Sep 28, 2010

An Interview With Rachel Trezise

Rachel Trezise studied at the University of Glamorgan in Wales and University of Limerick in Ireland. Her first novel, In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl, released in 2002 received broad critical acclaim. In October 2006, Trezise won the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize for her book of short stories, Fresh Apples, describing life in the mining valleys in South Wales. In 2007, Parthian Books published Dial M for Merthyr, an account of her time spent on tour with Welsh rock band Midasuno. Her latest novel is 'Sixteen Shades of Crazy'. Americymru spoke to Rachel about her work and her current literary plans.

Americymru: Care to tell us a little about your latest book ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’?

Rachel: ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is a story about three women, Ellie, Si├ón and Rhiannon, girlfriends and wives of Welsh punk band The Boobs, whose lives are turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of Johnny, a handsome and mysterious Englishman, a rare occurrence in tiny close-knit Aberalaw where very few people leave and even people fewer arrive. I always intended this novel to be an antidote to How Green Was My Valley, about what happened after the mine shafts were filled and the chapels had been converted to nightclubs and Indian restaurants. In it I am writing about a unique environment, the south Wales valleys, which are neither urban nor rural but an intriguing and complicated fusion of both. Since industrialisation the area has suffered an identity crisis; it is predominantly English speaking, yet it is not English. I am fascinated by this paradox and Johnny represents England and the way some Welsh people regard it, at once despicable and exotic. Also it is my paean to the place where I grew up and still live.

Americymru: The book is dedicated to Gwyn Thomas who wrote extensively about life in the Rhondda Valleys in the 1930’s. Do you see any parallels between life in the valleys then and now?

Rachel: The Rhondda Valleys have changed in many ways over the years. Globalisation, technology and economics have had the same consequences in Welsh communities as they have all over the world. The valleys appear less close-knit and have in some ways become suburbs of the city of Cardiff. But one remaining facet is the poverty that the area continues to endure. In the 1930s there was work but it was dangerous and low paid. Now there’s a significant problem with unemployment. The people of the south Wales valleys are the perennial losers in the relentless march of capitalism, but hardship breeds creativity and gall. Gwyn Thomas said that watching real life in the Rhondda Valley was like watching some kind of tragic-comic theatre production and that’s still true. I never have to look far for a good story or character.

Americymru: Your first book ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’ is largely autobiographical. How difficult was it to write?

Rachel: ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’ wasn’t difficult to write at all. I’d had a hard time growing up with an alcoholic mother and an abusive step-father. By the time I came to write the book those experiences were burning up inside me, ready to be spewed out somehow. Anger can go one of two ways, inwards or outwards. Luckily mine came out in an artistic way rather than in violence or something negative like that. Writing it all down was quick and cathartic and I felt calm and renewed afterward. The result is really dark though. I have trouble reading that book now.

Americymru: Your first short story collection ‘Fresh Apples’ won the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006. How important a milestone was that in your literary career and do you have any plans for further anthologies?

Rachel: ‘Fresh Apples’ was a huge milestone in my writing career because it was my first work of fiction; because ‘In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl’ was autobiographical I had no idea how to plan or embark on a fictional story. I didn’t really know what a full and rounded story was. I started three novels and gave up after the first chapter of each. Then I started getting commissions for short stories and started looking for story ideas. They were my fictional baby steps, my first attempts at playing with characters and voices and scenarios, so I was absolutely stunned when they won the Dylan Thomas Prize. I’ve been busy writing novels for the past five years but I’ve written a few short stories between drafts and I’m hoping to put a second collection together in the not too distant future.

Americymru: Your third book ‘Dial M for Merthyr’ which follows a Welsh band on tour was the inaugural winner of the Max Boyce Prize. How did you research the book and how important is music in your life?

Rachel: I researched ‘Dial M for Merthyr’ simply by going on tour with the band, a young unsigned rock band from Merthyr called Midasuno. Initially the book was going to be about the LostProphets. What I actually wanted to write about was their journey from obscurity in Pontypridd to becoming worldwide household names in a matter of a few months, and that’s the story that my publishing company commissioned. But we just couldn’t get the band on board. As it turned out Midasuno were candid and willing hosts. They let me follow them wherever they went and sleep on their tour bus. I think the book tells a universal truth about what it’s like for all young bands starting out. Music is hugely important, both for me generally, and for my work. Since I finished ‘Dial M for Merthyr,’ I haven’t been all that interested in live music or in rock music actually. You’re more likely to find me listening to Leonard Cohen or Regina Spektor on my ipod. I hope it’s a time issue rather than an age issue, and that the music bug comes back at some point.

Americymru: You have also written for theatre. (I Sing of A Maiden, Lemon Meringue Pie). Any plans for further theatrical works?

Rachel: I never planned to write for theatre when I started out; I came to it by accident. ‘I Sing of A Maiden,’ was a favour to a friend, the folk musician and writer Charlotte Greig. She asked me to write some monologues about teenage pregnancy to punctuate her songs on the same theme for a multi media theatre production, which I did. And from there a producer from Radio 4 asked me to write a radio play, ‘Lemon Meringue Pie’, which was broadcast in 2008. I’m hoping to begin writing my first full length theatre play, a valleys family saga, in January 2011. It’s a good way to keep writing about Wales while I move onto other areas in my fiction.

Americymru: What’s next for Rachel Trezise? Any plans to visit America?

Rachel: The novel I’m working on at the moment is set in America, in North Carolina and New York. It’s a love story about an unlikely couple, a Hasidic Jew from Williamsburg and a former prostitute from the South who becomes a madam in New York City. It sounds controversial at worst and kooky at best but it’s actually quite a tender tale about love being able to conquer the tribulations thrown up by dysfunctional upbringings. I’ve spent a bit of time in New York and was writer of residence at Texas University in 2007, so it hasn’t been too difficult to write a book set entirely in America at a desk in the Rhondda Valley. But there is a bit of research still left to do so I’m hoping to be back in New York for a few weeks in 2011.

Rachel Trezise on Amazon

in and out of the goldfish bowl by rachel trezise , front cover detail
freash apples by rachel trezise , front cover detail
dial m for merthyr by rachel trezise , front cover detail

by Rachel Trezise
Dial M For

by Rachel Trezise

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