Dear Scotland referendum

Dear Scotland. . . Irvine Welsh and James Kelman

Welsh Poet Mab Jones reflects on her early influences of Scottish literature.


As a younger person, I wanted to be a novelist. Specifically, I wanted to be the novelist Irvine Welsh. Gritty and witty, urban and urbane, irrepressible and irreverent, his sick, slick, Sick Boy and Spud-scudded narrative Trainspotting captured my attention, and imagination, as it did most people of my age. I read his novels avidly, the Scottish accents encouraging my acceptance of my own Kerdiff dialect, which I’d been at pains, in my prestigious private school, to pull away from (although, I had already declared myself a Socialist at the tender age of 13). Suddenly, speaking in my own tongue didn’t seem such a bad thing, and damn the dames at school who said or suggested otherwise.

Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh

© Street Roots / Tronda Ola Tilseth

Welsh’s work led me onto other Scottish writers, of course, not least of all James Kelman. I was fortunate enough to hear the man read his work during a visit he made to Swansea University when I was 18 years old. What also struck me was the amiability of the author, who enjoyed a beer or two in the pub with us students afterwards. I was a quiet girl who didn’t say one word to Kelman, that I recall (later, I was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, so this isn’t a surprise), but his words in real life and on page soaked through to my writerly soul. I was gratified, recently, to see Kelman lauded in an article in The Herald, although the article also stated that the writer had not received the recognition he deserved in Scotland.

I hope that this continues to change. Other changes, well, they are not up to me. All I can say is that this Welsh poet has enjoyed these Scottish writers immeasurably and, having just come back from the Edinburgh Festival where I worked alongside a gamut of great local poets – Rachel McCrum, Harry Giles, Elvis McGonagall, Jenny Lindsey, Katherine McMahon (all part of the Word Cafe run by poet Julie Mullen) – I hope I may continue with this creative cross-pollination, as well as collaboration. For creatives worldwide, this need of the imagination – to feed and be freed – inevitably crosses, or even ignores, all man- and map-made borders.