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Skagboys hardcover jacket.jpeg
AuthorIrvine Welsh
PublisherJonathan Cape (UK)
W. W. Norton (US)
Publication date
19 April 2012 (UK)
17 September 2012 (US)
Media typePrint
Preceded byPorno 

Skagboys is a 2012 novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh.[1] It is a prequel to his 1993 novel Trainspotting, and its 2002 sequel Porno. It follows the earlier lives of characters Renton and Sick Boy as they first descend into heroin addiction.[2]


When Welsh described the novel he said: "I think I’m going to call it Skag Boys: “skag” is my favourite word for heroin. It's set before they’re into heroin and investigates how the main characters become junkies, the family dynamics, the anxieties of young men. A lot of the fringe characters become more prominent".[3]

"I had a great deal of material that for various reasons, namely pace and because it didn't fit with the timeframe, wasn't suitable for the book. There's a particular section about Renton and Sick Boy's first visit to London to stay with their friend Nicksy in Hackney that I always wanted to publish, but it was just a bit too long for magazines and anthologies. So I've pulled back some of the other unused Trainspotting material and put alongside this piece. The thing is basically a prequel to Trainspotting. It's basically about how Renton and Sick Boy went from being daft young guys just out for the buzz on drugs, to total junkies. It shows how their attitudes and behaviour start to change as they become more defined by the drug and the culture around it".[4]

In 2012, Welsh said the prequel was actually initially written as part of Trainspotting but was not used in the published version. He later decided he would either erase his old work or use it in some way, as "he had a fear that he might fall under a bus and leave behind 'half-written stuff' which people would publish". He said, "I just went through it and started writing on the basis of what was there, getting inspired by what I was reading and chopping bits out and putting bits in. Before I knew it I had another novel on my hands".[5]

Plot summary[edit]

Section 1: Tempted

In 1984, Mark Renton and his father Davie have travelled to Yorkshire to take part in a picket of the coke plant. After briefly meeting his London pal Nicksy, he gets caught up in the police-picket violence and, shaken, feels estranged from his father and the pickets and refuses to return to Glasgow. In the Banana flats, Sick Boy becomes determined to seduce Maria, the nubile daughter of his neighbours, and takes her father Coke to the local pub. However, they fall foul of violent, ex-cop pub landlord Dickson, and are expelled from the bar. Meanwhile, in Manchester, Mark meets Nicksy again and accompanies him to a party. He is offered heroin to chase, but rejects this in disgust.

While Renton accompanies Begbie, Spud, Tommy and Keezbo to a Leith pub to watch the Euro 84 final, eighteen-year-old Samantha Frenchard comes in and accuses Begbie of getting her pregnant. After a blazing row he humiliates her and she storms out, swearing retribution. Renton realises that he has grown obsessed with "the skag" and had really wanted to take it in Manchester. He and Sick Boy go to see Swanney, an old football mate and drug dealer, who helps him fix up. The resulting high is so good he doesn’t even care that he and Sick Boy have stood up the psychotic Begbie for a drink. Samantha's family learn about her pregnancy and are told that Begbie wants nothing to do with her or the baby; they plot revenge.

Sick Boy once again takes Coke to Dickson's pub. While Sick Boy fixes heroin in the toilet, Dickson takes Coke outside and beats him unconscious. Sick Boy heads to the hospital and learns from Coke's distraught family that he has slipped into a coma; he eventually dies from his injuries. Feeling isolated from his family, Renton moves into Sick Boy's place. His search for more heroin leads him to meet Mikey Forrester in Muirhouse. There, he meets Alison, who tells Renton her mother is dying, and Sylvia, who takes him back to her place in Lochend for sex. When he gets back, Renton gives Spud his first hit of heroin. The following day, Alison learns that the brother of her boss in a Dutch Elm disease control unit is involved in drug smuggling at a local chemical processing plant. After attending a family barbecue, Alison seduces her boss.

