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Interview  Irvine Welsh
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"From the Windy City"

The Guardian, April 2003

Irvine Welsh

You have recently moved to America. Was it a sudden decision? What inspired you?

It was a combination of various factors, personal and work-related. I also felt that I'd got into a bit of a rut in London and needed a change. America is an interesting place to be right now, for all sorts of reasons. I feel it's at a crossroads and if it takes the wrong fork then we're all fucked.

You reached worldwide popularity by books, in which you brilliantly captured the atmosphere of particular place, particular social group. Is your move to Chicago a challenge to do something else? Will you write about America?

My column is the Daily Telegraph is specifically about America. I don't want to write expressly about the Iraq invasion or American politics as such, although it's obviously impossible to avoid it. I feel that's covered elsewhere (whether you want it or not) and I want to bring a different sensibility to it, looking at what the ordinary punters do and how they feel about things. With regard to my fiction, the move will effect what I write but it will obviously take some time to work itself through. I'm teaching a couple of creative writing classes over here and I'm getting inspired by a lot of the students in my class.

You have famously good eye and ear for things around you, how would you describe situation in America right now?

I wish people in Britain, particularly from my section of the community, could get to spend time over here and meet the people that I live and work with. There's a crass anti-Americanism crept into our culture. We need to remember that it's the oil-greedy government led by an Ivy-league rich brat who used his family connections to avoid serving in Vietnam, who are sending troops into Iraq, not the American people. There is a similar anti-Britishness in many parts of the world due to our Governments puppet behaviour. But most British people are anti-war. British people visiting the States would find so many people also anti-war and those 'supporting' the invasion doing so with the greatest of qualification. The American media is disgusting; the one-sided propaganda in both broadcast and printed material is so extreme that I seriously worry about it as a threat to democracy. Before I came out here I read a piece by Norman Mailer in the Telegraph where he said that he could conceive of totalitarianism in America. At the time I thought that this was trite and paranoid, now I can at least see the possibility of it.

You have also started writing newspaper columns, in which you write in a different language than you use in your books. Can this difference between certain levels or types of language be compared to social, or regional difference, do you think.

I write my column in standard English. For journalism it's a great language; imperialist 'weights and measures' exact, precise, a little anal, a little dull but great for conveying information and instruction in service of the empire! For novels, for looking at social groups and cultures it has more limited application; it's just not funky enough. People don't use it movies, television or in real life. Why do they persist with it books? Writing should reflect the myriad of different contemporary cultures. Language is living and evolving. Writers shouldn't be fucking curators.

Your most famous book so far was Trainspotting. The critics praised Glue, saying that your writing took altogether different direction from that which started with Trainspotting. However, in your most recent novel, Porno, you returned to Trainspotting. Did you miss the characters? What inspired you to return?

With the last book I went back to the characters from the first one but I didn't return to the same themes. The only reason I used the characters was because I liked them and wanted to get to know them again. I also felt that they worked in telling that story. Glue is a different book, but I like my books to be different. All they have in common is the language and the sense of place. Some are fantasy, others realist. They all have different themes.

In Trainspotting, Acid House and other writings you have portrayed a world that is to a large extent governed by power relationship. Has your perception changed recently with the Internet craze, September 11 and other things?

Since I've encountered the US media I've become more of a fan of the net. The irony is that by being so over the top and monolithic, the US broadcast media are turning people onto alternative websites for sources of news and information. I teach a couple of classes in a liberal arts college and I'm surprised at the number of people there, not extremists by any stretch of the imagination, who simply no longer trust the media to provide accurate, unbiased news. In Britain, although the press have a clearly identifiable standpoint, the news itself isn't anything like as comment-ridden as it is here. William Burroughs was concerned with power and its abuses. I'm sure he'd be horrified by the way it's being rampantly abused right now, in order to satisfy a small number of people who have everything they could possibly want anyway. After all, it's not as if George W. Bush needs Iraqi oil in order to put his kids through college.

Your books (and films based on them) seem to have a very close relationship to music? What is you attitude to music?

It's always come first. I'm a failed musician rather than a successful writer. Music helps me immeasurably in the writing process. I make out a play list for every character and buy the records they would listen to. It helps me find their persona's. What they play, where they stay, who they lay, is my matrix for character development.

As a writer, and successful writer read by many young people, how do you perceive your status, or influence, when compared to musicians?

I have a lot of successful musician pals and as I get older I find that I'm lucky to be a writer. I have great anonymity compared to musicians who sell the same number of records as I do books. Also, as music seems more tied to age, youth culture and commerce than books, readers tend to be more loyal to a writer than listeners are to a band. I know a lot of bands and artists in music who have tasted some success, but who are now 'winding down'. I feel that I'm just getting started, that I won't be a proper writer till I've done about ten books. I've just been serving my apprenticeship in public and I can't wait to properly get going.

Last modification of this page: 4th April 2003, 15:41

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