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Wednesday, February 8

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Feature Wed Oct 22 2008

An Interview with Irvine Welsh, Part 2

by Alissa Strother

[Be sure to check out Part 1 of the interview, focusing on Welsh's writing, teaching and involvement in the local literary scene.]

GB: What else are you doing now?

IW: I did the book tour in the UK and I came off of that and I went straight into shooting this film, for five weeks in South Wales. It's called Good Arrows. It's a Spinal Tap kind of mockumentary about the world of British professional darts players. It's about a guy called Andy "The Arrows" Samson who loses his mojo, so he goes back to his darts guru who gets him back into it again. It's kind of about their obsession with petty celebrity and low-level fame. I'm quite pleased with it. I've got to go away and edit it when I come off the tour here.

GB: Did you write it, shoot it, edit it, and act in it?

IW: Yeah, everything, don't you know. I mean I even did the catering and cleaned out the toilets and all that. I'm co-writer, co-producer, co-director, and I've got a cameo in it playing a pro. If it's any good I'll keep it in and if not I'll cut it out. It's myself and Dean Cavanaugh, my screenwriting partner, who wrote the script. I've co-directed it with a really great director called Helen Grace. Late October or early November we'll have the whole thing done. ITV have got the British rights to it, so they're going to put it out on TV in January and we're going to make a different cut and take it to Cannes and try to sell it as a feature. And The Meat Trade, we've got the financing for that, so hopefully that'll shoot either late this year or early next year.

GB: Are you involved in shooting that too?

IW: No, I won't be. I did the screenplay for it. It's all cast. It just that takes ages to get everybody working at the same time. It's got Robert Carlyle, Colin Firth, Samantha Morton and Johnny Borrell from Razorlight.

GB: Really? How did he get cast in it?

IW: I don't know, I think Antonia [Bird], the director, fancied him. I think she kind of just likes casting pretty boy British pop stars. She cast Damon Albarn in Face.

GB: While we're on the subject, I know you're a big music person. Anything interesting going on for you in that department these days?

IW: I just got a call from Primal Scream and they wanted me to present them this lifetime award in London next week but I can't because I'll be on tour, so that's a shame.

GB: Do you still DJ?

IW: Funny enough, I deejayed for the first time in seven years in Edinburgh for this festival and it was a total disaster because I realize now that people just do it from the computer. They've got this mixing software and all of the mixers and the laptops there and they're not set up for vinyl and I come in with a big box of vinyl and they couldn't get the mixer to work with the decks. It's kind of sad. I felt like such a dinosaur. The whole thing was beset with technical problems and in the end I just slapped on the records and made a party of it. I actually enjoyed playing some records again, but I think to do it really well you've got to be constantly doing it. You have to be hanging out in record shops all the time and you have to just be mixing all the time as well, and practicing. I used to be obsessed with it and I found that I was using it as an excuse not to write, doing it all day and sometimes for days on end. There are some really great DJs and great people working in music, and I thought I'm better at the writing than I am at this so I have to acknowledge that fact. I'll still occasionally get a bag of records and do it at a pub.

GB: You also directed the music video for Keane's single, Atlantic, a few years back. What was that like?

IW: We shot it in four days down in Sussex, on a beach in Hastings. Their studio is just up the road, so they came down to watch us in action. It's funny, because when you're directing and you're against a timeline, it can bring out the tyrant in you a little bit. I remember the band had come down and they were watching me line up this shot and we'd gotten them to close off the beach. Then this girl and her dog came along and they were walking into the shot and I just sort of went, "Get dodgy, f*cking her and her scabby f*cking dog off the f*cking beach!" Tom [Chaplin], the singer, turns around to me and just goes, "Actually, that's my girlfriend." But we had a great laugh about that.

GB: In the press and even on your website, you're described as an "often controversial" writer. Do you consider yourself controversial?

