“Is it paedophiles, junkies or lesbians today?” This is the question in the waking mind of literary rock star Irvine Welsh, who is on a world tour to promote his latest novel, provocatively titled The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.
His first book written from a female perspective, ‘Sex Lives’ is set in Miami and follows the lives of two very different women whose paths collide in the dramatic opening (crime) scene. Lucy Brennan is an aggressive, calorie-counting personal trainer; her more gentle counterpoint is the needy, overweight artist Lena Sorensen. They’re a world away from Trainspotting’s Renton and Begbie, but Filth fans needn't worry, even in health-crazy Miami, the servings of depravity have not been put on a diet.
We met Irvine backstage at his public book launch and joined him and his eclectic group of friends for an after party at cosy private members club Blacks in Soho. Here’s what we learned:
He spent last week in a flat with Danny Boyle, working on the sequel to Trainspotting
With the 20th anniversary of Trainspotting coming in 2016, rumours of a film adaptation of the sequel, Porno (2002), have recently been gaining pace. Backstage at the book launch, Irvine gives us the strongest confirmation yet that the wheels are in motion, explaining that the writers (Irvine and John Hodge), producers (Andrew Macdonald and Christian Colson) and director (Boyle) spent last week together in Edinburgh, working on the script:
“We rented a flat by the castle; it was like the Big Brother house! Just going through the scripts that John had done and the book, and meeting people and talking about the characters. We're going to have a bash at getting a script together, but we're still not wedded to the idea of necessarily doing it. If it's not good and it's going to trash the legacy, we won't insult the actors by putting it out to them.”
He will team with Jonas Akerlund in Miami this summer, most likely for Spring Breakers 2
Irvine hopes to shoot Spring Breakers 2 in Miami this summer. There has been confirmation in the past few days that the screenplay for Spring Breakers: The Second Coming has been written by Irvine and will be directed by Jonas Akerlund, the swedish director who created Lady Gaga's Telephone video. Backstage at his book launch, Irvine dropped this big hint that they are hoping to start shooting in Miami as early as this summer:
"I've got a film in Miami that I'm hopefully going to shoot with Jonas Akerlund, a friend of mine, a director guy, which I've written and Jonas is going to shoot hopefully in the summer."
Akerlund was one of the latecomers to the after-party at Blacks in Soho, joining an eclectic group that included Scottish TV presenter Gail Porter, designer Pam Hogg and comedienne Katy Brand.
Trainspotting is on the list of banned books in Gitmo
Irvine recently joined dozens of other writers in condemning the decisions to ban British prisoners from receiving packages, including books, from friends and relatives. He explains: “You can't baby people or assume responsibility for their reading habits. If you take people's self direction away, you take away their capacity for self improvement and you're just creating a bunch of people who are not going to change.
He was also shocked to find out that Trainspotting has been banned explicitly from US maximum-security prison Guantanamo Bay:
“I just thought: why? If you suspect people of being Muslim terrorists, surely a book about Scottish junkies… If it's encouraging them to turn to drugs, that's a good thing, from a social control point of view! I find the logic of it all very strange.”
Irvine used to DJ as part of a duo called the Disco Queens
Along with writer and artist Kirsty Allison (who dropped this golden nugget at the fancy after-party), Irvine pedalled disco classics up and down the country, in student unions from London to Leith. He’s a music fan and has said that he often writes a playlist for a character in order to understand them better. At the book launch, he said the character of Lucy had been shaped by a soundtrack of Joan Jett and Pink, whereas Lena’s character had a playlist of “goth rock, midwest indie and The Cure.”
Irvine wants Scotland to join the Scandinavian countries
And perhaps Belgium and the Netherlands too… in a football league. He’s a big football fan, supporting Hibernian FC and keeping up with all the games on TV from his home in Chicago. According to Irvine, football today is all about economies of scale, so smaller countries like Scotland are losing out in major European tournaments.
Welsh says his arty side views his love of football as a guilty pleasure and similarly his sporty side thinks his affection for art makes him a “pansy poof”. He hates the false dichotomy encouraged in schools which assumes a kid must be either sporty or arty, but he does concede that his separate groups of friends in those spheres are “like venus and mars; they just can’t understand each other”.
British government is just a scam for the mega-rich
Irvine grew up in Leith, a deprived district of Edinburgh where 29% of children are born into poverty, according to Barnado’s Scotland. He is critical of Thatcherite politics and believes that, now the working classes have been squeezed dry, the neoliberal project is after the middle classes:
“It's gone after the middle classes through their children, through debt - their kids having to pay to go to university, being saddled with debt and now having to pay for jobs through internships. So that's how they get even the people who have saved up, who have resources, not great resources, but some: a house; some money. Now the elite 10% want to take that. People are just opportunities for a scam, that's how the government has been in this country for the last 30 years, it's just a scam for the mega rich.
“Too many people are slaves now in a sense in Britain, it's not limited to the people in the really low levels of society, it's almost as prevalent with people working in the professions, people with decent jobs; they’re still chasing debt. It's all part of the cycle of indentured slavery; they're owned by the companies that control the debt and they've got to continue to pay this off all their life.”
Irvine’s wife thinks he is more like the women in Sex Lives than any of his male characters
One of them is a health-crazed, predatory sociopath, and the other is an overweight cry-baby with mummy-issues… charming!
“When she said that, I was scared, I thought 'My god, surely not?' I don't know if it's true or not, or if she's just trying to make me feel bad! It's interesting for me because when you write a character, you don't really think of gender. If you think of Renton or Begbie, or Lucy, you're not really thinking of them in terms of being men, or a woman, you're just thinking of a set of psychological responses and characteristics.”
“I mean, sexuality is sexuality, that's always the same, but the expression of female sexuality has changed so much over the last 20 years, because of the internet. Now they reckon women are bigger consumers of pornography than men. Even 20 years ago, if a woman sat on a plane with 50 Shades, people'd say ‘She's a fucking dirty cow! She's a wanker!’ But now, women are sitting there like ‘Fucking yeah! Yeah I'm a wanker, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?’!”
“I don't feel like this middle-aged pervert writing about two young women. Both hands are on the keyboard the whole time!”
He’s written a screenplay for Sex Lives - but he left out the sex scenes
There is a lot of often brutal lesbian sex in the novel, but that apparently wasn’t so hard to write, as “sexuality is such a subconscious thing, and writing is a subconscious thing, so you're just thinking about character and trying to make it work on the page. I don't feel like this middle-aged pervert writing about two young women. Both hands are on the keyboard the whole time!”
But when it came to thinking about actors having to play the same scenes, it wasn’t so easy:
“I decided to write the screenplay straight away, but when I came to do the sex scenes, I just thought: I can't ask two women to do this to each other! I suddenly felt like an old pervert when it came to transpose the stuff over; I went all prudish and thought: let the director sort that out! Eight pages of sex scenes and I just put one line: "They make love".
In Miami, Irvine turns into a gym bunny
“You have to!” he protests, “it's such a visual culture and it's so warm that you're not wearing that many clothes, so when you're walking around with a beer gut and milk-bottle white Scottish skin you look a bit of a mess basically and you stand out like a sore thumb, so I do try.”
He likes to go to the boxing gym. When he first starts he goes three times a week, though he often becomes obsessed and ends up doubling his visits. But the UK is a bad influence. “As soon as you come back here you start drinking, of course!” As attested to by the girl at the book reading, who loudly, repeatedly whispered to her boyfriend about how drunk she was, before being sick all over herself. Unfazed, she stayed in her seat until the end. In the polite environs of the Southbank Centre, it was an almost poetic reminder of the glorious grot for which Welsh is famous.