Monday, 30 June 2008

Interview with Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh really doesn't deserve his reputation as an awkward and hostile interviewee. I found him enthusiastic, thoughtful and clearly moved by the difficult research he has undertaken for his ninth novel, Crime. It was torturous turning a half hour conversation with this engaging writer into just 600 words. Here's my attempt.

Irvine Welsh Author of ‘Crime’ (Jonathan Cape Trade Paperback, £12.99)

What’s the book about?

Crime deals with an individual coming to terms with his past without any real support. The main character, Lennox, is isolated from his community, his colleagues, and he’s also eventually isolated from his fiancĂ©. He’s forced to negotiate between rescuing a girl who he fears is being abused, and recovering from a breakdown provoked by horrific child murder case that he’s recently worked on.

What originally motivated you to tackle such challenging subject matter?
Because it was difficult. Like everybody else, I find paedophilia so harrowing and so hard to get my head around. I almost stopped twice. I was finding it too much. The first time was when I just finished the first draft and the whole Madeline McCann thing kicked off, and I just had to stop for six months and do something else. The case made the novel too real.

How do you feel about the media’s relationship with child abuse cases?
I think the media are so interested in paedophilia because it’s the one thing that unites everybody. It seems to be something that we can all agree on, as evil in its purest manifestation. It’s true there is something about reality TV and voyeuristic culture that’s very unsettling and disturbing. This is an issue that I wanted to flag up. But we are complicit in the kind of society that we create. You’ve got to see it as an empowering thing that we’ve created this world. We can change it and modify it for the better.

Ray Lennox is a secondary character in the novel ‘Filth’. Why did you decide to go back to this character?
In Filth Lennox is a quiet but sly and manipulative cop. I always thought he was a character that had secrets. I started thinking about his motivation for being in the police

The novel presents an ambivalent relationship with the police. Is this something that you share yourself?
The state is always going to be a necessary evil. Like any form of bureaucracy, it’s human and so it’s going to be flawed. If we lived in an ideal libertarian world, we’d all get on without any argument. We don’t, so we need cops to protect people. But then we also get the kind of police we deserve in the kind of society that we have. I’d happily see a time when we didn’t need a police force. I admire the work the police do, I couldn’t do it.

Crime is your ninth work of fiction, is writing getting easier or harder?
It’s different. The earlier books, like Trainspotting, were very much driven by my own experiences or the experiences of people around me. Whereas now I’m reaching out a bit more, I’m doing more research now. It becomes less about you and more about what you’re trying to write about.

Have you felt that you’ve had to be true to the testimonials of the sex abuse victims that you’ve met?
I think the thing about writing novels is that it’s a selfish thing. You try to tell the truth as you see it but it’s not always the truth for everyone. That’s the whole point of the novel. I found that all the victims’ experiences were very different. Some of the people I met and thought ‘how did you survive that?’ It was inspiring because they actually came through it all in a very positive way.


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