IRVINE WELSH FEATURE
The agony and ecstasy '
Scottish writer Irvine Welsh is again courting controversy by swapping junkie days for pill- popping nights in his latest book. Ecstasy. He speaks to Kathleen Morgan. And (over) Fiona Shepherd watches the Irvine Welsh industry rumble on.
rvine Welsh is finally learning the wisdom
ofthe phrase ‘just say no‘.just as his fourth
book lz'estasy elbows its way onto the
nation’s bookshelves. Following a crazed
week riding the publicity train at Cannes.
the author of Trains/wring has finally had enough.
Sitting in a booth in his favourite Edinburgh pub. he explains that at 37. he is in control of his life. Ile has just declined to do a last-minute photo shoot with celebrated photographer David Bailey for The New Yorker because of other commitments. If that hasn’t put a spring in his step after a gruelling string of (‘annes interviews and a succession of parties with new-found buddy Noel Gallagher. something has.
It could be the publication of Ecstasy. his collection of short stories that blows open the world of clubbing. dance and drugs culture. ()r his controversial collaboration with Primal Scream on their Iiuro96 single ‘The Big Man Meets The Scream Team And The Barmy Army Uptown’ — Welsh recently apologised for the lyric. which included such gems as ‘you’re I-Iunbelievable’. Or maybe it's his cameo role in a forthcoming dramatisation of The Acid [louse for Channel 4. ()r his screenplay for a movie to be set in Ibiza — ‘Club 18—30 shag culture meets house’. Fora man who says he craves an escape route from the media adulation showered on him since the publication of Trainspotting in I993. he is making life rather difficult.
The trick with Welsh is that he knows what he wants to do — and what he doesn’t. As America and Europe eagerly await publication of Trainspotting and after the successful screening of Danny Boyle’s movie of the book at Cannes. Welsh just wants to get on with the rest of his life: ‘The whole thing is for me to make more time and to work less rather than more.’ he says.
Welsh is still bemused by the creation of the Trainspotting industry which left Leith docks long ago to become a buzz word in Britain’s style magazines. In three years he has been catapulted from cult to celebrity status — even Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley knows who he is. having sat behind him at the Cannes premiere. "I’he good thing is it happened when I was in my tliinies.’ says Welsh. ‘If it had happened when I was in my twenties it would have been River Phoenix or something.‘
He refuses to be fazed by the whole experience. though. ‘Trainspotting has come a long way from being a book about Leith in the l980s.’ he says. ‘lt’s a world wide phenomenon now. It‘s going to be appropriated by people that have nothing to do with it. That’s life. All I can
take responsibility for is what is written between the covers.’
That could be just what Welsh is asked to do with his latest book Ecstasy. Its publication comes against a background of high profile anti- drugs campaigning. led by the cross-party forum Scotland Against Drugs. Subtitled Three 'la/es 0/ Chemical Romance. the collection
switches focus from 7i'ainspotting’s culture of
heroin addiction to the drug scene of the clubbing mainstream. The strongest of the tales is The Undefeated. a
love story fuelled by the highs and lows of
ecstasy taking. It centres on the burgeoning romance between Heather. a Dunfermline office worker trapped in a dead-end marriage and discovering ecstasy for the first time. and Lloyd.
a hardened pleasure seeker living on a diet of
ecstasy. acid. jellies and the occasional foray into alcohol-induced oblivion.
Welsh argues that you can't write about young people in contemporary Scotland without reﬂecting drug culture. ‘My books not really about ecstasy. it‘s about relationships and
‘The good thing is Trainspotting happened when l was in my thirties. If it had happened when I was in my
twenties it would have been River Pheonix or something.’
uncertainties.’ he says. ‘To me. to write about class in modern Britain and not have drugs in it is hypocrisy. l don’t have any moral arguments about whether people should or should not do it.‘
He denies he could become a figurehead of ecstasy culture: "I‘hat’s not the way people within the culture see it. The whole idea of the house [music] thing is not to have figureheads. but just to get on with it and do it yourself.’ Whether he is adopted as a convenient demon figure for the anti-drugs lobby remains to be seen. but Welsh clearly has no time for Scotland Against Drugs. spearheaded by Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsth and political rivals Alex Salmond. George Robertson and Jim Wallace.