Section 2: Falling

During an Aberdeen University field trip to Europe, Renton begins a sexual relationship with his classmate Fiona. When he returns home, he learns that his sickly brother has died. There are tensions between him and the rest of the family as funeral preparations are made, but they are dissipated when Fiona arrives and charms the family. Meanwhile, with Maria staying in Nottingham, Sick Boy seduces her mother Janey and encourages her to make a fraudulent claim on Coke's docks pension. Spud encounters Sick Boy and Alison before witnessing Begbie stabbing one of Samantha Frenchard's brothers.

Renton learns from a despondent Sick Boy that Dickson has gotten off with Coke's murder. Janey has been anonymously grassed up for the benefit fraud and taken to prison. Confused and angry, Maria stays alone in the house and, with Sick Boy's help, plots revenge on Dickson. Tommy catches up with Begbie and, with a group of enlisted friends, accompanies him to Pilton and help him lay siege to the Frenchard family's home. The attack ends when Begbie smashes her brother Ronnie's face in with an iron bar. They flee back to Leith in triumph, but on their return, Davie tells Tommy that Renton has gone away with Matty, presumably in search of heroin.

Section 3: Cold

On his Aberdeen wanders, Renton meets a junky named Don, who becomes his heroin connection. He begins keeping secrets from Fiona as he indulges in the skag. Renton eventually confesses his behavior to Fiona and they break up on bad terms. Suffering from withdrawal, Sick Boy and Maria resort to prostitution to support their mutual heroin addiction. Sick Boy finds a homeless Spud and lets him stay at the flat. He then goes to his mother's new place and is horrified to find that his father has moved back in. Desperate to prove to himself that he's a better man than his father, Sick Boy pledges to look after Maria and take care of her. When Don mysteriously leaves town, Renton heads back to Edinburgh to stay with Sick Boy.

Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie, Keezbo, Tommy and Spud try to burgle a big house. However, Renton, Tommy, and an injured Spud rescue a Spanish au pair, Carmelita, who has overdosed on pills and vodka in a suicide attempt. Later, Alison encounters Renton and Sick Boy at a club and accompanies them to Swanney's where she witnesses Swanney arguing with a skag supplier that she recognizes as a worker at the chemical plant. Alison takes Sick Boy back to her place in Pilrig, where he tries to talk her into having anal sex. Instead, Alison convinces him to let her use a strap-on dildo on him, which he enjoys more than he expects or admits. Sick Boy and Maria visit Janey in prison, who is distraught when she hears of their relationship. When they return to Leith, Sick Boy sets a drug-stunned Maria up with more punters, one of whom, to her extreme horror, is Dickson.

Section 4: Thawing

Alison befriends Maria and delivers her to her family in Nottingham. At the hospital, she witnesses her mother's death from cancer but has to get away from her grieving family. She heads to Swanney's in shock, catching Matty lurking outside. Inside, there is another Matty-Swanney conflict about Matty trying to get into Swanney's business.

33. Northern Soul Classics – Narrated by Sick Boy. His is Soho with the posh Lucinda, describing how he got off with her by using his ‘foolproof’ card trick. He meets fellow manipulator Andreas, and his victim Hailey, and they head back to his hotel in Finsbury Park where Sick Boy encourages Lucinda to shoot heroin. Later he makes a connection with Marsha in the lift, and then not only justifies his misogynistic actions to Renton, but also tries to frame them in a radical political context.

34. Dirty Dicks – Narrated by Renton. Mark wakes up and he and Nicksy chase brown and lament defeat in the class war. Begbie phones, saying that June's father caught them in a sexual encounter and threw her out the house so they are getting a flat together. Sick Boy tells him that Alison's mother has succumbed to cancer, before they go to Dirty Dicks and he has to lie to Lucinda on Sick Boy's behalf about his friend's infidelities. They head off to Harwich for their interviews for two complimentary cross-channel ferry jobs; one with drug-dealer Marriot who plans to enlist them to mule heroin over from Amsterdam, the second, with Benson from Sealink, where will they will steward as a front for this underground activity. They are, to their astonishment, offered seasonal jobs when the ferries start in spring.

