Irvine Welsh by the letters
- Brian Donaldson
- 12 July 2017
As Irvine Welsh brings two stage productions to this year's Fringe, we take a mnemonic look at the man who reshaped the landscape of 90s Scottish literature and continues to churn out work at a phenomenal rate
A prominent Yes campaigner in 2014, Irvine Welsh described the vote against independence as a 'glorious failure which might also be [Scotland's] finest hour'. He remains hopeful that a second vote would produce a different result.
Despite believing that it would sell very few copies, the editorial director of Secker & Warburg took a chance on Trainspotting when it was recommended to him by Duncan McLean. Robertson's role in helping launch the careers of Welsh, Alan Warner, AL Kennedy, Janice Galloway and James Kelman led to him being dubbed 'the godfather of Scottish literature'.
It's impossible to discuss Welsh's fictional universe without mentioning the brutal acts perpetrated within his books. 'I think everybody is violent', he told The Herald in early 2016 while promoting his Begbie spin-off, The Blade Artist. 'We all basically have the fight / flight mechanism.'
How he described the Standard English he initially tried to write in for his early fiction, but ditched due to its lack of 'funk or soul'.
Now residing mainly in Chicago, he has compared the Windy City rather favourably to the Big Apple: 'it's like New York but without the pricks'.
While he makes regular appearances at the Book Festival, Welsh's presence in the capital during the month of August has generally been limited to stage adaptations of his debut novel, Trainspotting. And sure enough, there's another production this year, being laid on at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The play has had sell-out runs at the last two Fringes and comes with the Irvine stamp of approval: 'I was shocked; and I wrote the fucking thing.'
In a 2015 interview with The Telegraph, Welsh described himself as the 'worst employee in the world' who would 'cheat and steal time and resources from my employer, although I'll con everybody into believing I'm essential to the operation.'
Edinburgh Fringe 2017
So, what does he have in store for us at this Fringe? He's collaborated with Don De Grazia on Creatives, a 'dark, comic pop-opera' about a dysfunctional songwriting class in Chicago, and Performers (scripted alongside Dean Cavanagh with whom he previously worked on 2007 Channel 4 drama, Wedding Belles), 'a black comedy' which focuses on 1960s swinging London. Directed by Nick 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' Moran, it's billed as 'a cross between Waiting for Godot and The Italian Job'.
It's in his books, it's where he was born and it's where he heads for when he returns to Edinburgh. Little wonder his face was part of the I Love Leith banner campaign on Leith Walk in 2009.
If Welsh's relationship to his home city could be described as 'complicated', his attitudes towards his birth nation are even more entangled. Take this quote from Trainspotting's Renton: 'It's shite being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilisation. Some people hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers. It's a shite state of affairs to be in … and all the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference!'
Well, that's one point of view. In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, though, Welsh's opinion perhaps reflects the altered perspective he has on Scotland and Scottishness given that he spends most of his time these days in the US. 'There's just something really cool about it; I can't put my finger on it. When you travel the world, people are really interested in your accent and sometimes they can't quite place it or it becomes a great conversation piece.'
While everyone was telling him that 2016 was a bleak year due to Brexit, Trump and all those celebrity deaths, Welsh insisted that he'll always look back on it fondly given that his beloved Hibs won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years. Unsurprisingly, he's hinted at using the occasion in a future book.
Creatives, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 5–28 Aug (not 15, 22), 4pm, £11–£14.50 (£9–£13.50). Previews 2–4 Aug, £8.
Performers, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0131 623 3030, 5–27 Aug (not 14), 4.45pm, £14–£15 (£12–£13). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £10.
Trainspotting Live, EICC, Morrison Street, 0131 519 4150, 4–27 Aug (not 9, 16, 23), 6pm, 7.45pm, £17.50–£22.50. Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £10–£15.