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Irvine Welsh On 'Dead Men's Trousers'


The gang is back - Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud - the scheming, drunken, brawling, stealing, spaced-out, hooked and pill-popping "Trainspotting" crew of Scots we first met in Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel, which also became a hugely successful film. But now, it's a generation later. The lads are middle-aged. Mark Renton roves the globe managing deejays. He encounters Francis James Begbie, the man he calls my old mate and deadly enemy, on a transatlantic flight, astonished to observe Begbie's now the essence of Zen, a Southern California sculptor and painter with a beautiful, young family. But a scheme and a story bring Renton and Begbie back to Scotland and Sick Boy and Spud. Irvine Welsh's new novel, "Dead Men's Trousers" - and Irvine Welsh, the acclaimed novelist and playwright, joins us from the studios of WLRN in Miami. Thanks so much for being with us.

IRVINE WELSH: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Now, Renton is especially surprised to see Begbie because they hadn't left on what you'd call friendly terms, had they?

WELSH: No, no. And it's often the way in life, you know, that when you're kind of trying to avoid someone and you finally think you've got rid of them that you're cast back together again. And you have to make the most of it.

SIMON: Yeah.

WELSH: But the people that you grew up with and that you knew very early on in your life, in some ways, are your kind of most dominant associates. And they often come back into your orbit later on in life.

SIMON: And to be sure, when Renton runs into Begbie, he's jealous, isn't he?

WELSH: Yeah. He is very jealous because, in a way, he always wanted to be this kind of artsy, creative person who expressed himself in that way. And suddenly, Begbie, the least likely person who you could imagine doing this, gets that kind of fame and has that place whereby he works on his own. He's got nobody to answer to while Renton's kind of running around in a job that is superficially glamorous. But all he's doing is running from airport to hotel trying to get deejays out of bed, trying to get them onto the decks, arguing with people about money - promoters about money, with record companies about money. And he has no time to himself.

SIMON: Is it a harder time to write about these characters a generation later?

WELSH: It's - I think it's hard now to write any kind of fiction because we live in a rapidly changing world where everything is extreme. And the truth is stranger than fiction. It literally is. So in some ways, it's easier for me because I've established characters that you can sort of put into this arena. And you can make them absorb all these changes. And you can make them react to all these changes.

SIMON: You had some brushes with the law when you were young.

WELSH: Yeah. I mean, I did. And, you know, I think they were very much a kind of a product being a young guy growing up in an area which was very marginalized anyway. And there's not a lot there. There wasn't a library. There wasn't a community center. So there's a lot of young kids. There was really nothing else to do except run around the streets and get into trouble.

SIMON: It was theft, right?

WELSH: Yeah. I mean, the first time I ended up in court was for playing football in the street at 8 years old. We were taken away. And we were charged.

SIMON: Oh, my.

WELSH: And there was literally nowhere else to play football. You know, so it kind of shows the sort of social control that was going on then and probably is now in a different way.

SIMON: Do you ever think about how your life might have been different?

WELSH: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, you can only live the life that you live, you know? I mean, it's like I've always been interested in doing different things. I mean, I was lucky that, when I was a kid, I was both very sporty and very artsy. You know, I wanted to play football. I wanted to go to the boxing club, like a lot of kids did. But I was also - kind of wanted to write poetry. And I wanted to kind of paint and stuff. And I was encouraged to do that, too, you know?

And I'm just very, very lucky with the parents I had but not just with the parents but also the extended family who saw that I was - we were a very tough family in a lot of ways, a very kind of tough, working-class family. But they saw that I was a bit of a brainbox. And instead of seeing that as a threat, they really encouraged that kind of eccentricity and that inquiry and that getting into things that a lot of kids probably wouldn't have gotten into from that background.

SIMON: Is there a book ahead, do you ever think of it, with Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud in an assisted living somewhere?

WELSH: Yeah. It'd be nice to have them in some kind of retirement home sort of. But if it was a walled and gated retirement home, it'd probably be difficult for them to actually get in. The walls and gates would be there to keep them out.

SIMON: So they're still part of your life?

WELSH: Yeah. I mean, it's - the thing is about any book that you write, you're immersed in it when you're writing it. You're immersed in the characters. Then, as soon as you've finished, it's gone because the thing that you're immersed in now is the current book you're writing which, of course, means absolutely nothing to anybody else. You know, it's like you're in this world of your own. So some writer - I'm not sure who - but memorably described it as being kind of an employer for former self. And that's kind of what it feels like when you're - when you go to talk about a book, really.

SIMON: Irvine Welsh's novel - "Dead Man's Trousers." Thanks so much for being with us.

WELSH: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.