Books

Irvine Welsh: "You either kill yourself or you grow up"

It wasn't all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll for Irvine Welsh - there was 'mayhem' too. The Trainspotting author discusses his life of extremes

At 16 I was just absolutely obsessed with sex. It short-circuits everything, it becomes a compelling obsession. Being a teenager is full of extremes. It can be hellish for young guys. Maybe even worse for girls. It’s the old story – women are crazy and men are stupid. Boys can be generally quite well-meaning but they get into a group of mates and they cause all sorts of mayhem and, God, you see this nice young kid just boot a guy to death in the street.

If I could go back in time I’d tell the young me to stop lusting after Barbie dolls who’ve been getting banged by paedophiles since they were 14. They’re not that interesting or even that cute. Concentrate on the more quirky, punked-up girls. Guys are very driven by that superficial confidence and coolness that the cheerleader kind of lassie has, whereas those other girls actually want to come to your bedroom and listen to Bowie records. They’re much more interesting. But when you’re young you just see the dress, the make-up, the confidence.

I’d tell the younger me to really listen to people when they’re telling him things. But ultimately, it’s the job of a young person to disregard everything every old bastard says. Life is about failure and mistakes. If older people had all the answers we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. Our generation has left the next one fuck all.

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The younger me always had an arrogance. If I went back and told him what he was going to end up doing he’d say, nah, I won’t be a writer, I’ll be a pop star. I always had a core belief in myself. I never liked institutions like school or work, I didn’t feel comfortable with the nine to five, being told to do stuff, being bossed or bossing other people – I couldn’t get on with that. I always felt what I’d end up doing would be something creative, centred around myself and my view of the world.

It’s tempting to say I’d advise myself not to take heroin. You cause pain to a lot of people around you when you do something like that. You can be horrible and nasty. But I don’t think you should regret these things. Everything you’ve done makes you the person you are now. Anyone can fuck up; it’s how you respond that matters. It’s not about penance, beating yourself up. It’s about saying: this was no good for you or people around you. You need to do it differently next time. That’s redemption, internalising the lesson.

But ultimately, it’s the job of a young person to disregard everything every old bastard says

I knew Trainspotting was very good, and original, and there was a bit of a vibe about it – but you can never predict how the world’s going to respond to anything. I wasn’t ready for the almost-overnight fame that came. That’s a whole new set of relationships with the world you have to handle. You need time to learn about them. You try all these different strategies: acting like a kid in a sweetshop, taking every indulgence offered. Then you think: no, I’m going to move somewhere no one knows me and live semi-reclusively and never talk to the media. I tried both, then I synthesised them and found my feet in the middle.

It’s weird. I love my life as it is now, being on top of things, being clear-headed, being in a good relationship. I love the work I’m doing but I read an article by Russell Brand about when he was totally fucked on heroin, and he said: everything’s really good now but I really envy that bastard in the squat in Hackney. And that chimed with me; I’m the same. The irresponsible guy who didn’t give a fuck about anything, I have to admire him, there’s a sense of liberation there. But it can’t last. You either kill yourself or you grow up.

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