As hordes of fans who have grown familiar with the distinct Leith vernacular within the author’s books streamed into Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, one could not fail to notice that the demographic of the audience was one in parallel to something of a Britpop reunion. Danny Boyle’s cinematic adaptation of Welsh’s novels Trainspotting (1996) and Paul McGuigan’s The Acid House (1998) were both hugely popular films at the peak of the Britpop zenith, and loyal fans of the writer are keen to hear what fate has become Begbie in the succeeding, post-Cool Britannia years. As I leant back to allow Still Game’s Gavin Mitchell aka Boaby the Barman in to take his seat, Welsh stepped out in front of the 350-capacity surroundings to rapturous applause, followed by radio presenter Janice Forsyth who was our hostess for the evening. The entire recording of this talk will be available to listen to on The Janice Forsyth Show on BBC Radio Scotland this coming Monday between 2 and 4pm.
In Welsh’s new novel The Blade Artist, the plot indicates that Begbie has removed himself from his ultra-violent past and moved to California as a reformed ex-con. However, the murder of an estranged son expels a red mist over our anti-hero and things quickly go from bad to worse. It was perhaps not entirely unexpected that Welsh would divide his story between America and Scotland considering that the writer currently lives in Chicago, returning to his homeland for two or three months at a time. In a climate when a number of people are pent up with frustration, Welsh remarked that Begbie was a “poster boy for anger and rage”, and described that the momentum from the afore-mentioned Big Issue story is what encouraged him to write The Blade Artist. Never wishing to spend too much time in Begbie’s violent mind, Welsh divulged that writing in the third person allowed the book to flow, keeping the reader in suspense about what would happen next.
It was fascinating listening to Welsh discuss the craft of his writing, describing himself very much as a ‘cut and paste guy’ rather than someone who can hand-write his novels. Sound advice to aspiring writers was dished out, encouraging them to ‘go out and engage with people’ and not ‘sit in being a fat bastard in front of your TV’. Confessing that he wrote part of Trainspotting whilst working between two offices at Edinburgh District Council, Welsh proceeded to cheerfully dissect exactly how a writer spends their time during an ordinary day. Forsyth’s endearing chatter and exchanges with the Edinburgh writer ensured that a friendly tone kept moving along as questions were posed by members of the audience. Arguably the funniest point of the evening was one question which asked how Begbie ever managed to get into America, causing Welsh to explode with laughter and admit that he hadn’t thought of that before slyly explaining that despite Begbie’s violent past, there were no drugs charges which would mean instant rejection.
With an enormous queue keen to have their books signed, pictures taken, and hands shaken, things were brought to a close after an hour. Welsh’s nurturing affection for his characters who were ‘simply going through troubled times in otherwise decent lives’ was commendable, whilst maintaining a contemporary feel for Scottish social issues, politics, and vices means that it is unlikely that this will be the end of the Trainspotting gang from a literary view; now isn’t that just barry?