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Festival of Ideas

The Blade Artist Irvine Welsh

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Irvine Welsh discusses his latest book, The Blade Artist, which marks the return of one of modern fiction’s most infamous, terrifying characters – the incendiary Francis Begbie from Trainspotting.

Jim Francis has finally found the perfect life – and is now unrecognisable, even to himself. A successful painter and sculptor, he lives quietly with his wife, Melanie, and their two young daughters, in an affluent beach town in California. Some say he’s a fake and a con man, while others see him as a genuine visionary.

But Francis has a very dark past, with another identity and a very different set of values. When he crosses the Atlantic to his native Scotland, for the funeral of a murdered son he barely knew, his old Edinburgh community expects him to take bloody revenge. But as he confronts his previous life, all those friends, enemies and, most alarmingly, his former self, Francis seems to have other ideas. When Melanie discovers something gruesome in California, which indicates that her husband’s violent past might also be his psychotic present, things start to go very bad, very quickly.

Photo: Rankin

Audience Member Review

Written by Ivana Galapceva

Fresh from his book tour in Chicago, Irvine Welsh came to Bristol to promote his latest novel The Blade Artist as part of the Festival of Ideas.

“You all look very sexy,” were the words with which Welsh addressed the packed audience at Waterstones.

Introductions weren’t necessary; Welsh made his name with 1993’s Trainspotting, the story of a group of eccentric friends and characters and their heroin addictions. A line-up of many other books has followed, some featuring the same characters. Francis Begbie remained the violent terrifying presence throughout.

Asked about the genesis of The Blade Artist, Welsh explained that, with the recent release of T2 Trainspotting, the sequel to the popular film of Trainspotting, he spent a lot of time with the film’s characters and got the idea for his latest title. In The Blade Artist, the protagonist Begbie has relocated to California and is returning to Edinburgh for the funeral of his murdered son. After cleaning up and relocating, Begbie gradually goes on to become an artist, and his family and friends are finding it difficult to deal with this change.

The idea for the book initially materialised as a Christmas story for the Big Issue a couple of years prior. Welsh said that Christmas is all about dealing with our own dysfunctional families, so it’s a ubiquitous theme.

The audience had the pleasure of listening to a couple of extracts from the book, executed in true Irvine Welsh style. After the reading, Welsh explained that he wanted to explore another escape route for Begbie, as well as the ‘becoming’ of what he was and is, the background for the violent tendencies and more.

There’s a lot of conflict and duality in the protagonist, and Welsh confirmed his intense interest in writing about this duality between our rational and animal side, briefly mentioning Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as an influence and inspiration for his writing.

When asked about the inspiration for Trainspotting’s characters, Welsh explained that he lost a lot of friends in Edinburgh in the eighties due to heroin and HIV “which, back then, was basically a death sentence”. Speaking about what he saw and what hurt him has brought him to writing a novel that is synonymous to that time and place, a truly powerful endeavour.

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