SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The boys are back. Mark Renton, or Rent, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie and other memorable characters who were at the heart of Irvine Welsh's 1994 novel, "Trainspotting." The novel depicted life among a group of guys struggling to survive a grim existence on heroin, late-1980s Edinburgh, which Irvine Welsh knew about from his own life.
Of course, those characters also starred in the subsequent Danny Boyle film.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose a family, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin organs.
SIMON: Now Irvine Welsh has tried to fill in the lives of Rent, Spud and Sick Boy before we ever met them. His latest novel, filled with twists, turns, heroin highs and lows and Scottish vernacular, is a prequel to "Trainspotting." It's called "Skagboys." Irvine Welsh joins us from WBEC in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.
IRVINE WELSH: Thank you for having me, Scott.
SIMON: Did you miss these characters? What made you bring them back?
WELSH: Yeah, I kind of did miss them, and I had original material from "Trainspotting" that I didn't use. I sort of rediscovered that material and kind of went through it, and by going through it, I got back into the characters. And it's more of a why book, why did they get into heroin? Why did they fall into this subculture?
And it's investigating the characters, the relationships between them, but also the bigger society, the power of - the kind of changes in that society.
SIMON: I wonder was there something in these times that also brought the characters back into your mind.
WELSH: It's tempting to say so. I mean, you know, on one level, you have a conservative government again, which is cutting a lot of services, and, you know, unemployment's rising and very much the same landscape to the Thatcher era. But you're seeing some more of the same things that happened in that era. You had the riots last summer in London, for example, which very much evoked the '80s.
SIMON: Renton is doing pretty well, in school and personally. What temps him about that life to kind of drag himself back down?
WELSH: He's naturally a very curious person. But I think one of the main reasons I think is symbiotic relationship with some of the other characters in the book, particularly Sick Boy's character. I don't think Renton or Sick Boy would've been junkies if they hadn't met each other. It's a kind of folly-of-youth thing that they have.
They get introduced to sort of a small heroin subculture. This small subculture becomes a mass culture as the city becomes flooded with heroin, and everybody suddenly becomes into it, because it feeds off the kind of despair of mass unemployment and just lack of social mobility in general. It's a kind of no-brainer, because when there's no employment and education and opportunities, it's almost like drugs win by default. There is, literally, nothing else.
SIMON: You know, I want you to read a section of your book if we can that might resonate a bit with that. And if I could have you set it up for us.
WELSH: I'm going to read a passage called I did what I did, which is narrated by the Sick Boy character.
(Reading) I am not employed through choice, you cretins. Please do not mistake me for one of the heartless drones who wander around town in a trance searching for nonexistent labor. Garage attendant, not in this life, milk snatcher and bike boy. Get the billionaire playboy cars up in your offices and then I might just be interested.
SIMON: It's a wonderful section. And, of course, there are people who will hear it and who would say, but he could have a job.
WELSH: Yeah, he could easily. But he has a lot of skills. And, I mean, and he's very good at manipulating people. And he's just a born ducker and diver and entrepreneur, a kind of black economy, sort of scam artist. He couldn't go into work 9 to 5. It would have to be something kind of running the show or setting up his own thing.
That's another kind of element of the waste in poorer communities, the way that people's expectations are so prescribed. There's so many people who could do great things, but all that energy is kind of pushed into the only thing that they know is like kind of scamming and hustling. And if that energy was transferred into other entrepreneurial activity, it would just be a powerhouse for the economy.
SIMON: When did you get the idea, the inclination or determination that you were going to be a novelist?
WELSH: It was pretty much by default. You know, I was through kind of being a systematic failure at everything else. You know, you find something that you can actually do. I always wanted to do something creative. And I worked in music for a while and went down a blind alley. I didn't waste a lot of time, but I spent a lot of time trying to take that to the level I wanted it to go to, but it could never get to that level.
And I got into the writing through that, basically. You know, through writing songs, you write poems. If you're writing poems, you write short stories. If you're writing short stories you move into novels. So it seemed to be a kind of natural progression for me. And it was the one thing that I can do that I feel very comfortable about doing and I enjoy doing, and I can kind of lose myself in.
SIMON: With the advantage of a few years hindsight, how are you able to leave the life of heroin and so many others can't?
WELSH: For me it was - personally it was a very - I wouldn't say it was a very easy thing to do, but it was something that I just felt it had run its course and it wasn't going to offer me anything or show me anything. It was just an inconvenience. And there was nothing driving it.
It's not so much how you get off. I think it's how you stay on is an important thing. I think there has to be driving, compelling reasons to actually stay on drugs. I think, again, that comes down to sort of class and opportunity and poverty. I think anybody can get addicted to heroin, but if you don't have any opportunities or anything going for you, it's much harder to get off it.
SIMON: Irvine Welsh, joining us from Chicago. His new book, "Skagboys" out next week.
Mr. Welsh, thanks so much for being with us.
WELSH: Thank you for having me.
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