The Craft of Writing
Irvine Welsh grew up in Leith, Scotland. The son of working class parents, he spent his childhood in government housing, a milieu he gave voice to in his hugely popular novel and subsequent film, Trainspotting. The book was an international success and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 1993. Welsh moved to London in his twenties and played in local punk bands but returned to Edinburgh in the late-80s. Drawing inspiration from the the rave culture there, he began writing seriously and submitting to literary journals. After Trainspotting, he published Ecstasy, Glue, Porno, The Acid House and The Bedroom Secrets of Master Chefs. His books’ themes range from the Scottish identity, sectarianism, classism, immigration, unemployment, AIDS and drug use. Recent works are The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006), a play, Babylon Heights (2006), written with Dean Cavanagh, and If You Liked School You'll Love Work (2007). His latest novel, Crime, was published in 2008. He has taught undergraduate creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago and currently divides his time between Miami, Chicago, Dublin and London.
Question: Are you focusing more on novels or screenplays?
Irvine Welsh: I’ll probably do… I’ll probably do one thing, a big thing a year. I’ll probably try and do a film in one year and a book the next. And that will be… That’ll be the way I’d like to do it because, I think, with a book you get… you do get very lonely.
This is not probably conducive to your mental health to spend all these time with people who don’t exist. And I’m kind of actually quite a social animal, so it’s good to work with people and to collaborate, and I kind of think you learn a lot and grow a lot in that way, . But, then you get fed up with them as well, you’ve got to deal with them and all the kind of foibles and all that, so it’s much better… you want to just get back on your own and sort of play God again. I do need kind of elements of both of them in my life, I think.
Question: Does being a novelist help you write screenplays?
Irvine Welsh: It’s weird because I’ve started off I got into film obviously through writing from a novelist I kind of got asked to do screenplays and write screenplays and I find it very, very unsatisfying because, with a novel, you’re creating the whole thing. There’s a whole [kind of art] to it that goes out there, whereas with screenwriting you’re just really putting the foundations down and somebody else kind of builds on them.
So I think that being a kind of a writer-director in cinema is much more like being a novelist than being just a screenwriter. And so, yes. It just feels much more kind of part of what you’re about, really. I just… It just seems you’re just using… instead of using psychic materials, like what you’re constructing in your head, you’re using you’re kind of using physical materials like actors and [plan] and all that kind of stuff. But you’re working with people to enable this thing to be physically staged rather than kind of staged unto a bit of paper.
I’ve done a couple of plays. I’ve done one called “You’ll Have Had Your Hole” which was kind of… This was so badly received that I can actually enjoy it, and this is [IB]. I kind of believed in that play. It’s like it was so badly received by the theatrical establishment in Britain. I think it must be really good, . The other one I’ve done, I did with partner Dean Cavanaugh, screenwriting partner, called “Babylon Heights” which was basically about four of the dwarf actors in “The Wizard of Oz” and they were then living together in this kind this small room in Culver City kind of roach motel, basically.
So it’s about their relationships with each other and the kind of… they were kind of put into a different hotel, all these, these kind of small people were put in this different hotel from the big people who were who were regarded as the proper actors. So it was that kind of a [part] going on. They were basically under house arrest in this place. So we did this play about them and we’ve shown it in San Francisco and we’ve shown it in Dublin and we got plans to do it in next year’s Edinburgh Festival, to take it to the UK for the first time.
Recorded on: September 8, 2008
Irvine Welsh explains the interplay between novel and screen writing.
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