“I’m like a shark, you know: always going forward rather than going back,” says Irvine Welsh, author of cult ’90s novel Trainspotting. Actually, what Welsh really says, in his near-impenetrable Scottish accent, is: “Ah’m layke ay shark, ken? Orways goin for’ard rather thin goin back.”
It’s the raw Scots dialect in Welsh’s writing that first saw him shoot to stardom. His debut novel Trainspotting, the story of heroin junkies in Edinburgh (“Embra”), sold a million-odd copies in Britain alone and at least some of this success must be attributed to Welsh’s use of phonetic Scots on the page.
Now, 12 books later and despite his previous protestations otherwise, Welsh is going back to revisit the story that started it all with Skagboys, a prequel to the inimitable Trainspotting.
Skagboys is Welsh at his scabrous best, transporting readers to Aberdeen in the 1980s to a time when protagonist Mark Renton and the crew teeter – fresh-faced, smack-free – on the brink of the heroin abyss.
In the book, Renton muses that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”, a hint, perhaps, at the benefits of writing a prequel. Because if Trainspotting (and its follow-up, Porno) detail the “what” of the characters’ lives, then Skagboys offers the “why”.
Bereavement, unemployment, social and political unrest: all are exposed by Welsh as explanations for the Trainspotting generation, giving this latest novel greater emotional depth than either of its predecessors – which makes it all the more incredible to learn that Skagboys has existed all along. Despite being published nearly 20 years after the series started, Welsh’s latest novel has been in a drawer since before Trainspotting first saw the light of day.
“Skagboys was basically the first 100,000 words from the original Trainspotting draft; words that I cut out,” Welsh explains. “I found it again and I thought, ‘If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, somebody would bring it out in that (draft) form’, and I still wanted to do more stuff to it. So I ended up working the book up into the entirely separate novel it is now.”
Unusual motivation, maybe, but then it’s little wonder that Welsh is aware of his mortality. This is a man who battled a heroin addiction. “Addiction is like being in a spaceship that’s heading towards the sun,” he says. “You’re either heading towards it or you’re moving away from it and I was fortunate enough to go through it and come out the other side.”
Welsh also has three films coming out this year. Two are adaptations of his novels (Filth and Ecstasy) and the third is a remake of the classic The Magnificent Seven.
“I’m pretty lucky that I don’t need a lot of sleep,” he says by way of explanation.
The Daily Telegraph, 23 April 2012