Ever since writing Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh has been renowned for his twisted plots and characters.The Scottish author now lives part-time in Chicago and part-time in beautiful, sunny South Beach. As a Miamian, reading his latest release, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, is like a perverted look at your own life. You've been to every spot and probably know someone like the psychotic main characters.
Lucy is a cruel, maniacal, food-obsessed personal trainer. Lena is an overweight, self-deprecating artist. What happens next is too insane to explain here. Welsh will have to tell you at Books & Books in Coral Gables Wednesday, February 4. In advance of the event, New Times spoke with him about his own weird food obsession.
New Times: You live part-time in Miami?
Irvine Welsh: I've got a place in South Beach. I moved there almost permanently for about six months to get into it and write the book. I've had the place for about six or seven years, and that was probably the longest continuous stint I've had in Miami... The downside of it is I don't really get anything done. I find it a lot harder to motivate myself to write. I've got about ten inches of snow outside the house in Chicago, so I don't want to go out... Going to Miami, it's a great place to transition, to take an almost-finished project with you and put the finishing touches to it, but it's too distracting with the sun and everything going on to stay in continually and really go for it.
I'm from Scotland, which is a very oral culture. People talk all the time and tell stories. Miami is a very visual culture because of the weather. You've got the huge yacht scene; you've got the beach scene. It's all about image. That fascinates me coming from such an oral culture, where people talk and talk but don't actually look around. It's a fantastic mix for me to go between the two.
I never thought about it that way, as a visual-verses-oral culture.
I love going to Miami. You get out of the international airport, get into a cab, and it's like shedding a skin. You feel a lot of worry and concern just slippin' away. Due to the Caribbean thing, the Latin American kind of vibe, as well as the heat, people just don't seem to worry so much about things as they do in the northern cities.
In this book, you play with this contrasting worry of the self-obsessed.
There's a visual culture, so you do worry a lot more about how you look. I'm conscious of the fact that I'm the only person who looks kind of strange with all their clothes off. No one is wearing any clothes, and I've got this white, Scottish, milk-bottle skin, this beer gut, and all that. The first thing I do is I go to the gym... You don't really worry about how you look with your clothes off until you get to somewhere like Miami and you think, God, I'm a mess. I can't go around like this.
I think the downside of that very narcissistic, obsessive culture is that you're continually chasing something. You see people who've had all sorts of work done and look a real mess, on all sorts of diets, who aren't obviously healthy. It gets very dysfunctional as well. That's what I tried to get at with these two characters. One is very sporty, and one is very artsy... You have to be both. One has to balance against the other. That's really the duality of the book and the duality of the characters' relationship.
Did you really meet people so severe?
I was in Crunch, the one on Washington, and I was watching these two women training... The whole genesis of [the book] came from this woman getting this other woman to do kettle ball weight exercises. The one woman was really upset and crying, and the other one was shouting and forcing her to go through with it. I thought, God, you're paying for this, to be kind of abused by this person.
It kind of came out of that, but I was also thinking about I was always quite sporty as a kid. The football club and the boxing club were big parts of my life and still are... but I was also very artsy. I wrote poetry and painted and all that, and you couldn't really be the two. I had two different sets of friends, and I always felt this very uneasy course between the two... I never felt satisfied in either of these things, and I think it might be to do with industrialism. I feel that society divides people to other agendas, sexuality, and orientations toward one thing or the other. I wanted to see how you integrate and become a person, and I think it is through that renaissance of getting involved in as many different, disparate things as possible...
I kept thinking very much about that and trying to establish two archetypes in these characters and look at how abysmal. These archetypes are making them both miserable in a sense, not making them complete as human beings.
Psychologists now recognize "orthorexia" as an eating disorder, not concerning how much or how little a person eats, but that people are damagingly obsessed with the quality of food with fad diets and the like.
I must admit, that's probably getting quite close to my obsession. I think it's because of this whole "real food" movement. Particularly here in the States, it's exposed that the stuff we eat isn't actually food... It's some kind of chemically engineered stuff that might have nutrients in it, but it's probably kind of bad for us. You almost feel that stuff is going the way of cigarettes. Ten years before smoking bans, nobody really thought cigarettes were that bad, even though there was a lot of research. Now, you get research on obesity, fats, sugar, starches, corn syrup, and how bad they are for us. I think there's going to be more pressure on people to really think about their diet and what they're eating, but that processed stuff is so much cheaper.
What are you working on?
I'm working on a couple of movie things -- doing a screenplay for the studio and working quite hard at that... I've got a new book out in the UK in April, which is set back in Edinburgh, so I've gone back to Scotland for this one. I'm researching another book, which is going to be set in Las Vegas.
Having fun in Vegas?
Yeah. I tend to write things about crazy, high-energy characters. I like characters who basically are good characters, but they're going through a trauma or mental breakdown, posttraumatic stress, drug addiction. They're having a bad year out. When things are going well, we make all the right decisions, but when things are going badly in life, that's when we start to make even more bad decisions to compound it. I'm interested in people going to that place.
You say your worst year is your best year.
One of the great things about being a writer is everything is usable. You don't necessarily seek out bad experiences, but every relationship breakdown, drug addiction, bereavement, all these things are horrible and very debilitating, but you learn so much from them when you go through them -- or even better still, have somebody else go through them.
Will there ever be a Trainspotting sequel?
We've been talking about it for a long time, and we kind of keep putting it down. The script has been the thing that's always held us back... We're conscious of the legacy of the thing. The guys are all older now. Trainspotting worked in some ways because it was a very hip youth movie. You can't really do that now, so you have to have something that's still going to resonate, have some kind of cultural significance... The multiplex audience is a very young audience. People like me might think we can do a cool movie, but for them, it's kind of like watching your uncle dance at a wedding -- there's that element of embarrassment to it... We'd rather not do it than do it badly... Nobody really needs the money, so nobody is really going to desperate measures to prostitute themselves to something that isn't up to scratch... But if we do get a really good screenplay that's pertinent, interesting, and adds to the characters, then we certainly would.
For now, we'll look forward to your engagement at Books & Books.
Oh God, I can't wait. I stepped outside today, and just going down to the local shop was an adventure. I feel like I've been on an expedition. I want to wear a pair of shorts and a tank top and flip-flops and walk down to my local Whole Foods. I don't want to have to wrap up like I'm going to the South Pole just to go 100 yards down the street.
In Miami, you're either obsessed with image or have the license to be a bum.
I quite like almost-defiantly fat people. They're like, "Fuck you, Miami. I'm a fat bastard and proud of it." You see like a smug, confrontational way, people are walking to Five Guys for the double burger with cheese.
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