Irvine Welsh was born in 1958 in Leith, an area that had been incorporated into Edinburgh in much the same way that Scotland itself had been colonized by England. So his -- and his characters' -- congenital resentment towards the world... [more]
Irvine Welsh was born in 1958 in Leith, an area that had been incorporated into Edinburgh in much the same way that Scotland itself had been colonized by England. So his -- and his characters' -- congenital resentment towards the world in general is not too surprising. After dropping out of school at 16, Welsh moped and meddled about for several years: he got involved in London's mid-'70s punk scene, skidded through a series of keep-up-the-lifestyle jobs, played (badly) in a few bands, and did his fair share of drugs -- including, of course, some heroin.
By the early '90s Welsh had toned down the action, but the spirit of punk rock still raged and roiled in his brain. The U.K. -- and the world -- got a drubbing when "Trainspotting" was published in 1993. Though he claims that the book is purely the product of his imagination, certain elements of the tale -- crime, junk, death, betrayal, and lots of good old Scottish cursing -- are surely inspired by experience. It's an unusual position he takes: as Welsh points out, when you write a book like that, "people expect you to be either this big reformed ex-junkie voice of experience, which I don't think I am, or they think you are some kind of middle-class voyeur looking in and writing an exploitation book about other people's misery, which equally I don't think I am." Welsh's five books and two plays deal with -- or rather, some may say, obsess over -- drugs, violence, and sex, yet Welsh considers himself a moral writer. For Welsh, misery and mire are too often the stuff of life, and should be expressed, exposed, and known.
Though many of his stories are hallucinatorily unbelievable, Welsh's style is itself excruciatingly realist. Phonetic spelling of thick Scottish dialect and a would-you-like-some-bread-with-your-butter use of slang often make his texts difficult to wade through. Welsh vehemently vetoed the idea of adding a glossary to "Trainspotting," suggesting that anyone who couldn't keep up with the words could, essentially, shove 'em.
As for his influences, Welsh hadn't read William S. Burroughs or any of the famous drug writers until he saw their names in reviews of his own work. Instead, punk -- Iggy Pop, notably -- was his inspiration. So was the underground club scene; Welsh once said: "I think that people under 25 who are involved in club culture are probably having the best possible time that anyone's ever had in history...A superior form of entertainment has never been devised."
The stunningly successful "Trainspotting" (which came within a razorblade's breadth of winning the Booker Prize) went mega-platinum after the film adaptation was released. Welsh's subsequent books -- "The Acid House" (also made into a movie), "Marabou Stork Nightmares," "Ecstasy," and "Filth" -- have all been bestsellers in the U.K. and the U.S., a disturbing prospect considering their even more disturbing subject matters. In his latest dive into society's sewers, Welsh is working on a screenplay that incorporates outtakes from the original novel "Trainspotting," which will be titled "Some Weird Sin." [show less]