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Born and brought up in Ed­in­burgh, the writer of Trainspot­ting strug­gled with dys­lexia and con­cen­tra­tion is­sues at school. But thanks to the en­cour­age­ment of his English teacher, he fi­nally found his writ­ing voice…

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - EDITORIAL -

Trainspot­ting au­thor Irvine Welsh on an in­spi­ra­tional English teacher

Aside from the fact that I had a mas­sive crush on my English teacher Mrs Tate, I liked her be­cause she was very en­cour­ag­ing when I started writ­ing. Ainslie Park High in Ed­in­burgh was a prison camp for hous­ing scheme [coun­cil house] kids. It pro­duced labour­ers and typ­ists. It wasn’t an aca­demic school and I was not aca­dem­i­cally in­clined.

I had mild dys­lexia and con­cen­tra­tion is­sues, so I was ei­ther very dis­rup­tive or very with­drawn. I found it a strain to sit in a class­room and take in­struc­tion, so when ev­ery­one else was do­ing maths, I was writ­ing weird lit­tle sto­ries or draw­ing strange pic­tures. Or I was be­ing a gen­eral pain in the arse with the other like-minded clowns.

I used to write sto­ries about the hous­ing schemes, which I wrote in the ver­nac­u­lar. A lot of teach­ers dis­cour­aged me but Mrs Tate said: “This is great.

Keep do­ing this. It’s bril­liant.” She kind of gave me per­mis­sion to write in a char­ac­ter’s own di­alect and that’s how I wrote Trainspot­ting.

She said: write what you want to write, write what you know about, and un­der­stand that if you try and do some­thing a bit out there, you’re go­ing to an­noy the es­tab­lish­ment and get un­der the skin of author­ity fig­ures in a vis­ceral way. These were mas­sive life lessons.

She was quite a left-lean­ing, po­lit­i­cal woman in her late 20s or early 30s and once she got us to do a school mag­a­zine. She en­cour­aged us to write as we spoke and it had great car­toons. The deputy head­mas­ter at the school hated it and banned it im­me­di­ately.

I re­mem­ber him hav­ing a shout­ing match with Mrs Tate in the cor­ri­dor and she stood her ground. I felt bad for her hav­ing to take all that on her own but I was in­tim­i­dated by the deputy head as he was the dis­ci­plinar­ian.

She de­spaired of my gram­mar and em­pha­sised that you have to learn the ba­sics be­fore you can fly into the big league. That was a bor­ing and painful les­son, which I didn’t take on un­til much later when I went to night school to do A lev­els in English, so­ci­ol­ogy and eco­nomics.

Nev­er­the­less, she would laugh her head off at my writ­ing. That was an­other thing I learned from her: it’s al­ways good to be able to make a woman laugh.

I don’t re­mem­ber sit­ting any ex­ams. I wasn’t in cer­tifi­cate classes any­way as

I was only in­ter­ested in English and art.

I only got about 10 per cent of what I could have out of school and I left at 16 to work as an ap­pren­tice TV me­chanic.

I re­mem­ber meet­ing Mrs Tate in the street once and she said: “Are you still writ­ing?” I thought that was a strange thing to say. I’d left school, why would I still be writ­ing? But she said: “You should. You should keep on writ­ing.”

I’ve never gone back to the school. Why would I? Apart from the friend­ships that I made, my ex­pe­ri­ence there was very neg­a­tive. In one class, I used to get the belt every sin­gle day. When I asked why, I was told that it was for when

I did some­thing wrong; it im­me­di­ately de-in­cen­tivised me to be­have. It was in­dica­tive of how the place was run.

Mrs Tate sent me a let­ter af­ter I wrote Marabou Stork Night­mares. I sent her one back and I thanked her. When you get a teacher like that, es­pe­cially in a school like that where you’re told that you won’t amount to much, it’s an in­cred­i­ble thing. It’s great to know that some­body gets you.

Irvine Welsh was talk­ing to Kate Bo­hdanow­icz. Per­form­ers, a play by Irvine Welsh and

Dean Ca­vanagh, de­buts at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val, 3-27 Au­gust, at the Assem­bly Rooms, 4.45pm daily. Irvine’s mu­si­cal Creatives is on at the Plea­sance Court­yard from 2-28 Au­gust

I found it a strain to sit in a class­room and take in­struc­tion, so when ev­ery­one else was do­ing maths, I was writ­ing weird lit­tle sto­ries or draw­ing strange pic­tures.

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