Irvine Welsh was born in the great city of Edinburgh, Scotland. He can’t quite recall if it was Simpson’s or Elsie Inglis maternity pavilions. In fact he remembers little of the birth, though his mother assured him later that it was fairly routine. This selective memory at key points in his life would continue. What he seems quite certain of is that his family moved from their tenement home in Leith, to the prefabs in West Pilton, and then onto Muirhouse’s maisonette flats.
Welsh left Ainslie Park Secondary School when he was sixteen and had various jobs, but didn’t really like work any more than he did school. However, he was very fortunate to meet some exceptionally decent people at both, most of whom tolerated him. London called in the late seventies and he tried to catch up on some of education he’d missed on while daydreaming about more interesting things, as enjoyed the London punk scene. The jobs got better and he got on the property ladder and made some money, but in the good Scots tradition, he managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Cleaning up his act, and, in keeping with another great tradition, ‘finding a nice lassie and settling doon’, Welsh eventually returned to Edinburgh where he worked for the city council in the housing department. He went on to study for an MBA at Heriot Watt University.
Welsh regards himself as very fortunate to be back in his home town when Kevin Williamson, Duncan McLean, Barry Graham, Alan Warner, Paul Reekie and Rodney Relax were all doing their thing. Energised by the rave scene, he started to write and his paths crossed with the above. Digging out some old diaries, Welsh did a draft of what would become Trainspotting. Welsh published parts this from 1991 onwards in DOG, the West Coast Magazine, and New Writing Scotland. Duncan McLean published parts of the novel in two Clocktower pamphlets, A Parcel of Rogues and Past Tense: Four Stories from a Novel. Meanwhile Kevin Williamson, a member of Duncan McLean’s Muirhouse writers’ group, published sections of Trainspotting in the literary magazine Rebel Inc. Duncan McLean recommended Welsh to Robin Robertson, then editorial director of Secker & Warburg, who decided to publish Trainspotting, despite believing that it was unlikely to sell.
When Trainspotting was published in 1993 Irvine Welsh shot to fame. According to Lord Gowrie, the chairman of the panel, the novel was rejected for the Booker Prize shortlist after offending the sensibilities of two female judges. Despite this unease from the critical establishment, Welsh’s novel received as many good reviews as ones swathed in disgust and outrage – establishing a tradition that continues to this day. Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of the novel was premiered at the Glasgow Mayfest in April 1994 and went on to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival and in London before touring the UK. In August 1995, Irvine Welsh gave up his day job.
Since Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Trainspotting was released in February 1996 Irvine Welsh has remained a controversial figure, whose novels, stage and screen plays, novellas and short stories have proved difficult for literary critics to assimilate, a difficulty made only more noticeable by Welsh’s continued commercial success. More books have followed, Ecstasy becoming the first paperback original to go straight in at No1 on the Sunday Times best-sellers list, a feat emulated by Filth, which became Welsh’s highest selling book after Trainspotting. His first novel has now sold almost 1 million copies in the UK alone and is a worldwide phenomenon. Books such as Glue, Porno and recent The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs have seen him increase his profile in America and Canada.
He has recently branched into film and is a partner in two film production companies. He joined Four Ways films, which was founded by Antonia Bird, Robert Carlyle and Mark Cousins, and has recently set up Jawbone films with his screenwriting partner Dean Cavanagh, and Phil John and Jon Lewis Owen.
In 2005 Welsh married for the second time. He promises that he’s never doing it again. He lives mainly in Dublin but retreats to Miami Beach for a large part of the winter. He visits his home city of Edinburgh regularly, usually to visit friends, family and Hibernian FC at Easter Road.
As Welsh says: ‘the jobs are a wee bit too boring to recount and the books and other stuff you can get from other parts of the site.’