Irvine Welsh (born 27 September 1958) is a Scottish novelist, playwright and short story writer. His 1993 novel Trainspotting was made into a film of the same name. His work is characterised by a raw Scots dialect and brutal depiction of Edinburgh life. He has also written plays and screenplays, and directed several short films.
Irvine Welsh was born in Leith, the port area of the Scottish capital Edinburgh. He states that he was born in 1958, though, according to the Glasgow police, his birth record is dated around 1951. When he was four, his family moved to Muirhouse, in Edinburgh, where they stayed in local housing schemes. His mother worked as a waitress. His father was a dock worker in Leith until bad health forced him to quit, after which he became a carpet salesman; he died when Welsh was 25. Welsh left Ainslie Park High School when he was 16 and then completed a City and Guilds course in electrical engineering. He became an apprentice TV repairman until an electric shock persuaded him to move on to a series of other jobs. He left Edinburgh for the London punk scene in 1978, where he played guitar and sang in The Pubic Lice and Stairway 13. A series of arrests for petty crimes and finally a suspended sentence for trashing a North London community centre inspired Welsh to correct his ways. He worked for Hackney London Borough Council in London and studied computing with the support of the Manpower Services Commission.
Welsh returned to Edinburgh in the late 1980s, where he worked for the city council in the housing department. He then studied for an MBA at Heriot-Watt University.
Welsh has published eleven novels and four collections of short stories. His first novel, Trainspotting, was published in 1993. Set in the mid-1980s, it uses a series of loosely and non-linear connected short-stories to tell the story of a group of characters tied together by decaying friendships, heroin addiction and stabs at escape from the oppressive boredom and brutality of their lives in the housing schemes. It was released to shock and outrage in some circles and great acclaim in others. It was adapted as a play, and a film adaptation, directed by Danny Boyle and written by John Hodge, was released in 1996. Welsh appeared in the film in the minor role of drug dealer Mikey Forrester.
The novel has since achieved a cult status, aided by the popularity of the film.
Next, Welsh released The Acid House, a collection of short stories from Rebel Inc., New Writing Scotland and other sources. Many of the stories take place in and around the housing schemes from Trainspotting, and employ many of the same themes; a touch of fantasy is apparent in stories such as The Acid House, where the minds of a baby and a drug user swap bodies, or The Granton Star Cause, where God transforms a man into a fly as punishment for wasting his life. Welsh adapted three of the stories for a later film of the same name, in which he also appeared.
Welsh's third book (and second novel), Marabou Stork Nightmares, alternates between a grim tale of thugs and schemes in sub-working class Scotland and a hallucinatory adventure tale set in South Africa. Gradually, common themes emerge.
His next book, Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance (1996), became his most high-profile work since Trainspotting, released in the wave of publicity surrounding the film. It consists of three unconnected novellas: the first, Lorraine Goes To Livingston, is a bawdy satire of classic British romance novels, the second, Fortune's Always Hiding, is a revenge story involving thalidomide and the third, The Undefeated, is a sly, subtle romance between a young woman dissatisfied with the confines of her suburban life and an aging clubgoer.
A corrupt police officer and his tapeworm served as the narrators for his third novel, Filth (1998). The main character of Filth was a vicious sociopathic policeman. The novel was adapted to a film with the same name in 2013.
Glue (2001) was a return to the locations, themes and episodic form of Trainspotting, telling the stories of four characters spanning several decades in their lives and the bonds that held them together.
Having revisited some of them in passing in Glue, Welsh brought most of the Trainspotting characters back for a sequel, Porno, in 2002. In this book Welsh explores the impact of pornography on the individuals involved in producing it, as well as society as a whole, and the impact of ageing and maturity in individuals against their will. The book is set just after the opening of the new Scottish Parliament.
The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006), deals with a young, alcoholic civil servant who finds himself inadvertently putting a curse on his nemesis, a nerdy co-worker. In 2007, Welsh published If You Liked School You'll Love Work, his first collection of short stories in over a decade.
Welsh contributed a novella called Contamination to The Weekenders: Travels in the Heart of Africa. Welsh, Ian Rankin, and Alexander McCall Smith each contributed a short story for the One City compilation published in 2005 in benefit of the One City Trust for social inclusion in Edinburgh.
In Crime, Ray Lennox (from Welsh's previous work, Filth) is recovering from a mental breakdown induced by occupational stress and cocaine abuse, and a particularly horrifying child sex murder case back in Edinburgh. The story takes place in Florida.
In 2012 Welsh published a prequel to Trainspotting, titled Skagboys. Set in Leith in the early 1980s, it introduces the Trainspotting characters and follows them as they fall into heroin addiction. Given as a series of linked short stories, the book is also interspersed with brief commentaries on contemporary British politics. In particular, the consequences of the destruction of industry in the northern cities are drawn for the young working class.
His eighth novel, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, was published in May 2014.
Welsh's tenth novel, released in April 2016, is titled The Blade Artist, and centres around a seemingly rehabilitated Francis Begbie now living in California with a wife and children. It was shortlisted for the Fiction Book of the Year at Saltire Literary Awards 2016.
A sequel to The Blade Artist, entitled Dead Men's Trousers, was released on 29 March 2018, and sees Mark Renton, Sick Boy, and Spud reuniting with Francis Begbie.