IW: No, I don't really. I'm sure there are some people, particularly some of the press in Scotland, that think I've got this list of everything that's going to piss people off: heroin addiction, pedophilia, football violence. I just don't think that way at all. It's just much more organic and much more about how we mess up and how we actually get over it. All of these thematic issues come out of that. I'm not really interested in courting controversy, but I am interested in exploring issues that other people would deem to be controversial.

GB: Is there anything you wrote that you had to think twice about putting out there?

IW: No, not really. If it's something that I feel uncomfortable with, that's a reason for me to write it. I kind of like to make myself feel uncomfortable. I think if you're starting to feel uncomfortable with something when you're writing it, that's the reason really to push on with it. At first, I was kind of concerned about the reaction of family and friends, but once they see that you're not about exposing people, it's a transformative thing. It's fiction, you know? And once they start to see that, they get much more comfortable with it. I think there is a natural thing that you feel when you've written something taboo because you just don't want to expose the people you're close to.

GB: Do you follow American politics at all?

IW: Yeah, I've actually been asked by Sky, which is basically FOX in Britain, to work as a pundit on the American election [while living] in Miami. And I did a piece for the Financial Times. You'll see it online.

GB: What have you noticed, politically, living in Florida?

IW: It's got quite a young population and a very old population as well, so it's going to be a really interesting battleground. It is going to be about age more than anything else, rather than race there. I think if Obama gets people out, he'll win. It's going to be very tight, though. When I did this article back in the summer, it was just as Obama was about to get the nomination and around the time Clinton officially dropped out. I thought that once the real forces of conservatism were unleashed that it would be a whole different thing and I actually thought at the time that McCain would probably win. Now, I think that there are just so many people that can't afford not to have Obama win. He's gotten so many disenfranchised people back into the political system that if he didn't win, the disillusionment in America and the idea of more of the same failed policies of the last eight years, internationally and domestically, would be so bad for the country and the world as a whole. You've got this whole new generation of people that, for the first time, are being energized by politics and if you shut the door in their face I think it's a terrible thing to do. People are starting to realize that the stakes are very high. It's still too close to call, but it just feels like it's time to grasp history and I think people will do that. I think the Sarah Palin thing has really helped McCain, though.

GB: What do you think of her?

IW: I think she's a total absolute f*cking lunatic basket-case, but it's been a great thing for him. I saw this picture of her looking like this kind of sexy librarian on one side of him and Cindy McCain looking all glam on the other side of him and you can just see some of the blue collar guys are going to go, "Pfwaaa, he's an American," you know? It's taken away all of the question marks about his age and health and this old, kind of country bumpkin thing about the Republican Party as well. If people see through to the fact that she's just a really reactionary basket case, good, but it has given him a kind of superficial makeover that he needed. The idea that if he drops dead the first week in office and she's the President, I can almost feel myself getting nostalgic for George W.

GB: How do people feel about the election in the UK?

IW: People are really excited by Obama abroad because he seems to be the first American presidential candidate who has ambition to go out of the country. In a sense, with the power of globalization, you are kind of electing the leader of the Western world to an extent. This is the first time that I can remember where American politics is much more interesting and exciting than British politics. British politics has stagnated over the last twenty years. Our supposed candidate of change is an old, white, middle class, male member of the Conservative party. I mean, that's our f*cking candidate of change. How stagnant and tepid the whole British political scene is now is just beyond belief.

GB: Well, I'll try to end on a happier note. You write, tour your books, make films and music videos, play football, box, run marathons, and now you're a political pundit. How do you find the time?

IW: Well, I only box for fitness now. I couldn't properly spar with anyone now who was any good or they'd kill me. When you're sedentary at a desk you've got to do something. I like trying different things and I get a bit bored with the same thing. I write in kind of blasts. Because I'm promoting the book right now, I'm not really doing much writing, but once I get back into it, I'll just vanish basically. I'm a director at two film production companies now and I should be around. They get all nervous, like, "Oh f*ck he's gone." Just lock myself in a room, stop answering emails, stop answering the phone and I come out with something.

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