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Mired in the Brogue of “Skagboys”

Despite a fondness for the works of Irvine Welsh, I admittedly was slightly dreading my start of the recently released prequel to Trainspotting. 

My wife pre-ordered Skagboys as a birthday gift to me. I am a big fan of the film version of Trainspotting, which has led to also following the careers of several of those involved in its making.

  • Danny Boyle has become one of cinema’s premier directors, scoring an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. I’m sure I was not the only person watching the Opening Ceremony from the London Olympic Games in anticipation of the Trainspotting-esque moment, not realizing until mid-point that the entire ceremony was a bit Trainspotting-y. There’s nothing on his resume I’ve watched and not thoroughly enjoyed.
  • Jonny Lee Miller has been around long enough to be a bit of a household name, particularly now that he’s in the new major-network take on the Sherlock Holmes story.
  • Ewan MacGregor is probably even more well-known, having worked in a good many major films including the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.
  • Robert Carlyle is also a regular on American network TV, portraying Rumplestiltskin in (largely unwatchable) Once Upon a Timebut I still dig him. He’s also tackled Adolf Hitler and King James I! Pretty sure Begbie kicks all their arses, but…
  • Ewen Bremner was a treat (for me, anyhow) in Black Hawk Down 
  • I admit that most of the reason I watched Nanny McPhee was because Kelly MacDonald was in it.
  • My wife tells me that a doctor on Gray’s Anatomy is played by the same guy who was Tommy.

It might be said I have an unhealthy relationship with the film, though it led me to read Welsh’s book (and then books, plural) rather than to score some dope, so…healthy enough, eh?

Anyhow…trying to circle back to the point…the slight dread I experienced managed to survive an overwhelming adulation for the characters Welsh created and the world in which he has them muck about.

It’s just that the books are so incredibly difficult to read!

If you’ve read them, you likely nod your head in agreement.

If not, I’ll just say that ah dinnae ken what tae tell yae!

Actually, I DO know what to tell you, but I was just trying to illustrate the point, which is that the dialogue, both internal and ex-, is written in a highly stylized brogue. While it definitely adds, overall, to my enjoyment of and submersion into the world of the novels, it greatly slows my progress through it.

Generally, I will make my way through a 300-page novel in 4 to 6 days, depending on how many of those days include an hour-plus sitting on the bus between home and work. I opened Skagboys for the first time 11 days ago.

I’m on page 158.

In fairness, I spent four extra days I’d normally be going into the city instead working from home. Definitely had some impact. Still, I can actually feel myself reading slower than what I’m used to and it’s driving me crazy, especially as the “to read” pile expands rapidly as some favorite authors all are publishing new works (Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Justin Cronin, Victor LaValle, Junot Diaz, Chuck Wendig, etc.), not to mention it was already a bit of a bloaty list.

This should not, however, register as a complaint. It really is part of what I love about Welsh’s writing and why I am quick to return to this particularly story.

“Wir gaun doon thaire tae have a wee fuckin blether wi this Hong Kong Fuey cunt!”

That’s fun!

I just wish I could pick up the dialect a bit more quickly. As of now, I still have to read the dialogue aloud to myself in my head to even hope to make sense of much of it.

Otherwise, it’s pretty interesting to watch these characters move through their pre-addiction lives knowing how it eventually runs for them. Because I declined a re-read of Trainspotting before starting Skagboys, my memories of the characters are probably closer to the film versions, which I’ve seen several times. Whatever the case, the characters all seem to be pretty much on-point right now, which makes me feel good about the book. I’m not sure whether there are any charges of “cashing-in” to be hurled at the appearance of the prequel, but I’m definitely getting a sense Welsh was more motivated by his feelings about the characters than by some cynical cash grab.

Now that I’m nice and irritated after watching baseball for the last few hours, I guess I’ll go wrestle a bit more with the brogue.

  1. Chuk
    October 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Huh, I love Welsh’s stuff — I think I’ve read all but maybe an anthology of his. Never had a problem with the dialect.
    I agree with your comment on the cashing-in — if it’s a sell-out, it’s a pretty faithful one that seems to be more for love than money.