35. Hogmanay – Narrated by Renton, who is back in Leith for New Year, with Nicksy as a guest, but without Sick Boy, who has remained in London (to seduce Marsha). At a party, Begbie sings a song, which greatly moves Spud, but Franco becomes angry at the subsequent praise. They head down to Sully's party, Renton commiserating with Alison on the recent death of her mother. At the party, Renton bangs up with Lesley and they fall asleep, petting each other but without having sex. They wake up the next morning having missed the bells, Renton being hauled down to the pub for the Hibs-Hearts game. In the pub Begbie tells him that he's working for local gangster Davie ‘Tyronne’ Power. There's trouble and confusion after the game, but all Renton can think of is getting up to Swanney's for gear.

36. Notes on an Epidemic 5 – Third person narration, on the story of the shadowy figure American Andy, the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of AIDS.

37. The Art of Conversation – Narrated by Begbie. Franco, who in passing mentions June's pregnancy and his hatred of Cha Morrison, has been recruited by local gangster, Power, to assist in enforcing the installation of his fruit machines into pubs. Unknown to him, a dissident publican he is expected to lean on is his old ‘uncle’ Dickie. In a bizarre tale of gangster morality, Begbie ‘solves’ this dilemma by coming to an arrangement with Power and Dickie that involves copious amounts of violence and actually suits nobody, not even Franco himself.

38. Skin and Bone – Third person narration – Davie Renton arguing with his wife, Cath, who has heard from Colleen, that her son, Spud, is a heroin addict. Colleen believes that Renton, now in London, is the same, but Davie won’t hear of it. He goes out to the pub, where he has a bitter political argument with landlord Dickson and walks out. Unknown to either man, Davie's oldest son, rootless ex-squaddie Billy, drinking in the corner with his friends Lenny and Peasbo, has witnessed this confrontation. Billy sets Dickson up to go into the adjoining yard on the pretext of ‘getting’ Davie, but then gives the unpopular landlord a savage beating. This sparks the wrecking of the pub by Lenny and Peasbo. Davie has not seen all this, but feels in despair over the argument and his home life, recalling when he and Cathy fell out over the issue of terminating her pregnancy with Wee Davie.

39. The Chute – Narrated by Nicksy. Renton and Sick Boy are doing junk, while Nicksy is tidying up, trying to forget Marsha. He sees some kids put a puppy down the rubbish chute, then goes to rescue it and foraging through the rubbish finds more than he expected, namely Marsha's aborted foetus, which he wraps up and will bury at sea on the boat on Monday.

40. Waters of Leith – Third person narrative of the fledgling romance of Tommy and Lizzie, who are shocked to find Begbie call on them, trying to entice Tommy into a day of violence at the Hibs-Aberdeen game. Tommy worries about Begbie getting more brutal, but calls Renton and Sick Boy to let them know about Lizzie and him. Calum Lozinska, Alison's younger brother, is also trying to get to the game with his young casual mates. While he sneaks out after a conflict with his father, Tommy reflects on his growing disaffection from Franco and the Young Leith Team. Alison wanders, lost in sadness, and later finds Begbie in the street, confused and drunk, rambling on about the miscarriage June has suffered. They compare their losses and coping strategies. As she leaves him and heads up the Walk she witnesses the police cars and ambulance tearing down it, realizing that Begbie's kicked off again.

