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Irvine Welsh Says David Bowie Made Him a Writer

The Chicago transplant shares eight sources of inspiration ahead of his new novel, A Decent Ride.

Photo: Jeffrey Delannoy

Irvine Welsh, a Chicago transplant best known for Trainspotting (his raunchy first novel about a gaggle of Scottish junkie punks), has written more than a dozen books since his 1993 debut. His latest, A Decent Ride, out last week from Doubleday, follows an aging porn-star-turned-cabbie through Scotland during a hurricane. In true Welsh fashion, it tackles necrophilia, incest, suicide, and sex addiction with oddly digestible prose.

Ahead of the novel’s U.S. release, the author gave a reading last month at Soho House, where he sat down with Chicago to share his richest sources of inspiration.

Bad Lieutenant

“My novel Filth was influenced by Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel. Movies don’t push you in such overt ways. With books, you think, ‘Oh, this is great, I want to write like that,’ or, ‘This is crap!’ With movies, they kind of stream into your brain subconsciously—some scenes just pop up in your head.”

An unrestrained childhood

“Growing up, there were no restrictions on me. When you give a young person that license, they can abuse that freedom and go off the rails. I sort of did. They almost seemed to know that I had to get stuff out of my system. The house was always full of interesting people—trade unionists, politicians, musicians—all sort of chatty and gabby. There were always stories to tell.”

The British TV series Play for Today

“There was a series growing up called Play for Today that was basically just teleplays. They had all of these different crazy writers given free rein. We used to produce big drama back then. Premium cable TV shows in America brought back a similar novelistic sensibility.”

Keeping a diary

“When I was doing loads of drugs, all I could just about do was write a diary. When I cleaned up and got my act together about a year later, I looked back at the diaries and realized that so much of it was fiction. I was putting myself in this very self-aggrandizing way and putting everyone else down. That’s sometimes what junkies do, that kind of self-justified thing. I thought, ‘I’m coming across as a real fucking asshole, but it’s quite good in a way.’”

David Bowie

“If you were a young working-class man in Britain, Bowie basically set you free in terms of his aesthetics and his projected sexuality. Bowie added to himself, he took on different influences. I don’t think I’d be a writer if it hadn’t been for that kind of influence and the people he turned me on to—Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and all the soul stuff.”

The Busconductor Hines by James Kelman

“He wasn’t just using Scottish dialect in dialogue, but in narrative as well. I think that’s a very political thing to do. James Kelman gave me the permission to write about my kind of culture and place. Writing dialect was difficult at first for me. I thought, ‘I’ve written the thing; if I can’t read this, no one else is going to be able to!’”

Impending corporate doom

“[The moment] I sat down and thought, ‘I’m just going to write a book’ [was when] I was working at a good job and I was getting sent by my employer to do an MBA. I thought, ‘Well, this is fucking terrible. I’m going to end up as this horrible senior management idiot in a suit who goes around sleeping with people and has a wife and kids at a certain age, then gets divorced at a certain age, and then has an affair with a secretary or someone like that and has a second wife, and then the kids reach a certain age and then he packs and runs away to India, and he feels fucking horrible because he wasted his life.’ I had to get out of that fucking mess before it entrapped me.”

Janice Galloway’s experimental forms

“I picked up on her typographical experiments, like words falling off pages and all that. I’ve done something similar in Filth with a tapeworm running through the book. With A Decent Ride, I thought, ‘How could I express a more interesting visual way about how much this guy’s sexuality means to him, and how much it means to be robbed of his sexual prerogative?’ He’s actually talking to his penis. I thought, you know, he’s driven by this thing, this force, so I thought it would be quite fun to experiment.”

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