Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 613

18 AUGUST 202 2 12 NEWS&VI EWS Photography: Maximum Film/Alamy, Buccaneer Media and Off Grid Film and TV/Jed Knight Irvine says he’s “never been tempted to settle down. After six months in one place, I get antsy and want to go somewhere else.” But he is about to marry for the third time, to Scottish actress Emma Currie, with whom he’s been “stepping out for a couple of years”. Despite being at the heart of it, Irvine wasn’t impressed by the Cool Britannia of the mid-90s. He called it “a requiem mass for British culture. “It was just recycling the past for the global marketplace,” he says. Dougray Scott, who played Ray Lennox in last year’s BritBox/ITV adaptation of Crime, will be back for the TV version of The Long Knives. “We’re gearing up to shoot at the end of August,” says Irvine. “It’s strange to have a book coming out, and for it to be going straight into production.” stage version followed, but it was Danny Boyle’s propulsive, Britpop-soundtracked 1996 filmadaptation that proved the game changer, placing Irvine, then in his mid-thirties, alongside the likes of Damon Albarn and DamienHirst as one of the poster boys of so-called Cool Britannia. With success, came riches – no small adjustment in itself, for a boy fromMuirhouse. “Money is great,” he smiles. “There’s nothing wrong with havingmoney. Fame is the killer – I’m so surprised that people want to be famous. They’re crazy. What you want is money. Especially if you’re a writer, because it buys you time to write. That’s basically what I’ve bought withmoney – the freedom to pursuemy hobby.” In the 30 years since his breakthrough, he’s publishedmore than a dozen novels and short story collections (alongside plays and screenplays) including The AcidHouse, Glue and several Trainspotting sequels, charting the progress of Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and co intomiddle age. His 1998 novel Filth – the story of a corrupt, junkie copper, partly narrated by the protagonist’s own tapeworm–was the first to introduce Ray Lennox, who a decade later would take centre stage in Crime. In The Long Knives, Lennox is called in to investigate a series of brutal attacks on a wealthy, abusivemen, including a ToryMP. It’s fair to say our hero is not entirely sympathetic to the victims, and anyone who follows Irvine on Twitter will knowhe’s not exactly shy about sharing his own views about Britain’s ruling classes. But it would be wrong to read the book as some kind of revenge fantasy, he insists. Rather, it’s ‘a cautionary tale’ about the frustrations of people who feel ‘completely powerless’ in a society ruled bymoneyed elites. If this makes him sound gloomy, though, he’s actually cheerfully optimistic about the imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it, to be replaced, he hopes, by “some kind of anarchy, where people in communities look after their own interest. I basically have great belief in the human spirit,” he says. “There’s no real intellectual grounds for that, it’s just a deep-rooted internal belief that it’s gonna be OK. Maybe that’s just naivety onmy part.” Irvine is no stranger to controversy, with Trainspotting cementing his reputation as the enfant terrible of British literature. In The Long Knives, he wades into the sharkinfested waters of gender and trans discourse. Is this dangerous territory – even for him? “Yeah, it is,” he says. “It’s really dangerous territory now. When you’re writing about a marginalised group, you have to be conscious of how they’ve been treated. I had a trans sensitivity reader – a trans person – for both the book and the [upcoming] TV adaptation, and I was dreading it, because I thought: ‘This is going to be some formof censor.’ But, actually, it’s been themost educative part of the whole process. They’ve both been brilliant, incredibly helpful and informative. I feel I’ve got educated as a result.” What’s his take on the furore surrounding fellowEdinburgh literary luminary, JKRowling? “It’s a terrible tragedy, the way the debate has been polarised,” he says. “If you look at what’s happening… trans people have been discriminated against for years and this needs to stop. But why should women take up all the slack from that? ‘Cos they’re themost discriminated against section of the population, and have been for years. Look at what’s happening in America, and the rolling back of women’s rights. I think that’s the thing people like Jo Rowling are concerned about. The idea that they hate trans people, I think, is nonsense. Everybody has to really take a step back and try to take the heat out of the situation.” With DI Lennox being a habitual cocaine user, it’s clear that, 30 years on from Trainspotting, Irvine remains as nonjudgemental about drugs as ever. “It’s just an unremarkable part of everyday life,” he shrugs. “It’s like trying to write about the Scottish countryside without themountains. It’s just part of the landscape.” And yet, he’d kicked his own heroin habit by the age of 24 – so he had an awareness, even then, that it leads to ruin? “It never did feel right, in a lot of ways,” he reflects. “Nobody really goes: ‘I’mgonna become a junkie, that sounds cool.’ Although maybe I did, in a way. I fell into it throughmisadventure, and when you do that, it’s easier to kick it than if you’re doing it to self-medicate against some deep-seated trauma.” How does he feel about the enfant terrible tag. “I prefer ‘ageing enfant terrible’,” he laughs. “They’ve been callingme that for about 30 years now. I don’t mind, though, it means I’m still alive.” But in an age of professional provocateurs, he is at least poking the ants’ nest for a reason, with a body of work that tackles themes such as class division, social exclusion and Scottish identity. “I think, as a writer, you have to say what you feel,” he considers. “You don’t want to be punching down, but you have to express what you believe to be fundamental psychological truths.” Has he ever set out to shock for shock’s sake? “Yeah,” he says, with a grin. “There’s a visceral element to all art, and you’re trying to get a reaction fromyourself, as much as anyone else. It’s OK to have a character behave as badly as you canmake them, as long as you show the consequences of that, on themselves and others. Without those consequences, it just becomes a gratuitous exercise. “I’mnot interested in the posture of being a kind of bad boy, for the sake of it. I’m interested in something that’s actually provokingme into a line of thought, a line of discourse about what’s actually going on in the world.” IrvineWelsh’s The Long Knives (Jonathan Cape, Vintage) is published in hardback and ebook on 25 August choose life Ewan McGregor in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (below); Dougray Scott and Joanna Vanderham in Crime (top) ‘As a writer you have to say what you feel. You don’t want to be punching down, but you have to express what you believe’ FACTS AND FICTIONS