‘Scotland Against Drugs is obviously not against drugs because it’s not against alcohol or tobacco.’ says Welsh. ‘lt‘s for people who will never take Class A drugs. to play on their fears rather than try to address the issue.’ He feels the authorities' attitudes towards the ecstasy culture are more about control than the desire to understand: ‘The world’s become a much more uncertain place. The more uncertain it becomes. the more the State tries to control people.‘
Lloyd in The Undefeated feels much the same way: ‘These Government cunts. because they’re powerjunkies. they are just incapable of having a good fuckin’ time so they want everybody else tae feel guilty. tae stey in wee boxes and devote their worthless lives tae rearing the next generation of factory fodder or sodgers or dole moles for the state.’
Welsh is thrown a little off balance by the inevitable subject of Leah Betts. The eighteen-
year-old died last November after taking ecstasy. drinking an excess of water to compensate for anticipated effects and suffering kidney failure. Her parents allowed her picture to be used on the ‘Sorted’ poster campaign aimed at discouraging ecstasy use.
‘I had a lot of admiration for the Betts,’ he says. ‘They were trying to understand what the whole thing was about. There were a lot of sections of the media that really exploited their grief.‘ He feels the media portrayed Leah’s reaction to ecstasy as typical. without putting it in context. Ecstasy-related deaths are not recorded in Government figures. but drugs charity Lifeline has documented at least 60 since 1987. There does not seem to bee ‘safe’ dosage level — deaths have been recorded at the minimum active dose while others taking several tablets have been unharmed.
‘There is no doubt about it. anybody who says they’re not taking risks when they take that pill is crazy.‘ he says. ‘But people who go into the mountains take risks. For people involved in the ecstasy culture it’s accepted as a risk.‘
While Welsh’s book Ecstasy charts new territory for Scottish fiction, it is less absorbing than his previous work. Welsh admits its first story Lorraine Goes To Livingston is less successful than he had hoped: ’It’s a piss-take. I told somebody I was working on a Regency novel and it appeared in print. so I thought I had better do something about it.’ The second story, originally planned as a follow-up novel to Trainspotting. focuses on the love affair between a London wide boy and a woman seeking revenge for her chemically-induced deformity. Capturing the anxieties, the highs, and the pitfalls of human relationships against a throbbing club beat. the book contains enough ﬂashes of Welsh brilliance to satisfy.
Welsh is blase about his meteoric rise to celebrity status. mainly because he is not convinced it will last. ‘I feel I have only a couple more books left in me and that will be the end of it.’ he says. “You’ve only got a certain shelf life in you.’
The roller-coaster ride is far from over, though. Welsh is to have a cameo role in the adaptation of a story from The Acid House by Glasgow-based Umbrella Productions — ‘They‘re making me get my kit off as a parkie pervert’. He hopes to open a club when he returns from Dunfermline to Amsterdam at the end of the summer. And then there is the prospect of appearing on Top Of The Pops with Primal Scream — even if it means waving a tambourine to the instrumental version ofthe
Euro96 single. ‘There’s still so much negativity in Scottish football. I’ve just
contributed to it.’ says Welsh with a touch of shame. before insisting excitedly that the single will chart.
There is one more dream Welsh closets: ‘I fancy just lying quietly in the sun somewhere.’ How about Ibiza? lz'cstasy by Irvine Welsh is published by Jonathan Cape at £9. 99. Welsh will be at the Arches, Glasgow on Monday IO Jane. See book events. '
The List 3I May-l3 Jun I996 7