How INSP helped Irvine Welsh’s Begbie travel from Scotland around the world

In 2013, Scottish author – and INSP ambassador – Irvine Welsh resurrected one of his most infamous characters to create an exclusive Christmas story for street papers.

Through the INSP News Service, which celebrates its 500th edition this week, 32 street papers in 16 countries published short story ‘He Aint Lager’ in their Christmas editions – making it the most shared story on the News Service in 2013.

Illustration by Sylvia Stølan for Sorgenfri

Set after Trainspotting and its sequel Porno, Welsh’s story follows Francis Begbie as he attempts to reconnect with his family after a lengthy stint behind bars.

Welsh’s writing is characterised by his use of broad Scots vernacular, and his mini sequel to Trainspotting was no exception. The Scottish slang peppered throughout the story made it a hit with street paper readers, and caused a media sensation in the UK after it was published in The Big Issue and Big Issue North.

However, it did prove a bit of a challenge for INSP’s non-English language street papers and translators. In Norway, Trondheim’s Sorgenfri came up with an ingenious solution.

Welsh is best known in Norway thanks to Danny Boyle’s 1996 film adaptation of Trainspotting which starred Scottish actor Robert Carlyle as Begbie.

Keen to republish ‘He Aint Lager’, the publication set its top reporter Trond Ola Tilseth on a mission to faithfully translate Welsh’s work for Norwegian readers.

Trond’s plan was to translate the Scots slang and dialect to its Trondheim equivalent, Trøndersk. But in order to do so, he had to know what he was translating. (Na’er gaunny be easy fur someain fa disnae ken th’ Scots way ay ‘spikin!)

Luckily, INSP is headquartered in Glasgow and Trond was able to get some advice from former News Service editor, Scottish investigative journalist Billy Briggs.

During his reserach, Trond discovered some similarities between Scots and Norwegian dialect.

“The funny thing is that some of the Scottish words are quite similar to Norwegian, for example bairn [child] is barn in Norwegian,” said Trond.

“The verb to ken [to know] is kjenn in the Trondheim dialect and kjenne in formal Norwegian.

“I also noticed that Welsh writes ah instead of “I”. In Trondheim we say æ which I am pretty sure is pronounced the same way.”

He added, “Sometimes it just helped to read the words out loud and put on a Scottish accent to understand what the phrases meant.”

Sadly, or maybe luckily, no audio evidence of Trond attempting a Scottish accent was ever recorded.

Illustration by Sylvia Stølan for Sorgenfri

This wasn’t the first time Sorgenfri had featured the celebrated Scottish author. In January 2013, Trond travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet and interview Welsh in his hometown.

“I had no idea of what he would be like, and I was worried if I would understand him or not, but he was a very nice guy, and a great story teller,” added Trond about meeting him in person.

Welsh is a long-time supporter of street papers and has previously described the concept as “one of the great social achievements of the last 20 years”.

After the story was shared across INSP’s global network, Welsh told us he was happy to revisit the character to support street papers.

“I became an INSP ambassador not because I’m disadvantaged in the current housing market, but privileged by it; I see so many friends struggling to keep a home together, or trying to rebuild one. They deserve the same rights that I enjoy,” he said.

“Homelessness issues are now sadly ubiquitous across the western world, and very much a product of the weak priorities our political leadership has set. The social aspect of housing policy is almost existent, but is in reality how people aspire to live; a home, family, friends, within a community and a concerned citizenry.”

Sorgenfri Editor Dag Rønning said he was thrilled to publish the exclusive Christmas story thanks to the INSP News Service.

“INSP providing a Christmas story by Irvine Welsh for our network of street papers is a special memory for me,” he said.

“Trond Ola did a great job translating Welsh’s stuff into Trøndersk – the way we speak here in Trondheim, and the oddest Norwegian dialect there is, according to everybody that’s not from around here!

“I asked the artist Sylvia Stølan to illustrate it by drawing the Begbies to look 10 years older than how he appeared in Trainspotting. It turned out really nice and was a great team effort from Trond Ola, Sylvia, Irvine Welsh and INSP.”

“Choose a life, choose a job – that’s what our vendors are doing.”

The Big Issue Australia also ran the story in its winter edition, back in 2013.

“We were very happy to republish He Ain’t Lager by Irvine Welsh, especially as the story was written exclusively for street papers around the world,” said Editorial Co-ordinator Lorraine Pink.

“I am a big fan of Irvine Welsh and now more so because doing this for us means he is a supporter of what we are doing.”

Lorraine added that the famous line from Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting resonates with the mission statement of street papers across INSP’s global network. Though in INSP vendors’ case it’s said more with hope than sarcasm.

“Choose a life, choose a job – that’s what our vendors are doing.”

You can read He Aint Lager in English here and in Norwegian here. The INSP News Service produced its 500th edition this week – join the celebrations using #INSP500.