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Interview: Irvine Welsh talks Trainspotting

This past Monday was a true highlight in the adult learning series Books on Film at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The guest was renowned Scottish author Irvine Welsh, author of the fantastic novel Trainspotting. The movie adaptation was screened, and for a movie about to celebrate its twentieth anniversary, the film is still extremely vibrant and hard-hitting, (and stars then-unknowns like Ewan McGregor and Kevin McKidd).

It was only the second feature directed by Danny Boyle, who went on to win the Oscar and People’s Choice at TIFF for Slumdog Millionaire. Most of all, it’s exciting that Books on Film would dare to program a challenging film like Trainspotting and bring Welsh to introduce the film and to speak about it with Eleanor Wachtel. Prior to the event, we spoke with Welsh via email about Trainspotting.

Scene Creek: We want to start with the scene where Spud unfortunately soils himself and tries to dispose of the evidence, and ends up coating everyone. Does a scene like this being played for laughs belong in such a dramatic project? Or would you consider Trainspotting as a comic novel?

Irvine Welsh: I see it as a dramatic novel but often dark themes are alleviated by comedic scenes, which are primarily about laughter as tension reduction rather than mirth. They give the reader/viewer emotional space to engage with darker material. If there was no levity they would disengage.

SC: Did you see your book as being hard realistic, or were you open to more fantastical elements?

IW: I never saw the book as urban realism, I believed it was a hyperreal piece. I brought out a second book, The Acid House, which was more fantastical and (screenwriter) John Hodge and Danny Boyle had said to me that book was also a stylistic influence on the movie.

SC: Renton accepts that Begbie must remain his friend versus the Skag Boys finally (possibly) getting rid of the influence of Begbie. How indebted do you think that we are to our friends?

IW: Friendship is largely about who got there first. You are bonded deeply at an early age by shared formative experiences, and sometimes you are bonded with people you have little in common with. Renton accepts (for a while) this dynamic with Begbie and the rest before he realises it’s destroying him.

SC: Do you feel that the book and film Trainspotting condemn the use of heroin? Certainly we see this through Tommy, and his death from complications of HIV, but what of others that not only survive, but actually thrive?

IW: The book & film neither condone not condemn; they accept that it happens and trace the consequences of this. These can be devastating and irreparable for some, not so much so for others.

The next event on the series will feature Philip Lopate discussing The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.