above: Gavin MacDougall, Director, Luath Press (left) and me at the launch party of CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE LEITH at the Dockers’ Club, 3 August 2018

CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE LEITH. Trainspotting on Location.


The waiting is over. CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE LEITH: Trainspotting on Location is on the shelves. Twenty-five years on from the launch of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, it’s in urgent need of a re-appraisal.

Click on the Luath link (right), and I’ll be happy to sign your copy, on request. If you would like an additional special inscription please allow an extra few days for despatch. Give your instructions on the Luath web site.

The Leither, who should know what they are talking about, have a very nice review in their November issue, reproduced with permission.

The Sunday Herald published a kind review.

Available Now from Luath Press

Here’s part of my little talk at the launch:

I have to thank the people at Luath Press… mostly I have to thank Gavin MacDougall, Director. I played club hockey with him twenty years ago. He came from a swanky club in Surrey, and it must have been a bit of a disappointment to him to come down to my level. I remember giving him a lift home after a game and he told me he and his wife had taken over a publishing business. I was impressed. About five or six years ago, I took him a draft of what I had knocked up… It was mince, I recognise that now, Gavin, and you couldn’t take it further. As we parted company, on good terms, you said ‘I hope you finish your project. I think you should.’ That was a kind and generous thing to say when the prospect of the business coming your way had disappeared. It was in much better shape when I came back with it more recently, and you have taken it on. Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this weekend press, never mind the literary mags and supps, it should be a news item with a screaming headline: LUATH PRESS DOES IT AGAIN. Only a few months ago Luath published POVERTY SAFARI by Darren McGarvey. If you haven’t come across McGarvey and his book, don’t worry, you will. It won the Orwell Prize the other week, with the chair of the panel and lots of commentators saying that Orwell himself would approve of this expose of the effects of persistent poverty on the lives of people and communities. Now Luath is publishing this, CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE LEITH, an entirely different take on the basically the same subject. A recurring theme of my book is that widespread, out-of-control drug abuse – any drug – is a symptom of social malfunction. Yes, we are ambitious for this book, and the only thing I am pissed off about is that this boy McGarvey has jiggered any idea I might have had of getting the Best First Book of the Year Award.


  1. Many who enjoyed Trainspotting will be astonished at what is revealed here concerning all that lies behind Irvine Welsh’s best known work. More than a worthy slice of social history from Leith and North Edinburgh since the 1980’s. It has lived experience and new insights on every page. Quite an achievement. Well done Tim.

  2. Hi Tim, I am happy you completed your book. The tour with you was the absolute highlight of my visit to Edinburgh. Best wishes from Honduras!

  3. (This comment replaces the previous one since that has two spelling mistakes. Sorry, I’m not a native…)

    The book is great, full of precise details and new information. One of the best things is the way the author connects Trainspotting with different historical periods and how he relates Welsh to other writers as Robert Louis Stevenson or Chaucer.

    The book allows us to analyse Trainspotting from a literary and sociological point of view; a pleasure that most of us wouldn’t imagine when we were kids in 90s and Trainspotting was a new generation rise.

    Thank you, Tim, for sharing all your knowledge and helping us to keep analysing all that Trainspotting and Leith involves.

  4. A quarter of a century on from Trainspotting’s 1993 publication, Tim Bell’s Choose Life. Choose Leith. is a very timely book. Well written, insightful, carefully crafted. And superb! A masterful complement to Trainspotting that deconstructs with forensic analysis, humour and, it must be noted, not a little style, the literary white lightning that was and is Irvine Welsh’s’ multi faceted masterpiece. But there is much, much more to this book than this. Every page of Tim Bell’s sharp prose proclaims his deep understanding of the ’80’s post-industrial wreckage of Leith. A blighted landscape. The author’s forensic analysis of the political and economic factors and their disastrous social consequences, triggered in the 1979 with the election of Hayek’s neo-liberal handmaiden, Thatcher, shows that, as hope was hollowed out, the scene was set for the heroin epidemic in the Leith of that decade and beyond. An epidemic brilliantly recorded with Welsh’s’ pen and explained lucidly shows one thing above all: nothing was pre-ordained or inevitable. The author succinctly explains how de-industrialisation and mass unemployment as a policy instrument created a land fit for spivs, city barrow boys, and with devastating consequences for Leith, heroin suppliers and dealers.
    And as another example, how Edinburgh’s municipal and very parasitic embrace of Leith managed to give this historic and proud port a hefty kick when it was already down. The destruction of the Kirkgate and the demolition of Leith Central Station- a potential artistic and cultural space of huge significance are ironically chronicled in Tim Bell’s book.
    This is an excellent book. A book about Trainspotting but also a book about a community that the author, Tim Bell, cares about, has lived in and loves.
    But above all Choose Life, Choose Leith is a book that will add to your understanding of Trainspotting, Welsh’s punk masterpiece, that in capturing the punk zeitgeist of an era became a literary classic.

  5. Tim’s book is incredibly interesting as his tours.
    I had the opportunity to join Tim in one of his strolling around Leith and he can talk about everything happened there. The History and the daily-life stories.
    Tim uses Welsh’s “Trainspotting”, “Porno” and “Glue” as starting points to describe the places, the cultures, the philosophies that made those books happened.

    “Choose Life, Choose Leith” could be read from start to the end, or just by opening a random chapter and follow your own mood or inclinations.

