Irvine Welsh: The Original Skagboy

Grab a pint and get to know the man behind TRAINSPOTTING and T2: TRAINSPOTTING

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Scotsman. Musician. Addict. Novelist. Playwright, Philanthropist. All of these terms can be used to describe the author of Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh. His raw, abrasive, in-your-face outlook on life is a major contributor to his success and the reason why his 1993 debut novel and 1996 film adaptation by the same name has become a cult classic for generations.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Irvine Welsh faced life’s sharp edges early. He dropped out of school at age sixteen and joined the career force as an electrician’s apprentice. After an electric shock incident, Welsh moved on to other odd jobs. In 1978, he heard London calling and ended up joining the punk scene playing guitar and singing for various bands. With no regular income and immersed in a lifestyle of indulgence without responsibilities, it was easy for Welsh (and many others) to slip into addiction. Becoming addicted to heroin in his early 20s, a life of petty crime and running up debts finally took its toll, which led Welsh to “choose life” and quit heroin cold turkey. Welsh received fairly substantial financial compensation after he was involved in a traffic incident. He then used the money to buy and sell property during the real estate boom. Eventually, he returned to Edinburgh where he worked for the city council as a training officer in the housing department. Proclaiming himself to be “the worst employee in the world”, Welsh managed to control the budget in his favor to support a higher salary in order to pursue an MBA. This further propelled him into a sense of normalcy but with his old, roguish habits still at play. His experience deviating from the typical path of life ultimately inspired him to write his first and most recognized novel Trainspotting, which would catapult him into success while receiving both criticism and praise from people all over the world.

Set in 1980’s Leith, Edinburgh, Trainspotting exposes readers to the dark side of the Scottish underclass with subject matter revolving around heroin addiction, HIV, crime, football, abortion, prejudice, and violence. Welsh stays true to his homage by writing phonetically in the Scottish dialect, which can be very arduous to the untrained ear. For example, the first sentence of the book reads: “The sweat was lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling”. Have no fear, though! Welsh generously provided a glossary in the back of the book for us daft Americans, explaining words and common slang. It takes a while for the reader to realize what “skag” (heroin), “flunkies” (condoms), and “swedge” (bar fight) actually mean, but it is well worth the effort. Welsh writes what he knows, and he created Mark Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie, all of whom can easily be stereotypical personas commonly found in any drug scene. They’re the kind of friends you can’t leave unattended, have to make sure your sex tapes are well hidden from, and hesitate to ever go out in public with because that one friend will end up fighting some random wanker just for the hell of it.

The success of the book led to a stage adaptation in the mid-1990’s starring Ewen Bremner as Renton, who in the film plays Spud. English born director Danny Boyle quickly jumped on the opportunity to direct a film adaptation after his first film, Shallow Grave, won him a BAFTA award for Best British Film in 1995. Welsh was initially hesitant about a film adaptation. However, Boyle seemed to be the perfect candidate for the challenge, due to his imaginative camera angles, symbolic use of color, deranged dream sequences, and superlative use of voice-over narration. All of these styles were entrancingly executed to depict the desperate, depravity of drug addicts. Even Boyle’s music connections helped make the Trainspotting soundtrack one of the most iconic of the decade.

Fans of Anthony Burgess, Welsh and Boyle referenced his 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, alongside Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation by the same name. The interior scene of the Volcano Bar is a nod to Kubrick’s Milk Bar in Clockwork, and even the characters of Renton and Alex have parallels in their savage yet endearing hedonism and attempt at redemption while learning life’s larger lessons in the end.

Although Welsh had a minor acting role in his film as Mikey Forrester, Renton’s supplier of opium suppositories, he focused more on writing and screenplays in lieu of an acting career. Welsh has written a total of eleven novels, four short-story collections, nine screenplays, and is also involved in theatre. Like Stephen King, Welsh writes in a “shared universe” where his novels intertwine. For example, characters from Trainspotting make cameos in Glue (2001), Marabou Stork Nightmares (1995), Ecstasy (1996), and Filth (1998).Unable to pull away from Renton and his misfit crew, Welsh went on to write its prequel entitled Skagboys (2012), which depicts life before heroin, as well as Porno (2002)which is the sequel and ultimately what Trainspotting 2 is loosely based off of.

Welsh continues to write and has been an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup movement, which helps end homelessness through football. His love for football is also evident in Trainspotting , where he featured a real team of addicts as consultants and cast on the film. Staying true to his passions in life and reflection of his experiences, Welsh has successfully made his mark on pop culture. His vulgarity and brutal honesty continues to be enjoyed by the masses and encourages us all to ultimately “choose life” in all of its mundane and mediocre beauty.

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