Anagrama publishes “Reheated Cabbage” in Spanish, a collection of Irvine Welsh’s early stories, giving us a reason to speak to the author. We asked him to tell us more about his origins, his characters, drugs, and the prequel to “Trainspotting”, which is already out.
When he was little he wanted to be an astronaut. When he grew up, he became a real estate agent, thinking that he could get away from his neighbourhood. Later he realised that the typewriter was calling to him. And so he started to write. In a few angry nights, he typed out “Trainspotting” - still his crowning glory - the story of how Sick Boy, Renton and all the others sold their souls to the Devil (seeing themselves as incapable of escaping from the cage that they believed their lives to be) for a fix of heroin. Irvine Welsh (Edinburgh, 1958) writes dirty (dirtier than dirty) realism, about Scotland, empty heads, football and now - since his first stories have reached the book shops, gathered together in his book of short stories “Reheated Cabbage”, recently published in Spain as “Col Recalentada” (Anagrama, 2012) - aliens. Ensconced in what he likes to consider his writer’s studio (“as I’ve pretentiously started calling it, since visiting Hemingway’s similarly-dubbed lair in Key West”, he admits), Welsh speaks to us about how the eight stories recently published in Spanish were created and what he thinks about “Skagboys”; the anxiously-awaited prequel to “Trainspotting”, which has just reached the shelves of British book shops (“It’s my best work ever”, he says). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. With you live from Chicago, rigorously recorded, Irvine Welsh.
"I’m fascinated by the
extent to which we can
spoil everything. How we
can make one bad decision
after another. How we
sabotage our own life when
it looks like everything is
All of the stories in “Reheated Cabbage” were published in the 90s, in magazines and anthologies that can no longer be found; they represent the first steps in your career as a writer. How is it for you to see them again?
It’s nice. I like my first stories. I have the feeling that I’ll never be able to write with that tone of a monstrous drug addict again, but I suppose that he found his place in the great canon and that’s what matters.
Do you think that there is a common thread running through them all? All of the main characters – really, all of your main characters - are trapped, in many ways. They often seem to be sentenced by the place where they were born and the type of men (and women) that they have become.
Yes, let’s say that this is the theme of everything that I write. I’m fascinated by the extent to which we can spoil everything. How we can make one bad decision after another. How we sabotage our own life when it looks like everything is going well. And how we manage to make things even worse when they were already bad enough.
So to live is to fail? At least characters like Albert Black (the schoolmaster who wants to say a few things to his famous former student) and psychopaths like Begbie feel something like that...
Yes, failure is always there. At times we even seek it out, whether we are aware of it or not. It’s like we were looking for it. In reality, trying to embrace our current political system of globalized capitalist consumerism is embracing a system of failure. But the thing is that any alternative system is also likely doomed to failure.
What do you think of that Samuel Beckett quote that says: “Try again. Fail better.”?
I know it. I like it. I think there are a lot of interesting possibilities for failure that we still don’t know. Only boring people continue to insist on the same types of failure.
The story of the teacher in “Glue” - who reappears in “I Am Miami” - has a lot of that. Black wants to change the world; at least he wants to create opportunities for his students, boys and girls destined to become construction workers and hairdressers. However he realises that whatever you do, they continue to become hairdressers and construction workers, so he gets angry with the only person who has managed to escape from this (Ewart). Is that something that you, as a writer (or maybe as one of those boys), are aware of out there?
Yes. It all has to do with that phrase from John Lennon’s “Working-Class Hero”: “They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool”. One of the myths that is perpetuated to maintain our unfair class system is that the bourgeoisie want the poor to become rich. Not by a long shot! What they want is to keep the poor down; if they came up, it could only mean one thing - that they would lose part of what they have.
The feeling of being trapped is something that your style supports - with that anguished first person in, say, “Filth” - but the brutality often becomes a sort of tragicomedy (or gory comedy) that makes you laugh at things that are very cruel. Is humour a way of deactivating the reality or the brutality of everyday life?
It’s only a way of making it so that people don’t have such a bad time at really nasty moments. I grew up in a world where the humour was always very black. As a writer, I use it so that certain things that I tell are not entirely intolerable. It’s a way of lowering the tension all the time. And of course, of having fun.
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