9 May 2014

A night with Irvine Welsh

“Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers... Choose DSY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?” 

Perhaps one of the most iconic and known paragraphs in modern British literature. Every uni fresher had the poster on their wall in halls, everyone fell in love with Ewan McGregor in the film adaptation and everyone knew to steer clear of any lairy Scotsmen called Francis Begbie. 

Irvine Welsh's debut novel, the one that propelled him to fame, Trainspotting, is one of many that I can pick up and reread over and over again. It's written in the vernacular, spoken word so first impressions may make the words look like a foreign language but you'll find yourself thinking in the Scottish accent in no time. It's the same with most of his other books, such as Porno (the follow up to Trainspotting), Glue, Filth (brought to the big screen with James MacAvoy in the starring role). But always one to change things up, Welsh's new novel The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is set in Miami, and there's no Scottish in sight.

When I heard that Irvine Welsh was doing a talk at the National Theatre, I jumped at the chance and bought a ticket. Only a couple of days later, I was sharing a swift drink with Leanne on the South Bank before heading in to watch the main man himself discuss his newest novel. 

Following the intertwining lives of polar opposites Lucy (fitness freak) and Lena (overweight artist), the novel is a comment on how we view ourselves, calorie counting and how messed up we make each other. With a couple of extracts read to us, it's clear that Welsh has managed to get right under the skin with his trademark nitty-gritty realness. Sugarcoating? Think again.

Welsh, and host Alex Clark, talked through how the novel came to be and how he developed the characters - by taking a little bit of his own personality and exploding it as far as he could. When the floor opened up to questions, I was interested to hear what others were asking:

'Which authors inspire you?' 'Every author I read. With good books, I think "fuck" and that pushes me on, and when I read something bad I think "fuck, I can do better than that"'.

'You write in both the first and third person narrative. Which do you prefer and why?' 'I think both have their values. In the first person, you can really get inside the character's head and exploit their psychology - but it isn't balanced and you only get one person's viewpoint. With third person narration, you can move the story along a lot more as you're party to everything. So I tend to use a combination of both in my books to keep it interesting.'

'Do you have any advice for first time writers?' 'Just write. Write your story and don't worry about the detail initially. Your first chapters will be shite but that's okay, don't make the mistake of trying to perfect every sentence as you'll lose faith and give up. Just keep writing.'

At the end of the talk, I couldn't resist but get a copy of the book that started it all signed. Y'know, for the future generations and lovers of modern British literature...

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