Section 5: Ocean

41. Sea Dogs - Starts in Third Person narrative describing the first day at sea, the induction and agro on the boat, with supervisor Cream Shirt and West Ham fans, and introduces Charlene as object of lust for Renton and Sick Boy. Nicksy is walking around the boat, confused, the foetus in his bag. It moves into a Sick Boy narrative as he takes advantage of chaos of the football riot to steal Cream Shirt's wallet. It ends up with Renton narrating; he's been skiving on the car deck, smacked out. They go to Amsterdam, and are having second thoughts about drug running for Marriot. Sick Boy and Nicksy vanish, and Renton ends up having sex with Charlene back on the boat, after learning that she's a career thief. The next morning Marriot briefs them about their forthcoming drug mule run, for which their reservations deepen.

42. Nash, Stoorie, Bomb – narrated by Spud. Spud has gone to see Begbie in prison, who is on remand pending sentencing after causing the violent affray at the foot of Leith Walk. Heading back to Leith, he sees a now fit Second Prize out running. In a relationship, off the drink, Second Prize is talking to Falkirk about trials. Spud goes down to the lock-up to do some unloading for Matty, but suddenly comes over ill and collapses in the street.

43. The High Seas – Narrated by Renton. Describes his satisfactory sex with Charlene and hard work in the kitchen, with the mercurial Chef. In Amsterdam, after their shift, Renton, Sick Boy and Nicksy tell Marriot that they want no part of his scam; they also publicly humiliate him. In retrospect they consider that was not a good idea, and realize that their short-lived careers on the high seas might be coming to a premature end.

44. Desertion – Third person narration. After having to take 50 grams of heroin through customs on his own, Marriot has the lads in his sights. Renton, Sick Boy and Nicksy go back to Hackney, resolving not to return to Sealink and to steer clear of Essex. Charlene has also packed it in and she and Renton are shoplifting and horned up, when she drops a bombshell; she's into somebody else and it's all over between them. To the increasingly depressed Nicksy's dismay, Renton attempts to store drugs in the freezer compartment where he keeps the foetus (in a shoebox) he is unable to give up. He takes the box containing the foetus out and sticks it into his Sealink bag. He goes down to the library and after some research decides that Marsha must come down and see the foetus for herself. Charlene takes the Sealink bag, swapping it for her own, believing the Northern Soul singles are in it, before leaving Renton. Renton gets over this by shooting up heroin and giving a grandiose self-justification speech to Nicksy as to how it's his right as a Scot. Speed psychotic, Nicksy goes upstairs to confront Marsha, determined that she’ll see the foetus.

45. Junk Dilemmas 1 – Narrated by Renton, who is wasted on junk when a distraught Marsha comes down and tells him that Nicksy has climbed out her window and is on the ledge. The police come, but Renton's more concerned about the drugs in the fridge.

46. Towers of London – Narrated by Sick Boy. He's recalling about fucking Marsha at New Year, as he reluctantly brings Lucinda, for whom he has purchased an engagement ring, to the block of flats. They are shocked to see Nicksy is hanging out the window, with the cops trying to talk him in. Marsha sees him and tries to get him involved but he doesn’t care. He finds Renton and their principal concern is their flat being full of drugs and what would happen if it got searched. Nicksy is eventually talked back inside. Unfortunately for Sick Boy, Marsha maliciously tells Lucinda they’ve been shagging, and Lucinda, to his dismay, storms off. The social worker takes Nicksy away, while Renton has a discussion with the rescue cop on life and how it gets harder.

47. Wound Botulism – Narrated by Spud, from his hospital bed. He's helpless and mute, due to a tube down his throat as Tommy visits and the Nurse explains his condition. The second visitor is the professional drugs counselor Amelia McKerchar, who informs Spud that she's here to help him. He looks upon her as an angel of mercy.

Section 6: Drought

48. Junk Dilemmas 2 – Narrated by Renton. Matty is breathing badly in the flat, so Renton wakes him up. He finds Alison on the couch, soon joined by Maria and Sick Boy. All are sick and moaning. Renton discovers Maria's friend Jenny, distraught and shivering in the hallway, and encourages her to go home. Then he and Sick Boy decide they can’t stick being inside and go out to look for some gear.

