The interview / IRVINE WELSH

The author of 'Trainspotting' would like a drug-free society, and he's not too happy about kids reading his book

In an upmarket Edinburgh cafe that one of the characters in his second book, The Acid House, professes to hate, Irvine Welsh is discussing Kids. "That whole thing about a teenage guy seducing virgins just did not ring true," he observes sceptically. "At that age you're so embarrassed by the whole thing that you just want someone who knows the score."

How does he feel about the absurd quote on the poster that says Kids "makes Trainspotting look like a 1970s episode of Blue Peter"? "In America, Miramax are using a New York Times review that said Trainspotting makes Kids look like a 1960s episode of Sesame Street,'" Welsh grins. "So I suppose that's a fair exchange."

Welsh spends a lot more time grinning than his rather granite-faced public image might lead you to expect. In fact, in person, as befits a 38-year-old enfant terrible, his mouth is perpetually twitching into a smile.

"It's really odd that I've got this kind of sullen reputation - I never saw myself that way. I think a lot of people want me to be like the characters in the books: they want that kind of congruence." What does he think it is about such warped specimens as Trainspotting's demonic Begbie or Marabou Stork Nightmares' Roy Strang that might make congruence seem an attractive option?

"I'm trying to make really flawed characters that have got redeeming features, so people can say 'I don't really like that character, but I can understand a bit where they've come from'. I like the idea of someone who is really nasty, vicious and selfish, but you can see their human side."

But people seem to respond more warmly to the ultra-violence than the mitigating circumstances. "That whole kind of voyeuristic thing is something that I find really weird. You write something for yourself and you know exactly where it stands. You're not anticipating any kind of reaction - if you do that, it's like writing with one hand behind your back.

"It's only later on that you realise that people are going to have a range of responses to things, and some of them might not be the ones that you would choose."

Welsh clearly thinks about this a fair amount. "One thing that does concern me is that young kids are passing Trainspotting around at school now. They're reading it in the same way that kids used to read Richard Allen's 'Skinhead' books, and you can't stop them doing that because kids will get into anything that they think might annoy their parents. But I sometimes think 'It's got f--- all to do with you, you little c----. Stay there, grow up, do your own thing'. [Welsh's laughter is not without a hint of anguish at this point.] Do you know what I mean?"

Welsh left school at the fag-end of the Richard Allen era to become a TV repairman - "It was that working-class, Seventies thing of getting a trade" - but jacked it in 18 months later after getting a powerful electric shock from the back of an old set ("I'll stick to hard drugs," he remembers thinking. "This TV repair game is just too dangerous.") All the people who stuck with it were on the dole soon anyway.

Welsh lived in a lot of different places and did a lot of different jobs, from ferries to property development to working for the council back home in Edinburgh. It was there that he started writing (Trainspotting was his first book), initially as a response to the horrors of the Scottish capital's late-Eighties Aids explosion.

His unflinching depiction of the worst in human behaviour has sometimes been mistaken for a lack of moral engagement. "People learn that certain ways of behaving will get them through certain situations," Welsh explains. "To others, these ways of behaving might seem inappropriate or anti-social, but that's the reality of it for them. If you don't acknowledge that reality, if you put in a moral force and say 'this is completely wrong', what you're doing is introducing the author as a character in the book, who becomes this omnipotent, God-like figure who's staging and controlling everything."

But isn't that what authors do? "It is in a way, but to me, the discipline of writing is being prepared to surrender your own ego to the force of the characters and the dynamics and the set-up. It's a psychological state, where you become a voice expressing what is happening in the culture around you, and everything I've written that I've not been happy with has been a result of failing to get into that state." Welsh admits to some dissatisfaction on this score with the first of the three stories in his new collection. Given its title (Ecstasy), its cover image (a man with very little hair holding a letter "e" between his teeth - the publishers wanted Irvine to pose in this guise himself, but he wisely demurred), and the narcotic leitmotif of minds opened by chemical intervention, this book might be regarded as a blatant attempt to cash in on his status as the literary high priest of Nineties drug culture.

Needless to say, that's not how Welsh sees it: "The dilemma that I was trying to resolve, and I don't think I have - not successfully anyway - is, if you don't have these feelings and you get them induced chemically, do you have a right to them?" That is a dangerously responsible-sounding position. "I think it's one of the great unsung dangers of Ecstasy, and it's something I'm very interested in - the psychic damage it can do to people by giving them feelings that might not necessarily be the right ones to have."

Is this a call for a drug-free society then? "I genuinely would like for there to be absolutely no drugs at all - tobacco, alcohol, Ecstasy, cannabis, whatever we need to get us into some kind of spiritual relationship. I really would like it if we could get there without needing any of that, but I think the kind of world we live in [by this, Welsh elucidates later, he means "Western consumer capitalism"] makes it very difficult for that to happen."

How does it feel as a critic of Western consumer capitalism to see people on the train reading the book of the film of your book while listening to the soundtrack album? "You've got to let go. When something gets to a certain point you've got to say 'tatty-bye' - it's everybody's now." Welsh is not about to let being the new literary establishment soften his attitude towards the old one he has always defined himself against.

"The whole breakdown of culture," he observes vengefully, "is very unsettling for those people who regard themselves as being at the cultural centre."

Why? Because there isn't a centre any more? "Because everybody's at their own centre."

It's odd in this respect that the whole Damien Hirst/Jarvis Cocker/Irvine Welsh interface, the very public index of Britain's current cultural self- confidence, tends to foster the illusion that culture all happens in one place.

"That's a slippery fish to try to grasp, but the way I look at it is that there are so many different access points, so many different routes into things now - if you watch an episode of The Bill, you'll probably get a bit of Dostoyevsky - and it doesn't matter which one you come in from. I think the great thing at the moment is the acknowledgement that things are uncertain."

It must be strange to have so much power in that situation. "It doesn't feel like that. It feels less. The minute something has a commercial base, there are all sorts of different interests involved pressurising you to do things."

Welsh has just had a falling-out with his American publishers. They wanted him to go down to London to have his picture taken by David Bailey for the New Yorker. "They ring up and say - totally straight-faced - 'You must do it because it'll really put Scottish writing on the map' and you just think 'Why? Why would you want to do that?' "

He rolls his eyes. "We've had the Brit-film invasion and the Oasis invasion, so now let's wrap everything in tartan. I'd be like [Welsh pauses to think of the worst thing possible] ... a rented Cilla Black."

5 "Ecstasy" (Jonathan Cape pounds 9.99) is out on Thursday. Welsh can be heard muttering ineffectual imprecations against the God-given superiority of the English on Primal Scream's unofficial Scottish Euro 96 anthem, "The Big Man and the Scream Team Meet The Barmy Army Uptown" (Creation single, out on 10 June).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
ebookAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maintenance Agreement Manager – Subsea Cables

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Geotechnical Director of Engineering

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Senior Renewables Grid / Power Systems Specialist

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Offshore Wind Package Manager

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: T...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices