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Up close & personal with Irvine Welsh

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Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh

He is one of the most celebrated and infamous writers of our time. He epitomises everything that is very right and very wrong with the literary world. Whatever he may be, and represent, Irvine Welsh is one of the most successful British writers in decades. With a wealth of novels, short stories, screenplays and even pieces of journalism to his name the Scot is the manifestation of everything that The Scribbler is about.

From his near arrogant burst onto the writing scene with Trainspotting right up until this point; when millions of readers are sat waiting to click ‘order’ at online bookstores to purchase his latest offering, Crime, Welsh’s ever expanding fanbase could be put down to a number of things. Firstly, inarguably, there’s the cult following, nay, extreme popularity of his first novel’s film adaptation but there’s much more to him than a motion picture.

Societal Narrator

The land of the brave has produced a social commentator who not only connects to the thinking of critics but also rallies the backing of the masses. Thatcherism may have a lot to answer for but the creation of this cultural icon under the Iron Lady is something we should cherish. Although Welsh is not just a product of his environment, his products reflect current fears and moral panics running through the anxious veins of every Labour voting parent.

The cover of Crime by Irvine Welsh

The cover of Crime by Irvine Welsh

“It’s about a distressed Scottish policeman who is on holiday with his fiancée, who works for Scottish Power,” bellows Irvine, proud of his new literary offering. “They’ve gone to Miami Beach to catch some winter sun and plan their wedding. His head is very messed up by the case of child killer he put behind bars in Edinburgh and he sees paedophiles everywhere. He freaks out, argues with his fiancée, meets this young girl who he believes is in danger and takes off with her in a rented Volkswagen, heading for the Gulf of Mexico.” This is classic Welsh, themes and ideas that breathe oxygen into British literature. His willingness to approach, dabble and frequently play devil’s advocate with often outlawed themes makes for compulsive reading, but isn’t paedophilia a step too far?

“It’s too horrible an issue not to write about. I think being a novelist is about tackling things that challenge you. Too much of literary fiction these days is just about somebody writing in the voice of novelists past; it’s a stagnant pond and it’s so up itself. I like books that try to get to grips with the more problematic aspects of human life.”

This is why Welsh has stumbled across such great success. Like Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton-Ellis, he harnesses near primeval characteristics of the human psyche and exposes them for all to see.  Many find these subjects disturbing but coming through the other side of these novels the soul feels surprisingly cleansed, as if the difficult images have taught you something and made you stronger. Welsh uses alarming imagery to bring out the positive side human nature. Yes a police officer maybe affected in very dark ways through investigating cases of child abuse, but this has only made him more considerate and protective of the young and innocent. Does Welsh ever have second thoughts about what he’s about to put to paper? “Always. That’s what writing is about for me; confronting both the taboos and your own reservations and trying to get past them.”

Beyond the page

Clearly the Edinburgh born former electrician believes writing is much more than just ink on paper. It’s not an exaggeration that fiction can be a window to the soul, much more than a face or eyes, so maybe it’s only right that Welsh exposes human imperfections. But shock alone isn’t enough. Of others from the same school; William S Burroughs, Charles Bukowski and Will Self, Welsh has strong beliefs about what makes them thrilling reads: “I think they point out things that are instantly recognisable to us but shock us with that recognition. That’s when we know we’ve met the writer as an artist rather than an entertainer.” The difference between the flowery writers whose books line your Gran’s bookcases and those grittier paperbacks that are jammed between copies of The Word and Dazed and Confused in your magazine rack is blatant. The art of writing the novel can be abused by those lazy enough to appeal to our base emotions of love, lust, hate and the like but it’s the clever ones that attempt to tackle issues that draw moisture from our palms yet intrigue, school and lift us.

“I love writing the novel because you are creating the artefact. There is nobody else to blame if it goes wrong.” Works of fiction aren’t Welsh’s only vessels of telling his twisted tales fantastic fables. “With screenplays, you can blame the commissioning editors or the director or whoever, if the final product – the film – doesn’t work out.”

Having finished Crime he’s now adapting fellow Scot Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks with his screenwriting partner Dean Cavanagh. Unlike Welsh perhaps, Warner has a taste for the extraordinary. His fourth novel follows the journey of an anonymous undesirable with hidden qualities. Drunk on whisky and half full on pony nuts he’s pursued for committing a crime towards a landscape created in the author’s first book. Parallels between Welsh and Warner can be drawn here. The mini-universes created through their work; Welsh’s Porno was a near sequel to Trainspotting.

Alan Warner author of The Man Who Walks

Alan Warner author of The Man Who Walks

“It’s very hard as I want to do justice to Alan’s book. I love it and that was why we wanted to adapt it in the first place. But we also need to realise it cinematically, and that often means taking liberties with the text. John Hodge told me when he adapted Trainspotting that he loved the book and found it hard to let go of some his favourite parts. I feel the same way. I have to keep remembering that Alan wrote it as a book not for the screen. Thankfully, he’s a very good friend and has been greatly supportive of the project.

