Our first Welsh with local connections is novelist Louise Welsh. Ms Welsh seems to have moved around a bit, and now apparently lives in Glasgow, but she’s also an alumnus of Craigmount High School. Her Corstorphine connections don’t feature at all in her personal online biography or her Wikipedia entry. (Not that you should trust a word Wikipedia says!)
It seems Louise Welsh peaked early. Her first novel, The Cutting Room won her great critical acclaim from most of the major British broadsheets, and was nominated for the Orange Prize. Her second major work Tamburlaine Must Die based on the life of Christopher Marlowe received mixed reviews (see here). She has produced a number of short stories, and several novels since, but none of these seem to have gained the same level of attention as The Cutting Room.
Louise Welsh was also involved in (the now defunct?) Nerve magazine,* and seems to have been writer-in-residence at several locations in Glasgow.
Cymro 2: Irvine Welsh
Our second Welsh is Irvine Welsh. He needs little introduction. Like Louise Welsh, he too has moved around – Dublin, Chicago, Miami – to name but a few. He’s never lived in this part of town as far as I know, and many readers would associate him more with Leith and Muirhouse.
Quite a few local landmarks feature in Irvine Welsh’s novels – The Centurion Bar on St John’s Road, South Gyle Station etc. Areas mentioned in Irvine Welsh’s novels and short stories include – Clermiston, Drumbrae, Murrayfield, as well as nearby Stenhouse and Sighthill.
In fact, it’s actually pretty difficult for me to think of another writer who mentions this area as much as Irvine Welsh – apart from Ian Rankin.
* Not to be confused with a magazine of the same name based in Merseyside.
The cover images provided are under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the authors, illustrators and publishers shall understand is used in good faith.
Kelly got her degree. Replying to an advert in the paper she was a salesperson in a car showroom in Corstorphine. She got the punters interested… aye you know… Old Rab comes around later and gets them to sign. Teamwork. How was the parlance? ‘Close the dead’.
While there is no car showroom in Corstorphine proper these days, there is one up on the Glasgow Road, between St Thomas Episcopal Church and the Marriot Hotel. This is a Jaguar showroom. This is not necessarily the showroom in the novella, but it could be the inspiration for it. I gather from certain sources that Submission was the problem piece in Children of Albion Rovers and had to be altered for legal reasons. However, I doubt the contemporary Jaguar car showroom was the legal reason. Some of the more delicate readers of this blog will doubtless be horrified by some of the language in the volume, but you can’t say you weren’t warned. This blog aims to discuss all the writing from this part of the world, not just the stuff from the “easy reading” section.
There used to be another briefly, on St John’s Road where the sign salesroom is now. But as I understand it, that was a place where one could rent classic cars, rather than buying them. This probably post-dates Submission anyway.
Paul Reekie was really a Leith writer, well Fife originally, and the obligatory Hibs fan. He was also what you could call a “difficult person”. Not in a bad way, but stubborn, and holding fast to his beliefs.
Difficult people often remain difficult after death. They can remain thorns in the sides of the people who disowned them. Or those who try to co-opt them after death. Memory is a tricky thing, but a written output helps keep that going a little longer.
Paul Reekie’s name has appeared in print a number of times more recently. And why? Austerity kills. Not just the body, but the soul too. Reekie appears regularly in lists of people who have been killed by vicious austerity policies. The fact that he was known by Irvine Welsh, Kevin Williamson and Alan Bisset etc. means that he has had a higher profile than some of the other victims. Photographs of him a few years apart show a shocking physical decline, aging much quicker than he should, partly the result of government inflicted stress.
“Paul Reekie is definitely seen as the ‘one that got away’, probably the biggest talent in a gifted group of Edinburgh writers that emerged in the 90s, but the least known, and one whose influence on the others has only become more apparent through his absence.” – Irvine Welsh
Reekie’s output was tiny, but he just won’t go away. The name “Reekie” puts you in mind of the whole city, both Auld and “Neu”. In a tribute to Paul Reekie, Welsh wrote that it was not surprising how little Williamson got out of him, but how much. The fact that he had champions like these, and appeared in Children of Albion Rovers anthology alongside better known writers means he won’t just scarper off and fade away like certain forces wish he would. In fact, I’ve talked about him several times recently with various groups of people. I never got to meet Reekie, but I know of him through friends and acquaintances we had in common. And that is how the collective memory works.
A memorial event to him at the Book Festival turned into pleasant anarchy. In one corner you could see generic festival goers, who had obviously seen it “on the programme” and wondered what they’d stumbled on. In another football fans who may have never attended any other events there before or since. In another friends and relatives. And then on stage, writers who came all the way from Japan next to Leith characters. One minute it was poignant, with folk practically in tears. Then drunken football songs, which somehow managed to avoid sounding as tribal as they normally do. The staff themselves looked even more confused.
Paul Reekie may well have the last laugh. And I hope he does.
Given that we had quite a few common acquaintances, and even friends, it’s amazing I don’t remember meeting Paul Reekie. Yet I’m coming to think that I probably did, at a Burns Supper at the former Postal Worker’s Union near London Road. Given that he was apparently sitting at a table with friends of mine, I must have spoken to him. Given that I remember relatively little of the proceedings, I must either blame the alcohol, early onset dementia, or some kind of extra-terrestrial encounter. (All of these are apparently common causes of memory loss.)
I find this kind of thing frustrating. I’ve met a good few writers through one thing and another. Still I would prefer to remember Paul Reekie, than my brief encounter with Robin Jenkins at a Waterstone’s book signing many years ago. I’ve never been able to bring myself to read any of Jenkins’ work since. A shame since Ionce enjoyed it!
Would a memory of Reekie have the same effect? Nah, I suspect something of himself came over in his work…