Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 613

18 AUGUST 202 2 10 NEWS&VI EWS The Three decades on from Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh doesn’t mind being called the ‘ageing enfant terrible’ of British literature. “It means I’m still alive,” he tells Paul Kirkley When Weekend catches up with IrvineWelsh, he’s in his country bolthole inHenley-on-Thames, the Oxfordshire market town whose Royal Regatta is a highlight of the English upper-classes’ social season. It’s an unlikely location, then, in which to sit down and craft scabrous tales of drugs, violence and wasted lives on Scottish council housing schemes – the template established in Irvine’s seismic debut novel, Trainspotting. But it’s a long time since the writer lived anything like the lives he chronicles in his books. “I come here to write – it’s nice to get out of the city,” he explains. “You’ve got the Chilterns, for walking in… it’s pretty relaxing, and quite posh. Nothing really bad happens here.” That’s not something that could be said about Irvine’s new book, The Long Knives, in which really bad things happen prettymuch all the time, often in excruciatingly visceral detail. A sequel to his 2008 thriller Crime (recently adapted for TV, with Dougray Scott), it picks up the story of DI Ray Lennox, who is recovering froma breakdown induced by the stress of hunting a child killer (with a side order of cocaine and alcohol addiction). A cosy crime novel it is not – Irvine is on record as saying Crime was an attempt at “themost overthe-top, horrendous book I could write”. “I didn’t even think about writing a crime book, specifically,” he reflects. “It’s not like a police procedural thing. It’s more a psychological, existential thriller – it’s about Lennox trying to work out themystery of himself, his reactions to where he’s been and where he comes from.” As such, this is not a black-and-white world of heroes and villains. Here, the cops are often as morally compromised as the people they’re chasing. “They’re at the extreme end of policing – it’s not like they’re issuing tra c tickets,” says Irvine. “They’re working with themost messed up, deviant behaviour. They’re trying to understand this world they’re policing, and they’re obviously drawn to that kind of work because they have issues of their own.” It’s set, likemany of his books, in Edinburgh, the city where Irvine was born 63 years ago. While his work has remained rooted in his hometown, the author is something of a citizen of the world. Having lived in Barcelona, Chicago, Dublin and San Francisco, he now divides his time betweenMiami, London andHenley, as well as Edinburgh. Though he’s been spendingmore time back home recently. “I left Miami and went back to Edinburgh for lockdown, becausemymum’s quite old, and I wanted to be closer. I’ve kept a flat there for about 30 years – it’s one of the first things I did when I got some Trainspotting cash, I bought a place in the NewTown.” Irvine was born in Leith, where his dadworked on the docks, but grewup inMuirhouse, a council housing scheme blighted by social deprivation and heroin addiction. On leaving school at 16, he upped sticks to London, living in squats and squalid bedsits while playing guitar in various failed punk bands. He took lots of drugs andwas frequently arrested for petty crimes, before getting clean and returning to Edinburgh to take up a job in the council housing department. What he really wanted to be, though, was a writer, and Trainspotting – a bracing, scurrilous collection of vignettes about a group of heroin addicts looking to escape the shrinking horizons of life on theMuirhouse estate – announced the arrival of amajor new literary voice, one that inspired acclaimand outrage in equal measure. A long game