Tony Black Interviews Irvine Welsh about Crime
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh is back in the bestsellers lists since the publication of his new novel, Crime. The book reprises a character from an earlier work, Filth, and has attracted some media controversy for its examination of the taboo subject of child abuse.
BooksfromScotland.com sent Tony Black to interview Welsh about the novel, and get the low-down on how police react to his work, his beloved Hibs, and more besides...
Tony Black: I think this is the third time I've interviewed you now... am I in the running for the 'official biographer' gig?
Irvine Welsh: I've had quite a few offers but it would be a boring read, so I'll probably spare the world that one!
There's one thing I always ask you about - so I'll get out the way right now - Hibs, is Mixu up to the job?
I'm just back from Sweden, so not a great time to ask! No, it’s still early days. He's done a great job steadying the ship but he needs to bring in some quality in the middle of the park and get them passing. It'll be a big season for him but I'm convinced he'll do well.
Crime is the new one, how do you describe it?
It's an existential thriller, looking at how people come together and fight back against the hurt that's been visited on them. It's actually my most upbeat book I think.
It's a tricky subject to tackle, did you have any reservations? And if so, have they been borne out by the reaction to the book?
It was a hard one to write, but that's the way I like it. Novelists should set out to do more than entertain and I like to push myself. The initial reactions to the book have been positive, so it's vindicated doing it for me.
Some sections of the media accused you, stupidly it must be said, of cashing in on the Madeleine McCann case, how did that make you feel?
Such people are mentally retarded; it's the only real explanation I can offer. Is there a list of what authors can and can't write about now? And do they honestly think that people are interested in reading novels on this subject? They really should look at what's actually selling in any Waterstone's before making such daft comments. If I wrote a book about fairies, pixies and elves, some people would say I was exploiting loveable magical icons. It's the usual knee-jerk stuff from tiresome bores who love to moan. The Madeleine McCann case is distressing enough for everybody without it being flagged up all over the place to serve some twisted fool's need for petty point-scoring.
Did you read the Irish crime writer Declan Burke's comments about the issue on his blog? The overriding message from the feedback was one of support for you tackling the topic.
I think many people in Ireland in particular, know all about the terrible pain caused by the long silence on this terrible issue. It doesn't surprise me at all that I've received a lot of support for writing about it.
I know when I was writing Paying for It for a time I felt really uncomfortable writing about the people-trafficking of teenagers for prostitution... it just seemed meaningless to make fiction about something that so obviously devastates the lives of people in real world. Did you feel like that too?
Of course. The McCann case was one instance. I couldn't go on with the book for a long time when that broke. Writers are human beings too, and we get affected by the same stuff as everybody else. It seemed trivial to write a novel when there were real people whose live were devastated by this horror.
I heard you mention recently a friend of yours once revealed to you he had been a victim of child abuse, how did you react to that?
I think a lot of us found it difficult to cope with it emotionally. Scottish working-class men are not made to handle that kind of news well. I don't think anybody is. I still find it hard to tell him that I admired his courage in coming out with it. It was obviously eating him up inside for a long time and hopefully he can work through the distress its caused him. One thing that was uplifting for me was to meet survivors of childhood sexual abuse and see how so many of them have gone on to do great things with their lives.
I read a piece in The Guardian where you said you never wanted to write genre fiction because it was 'dangerously close to having a day job' - how would you like to see Crime labelled?
I'll stick with existential thriller. I don't think it really fits into the Crime genre as it isn't a police procedural and it doesn't follow the general rules for the genre.
The American crime writer Andrew Vachss has a well-documented association with the subject we're discussing, did your research for Crime ever lead you to Vachss' work?
No. I never knew anything about him till you kindly sent me that link.
Another crime writer, Martyn Waites, is very astute on the morals of the genre, he says, and I'm paraphrasing, that we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that when someone hits you, it hurts. Do the consequences of crime get enough attention in fiction?
I don't think so, but you have to remember that as a genre, crime fiction is more about entertainment than realism. What readers of crime fiction generally want is a good yarn with plot twists and above all, resolution. Consequentialism might make it a bit too real for some people.
Moving away from Crime, but sticking with the crime genre, Shots readers will likely as not know you for your other ‘crime’ novel, Filth; do you think of Filth as a police procedural?
Not really. Again, Robbo's procedures or his 'methods' probably would get him sacked fairly quickly in real life.
In Filth, your protagonist DS Bruce Robertson is not exactly sympathetic - which I really loved by the way - did you have anyone tell you to make him more sympathetic?
No. I think you see where his issues come from though, and you empathise with him.
Robertson at one stage says: "...the complete dominance over another human being is just part of what makes poliswork such a satisfying career". Did any police comment on that?
No. I think most cops know that Robbo is a nutter first, cop second. If he was a plumber he'd be the same.
What feedback on Filth did you get from the police?
I got very drunk after its publication and ended up in police cells in Devon. Instead of getting a Robbo-style kicking in the cells the next day, I had a pile of books waiting for me to sign. All the lads in the station wanted one. Sometimes I still get asked to sign notebooks, and a few cops have told me that they have a guy they nickname 'Robbo' in their station.
Do you see yourself writing anymore ‘crime’?
I don't know what I'm going to write from one book to the next - that's the way I like it.
Who are the crime writers you read?
And finally, I heard a rumour that an old mate of yours Duncan McLean was back in the writing saddle... can you shed any light on this?
I ran into Duncan a while back and he was telling me that he's moving out of the family jewellery business and going back into writing. I heard he's done a play. I hope he gets back into it because he's such a great writer and I think it's what he was meant to do.
- This interview originally appeared in Shots Mag
A novel about the corruption and abuse of the human soul and the possibilities of redemption, 'Crime' is a thrilling journey into the bright glamour of the Sunshine State and a seething underworld of utter darkness.