49. Notes on an Epidemic 6 – Third person, Lothian Health Board HIV list No.1. The list contains the names of Wee Goagsie (Gordon Murieston), and Julie Mathieson, who attended Davie Renton's funeral.

50. A Safe Port – Narrated by Renton. Now on the methadone program, but still using, Renton heads to the parental home to get records to sell. He ends up staying the night, but has an argument with his family the next day, confessing his heroin habit when confronted by his parents over lunch. He receives an invitation to Joanne and Bisto's wedding, and recalls the sordid reality when he saw Joanne off to Paisley at the end of the European holiday. He meets Matty and Sick Boy, sells the records, then they take the piss out of Olly Curran. However, on reaching Tolcross, Swanney pockets the proceeds for previous debts, then tells them he has no skag to advance them. They head down to see Maria and her friend Jenny at a bar, with Sick Boy holding court as top predator. Nelly comes in and Renton learns that his friends Julie and Goagsie are both HIV+. Renton and Matty leave the others and opportunistically steal the Cat Protection League tin from Mrs Rylance's shop, but can’t get it open. They take it down to the Fort flats to drop it from D floor, but see that Keezbo, Jonesing badly, has been locked out onto the balcony by his parents who have turned the house into an aivairy for their displaced, beloved caged birds. Rents free Keezbo, getting into another row with Margaret Curran. They drop the tin but have to rummage with Mrs Rylance and kids for its contents and he, Keezbo and Matty are subsequently arrested and jailed after a police chase.

51. Junk Dilemmas 3 - Narrated by Renton from an interrogation in the police station. He does a deal and gets out signing up for the rehab program.

52. St Monans (Peer Education) – Narrated by Renton, who is struggling with the methadone, and still scoring smack with Keezbo. Matty visits him, explaining that he took the sentencing, rather than rehab option and was given a six months suspended sentence, only serving four days in prison on remand. Keezbo is taken to a rehab centre, while Renton is promised at the clinic it’ll be his turn soon. Subsequently, his parents take him to the rehab unit in Fife. When he gets there, Sick Boy, Spud and Keezbo are waiting with some others, including the sinister Seeker. Swanney gives him a fix in the toilet.

53. The Cusp – Third person narrative. Alison is now struggling with heroin addiction, and trying to hold down her job. Alexander, her boss and lover, is conscious he's protecting her, and they have an argument. She resigns, and walks off the job, going to a pub. She reads about the spread of HIV in a newspaper, and depressed and thinking about her mother, she goes home and slashes her wrists. She realizes that it's a mistake, and doesn’t want to die, so calls an ambulance. In hospital, she gives Alexander as a contact, and following her discharge, he looks after her, but ends the affair.

54. The Rehab Diaries – Narrated by Renton. Renton detox's at the centre and joins the group. This lengthy, crucial chapter, stylistically different from the rest of the novel, though foreshadowed in the opening chapter, is written as his rehab diary and journal. The group politics are explored, as are the power struggles in his individual sessions with ‘superstar counselor’ Tom Curzon. Meanwhile, Sick Boy is shagging confused hooker Molly, Swanney is winding everybody up, suggesting the absent Matty is a grass, Seeker declaring he's staying clean to make proper money dealing, Renton realizing that ‘the rehab game’ is not about quitting, but detoxing to get the habit under control. For kicks he sends a spoof letter to his racist neighbours, the Curran's, informing them they will share their flat with a Pakistani family. He plays the game, despite his conflicts with Tom, but following his release is thinking of his next fix even as he's being driven home by his parents. White Lines on radio. They have an inappropriate party for him back in Leith and he thinks of skag. Hazel is present and he has to choose between her and the drug.

55. Avanti – Narrated by Sick Boy, who, back in the mother country, seduces an Italian girl, Massima, as he recalls Renton's stolen journal entry relating to the latter's sex with Joanne. He learns that Massima may be pregnant, so decides to flee Italy for Scotland.

