By Irvine Welsh
Cover photograph by David Harrold
Secker & Warburg, 1993

The first edition of Irvine Welsh’s gritty tale of heroin addiction in Edinburgh’s squalid housing schemes came out as a paperback in 1993. Only 3,000 copies of the original were printed by the now defunct Secker & Warburg publishers. The novel’s editor, Robin Robertson – who still works with Welsh today – remembers discussing various ideas for images for the cover with the author. This was the one they both agreed could work.

Scottish photographer David Harrold took the picture. Two men stand in a night-time cityscape leering through skull masks with rictus grins. Welsh bought the masks in a joke shop on Leith Walk, in the once seedy port of the Scottish capital, where some of the novel is set. The writer himself is the masked man on the left; the other is an old friend. This starkly ominous image on the jacket gives a good indication of the bleakness the reader will soon discover within.

A deserted railway station in Leith provided the shoot location – two trains are clearly visible in the background. This is a visual reference to the novel’s title, which compares the obsessive nature of heroin addicts to that of trainspotters. They also share a vocabulary – drug injectors talk about “mainlining” into their veins and have “tracks” left from repeated needle entry into the same place.

In the ensuing editions that came out in the mid 1990s through Minerva publishing (also no longer in existence) this photo is cropped so the trains are missing. Much of the photo’s meaning was, accordingly, lost. With the success of the film adaptation of the book in 1996, images of its cast, including Ewan McGregor, temporarily adorned its cover. But the death mask motif soon returned. A stylised graphic of a skull still appears on contemporary editions of the novel.

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