“Novel writing is lonely and I’m a social animal by nature. You get a chance to collaborate with others when you work on a screenplay. Film-making is a collaborative art and that’s why I love it. I couldn’t NOT write books, but I couldn’t JUST write them.” But behind all this writing there lies the business push to get the work into the public consciousness. “Promotion is part of the writers work that is both very grim and absolutely essential. Writers love to create but hate to sell, although it’s such an important part of the job. I’ve a new and very dynamic publisher in France, which is publishing Porno and Bedroom Secrets at the same time, so I had to talk about both those books. It’s strange to discuss work, which is very old to you, and you must try to be graceful when you hear the same questions asked over and over, all week.

The business of promotion

“Basically I spent five days in a Paris hotel bar talking to a different print journalist every hour, broken up by the odd visit to a TV or Radio studio. To be fair, there was the big, long lunches that the French love, but when in Paris you really want to hit the museums, bars, cafes and shops. However, it’s hard being so constrained when you’re in such a vibrant metropolis.” It’s difficult to see then how a novel can take shape if a writer is forever promoting past work, penning another and then starting the cycle over. When is there time for new ideas to fester, be born and grow from the embryonic stages? Perhaps these ideas are always with writers, stewing and developing as they go about their own lives. Except what is special about Welsh is that his extraordinary ideas seem to come from ordinary behaviours around penning the novel. “I tend to rise early, work a hard morning, then take most afternoons off, alternating between going to the gym or for a swim and relaxing in the cinema. At night I just hang out or do a lot of reading. I love to read; a good book is the best way to relax. I travel a great deal; the beauty of writing is that you can do it anywhere with a laptop. In the last three months of 2007 I was in Bogotá, Cartagena, Chicago, Miami, Dublin, Paris and Edinburgh and I’ve mixed work and relaxation.”

With the picture painted of a writer’s life being busy and relaxing all at the same time, as schizophrenic as this writer’s literature itself is, horrific and enlightening, what’s the best piece of advice Welsh can give budding writers? “Finish the piece of work. Don’t just send in the odd chapter. Finish it! And, most of all, stick it away for six months before you send it off to a publisher or agent. I wrote one novel I thought was great then my publisher told me that it was a pile of shite. When I looked at it six months later, it wasn’t even as good as that. But you tend to get blinded; the emotional investment you make in your writing is crazy and can kill the critic in you. Write as an artist, with freedom and unselfconscious inhibition, then stick it away for a bit, then go back to it as a cynical, anal, repressed critic.”

Crime is out now through Vintage

If you can spare three quarters of an hour to watch the below video, your patience will be rewarded as before your eyes Welsh goes into even more detail about his new book during an interview for Google Books:

Words: Dean Samways

Graphic novelist not phased by Hollywood calls

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Mark Millar with some of his comicbook creations

Mark Millar with some of his comic book creations

Celebrated Scottish graphic novelist Mark Millar has revealed he’s just as at home on the set on a Hollywood flick as he would be filming a Scottish soap.

Speaking exclusively to The Daily Record today the creator of Wanted the writer said he’d be just as happy working with esteemed Scottish actor Johnny Beattie on the soap opera River City as he would be adapting his novels for big-budget movie deals.

Following the success of Wanted, starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie, production companies in LA are poised to invest $1billion for the screenplays of six Millar stories.

Like the novels currently in the centre of a Hollywood bidding war, Wanted is an action packed rope that took more than £200million at the box office and looks set to pull in even more from the DVD release, which is out this week.

Modest man Millar

Amidst all the hype and promise Millar remains ever modest with his feet positioned firmly on the ground, declaring he real ambition is to hang out with Scottish TV veterans.

“Every now and again, I pinch myself that Wanted, my first film out the gate, has done so well,” said the 38 year-old, from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

“Instead of doing two years on River City and working through television into films, I’ve done an apprenticeship writing comics.

“At the same time as being involved in Hollywood, I am really sentimental towards Scottish actors. I would love to work on River City. I would be as thrilled meeting Johnny Beattie as I was meeting Nicolas Cage on my new film, because to me guys like Johnny are the real deal.”

Staying close to home

Scottish actor Glen Michael has been given a walk-on role in Millar’s next film, Kick Ass, starring Cage, but Mark still wishes TV duo Jack Milroy and Rikki Fulton were still doing their Francie and Josie show.

“Jack and Rikki were stars throughout my whole life, whereas Nicolas only became a star when I was in my twenties.

The cover of Kick Ass

The cover of Kick Ass

“Scottish actors are more exciting to me.  With Glen Michael being in Kick Ass, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be brilliant to grab these guys I grew up with. I wish Rikki and Jack were around so I could get them in the next movie, a £150million war film.

“We start shooting next Easter. My plan is to get work in Hollywood for all the veteran Scottish actors we know and love.

“I was talking to the comedian Frankie Boyle about this. He said everyone around the world would just see them as actors and everyone in Scotland would be thinking, ‘What the hell?’ because the last person you expect to see in a Hollywood film is someone you saw on the Hogmanay show 25 years ago.

