Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh says trans sensitivity reader made new book more authentic

Irvine Welsh

Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh has said working trans sensitivity reader on his latest novel, The Long Knives, was “brilliant”.

In an episode of Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews, to mark the 30th anniversary of the publishing of his first novel, Trainspotting, Welsh explained how he felt trepidation about working with a sensitivity reader.

While he initially thought it would feel like “censorship”, he’s since realised that he was completely wrong.

He said: “The first time I ever had a sensitivity reader (was) for The Long Knives, which [has] trans characters. I thought, ‘I’m not going to like this at all. This is like censorship’. But the reader was absolutely brilliant, I had completely the wrong end of the stick.”

The author went on to say that his reader wanted to make the book “as authentic as possible” and they were incredibly supportive. Welsh admitted that “it did make the book better”.

When asked whether he was worried about writing about trans characters because of potentially being “cancelled” or having a “target on his back”, Welsh rebuffed the suggestion, saying he tries to “learn through fiction”.

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He explained: “As a writer, you have to take on everything that’s coming. You have to be interested in it.

“To me, it’s about trying to learn what’s going on. It’s like trying to learn through fiction, through creating characters, to explore all those different themes, but what you don’t want to do is to write something hurtful or wounding to people and misrepresenting them.

“There are all sorts of different trans experiences. So, you want to have as many of them in as possible. Because the culture of it all is so new.

“Those archetypes haven’t been established yet like they have in other areas. So, you have to have an internal eye for that. You have to listen to people and you have to research. You must keep an open mind about the whole thing.”

Rigby went on to ask Welsh what he thought about Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who is also Scottish and has faced a backlash for her views on trans people.

Rigby described her as being “cancelled in places” and “pilloried [for] raising concerns”.

Welsh replied that he had “tremendous respect” for Rowling “for sticking to her guns”.

He continued: “I think people do agree, the enemy for just about everybody is kind of violent misogyny (and) violent, misogynistic characters, and it doesn’t matter whether a violent, misogynistic man is wearing a suit, a jacket or a dress.

“It doesn’t mean, you know, there’s not still a threat and a menace to women. And it doesn’t matter what they call themselves. You have to take that reality into account.

“You can’t throw 50 per cent of people under the bus to advance the rights of maybe 0.1 per cent, but you have to try to advance the rights of any oppressed minority.”

Welsh then agreed with Rigby’s suggestion that former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon had “forgotten that”, adding: “Part of me breaks off these ossified definitions about who we are and what we are… we should be able to be free individuals and designate ourselves as who we want to be and what we want to be.

“But at the same time you can’t impose an ideology on the rest of the world just because you think it’s a good idea.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Welsh supported the abolition of the monarch, the House of Lords and private schools.

He also discussed Scottish independence, the Scottish National Party and the lack of difference on policy he sees between prime minister Rishi Sunak and the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer.