PORNO –LOOKING BACK
Your novel Porno, which was previously published and got sued in Turkey for obscenity, is back on the shelves again. What have you been up to since 2002, when it was first published? Has the book received similar reactions elsewhere? How was it taken at home?
Well, there have been more books and films since 2002!
Porno had a rough ride in some countries for its alleged obscenity, but mostly disapproving types will tend to say, ‘oh, it’s just him again.’ It was generally very well received in the UK. We had to tone the cover down a little for the USA. A few countries, Turkey being one, went for a de facto ban, through obscenity trials, which is personal great publicity for me, but feels very 60’s to folks in Britain.
How would you define ‘obscene’?
As a writer, I don’t think you define ‘obscene’ in the same terms that politicians do. I might, for example, be inclined define war, child poverty, environmental pollution, species extinction, the growing inequities between the super rich and everybody else as ‘obscene.’
Politicians obviously feel that way about a novel.
How do you feel about pornography in today’s world? Does the distinction between eroticism and pornography bother you?
There most concerning issue is not so much pornography itself, but its interface with technology and its potential ubiquity through the Internet. It’s not all bad; the Internet has encouraged women to use pornography more by taking it from the back streets. This, is turn, has led to a change in the narratives of pornography. It’s impossible to imagine Fifty Shades being successful ten years ago. You needed an army of eager suburban friggers, all juiced up and raring to go. Net porn developed that audience.
The down side is that porn is everywhere, and very young kids can access it. Growing up and discovering your sexuality can be confusing enough, without the pornographic narrative ‘guiding’ you. Though on the other hand, I suppose at fourteen I would have appreciated a bit more on how to have decent sex and less than cross section diagrams of flaccid cocks and uterus and phoetus’s. But I do think the camera phone/porn/social networks interface offers opportunities for really psycho bullying, and that concerns me.
Trainspotting and Porno both reflect snapshots of the lives of people of Scotland from a certain era. Looking at things back then and now, how do you think the major issues have changed? Do people still battle the same problems? Are these addressed with the same solutions?
The problems are fairly deep set. There are still the old hurdles of poverty, violence, drugs, sectarianism, wasted potential etc. The narratives and intonations may change through time, but the issues are remarkably resilient. I think a lot of this (not all of it by any means) is sustained by a dependency culture and the lack of civic confidence this engenders. I believe Scotland is a fundamentally rich country, but dresses up in rags by its continued failed participation in the United Kingdom.
You live in the US now, as far as we know. How do you compare the cultural environments of the two countries you lived in? If this novel was written in the US of recent years, would the approach to pornography differ in any way?
Obviously this is the case, yes. Though it’s very difficult for me to say in which ways, as I gave up looking at pornography after researching Porno. I had never been a huge consumer, but when you research it for a book, you are pretty much done.
But the narratives of pornography are culturally determined. American porn, for example, seems very misogynistic; all this ‘fuck you bitch’ aggressive treatment of women, very Wild West stuff. British porn is all about smirking Carry On naughtiness, while Scandinavian porn resembles a healthy sporting activity, like snowboarding or skiing. German porn seems the most fun; ‘Zis is good, ya?’ ‘Ya! Isht good!’ Japanese porn: lets not even go there.
Trainspotting and Porno both deal with characters from a certain era, a certain background and a certain place. It is possible to view your work from a sociological angle, even though it is fiction. If we were to take this a step forward and ask you where would Renton, Spud, Begbie and Sick Boy be if they were to ‘come alive’ at this day and age, what would you say?
I can’t even begin to answer that question without writing that book of those characters lives. Writing to me is largely an exploration: I’m usually not sure where I’m going till I get into it.
Porno was published in 2002 but in terms of the era it describes, it still bears aspects that fit the zeitgeist of today. How do you evaluate the novel in retrospect?
It has obviously dated in some aspects, as it’s over ten years old. Internet porn was still a big thing back then. Now it’s possible (indeed, probably essential) to be ramming a vibrator into yourself while you’re emailing the Daily Mail about how the country is going to the dogs.
It’s always risky to write about something technology based now, as that aspect of it dates quickly. I bought a relatively expensive camera a few years ago; now my iphone takes higher resolution pictures.
However, the characters are the main thing I vibe on. When I read a book, I like to feel the characters jump of the page into the room with me. If I can’t smell them, I feel shortchanged. So Porno holds up well in that aspect, I think. It sold very well, but there was a snotty reaction in some quarters because it featured the Trainspotting characters, but was obviously a different kind of book. I think it’s done well though, as a book it seems to have gained potency over time.
You have recently published Skagboys, a prequel to Trainspotting. What are you working on now?
I’m finishing a lesbian noir novel set in Miami, and we’re ready to bring the Filth movie –joy of joys-, and another film, The Magnificent Eleven, into the world. I’ve a few theatre, television and film projects in various stages of development, and I’m starting another novel.
What is your writing routine like? I have read that you write in ‘binges,’ does this still apply? How do you ease into life after a period of writing in binges?
Yes. I chip away at writing projects until they become something worth getting serious about. Then the world can go and fuck itself: I’m not moving till it’s done.
What are you reading/listening to lately? Any recommendations? Any inspirations?
I’m listening to Joy Division again, and the first New Order album, Movement. I’m reading a terrific novel called Whiskey Hearts by an American writer called Rachel L. Coyne, which I just stumbled on by accident, browsing in a Miami bookshop. I was drawn to it on the shelf, because a musician friend from Leith, Dean Owens, has a great (unrelated) album by the same title.
What would your advice be, to aspiring authors struggling to be published? Any words of wisdom?
Like your own company, don’t be scared of writing shite, and embrace feeling bad about it. When you feel really crap and defeated, it usually means that you’re on the verge of a big breakthrough towards something really worthwhile.
But being a writer is like being in solitary confinement. It broke my heart to realise that sad fact; I thought it was all about sitting in hipster bars boring every fucker about the novel you are someday going to write. I was that kind of ‘writer’ for years, and was gutted to find out that wasn’t actually what it was all about. So above all, write. And be a reader. I still find astonishing that people want to be writers without having any passion for books.