“Sadly, a lot of the greats are dead. I loved that whole Seventies generation. Fran and Anna used to be my next-door neighbours in Coatbridge. Sadly, one of them passed away a few years back. I don’t know if she would be fit for it, but I would love to have Anna in there as well. Wouldn’t it be great to have her in a Hollywood movie next to Robert De Niro.

“Kick Ass is costing a couple of million a day to shoot and Glen has a day filming. He plays a New York hot-dog vendor. Even if it just lasts 20 seconds on screen, it will still be great. It feels good because I had never heard of superheroes until I saw Spider-Man on Cartoon Cavalcade. If Glen had decided not to do Cartoon Cavalcade, I would be doing a different job now. So I told him it’s my thank-you for him getting me into this.”

Glen, 82, made his last film appearance as PC Dixon of Dock Green the 1950 classic The Blue Lamp, starring Jack Warner.

“Glen is a member of the public who goes ‘Oh my God’ when Jack gets shot,” said Mark.

Young British actor Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski in new film Kick Ass. His character, a shy, retiring student and comic-book fan who decides to become a super-hero, despite his lack of powers.

The success of Kick Ass is so foreseen that a sequel has already been penned.

The next chapter

Wanted 2 begins production next year, along with War Heroes, about a US military experiment to produce super powered soldiers. The plot is a more pessimistic take on the War on Terror with further terrorist attacks on the US mainland leading to the invasion of Iran and the imposition of martial law in the States.

An image from War Heroes depicting the flying soldiers

An image from War Heroes depicting the flying soldiers

“The idea is that the conflict in the Gulf is going on for another generation but nobody wants to sign up any more. America has gone bankrupt and the only way they can get kids to sign up is to give them super powers. It’s Full Metal Jacket meets X-Men,” said Millar.

“These 19 year-old soldiers can fly or move at super speed. It’s a very commercial movie.  Super-soldiers versus super-terrorists.”

Mark admits the novel has unleashed an unhealthy interest in the current US election. He said: “It sounds awful but, as much as it would be nice for the world if Obama got in, part of me is rooting for John McCain because I wouldn’t mind seeing them in Iraq for another four years just so we can establish this franchise.

“War Heroes comes out in 2010. Kick Ass is going to be two movies. I have written a sequel to the Bible called American Jesus, which Matthew Vaughn and I are going to make.

“Wanted became a trilogy as soon as the first one made $340million. But I’m going to relax until spring, then create three movies.”

Said with such ease.

Mark is the envy of most Hollywood writers. Unusually he has complete control of his stories thanks to his own venture into the realms of film production, Millarworld.

“It helps being a producer. I can control who gets the property. A lot of writers are hired hands. What I am doing is retaining creative control, which is what JK Rowling did.

“I’m the person who makes the call to people like Angelina Jolie, Nicolas Cage and Brad Pitt. All my friends are egging me on to find out who is a bitch. But they are all dead nice. I’ve yet to see a tantrum.

“When you are paid $25million a film, it’s because you are good and just come in, do your job and go.”

Early developer

Mark talent with a pen was apparent at the early age of five. “I knew I wanted to do something to do with superheroes. When I was young, all my pals were into it. By my teens, they all grew out of it but I didn’t. I learned to keep it quiet. They’d talk football and I would want to ask if they’d seen the new Spider-Man.

“It was a 15 year overnight success story.  Comics were what I wanted to do and I was the biggest comic writer, so the movie guys asked me to work with them. I consulted on Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. and it was suggested I set up my own company.”

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man

His involvement in Iron Man was no small part either. It was he whom reportedly suggested bringing in Jeff Bridges villain, Iron Monger, into the first film, when originally writers had him drafted in to make an appearance in later installments.

“My brothers are all in their fifties and have kept all my early drawings in school jotters and on A4 paper. They say they are going to shove them on eBay if I ever get really famous.”

Tinseltown socialite

Aside from the glitz and glamour of writing for Hollywood Mark is married to Gill with whom he has a nine year-old daughter, Emily, and remains surprisingly unperturbed about his success.

“I still hang out with my primary school pals and they find all this hilarious. They ask me what I have been up to at the weekend and I tell them I’ve been having a curry with Angelina Jolie and they just laugh. It sounds so made up.

“Brad Pitt comes to Glasgow regularly but he doesn’t let anybody know he is there. After people finish filming, they go back to their hotels, then we text each other to go for pizza. We hang out in pubs.

“Jonathan Ross is a close pal. This week, Emily and I will go to see the Hannah Montana film with Jonathan at his studio, and the other week she met High School Musical star Zac Efron.

“She has an ordinary school life, then every now and then gets to hang out with Zac or someone like that.”

Watch Mark Millar talk about the movie adaptation of his graphic novel Wanted below:

This episode of the cult internet show iFanboy features Millar talking exclusively about his War Heroes novel, soon-to-be-Hollywood blockbuster starring some very big names:

Words: Dean Samways