Category: Archive

The perfect hangover

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

His controversial debut novel “Trainspotting,” made him a household name in Ireland, the UK and Europe when it came out in 1993.
That novel, a warts-and-all account of a group of heroin addicts living in his home town of Edinburgh during a climate of high unemployment and low expectations, sold almost a million copies, earned Welsh a Booker Prize nomination and was later adapted into a film starring Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle.
Other works of his include “The Acid House,” “Marabou Stork Nightmares,” “Filth” and “Glue.” His last novel, “Porno,” a sequel to “Trainspotting,” was published in 2002.
Welsh has been something of a nomad in recent years, spending time in London, Chicago and San Francisco. However, recently he has been based in Dublin, where his girlfriend has been studying in UCD and he has been taking advantage of the artist’s tax exemption.
“I’ve been quite itinerant, you know, I’ve just been settled in Dublin for the last two years so that’s kind of given me the space to finish the book, it’s been good to me,” Welsh said, speaking to the Echo last week from Philadelphia on the latest leg of his U.S. book tour.
Welsh has spent most of this month promoting the book in the U.S., where his work is less well known than in Europe. So far, “Master Chefs,” has received mixed reviews (a notably critical one appeared after this interview in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday), but Welsh said he has been pleased with the public response to his latest work.
“It’s been great, aye,” Welsh said, his Edinburgh accent making some words difficult to decipher.
“It’s the first book I’ve done for about four years and it just feels like I’ve never been away. I got a vibe when I put it to the publishers; there was kind of a really strong response to it. The publishing community seemed to get right behind it and you can always sort of tell when that happens that it’s going to go down quite well.”
The two central characters in “Master Chefs,” Danny Skinner and Brian Kibby, work as restaurant inspectors in Edinburgh Council. Skinner, a smooth talking philanderer with a penchant for alcoholic binges and hard drugs, develops an irrational hatred towards the nerdy and contentious Kibby that is so powerful it transforms into a kind of hex. And so Kibby’s body begins to suffer the physical consequences of Skinner’s hedonistic behavior.
“I had this thing about one guy giving the other guy hangovers, which was a long term fantasy of mine,” Welsh explained.
“We’d be sitting on a pub on a Saturday and we used to talk about who we were going to give our hangovers to, and I always wanted to do something with that,” he said.
Welsh also drew inspiration for the book from Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
“I thought well, what if, instead of a picture ageing away it was the guy,” he said.
In many ways, Welsh sees his books as autobiographical. His enthusiasm for illicit drugs has matched that of the addicts in “Trainspotting,” on occasion. (“Ireland always ends up with s*** drugs that nobody else wants. I’ve never had a f***ing decent pill or a decent line of coke in Ireland ever,” he complained to a journalist in Dublin last year.) Like many of his characters, Welsh, too, grew up in a council estate just outside Edinburgh. Like Skinner’s mother Beverly in “Master Chef,” he is an avid fan of punk rock (The Sex Pistols are his favorite Band). Welsh himself worked in Edinburgh Council, amongst other jobs, before his first stories were published in the influential Scottish magazine “Rebel Inc,” setting him on the road to literary fame. And, like many of his characters, Welsh is a loyal supporter of Scottish soccer team Hibernian F.C.
Critics have praised Welsh’s work as providing a kind of gateway to some people for whom literature might otherwise seem inaccessible.
“When ‘Trainspotting,’ first came out this guy who had just came out of prison, he was a junkie and he’d just gotten himself clean, and ‘Trainspotting,’ was the first book he’d read,” Welsh recalled.
“I’ve seen this guy since then over the last 15 years. He’s now like a professor of English at an American University. I’ve seen him go from kind of being into literature to being obsessed by it to going to university as a mature student to then doing post grad to teaching and lecturing and now he’s a professor. He’ll be a f***ing knight or in the House of Lords next time I see him. It’s fantastic, you know; it’s a great thing to see. He’s been the most spectacular rise that I’ve seen but you see so many people that the book meant so much to. It’s really humbling that it has spoken to them in such a direct way.”
So how have American audiences reacted to latest book? “I think the American audiences are very, very clued up,” Welsh said.
“In America you don’t really have to engage in anything that isn’t American you know, they’re not really encouraged, kind of culturally, to look at things outside of America. You go to the East Coast, the West Coast as well and it’s very big crowds at the readings. But inside, middle America really, it’s like they don’t come along in the numbers they do in other places but they really appreciate it more than a lot of readers because they’ve worked to hard to get into it, to access it, you know?”
As Welsh tours the U.S., Dublin audiences are enjoying the first run of his new play “Babylon Heights,” at the Mill Theater in Dundrum. This September, British television station Channel Four will shoot “Wedding Bells,” a screenplay by Welsh and Dean Kavanagh, who also co-wrote “Babylon Heights.”
“Wedding Bells,” is the first project of a production company Welsh has established with a group of writers including Kavanagh and the actor Robert Carlyle, who portrayed the psychotic Begby in “Trainspotting.”
In January, the company will shoot another of Welsh’s screenplays, a comedy called “Meat Trade,” and next March they will shoot a movie adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel: “The Man Who Walked.” Welsh’s forthcoming book comes out next summer.
“It seems like I’ve been doing nothing for four years but I’ve been doing a lot of writing,” he said.
So what the new book will be about? “It’s a collection of stories,” he said.
“It’s not set in Edinburgh and only one story is set in Scotland so they’re all over the world really.”
In the meantime, he is pretty confident that anyone who has not read his latest book will like it.
“If people don’t like it I’ll come around to their house and paint their toilet for them,” he promised.

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