A mixed, but typically boisterous crowd are gathered in the Sallis Benney Theatre for the arrival of one of Britain’s most iconic authors of the last 20 years, Irvine Welsh. He’s here this evening to discuss the re-emergence of one of his most incendiary characters, one Francis Begbie. Joining him is Brighton based author Simon Toyne, as we aim to discover just how the seemingly unredeemable psychopath of Trainspotting has translated to 21st century life.
Quite well, it would appear, as Welsh reveals not only that Begbie is now sober, out of prison and living in California (with a beautiful wife and two children, to boot), but he (now living as Jim Francis) is a successful sculptor, happily profiting from selling disfigured clay busts of celebrities back to them.
Though the threat of the explosive violence that has littered Begbie’s life up to this point hangs ominously throughout the novel, and is hinted at by Toyne and Welsh throughout the evening, Welsh admits he thought it would be interesting to recast everyone’s favourite radge as ‘the nicest man in the room’.
As much as I can claim to understand the Scots dialect terms littered throughout Welsh’s work, nothing compares to hearing the bristling animosity between Frank and Elspeth (his equally confrontational sister) Begbie come to life in the short extract read by Edinburgh native Welsh tonight, much to the delight of those in the audience.
Welsh maintains, with his usual wit and humour, that once a book is finished his relationship with the characters ends. The Trainspotting lot, though, seem to buck that trend, a point which he readily confesses, is largely due to the stage and film adaptations causing him to get to know his creations again. Begbie was originally revived for a suitably apocalyptic Christmas story, published in The Big Issue in November 2013, in which it’s his siblings, rather than Frank, creating the drama. This ‘planted the seed’ for a more in depth look at how a rehabilitated Frank could keep his self control, even in the most difficult of circumstances, such as his return to Edinburgh upon the death of his estranged son.
The parallels between Welsh and Begbie are striking, overcoming dyslexia, leaving working class backgrounds in Edinburgh, becoming successful in the arts, marrying American women and emigrating in the process. Despite this, Welsh laughs, Begbie is not autobiographical. If anything, Lucy Brennan, the young, female American fitness trainer from The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, is more like him once you peel away the surface layers (so he claims, anyway).
Whilst light-heartedly allowing fans to question his creative process, Welsh’s Blade Artist tour provides an insightful and humorous insight into the creation of some of Britain’s most loved literary characters of the last 30 years. Oh, and whether Bruce Robertson (of Filth fame) or Frank Begbie’s the bigger c*nt? It was a close call, but Begbie just edged it on the public vote.
By Lennon Craig