Irvine Welsh's Skagboys

First aired on Writers & Company (18/06/12)

It's been nearly 20 years since Scottish writer Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting became an international literary sensation, spawning stage adaptations and the critically acclaimed movie starring Ewan McGregor as the main character Mark Renton.

In the ensuing years, the 53-year-old author has written several novels and short story collections, including a sequel to Trainspotting called Porno. But for his latest novel, Welsh looks back at the history of his controversial characters. Skagboys (skag is a reference to heroin) revolves around the lives, schemes and addictions of the morally ambiguous Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie before the events of Trainspotting.

During a special conversation with CBC's Eleanor Wachtel, Welsh said that revisiting the characters and settings that launched his career was more enjoyable than he thought it would be.

"It was a bit like meeting old pals. And the first characters you kind of write, it's almost a bit like a first love. You have kind of a flame in your heart, like an old burn for them, and this was the case with the characters. I got back writing to the way they think and the way they operate, very, very quickly, so yeah, it was very enjoyable to do."

Welsh, who has been dubbed "the poet laureate of the chemical generation," returns to familiar territory in Skagboys, the streets of Edinburgh, where he himself grew up. The city is famous for its arts festivals, rich history and castles, but Welsh's characters exist in the hidden underbelly of the city, where drug abuse, crime and poverty consume people's lives. His books have explored some of the social, political and cultural origins of the 1980s heroin boom in the U.K. But, as a writer, he's also been interested in the human urge to self-destruct or self-sabotage. He remembers growing up with several clever and vibrant kids at school, thinking they would go on to achieve great things and make their mark on the world. But something, perhaps the fear of failure, or even the fear of success, weighed them down when they got into their late teens.

skagboys-cover.jpg"It just seemed to fall away from them. The confidence and the verve and the sassiness just seemed to leave them, or they just felt like they couldn't take that out of their own immediate environment and take it to the world, basically," Welsh explained.

"It's always fascinated me to look at the processes at that way people shut down their potential because they're frightened."

You can listen to the entire interview with Irvine Welsh, and a clip of him reading a passage from Skagboys, in the audio clip below.

Download Flash Player to view this content.