Trainspotting Author Irvine Welsh Returns With a Sequel — and a Techno Album

Irvine Welsh
Irvine Welsh Jaap Buitendijk
Irvine Welsh, the author of the youth and drug culture touchstone Trainspotting, mentions Miami only in passing in his latest novel, Dead Men's Trousers. But the Scottish writer is grateful to be back in his adopted hometown. "I've been in [the United Kingdom] the last couple of months. It's so dreary and dark. We have no seasons in Scotland — it's one long, dreary fall."

Sitting at a South Beach sidewalk café on a cloudless February morning before his boxing workout, Welsh says that outside of his birthplace of Edinburgh, Miami has influenced his writing more than any other place. The Magic City has been the setting for his novels Crime and The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.

"It's a big world. I try to see as much of it as I can. I get antsy if I stay in the same city for too long, but I'd like to always have a place in Miami," he says. "It's the polar opposite of Edinburgh. Scotland has an oral culture — everyone is constantly gabbing. Miami, with its art and photography, is a very visual place as opposed to an oral place."

Dead Men's Trousers fits the sunny demeanor of both Welsh and Miami. Released last month, it revisits the characters of Trainspotting in middle age.

"If the first book, Trainspotting, was about betrayal; and the second, Porno, was about revenge, this one would be about redemption," Welsh says.

Renton (the protagonist portrayed by Ewan McGregor in the classic 1996 movie) now manages DJs. Begbie is a successful avant-garde visual artist, while Sick Boy and Spud still have their hands in crime. It's impossible for these characters to escape their drug-addled past, just as it was impossible for Welsh to escape these characters.

"I was working on Trainspotting 2 with the director, Danny (Boyle); John (Hodge), the screenwriter; and the producer, Andrew (Macdonald). We were kind of in this Big Brother house we moved into when we were trying to figure out the story of the movie. It got me thinking of all the characters again, and I ended up getting two books out of it," he recalls.

The first book was The Blade Artist, which Welsh describes as a Begbie solo tale, while Dead Men's Trousers is a proper sequel for the four main characters. Welsh laughs about how these characters have now appeared in a multitude of books. "I was a big Marvel Comics fan as a kid. I didn't mean to make my own Marvel Universe, but that's how it turned out."

Though it's been comforting and fulfilling to continue to chronicle the lives of these ne'er-do-wells, Welsh is hesitant to promise any further adventures of these characters in print or onscreen. "One of them doesn't make the cut in this one. I'm not sure how much older I can make them. I don't want them in an old folks' home." He's also doubtful about the chances of a third Trainspotting movie. "We've had chats about it. Making the second one was very intense and emotional. It would be some time before we do it again. The first two movies were very good; we'd be pushing our luck to make a third."

Then again, he admits, "we were scared to make a second movie."

That sliver of hope will cheer up fans of one of the most beloved pop-culture phenomena of the '90s. The success of that movie and its enmeshing with Britpop made writing the sequels a challenge for Welsh. "When anything gets adapted, you have to go back to the original work for how you perceived them. I had to read the first books to remember how I described them. You have to make sure to get their characteristics right."

In the new volume, Welsh continues his tradition of writing in a thick Scottish dialect, where a typical sentence can read like, "A soft Sqezy-boatil heartbreak whine leaks ootay the wee gadge." As with a foreign movie or one of those memes that replace letters with numbers, your eyes and mind eventually adjust to the characters' vernacular. "It's intense," Welsh says of his phonetic flair for writing how these characters sound. "It takes a lot longer and it's harder to write this than standard English. It gives it an extra dimension when you read characters talking and thinking in their own voices. I did it for my first book and stuck with it."

Welsh has a long list of plans for 2019, including adapting his book Glue into a TV show for the BBC and working on a novel he says is so sprawling it might instead have to be a TV series. He's especially excited that, like his character Renton, he's entered the world of EDM. In March, after having DJ'ed in South America, London, and New York, he'll play a set in Miami during Winter Music Conference. The following month, he'll release a techno album.

So, just like his Trainspotting characters, Welsh seems to be rebelling against one of the more famous and cynical lines he wrote in his debut novel: "Basically, we live a short, disappointing life; and then we die."

Irvine Welsh. 8 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-4408;
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland