Described as his best piece of writing since Trainspotting itself ‘Skag Boys’ is Irvine Welsh’s new book prequel-ling the 90’s classic, bringing the big picture to the front by getting into the main influences from Trainspotting and why it did happen to many of Britain’s youth during the dark side of the 80’s ,the political, social and personal factors that determined the lives of characters Renton, Sick Boy’s and others takes centre stage in this deeper and wider perspective on the epic Irvine Welsh story, in turn producing another in ‘Skag Boys’,..prior to its release (April 19th) Irvine Welsh talked to LTW
LTW: Skag Boys is looking at the ‘Journey’ of Renton, Sick Boy and other characters in Trainspotting, is this something you’ve wanted to do for some time, focus on the influences in the story and ‘why’ it actually happened
Yes, I had a lot of stuff at the start of Trainspotting and at the end. It was too big, so I just cut out the middle and plunged people right into their subculture, without really explaining how they got there. I tacked a heist ending on, just to finish the book and make it more like a conventional novel. The end stuff I used in other stories and books, but the first stuff, at the front of the original Trainspotting, I didn’t know what to do with. But, yes, I wanted to show where they had all come from and how they got to where they are.
LTW: How about the scale and reaction to Trainspotting when it first come out, a story and a time that’s close to you that became so successful, how did you find people’s reactions to it, generally
I was probably a hero when it sold 10,000, a jammy cunt when it sold 100,000 and a snidey cunt when it sold a million. It’s funny, but as a book becomes more successful it doesn’t change, but people’s perceptions of you change. You go from being seen as a naive idiot who’s somehow lucked out, to a scheming mastermind who sold a culture down the river for personal profit.
LTW: Going back to the beginning kinda breaths new-life into Renton and Sick Boy again, before the heroin and crime so maybe readers might identity more easily with them as in this they’re initially your average group of lads in the 80’s,…whats it like going back to these characters again
I think so. They should be able to see the humanity in the characters, before it was compromised by the drug’s dictates. It was great going back to them, a bit like meeting old friends. A difficult book to write, but a real pleasure.
LTW: As well Sick Boy, Renton and the other characters were in a way the flip side to the Thatcher prospering ‘Yuppies’ down south, but how much did her policies influence that scene in the 80’s, the crime, even the emerging heroin scene back then, even if indirectly
I think she was very much of her time. The ruling elite in Britain had grown tired of the working classes incessant economic demands through trades unions, and the cost of the welfare state. They had gone from being seen as the heroes that saved the empire and defeated Nazism in the two world wars, back to the scum of the earth. The 80’s was a very divisive time when we decided to become the 51st state of America in a globalised order instead of a modern European social democracy. The selfishness of times was heightened by the prevailing ideology, and we were all part of it, to an extent. Thatcher was an uncompromising class warrior on behalf of the elite, but she was no less damaging to the interests of ordinary working people in Britain than say, Blair or Cameron.
LTW: How bad were the police back then to heroin users, I’ve read stories of police confiscating all clean works from users and destroying them which probably contributed to the spread of HIV in those communities with users having to share needles
I think the police were as clueless as everybody; the users themselves, the parents, schools, health education, medical establishment, government agencies. I think that police action did definitely contribute to the spread of HIV as you’ve suggested, but user ignorance and the ignorance of the agencies above did just as much damage.
LTW: People like Renton and Spud went very quickly from a couple of ‘good’ working class lads to full time junkies and once there the system pinned them back, like you’ve said before; some seem to only recall the ‘sanitized’ version of the 80’s but actually they were quite dark times, weren’t they ?
The 80’s were as dark as fuck. There is probably as much nastiness that goes on now, but there was something about the prevailing ethos of the 80’s where callous, selfish personal qualities were seen as a virtue. I hate the version we get fed now by idiot TV presenters, of the dodgy fashions and shit music. There are dodgy fashions and shit music in every era.
LTW: Though Government funded treatment has come a long way its now dealing with drastic Government cuts like with many other services today, in truth Britain’s societies never really got over that 80’s heroin epidemic and its still very much with us today, so fair to say the story goes on ?
Yes, drug services will always be in the front line when a government starts wielding the axe. Every drug has its narrative and heroin’s goes on. It’s just out there waiting to fed on despair and lack of opportunity, so the more of that you provide, the more you are supporting the heroin trade. Right now the current government are doing a sterling job in the smack marketing department.
LTW: Any parallels putting the book together, anything from back then and around that whole youth drug-culture that grew from the 80’s- to today, or have we perhaps moved on from those times
I think the main lesson hasn’t been learnt, as we still have too many people with nothing to do. If people are un or underemployed, and have no hope of making social/economic progress, drugs win by default. People take drugs and keep taking them, simply because they’ve been failed by a society which offers them FUCK ALL ELSE TO DO. (sorry to shout!)
LTW: What do you do in terms of ‘going back’ to write a book like Skag Boys, do you talk to some of the people you knew from that time, visit old area’s again
Yes, all of these things, but it’s all very vivid within me and it’s never left me. I never think about these times until I actually start to write and then it all comes flooding out.
LTW: What do you think your average “Trainspotter” fans (if there is 1) will make of Skag Boys, give them that clear understanding of a story that they maybe didn’t have before, to think about the bigger picture
It’s a bit of a grown-ups Trainspotting, as I’m older, but it does have more about the society they characters and the family dynamics, so it does provide more to think about, but also, hopefully, the big literary rush as well.
LTW: Any plans to take it to the big screen Irvine, wouldn’t it be interesting to show all these influences working around the characters, visually
Now that it’s out as a book, I can think about it in these terms. For me it would probably work best as a television series as its a very big book, and there’s other material which I cut for space that could be used here.
LTW: lastly, any book tours planned, maybe the chance of catching a few readings
Yes, there will be stuff in the UK in April and the US in September.