    You definitely would feel Tim’s passion, not to mention the wide knowlege he has.


  6. Uncovering Leith’s rich (and occasionally dark) cultural heritage, Tim Bell positions the reader squarely within the centre of Thatcher’s Britain, in all its consumerist, disenfranchised “glory”.

    With real life stories and histories that reflect upon Irvine Welsh’s generation defining Trainspotting, Bell vividly conjures up the ghosts of famous landmarks now long gone (Leith Central Station), reflects upon the socioeconomic realities that fostered characters as diverse as the violent Begbie, the manipulative Sick Boy and seemingly soft-hearted Spud, and expertly shows how this history effects all Leith residents (and wider British culture) in the present day.

    A real joy to read; thank you, Tim, for capturing the spirit of the times and uncovering the history behind a cultural phenomenon.

    I’d suggest that anyone interested in Trainspotting or Leith pick up this fantastic book or take tone of Tim’s tours; he is a local treasure trove!

  7. Choose Life. Choose Leith. is the prefect adjunct to Tim’s ‘Leith Walk’. My feelings on finishing the book are similar to my feelings on finishing the walk – a greater awareness of Welsh’s Trainspotting, and the film that followed it.
    More importantly, I have appreciated learning so much more about Leith’s story – its culture, its history and its geography. I came away from the book with other, surprising, thoughts, too. For example, I’d never thought about Eve and ‘The Fall’ in the way that Tim writes about them.

  8. i bought the book a few days ago in Leith, and i’m loving it!
    i contacted Tim for information about his guided tour of Leith, but he was away; yet, he kindly sent me a DIY-tour vademecum, so i had the pleasure to stroll around on my own enjoying interesting suggestions.
    the book is really brilliant, very well written and and thoroughly researched. it is at the same time witty and deep; you’ll get a meaningful insight of both the neighbourhood and the years in which trainspotting (and its prequel/sequel) is set, and the chance to think about themes and issues in a new and interesting perspective.
    many thanks!

  9. “Having been unable to get along to Tim’s tour, I read his book avidly, ‘Choose Life, Choose Leith’. Tim weaves a powerful narrative using history and testimony, alongside the wider Trainspotting world, to bring us into a time of huge change and turbulence as heroin begins to take hold of the Capital. As entertaining as it is shocking, Tim’s attention to detail and ability to bring the past back to life is fantastic. Highly recommended”.

    Stephen Bennett

  10. This is a must read book for anyone who is in any way passionate about Trainspotting. It is a fantastic analysis of both Welsh’s characters and the area/ society in which it was set. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the Irish contribution to Leith and the Trainspotting story as could relate to it. Fabulous dissection of the characters and it got me thinking a different way. Having had the pleasure of doing one of Tim’s tours, I also got to walk in the character’s footsteps on location in scenes from the book which was amazing.

  11. From a critical analysis of the book to a short discussion of the soundtrack of the film, there’s enough in this book that should keep fans of the Trainspotting universe happy…

  12. Well done tim

  13. A very interesting book about Leith and Irvine Welsh’s books, I really enjoyed it. It helps me to do a presentation in literatur (also it’s really pedagogical).

  14. There has been so much nonsense written about Edinburgh & Leiths drug scene, that it’s a pleasure to read an account that’s right.
    Tim Bell’s CHOOSE LIFE CHOOSE LEITH takes us on a fascinating journey through the history of Leith & heroin.
    Set against the culture of the 1980s and the backdrop of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting this book is written with pace, insight and a broad scope.
    CHOOSE LIFE CHOOSE LEITH is a must for anyone who wants the real story of this time & place. And it’s a great read
    Tom Wood . Former Deputy Chief Constable , Lothian & Borders Police .

  15. Doing Justice to “Trainspotting”

    Choose Life, Choose Leith is a substantial and ambitious book based on the author’s research
    over at least fifteen years. It is built on two pillars: the history and present reality of life for
    disadvantaged people in a low-income area of Edinburgh and the book, play and film and
    subsequent cultural impact of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.

    The decline of Leith from an affluent and vibrant town in its own right at the height of
    nineteenth and early twentieth century industrialism to its current role as a repository for
    Edinburgh’s problems, with a recent and partial revival as a tourism and leisure area is
    analysed in considerable detail on the basis of a wide array of original material. Tim Bell
    incorporates into the work his experience as a local resident actively engaged in the
    community for at least thirty years. He became involved in interpreting the experience and
    culture of Leith to a range of tourists, academics, locals and those interested through his role
    in leading guided walks. One part of this book expands on the considerable fund of
    knowledge he developed in all the work that went into those walks.

    For the second pillar, his work on Irvine Welsh includes close analysis of the book, play and
    film and how they develop one from another, and of their contribution in interpreting the
    trajectory of those trapped in Leith and of those who break free from it. This is set in a
    broader account of the recent social and political history of the social world that Welsh
    confronts and examines and the role of an exploitative capitalism that uses and discards areas
    according to the dictates of the market in creating areas like Leith.

    Tim Bell’s work intertwines the two themes of the working and lower working class history
    of Leith and through it of a major strand in the experience of the British working class and
    the art representing and explaining what that has mean for our collective culture with an
    impressive scholarship. Choose Life, Choose Leith is itself a substantial contribution to our
    understanding of where we are now and of how we arrived here. I urge you to read it.


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