Dead Men’s Trousers, Irvine Welsh’s highly anticipated new novel, is the final chapter in the Trainspotting saga. Until his publisher asks for another, he’s teases. The synopsis for the final installment chronicling the lives of a group of drug-taking misfits in Edinburgh says that Mark Renton is now an international jet-setter successfully managing DJs around the world, the formerly psychotic Francis Begbie is no longer seeking revenge and has reinvented himself as a renowned artist, and Spud and Sick Boy are still wheeling and dealing in unsavoury money making schemes. The blurb ends, however, with the daddy of all hooks: ‘One of these four will not survive to the end of this book.’
Audience members are sitting in their seats below dimmed lights in Tramway, a quirky postindustrial arts venue in the Southside, waiting impatiently for the arrival of the author closing this year’s Aye Write! Book Festival.
Welsh is welcomed on stage by a roaring crowd of cult fans and begins discussing his latest work which continues the story of four characters the nation fell in love with in Trainspotting. The first thing Welsh reveals is how this new story came about.
During his time in a Big Brother House, as he calls it, in Edinburgh with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge as they planned the movie sequel T2: Trainspotting, he explains how he became curious and excited about these characters again. Knowing the Leith motley crew had one final hit in them, Welsh explains how he was compelled to write one last chapter.
Among many points of discussion from politics to literary fiction, Welsh discusses why he believes Trainspotting has exploded into a global success.
He explains that Trainspotting consists of archetypal characters that everyone can recognise in someone they know. We all know the cynical intellectual (Mark Renton), the lovable loser (Spud), the violent psychopath (Francis Begbie), and the sexual-deviant master-manipulator (Sick Boy).
As readers can see themselves and people they know in these characters, we are instantly compelled to find out what happens to them. Welsh also believes the franchise maintains a cult following because at the heart of these stories is a deep existential crisis following the decline of industry in working-class Scotland in the 1980-90s in which many people turned to mind-expanding and mind-numbing drugs to fill the void.
Welsh discusses how this wave of revolution which happened to the working-class in the 90s is now bleeding into the middle and upper classes in 2018. With the advancement of technology and data robots which can replace countless jobs, this crisis of purpose and anxiety surrounding the world of work is still relevant today. While maintaining intense drama, humour, and entertainment throughout, the social issues addressed in Trainspotting (HIV infection, heroin addiction, loyalty, betrayal, and purpose) continue to transcend era and location.
After the on-stage interview, Welsh stands up to address the audience and read an extract from his new book. The reading, featuring a scene where Sick Boy discovers his son’s true sexual orientation, is surprising, insightful, and hilarious as expected and the traditional Welsh black comedy delights the crowd.
Next is the audience Q&A where following a question about his writing process, Welsh explains that he creates playlists for each character he writes (cheesy ballads for Bruce Robertson in Filth and Chinese Democracy by Guns n’ Roses for Francis Begbie).
He also lets the audience in on how he listens to loud music and jumps around the room scribbling on scraps of paper, typing on his computer, and writing on boards when he is brainstorming before putting the pieces together to compose a story.
The acclaimed author even stays to meet fans, take selfies, and sign new copies of his book for well over an hour after the talk is over. He beams as he meets his fans, despite his hangover, and takes the time to have a chat with everyone who queues to meet him.
Afterwards, fans are instantly opening their books and getting stuck in to find out where these characters are, what they’re doing now, and most important, who won’t survive?