I’m enjoying being home in Chicago, after three months of basing myself in Miami. South Beach is great fun, but therein lies the problem; that’s about all it is. It’s difficult to stay indoors and get into my work when it’s 85 degrees outside (I don’t do centigrade, so don’t ask) and everybody is wandering around in shorts, mini-skirts and bikinis. My apartment is great to hang out in, but although it has two bedrooms, it’s still about the size of my writer’s studio here in Chicago, as I’ve pretentiously started calling it, since visiting Hemingway’s similarly-dubbed lair in Key West.
It’s been a frantically busy time. I have a novel, Skagboys, and a film, Ecstasy, out on practically the same day this month. This makes the promotional side of things (which most writers hate, but recognise the necessity of doing) pretty heavy going. I also have another film, The Magnificent Eleven, which is going to the market at Cannes in May, while Filth, the movie of another novel of mine, is in the edit, as we frantically try to get it ready for the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
I’m currently working with a production company and HBO to create an American show. I decided when obtaining my green card and moving full time to the US that I would orientate myself more towards the film world and Hollywood, rather than the literary and publishing scene in New York. I felt like a change; there was no sense in doing what I would just do in London. I also resolved to do it properly: I now have a manager, an agent and my own production company, and am involved in developing a wildly overambitious slew of film, theatre and television projects. And there’s the small matter of the new novel, which I’m currently right in the middle of: still no intention of giving up the day job. I’m fortunate that I’ve been blessed with a good engine.
. . .
I think I was a priest in my previous life. Strangers disclose to me. They confess everything. They do this in bars, supermarket queues, but most of all on public transport, where, as a non-driver, I spend a great deal of time. I don’t know why I get singled out. I’m not especially empathetic by nature, and tend to be pretty self-absorbed, generally not making much eye contact in public places. I must just have that sort of face. On the elevated subway Brown Line, a woman asks me directions: what stop should she get off at in Chicago’s downtown Loop, and what bus should she then take to get to the University of Illinois? I tell her Adams and Wabash, and I’m not sure about the bus but someone will be able to tell her when she gets outside the station. She expresses gratitude, and then goes on to tell me why she’s in town, where she’s from, and what her job entails. Nobody talks to strangers on the “El”. Is she insane? Am I?
I was heading downtown to Chicago’s West Loop, a zone of old warehouses in the former meatpacking district being reclaimed for high-end restaurants and art galleries. I was there to see my accountant, a pleasant man with a reassuring air of efficiency. He has been invaluable in helping manage my transition to the US. The Irish tax authorities and our own beloved Inland Revenue still seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that I’m residing in their particular parts of these great islands. For fiscal purposes though, I now solely belong to Uncle Sam.
My accountant’s firm boasts a rock ’n’ roll style moniker, as they are a niche company dealing exclusively with musicians, writers, and film and theatre people. He also doesn’t look like an accountant, which used to worry me slightly. I’m friendly with members of a British band who once had a “rock ’n’ roll” accountant, and they were delighted that he partied enthusiastically with them. Then, one dark and dismal London afternoon, he absconded with the loot, and was last heard of in Canada, which pretty much serves him right. Moral of the story: if you’re an artiste, never trust an accountant who does more drugs than you. My accountant and I never talk about that sort of thing, which has gone a long way to putting my mind at rest.
Next to the accountant’s office, there is a highly rated new restaurant, so the next night I’m back down there with my wife and a couple of good friends to check it out. Kennedy is an English expat musician and his American girlfriend Anna is a poet. The restaurant’s food, service and pricing live up to its billing. It’s a bittersweet occasion as our pals are decanting to Louisiana for a few years. I will miss them tons but, on the plus side, it gives us an excuse to go down to New Orleans. The last time I was there was just after Katrina, and it was my best ever visit to the city. The French Quarter streets were deserted – even Bourbon Street was ghostly – yet inside the bars everything was in full swing and we practically had the place to ourselves.
. . .
We are putting on an American version of Trainspotting at the Theater Wit in Chicago in October. In a fit of creative inspiration, I called it Trainspotting USA. The name stuck. It is set in Kansas and Mexico and features a brilliant, committed young cast led by Tom Mullen, an acclaimed local director. Tom and I have been working on the adaptation of Harry Gibson’s adaption of my book, which is a bit like doing a remix of somebody’s remix of your own song. To my surprise, the characters have Americanised very well, apart from Begbie. We’ve had to change him quite radically. American psychos tend to be the silent type, not the cocky, strutting motormouths we specialise in on this side of the pond. And, of course, nobody swears as effectively as the Scots.
. . .
My mum would be proud. It’s due to the influence of my friend John Hood in Miami but I’m dressing more smartly in the evenings these days. John always braves the sweltering south Florida heat in linen suits and silk shirts, all fully accessorised with cufflinks and handkerchiefs. When I showed up for a photo shoot for the glossy Ocean Drive magazine looking like an unreconstructed Scot, he finally lost patience and took me to his tailor in midtown, who kitted me out.
Since returning to Chicago, I’ve found a similar place, tucked sneakily upstairs on a busy strip of the Magnificent Mile. I also finally took the trousers of another suit I bought in Turkey, three years ago, round to a local tailor to be taken up. In an uncharacteristic bout of spring cleaning, I’ve thrown out half of my wardrobe, including around 30 novelty T-shirts.
And I’ve joined a new gym around the corner from my house. It’s a bland state-of-the-art joint for soccer moms, with terrible music, and lacks the atmosphere of my old house of pain. But its proximity means that I’ve no excuse for not going every day. And one thing a writer, that most sedentary of creatures, really needs is a very close gymnasium.
‘Skagboys’ (Jonathan Cape) is published on April 19; read the review by Sam Leith
‘Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy’ opens in the UK on April 20