Film and stage
As well as fiction, Irvine Welsh has written several stage plays, including Headstate, You'll Have Had Your Hole, and the musical Blackpool, which featured original songs by Vic Godard of the Subway Sect.
He co-authored Babylon Heights with his screen writing partner Dean Cavanagh. The play premiered in San Francisco at the Exit Theatre and made its European première in Dublin, at The Mill Theatre Dundrum, directed by Graham Cantwell. The plot revolves around the behind-the-scenes antics of a group of Munchkins on the set of The Wizard of Oz. The production included the use of oversized sets with actors of regular stature.
Cavanagh and Welsh have also collaborated on screenplays. The Meat Trade is based on the 19th-century West Port murders. Despite the historical source material, Welsh has set the story in the familiar confines of present-day Edinburgh, with Burke and Hare depicted as brothers who steal human organs to meet the demands of the global transplant market.
Wedding Belles, a film made for Channel 4 that was written by Welsh and Cavanagh, aired at the end of March 2007. The film centres around the lives of four young women, who are played by Michelle Gomez, Shirley Henderson, Shauna MacDonald, and Kathleen McDermot. Wedding Belles was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA and was subsequently sold to TV channels in Canada and Europe.
Welsh has directed several short films for bands. In 2001 he directed a 15-minute film for Gene's song "Is It Over" which is taken from the album Libertine. In 2006 he directed a short film to accompany the track "Atlantic" from Keane's album Under the Iron Sea.
Welsh directed his first short dramatic film, NUTS, which he co-wrote with Cavanagh. The film features Joe McKinney as a man dealing with testicular cancer in post Celtic tiger Ireland. It was released in 2007.
Welsh co-directed "The Right to liberty", a chapter of the documentary film The New Ten Commandments, in 2008.
In 2009 Welsh directed the film Good Arrows (co-directed by Helen Grace). It was written by Welsh and Cavanagh. The film is about a darts player who suffers from depression which causes him to lose his skill.
As well as recreational drug use, Welsh's fiction and non-fiction is dominated by the question of working class and Scottish identity in the period spanning the 1960s to the present day. Within this, he explores the rise and fall of the council housing scheme, denial of opportunity, sectarianism, football, hooliganism, sex, suppressed homosexuality, dance clubs, low-paid work, freemasonry, Irish republicanism, sodomy, class divisions, emigration and, perhaps most of all, the humour, prejudices and axioms of the Scots.
Sam Leith, writing in the Financial Times, argues that: "Welsh's concerns are with sin and salvation, with the exercise of free will and with the individual soul. He's much more interested in teleology than sociology."
Welsh's novels share characters, giving the feel of a "shared universe" within his writing. For example, characters from Trainspotting make cameo appearances in The Acid House, Marabou Stork Nightmares, Ecstasy, Filth, and slightly larger appearances in Glue, whose characters then appear in Porno.
Welsh is known for writing in his native Edinburgh Scots dialect. He generally ignores the traditional conventions of literary Scots, used for example by Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and James Orr. Instead, he transcribes dialects phonetically.
Like Alasdair Gray before him, Welsh also experiments with typography. In the novel Filth, the tapeworm's internal monologue is imposed over the top of the protagonist's own internal monologue (the worm's host), visibly depicting the tapeworm's voracious appetite, much like the "Climax of Voices" in Gray's novel 1982, Janine.
Welsh has lived in Miami since 2018 when he divorced from his Chicagoan wife, where they had lived together in the Lakeview neighborhood, and where he previously lived since 2009. Prior to Chicago, he lived in Dublin, Ireland.
Welsh is an avid supporter of Hibernian F.C.
- Trainspotting (1993)
- Marabou Stork Nightmares (1995)
- Filth (1998)
- Glue (2001)
- Porno (2002)
- The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006)
- Crime (2008)
- Skagboys (2012)
- The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (2014)
- A Decent Ride (2015)
- The Blade Artist (2016)
- Dead Men's Trousers (2018)
Short story collections
- The Acid House (1994)
- Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance (1996)
- If You Liked School You'll Love Work (2007)
- Reheated Cabbage (2009)
- You'll Have Had Your Hole (drama)
- Dose (BBC drama written with Dean Cavanagh)
- The Acid House (screenplay)
- Wedding Belles (2007 film for Channel 4 written with Dean Cavanagh)
- Four Play (a collection of his books that have been adapted for the stage)
- Dockers (1999 one-off TV drama for Channel 4, co-written by Jimmy McGovern)
- Nuts (2007 short film)
- Good Arrows (2009 film)
- Bad Blood (2005 short film co-written by him, based on a section of the novel Trainspotting)
- Babylon Heights (co-written with Dean Cavanagh)
- You'll Have Had Your Hole
- Trainspotting (1996)
- The Acid House (1998)
- Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy (2011)
- Filth (2013)
- T2 Trainspotting (2017)
- Marabou Stork Nightmares
- Aaron Kelly: Irvine Welsh. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.
- Berthold Schoene, ed.: The Edinburgh Companion to Irvine Welsh. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.
- Mark Schmitt: British White Trash: Figurations of Tainted Whiteness in the Novels of Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths and John King. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2018.