAvoy currently in production, the mercurial polymath will soon be off to Cannes for the premiere of The Magnificent Eleven, a modern take on the classic Western where the cowboys are a struggling local amateur soccer team, for which Mr Welsh wrote the screenplay.
Do you think part of your success has been writing books that are read by people who don't normally read novels?
I think that was probably true when I first started. Certainly, Trainspotting fell into that category. You had this new bunch of kids coming through who told me that it was the first book they ever picked up. Now, two decades later, I have this crusty but loyal generation who have grown up with me and stuck with me and now tend to be a generally really rather well-read bunch. That said, the success of this book [Skagboys] has definitely been helped by what I call the "Trainspotting effect". Revisiting those old characters has sparked a lot of interest but people who have read my work will know it's actually something I've always done with my books; characters familiar from previous stories will gate-crash their way in to parts of all my novels from time to time.
You've lived in London, Amsterdam, Dublin, Leith and Edinburgh. Where do you live now? And why do you keep moving?
I'm based in Chicago now but I also have a place in Miami and because of all the stuff I have going on in Hollywood, I also spend a lot of time in Los Angeles. I've done everything officially this time, got the green card, the lot, so it feels fairly permanent. And a bit scary if I'm honest. For years I've always had this London/Edinburgh axis... but living in America is working for me because I find I have different cities for different parts of my career. I go to New York, which is where my publisher is, but back in Chicago I'm working on a TV series for HBO - a contemporary interpretation of the famous Hatfield/McCoy family feud of the 19th century set in the Appalachian mountains. My friend [hip-hop producer] Arthur Baker will produce it, Jonas Åkerlund wants to direct and Iggy Pop, who I met while in Miami, will star in it.
Miami, Chicago, Dublin... they are all quite Irvine Welsh-ish sorts of places aren't they? Cities with a certain edge, a seedy side to them. Does city life still inspire your writing?
Oh I think every city has that side to it these days. I love being in Chicago with my musician friends and DJs. I hang out with boxers and go to the racetrack and the baseball... which all sounds like the stuff of novels, doesn't it? But for some reason I don't really feel moved to write about Chicago. It was the same when I was living in Dublin. These places are great but also so ossified and tied down in a way, with everything in its right place. The other thing of course, is that there are already plenty of writers living in those places so the competition is fierce. Miami is much more interesting to me because it's a city in total flux, and constantly emerging. It has design and art, loads of bars, a thriving downtown area and a new baseball team but it's also very noir-ish. It's no accident that TV shows such as Dexter, Miami Vice and CSI are here and that writers such as Carl Hiaasen are attracted to the city because Miami has this really captivating mixture of the dark and glossy.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a grand, soundproofed study or do you prefer the kitchen table?
In Chicago I have this huge room, which I rather pretentiously call my "writing suite". I got the idea after visiting Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West - he had a "writing suite" so I thought I'd have one too. Mine has oak panels on one side, lined with all my books. Opposite, there's a huge TV screen intended to help me with my screenwriting work. I have my DJ decks in one corner and another wall covered in scribbled notes, story arcs, clippings and photos, which is like something out of CSI. There's a balcony where I can hang out and watch people heading off to work. But in Miami I just have this grotty little bedroom, which is really no more than a box, and if I'm being honest, I probably do all my best writing there.
Are you on Twitter?
I've just started. For me, it's a great thing because as a writer, you are always looking to be distracted and with Twitter, you are making words appear on a screen, so you can pretend to be writing even when you are not.
You've penned books that have referenced cocaine, acid, ecstasy and heroin... are you running out of recreational drugs to write about?
Not quite. In Chicago we're doing an American Trainspotting on stage. It's going to be set in Kansas, but the guys in the story end up going on a trip to Mexico, so there may be a bit of peyote involved somewhere. I've never tried peyote myself but I've had the [similarly hallucinogenic] yagé experience.
In the 1970s you were in a punk rock group called The Pubic Lice, weren't you?
I used to be a terrible dresser back then - some would say not much has changed since. Really, I was just wearing stuff that my mother picked out for me; velour tops and flared jeans. Then I got into disco and Northern soul and I started to feel under pressure to start dressing in more stylish gear. I loved Oxford bags, round-collared Brutus shirts and oversized mohair jumpers. When House music came along it was more about function - when you are jumping around all night in a sweaty warehouse you wear loose clothing and as little of it as possible. Even in the winter.
Have you ever worn suits?
When I was dabbling in the property business back in the early 1990s, I was heavily influenced by Kevin Rowland's clean-cut, Don't Stand Me Down period - the Brooks Brothers suits and all that. I was messed up on heroin at the time but I was also keen to appear very businesslike, so rather perversely I decided to look straight on the outside and dressed yuppie style, mainly in suits. In Miami I used to slob around in shorts and T-shirts but I've now gone completely the other way - I go to this old-school Florida tailor and wear suits in linen and seersucker. Pastel colours, mainly. I have all the accessories: cufflinks, pocket handkerchiefs and a Panama hat, too; the whole Humphrey Bogart/Key Largo look. I dress better in Miami than I do in any other city. Even though I get very hot I wouldn't ever go out in Miami without a suit on.
Do you still go clubbing these days, or get to DJ?
I'll go to Fabric while I'm in London but generally I don't really go to clubs much any more because I don't enjoy being the oldest guy in the room, which I have been for the past 20 years, by the way. If you go for it too much, you look ridiculous, like the weird uncle at the wedding. So, what I do instead is I get my decks out and have parties at my house with some local music people - people of my own age. And no young people around to laugh at us.
Have you read any good books recently?
Since I moved to America I've been reading all the new generation of Scottish writers: Alan Bissett, Doug Johnstone, Ewan Morrison and Louise Welsh.
Louise Welsh? Any relation?
Funnily enough, yes. Her great, great grandad and my great grandad are the same person. And Louise's mum and my mum are good friends. When I was a kid growing up in Edinburgh there was just a handful of Welshs in the phone book; now there are hundreds of us.