Book Festival: Irvine Welsh

Edinburgh International Book Festival blog: Heather McDaid reports on Irvine Welsh’s event in Charlotte Square


“I just thought it would be a great title,” smiles Irvine Welsh. “It had nothing really to do with the book.” Admittedly, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is odd by most authors’ standards – perhaps not Welsh’s – but the plot actually spiralled from his time living in the States.

“I wanted to write about the obsession with diet and exercise people have in America,” he explains. In the UK, weather is our go-to topic; the US uses food and exercise. It’s common sense, he says, that if you’re consuming too much, to consume less. But Americans substitute one product for another, like a gym membership. He saw a woman break down in a gym because of her trainer and he thought, “She’s actually paying money to be abused by this woman.”

There’s always been a dichotomy with sport and art: you seemingly can’t like both, he claims. But he wanted Lucy and Lena to represent each and in a warped way complete each other.

When asked how he found writing female characters, Welsh says that we “suffer from an overemphasis on difference” in writing gender. He doesn’t initially think in respects of male/female, but human traits first. “I think there’s a universal bedrock of humanity,” he says. Then the furniture of the story fleshes out the gender.

This seems a far cry from the characters of the likes of Filth or Trainspotting, but he doesn’t see it as a journey, more approaching the work on a project to project basis. All his characters are a part of him in some way, and he draws from himself to make it authentic, to immerse himself in their story. “I’m surprised that I’m a lesbian, for example,” he laughs.

His reasoning for voting yes in the Scottish independence referendum next month is met with rapturous applause from about half the room, and he’s forced to ponder whether Lucy would win a fight against an alligator. He also reveals that he makes a music playlist per character as he writes and listens to them to get into the frame of mind. Filth‘s Bruce Robertson drove him mental in particular, having to listen to Michael Bolton repeatedly.

Asked whether we can expect more work based in Edinburgh, he says, “the city is always kind of my muse.” It’s always best to write what you know, he says, adding that the dialect he uses is a necessity. The likes of Trainspotting could never be written in standard English – it “sounded really pretentious.”

He closes the evening with an entertaining reading from A Decent Ride, a story tinged with Welsh’s typically sardonic wit about a taxi driver and amateur porn star, who’s driving in Hurricane Bawbag. “That big cataclysmic event that changed Scotland forever,” Welsh muses. “Ran into hundreds of pounds of damage.”

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