The Sydney Writers’ Festival may have been described as “Thinking season” but at the beginning of Irvine Welsh’s event the host and journalist, Angus Fontaine declared it, “Drinking season”. The pair originally met some 17 years ago at the same festival where the Scottish author read from his novel, Filth. The two started drinking bloody Mary’s and smoking spiffs at 10AM and the night culminated in a break-in to Town Hall where Welsh fell asleep on stage. It is said that Welsh was banned by the festival, yet in 2014 both he and his writing returned and showed no signs of slowing, as the discussion about his latest book The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins proved.
The book is about two “damaged” female characters who Welsh admits are extensions of his own personality. His wife, Elizabeth even went so far as to say that the female protagonists are the most autobiographical ones Welsh has ever written. The two women have faced severe trauma, one had suffered sexual abuse while the other was grappling with the suicide of a friend. Welsh said he purposely wrote them so that they were simultaneously repelled and fascinated with each other upon meeting. And once they became lovers they both become more balanced and whole individuals.
During the interview and reading, Welsh proved to be as dark, twisted and fascinating as his writing (he even wore a Fluro, yellow Filth t-shirt which featured James McAvoy riding a pig). This author is a man interested in humans, psychology and pushing the boundaries of human behaviour and taste. He says he is constantly wanting to understand and write about the ways people can mess up, because we often make decisions that compound on our existing set of problems. At the same time it is also possible for bad things to happen when we think that everything is fine because you “Get complacent and F**k up” and he added that “Failure is a great educator”.
An extract from Welsh’s new, yet unpublished book was also delivered because the Scot was unsure about whether he would be able to capture his two new female protagonists properly in person. In the reading Welsh played Goose Terry, a taxi driver who has two interests: dealing drugs and picking up women. One of his first lines is: “Because no one wants to see a good fanny go to waste”.
Terry gets into an exchange with a suicidal playwright named Sal. The former uses a mixture of brochure pop psychology (“Get the depressed person talking”) and his own rough manner. His cheeky line: “You’re no good in this car without paying your fair first” was brutal, but got some of the biggest laughs in the audience.
Welsh’s talk was ultimately a lively punch in the face and strut through sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. He reflected on the fallout of his debut novel, Trainspotting; talked about being questioned by his 82-year old Mum concerning his knowledge of lesbian sex (his response: “Hopefully more than you”); and looked back fondly on hanging out with bisexual women in Miami to research his new novel. He recalled six near-death experiences, declared the heroin years a “stupid” time, and reflected on his life and writing style or a world where those involved are rallying against the establishment and face being consumed by the eye of the hurricane. It was a harrowing, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style experience that couldn’t have been any further removed from a standard Writers’ Festival event if it had tried.
Originally published on 26 May 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/irvine-welsh-the-sex-lives-of-siamese-twins
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