Irvine Welsh emerged from the council projects of Edinburgh, Scotland. Soaking in the popular pastimes of his down-and-out neighborhood, he became fond of the Hibernian Football club, and later became even fonder of the hard drug scene around his town. Heroin was easy to find, almost impossible to avoid.
The curious young man had a variety of skills and interests, and worked variously as a TV repairman, a punk guitarist and a housing officer. Between speed and heroin binges and arrests at football riots, he even managed to earn a Master’s degree in business. Like the main character in his most famous book, “Trainspotting,” he liked to slip in and out of the straight world.
Welsh might never have become a renowned writer if he had not met a fellow Scot wandering spirit, Duncan McLean, who was working as a janitor while occasionally typing up stories and sending them to friends as “The Clocktower Booklets”. McLean invited Welsh to contribute, and the stories Welsh came up with became the basis of “Trainspotting”.
Irvine Welsh seems to have a lot in common with the California novelist Charles Bukowski. Bukowski also worked as a civil servant (a mailman) in his formative years, while sharpening his skills at the degenerate life of wretched excess. Both writers manage to turn the slovenly, tragic life of the substance abuser into charming material for popular stories. And neither seemed to have ever tried very hard to become writers, both only stumbling into it after their friends asked them to contribute to their magazines.
Welsh became extremely popular after “Trainspotting” was made into a movie. He seems to want to write at least one novel about every drug he’s ever enjoyed, from “The Acid House” to “Ecstacy”. All his writings feature some of the best slang since Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange”, as well as a lot of humor, a few touches of warmth and sadness, and occasionally even a moment of philosophical wisdom, in between the long periods of vile behavior and wretched excess.