Irvine Welsh

School daze

Feeling thoroughly energised and with a bundle of diverse projects on the go, Irvine Welsh tells Rodge Glass why he needs to be grasping the nettle

(Photo: © Steve Double)

It’s a busy time for Irvine Welsh. It’s only been a year since the release of his last novel but since then he’s been involved in multiple projects, many of them off the page. His first full-length TV drama Wedding Belles appeared in February, he’s recently agreed to do another about a male voice choir from Wales, and then there’s the small matter of Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks, a film he’s preparing to direct sometime next year. All of that before you get to his new short story collection, If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work. Why so many projects? ‘You have to strike while things are going your way,’ he says. ‘I’m on a streak right now so I’m kind of going for it.’

Recently that’s meant working in different media, but this new book is a return to the way things used to be as Welsh first made his name with short stories. This is his first collection in over a decade. The main difference this time is in location and language. With the exception of novella ‘Kingdom of Fife’ (by far the strongest thing here), the collection is his most international offering yet, including stories written in American and Cockney dialect. Welsh now lives in Dublin and spends a great deal of time in America. Has that affected his outlook? ‘I think it must have. I go back to Scotland a lot but spending more time out of the place is kind of influencing my writing. Anyway, I’m not bothered about setting as much as storylines, and I fancied a wee bit of a change.’

That change is partly about gender - he’s writing more women these days, and writing them more fully - but the age and interests of his characters are changing too. There’s still the signature filth here (let’s just say one story involves a gun, two guys, a girl, a rattlesnake bite where you’d least want one and a novel way of removing the poison), but many characters are simply middle-aged people unable to deal with relationships: ‘I wanted to get to that time when characters are a bit older, people who can’t control their libido or their menopausal shaggers urges, you know? They’re people who rationalise that kind of thing to themselves. I’ve watched people wreck so many relationships they’ve been in by infidelities. A lot of people are into the self-justification.’

He seems remarkably energised, chatting away, enthusing about a number of things: one being the recent election back home, saying he is ‘delighted the SNP got to form some kind of government’ and now maybe Scotland won’t be ‘colonised by wankers’ forever. Also, there’s Alan Warner’s new Long Lunch publishing venture which he’s donated a story to: ‘it’s a great thing Alan’s doing’; and the very real possibility of a film of Porno, the sequel to Trainspotting: ‘it’s getting closer all the time.’ But first, does he ever feel the pressure to shock or change his style or just stay the same? ‘I’ve never been nervous about writing,’ he says, laughing. ‘I just get in there, bang away at the keys and enjoy it.’

If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work is published by Jonathan Cape on Thu 5 Jul; Irvine Welsh appears at Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Tue 3 Jul.

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