56. Chasing Brown - Narrated by Spud. Taken to a gig and backstage party by a returning Sick Boy, he ends up at the Caley Hotel, trying unsuccessfully to have sex with a well-known veteran gothic singer then succumbing to the temptation of skag, as Rents and Sick Boy are smoking it.

57. In Business – Third person narrative. Russell is down in Southend, doing a skag deal on Seeker's behalf to bring heroin to drought-ridden Edinburgh. One of the men he is involved with is Marriot. There is a tense atmosphere with Marriot saying he had a bad experience with people from Edinburgh (presumably Sick Boy and Renton) and his more menacing boss, Gal, intimidating the nervous Russell, who makes the deal, but then, though badly fatigued, is compelled by Seeker to drive straight back to Edinburgh with the drugs.

58. Junk Dilemmas 4 – Narrated by Renton, who first postulates his strengths before conceding to his weakness in the face of heroin.

59. Soft Cell – Narrated by Begbie from prison, who laments that he has brutally assaulted the wrong man when Renton asked him to do over a prison nonce, (whom we subsequently learn is Hazel's father.) Nevertheless, Franco's guilt isn’t that great as he contends that everyone will be able to have a drink and a laugh about it later.

60. Notes on an Epidemic 7 – Third person, Lothian Health Board HIV list No.2. The list contains the names of Matty Connell, Keezbo (Keith Yule), George Frenchard (one of Samantha Frenchard's brothers), and Eric 'E.T.' Thewlis from Mikey Forrester's shooting gallery. There are 39 names on the list, as opposed to 8 the previous month.

61. Trainspotting In Gorgie (Or To The Gorgie Station) – Third person narration, which follows Renton waking up after a sexless night with Hazel. He is gratified he got Begbie to do her father in prison. Leaving her a tender note, he shakily goes off with Sick Boy on the hunt for skag. The drought is severe, and after stopping off at Alison's, who is sick but holds out on her dead mother's morphine, they call others, including the menacing Seeker, but find nothing. They are walking past the chemical plant where the morphine is made, suddenly realizing that they are casing it. They plan the break-in, with Keezbo, Spud and Matty, executing the plan that evening. They gain entry, but the alarm is raised and they have to make a hasty escape, and Keezbo is stranded in the plant, due largely to Matty. They have a hostile fall-out, with Renton and Sick Boy ganging up on Matty, and him fleeing, to be comforted by Spud. Renton and Sick Boy carry on towards the flat. Sick Boy almost confesses his treatment of Janie and Maria, but pulls back, while prompting Renton to disclose about his infidelity to Fiona with Joanne. (Which Sick Boy already knows about.) They make a heartfelt pact to get clean and never touch skag again, but as they open the door of the flat, the phone is ringing.


Sam Leith, in the Financial Times, argues, "Heroin addiction is there not as a metaphor but as a sort of paradigm: a morally inverted Thatcherism. The addict is the ultimate individualist.."[6]

3:AM Magazine remarks, "It was known that there was more material of Trainspotting than went into the final draft, but that’s true of most novels. So you anticipate a lashed-together series of outtakes and bloopers. What you get is something quite different. The prequel has all the marvellous set pieces, the schemes, stories, scams and dreams and the same mad profusion of narrators that characterises everything Welsh has written. But it’s long, strange, full of lush description that gives the whole thing a haunting and elegiac quality".[7]


  1. ^ Irvine Welsh: Skagboys: London: Jonathon Cape: 2012: ISBN 1409028232
  2. ^ Naughton, Philippe. The Times. London Missing or empty |title= (help)(subscription required)
  3. ^ Naughton, Philippe. The Times. London Missing or empty |title= (help)(subscription required)
  4. ^ "Skagboy". Irvine Welsh. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  5. ^ "Before Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh writes prequel". BBC News Scotland. 23 April 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  6. ^
  7. ^