    • October 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      He’s among my top few favorites, too. And, I don’t think I’d like it as much without the dialect; I’d just read it faster.

  2. November 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Trainspotting is the best film/book of all time. Shame about skagboys which I thought was pish! There are film versions of ecstasy and filth too, neither of which I’ve seen yet but I will soon.

  3. Sean-Paul Thomas
    January 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Hi Randal,

    I just read your websites review of Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, who is one
    of my favorite authors.

    My name’s Sean-Paul Thomas and I’m a relatively new author from
    Edinburgh who is just trying to establish myself right now. I have one
    book published so far, while my other books are all self published.

    I’ve written a new book, a kind of dark, edgy, black comedy satire, set
    in an Edinburgh Cafe during next years referendum in Scotland. Where a
    lot of weird, wonderful and quirky characters come and go throughout
    the day, sharing stories from their crazy screwed up lives. While some
    just want to voice their radical opinions on Scottish Independence.

    The book was released on December 17th and I was wondering if you would
    have time in your busy schedule to review or spotlight the novel at
    some point over the next few months.

    It’s a 50/50 with the Scots/English dialect. So I think it might appeal
    more to fans of Irvine Welsh and other Scottish authors who use Scots
    dialect in their writing. Right now I’m just trying to find a select
    target audience for my work and get it out there.


    Here is a brief Synopsis.

    ‘WARNING ‘May contain crude Scots dialect’

    Did ye ken that it’s referendum day in Scotland oan the 18th of
    September 2014?

    It’s also new ‘Pro UK Union’ chef, Richard’s, first day uv work at the
    Edinburgh auld town cafe. Where tae his great displeasure, he’s already
    been left oan his tod tae run the evening back shift by his sexist,
    womanising boss Brian, wi only the pretty and fiery, Pro ‘Scottish
    independence’ student waitress Toni, tae assist.

    Throughoot the shift Toni and Richard are visited by many weird, wacky
    and wonderfully humorous customers. Some uv whaim are jist in fur a wee
    banterous blether, sharing their radical political opinions wi any
    bampot whae’ll listen a damn, efter voting on Scotland’s historical day.

    Other customers though jist dinnae give a flying hoot aboot the
    Independence malarkey and jist want tae huv a quiet bite while sharing
    their ain crazy, freaky stories from their screwed up lives.

    So fae young teens discussing the extreme lengths some boys will go tae
    in order tae get their sexual kicks tae Non Educated Delinquents
    discussing a new Scotland efter Independence. Including the rebuilding
    of Hadrian’s wall, strict border controls and new anti English road
    layouts. Wi aw new Gaelic road signs tae make it even harder and more
    frustratingly annoying fur any English tourist tae find their way
    aboot. Arguments and opinions begin tae get more and more heated and
    radical the closer the referendum results are tae being announced.

    There is also the blossoming relationship between the handsome Chef
    Richard and cute waitress Toni to contend wi tae, when they’re both no
    up in each others faces, defending their ain beliefs and political

    So if ye enjoy yur average run uv the mill stories like ye enjoy a nice
    wee safe cup uv coffee likes, wi Milk and jist the wan sugar ken. Noo
    is the time tae take it completely bitter black… wi jist a wee pinch
    uv salt fur gid measure, ken whit ah mean.

    Warning ‘May contain crude Scots dialect’

    If you would like to read the book or even just check out some sample
    chapters, then I can send you a copy in any file format you desire.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail and I hope to hear from
    you again soon, even if just to say no thanks.

    Cheers and kind regards

    Sean-Paul Thomas

    • April 11, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      Funny thing Sean-Paul,

      I kept meaning to respond to you about how I’m always running around losing track of things and could never promise to read your book, but then the mail kept getting pushed further and further down my email queue and. . .now that I’m taking a moment to do some tidying, I see that I owe you an apology.

      I’m not sure I could have been a help anyhow, but I still wish to apologize. Was not ignoring, but. . .crazy life!

      Hope your book found an audience and you’re well enroute to your next success.

      Cheers! Thanks for thinking of me!


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