She took her first Ecstasy pill at 13, was on the Drag Queen scene at 16 only to return home to Liverpool, totally burnt out, in her early 20s. Helen Walsh certainly knows about sex, drugs and rock’ n roll – just like Millie, the young heroine of her debut novel Brass, who in the book, finds under-aged prostitutes nearly as appealing as the next line of cocaine. AbeBooks recently had the opportunity to meet the controversial British author.
By Angie Reinhardt and Victoria Chater
Miss Walsh, do you like women?
But of course I like women! And my main character Millie too. Millie shows the sometimes extreme peculiarities of behaviour that I see in many young women these days. They don’t always want love and tenderness in bed; they simply want to be consumed by sex, as men have always been.
And do women like your book? The feminists?
The reactions from my female audience were extremely mixed. Many feminists from the older generations criticised me, saying that Millie was too masculine and behaves too aggressively. I am not one of these women who hold pornography and men as the main reasons for all that is wrong in the world.
In an interview with The Scotsman you said that these days it is not possible to write about city slickers’ love lives without pornography.
Young girls’ role models are Britney Spears, Beyoncé or Christina Aguilera, who have adopted attitudes and ideals that belong to pornography. Yet, it is still taboo to write about it.
What authors have inspired you?
I think that Brass is a reaction to the softer literature that we were given at school, books from Jane Austen and so on. This type of literature had absolutely nothing to do with my real life. I asked myself if there weren’t authors out there who wrote about life as I knew it. And then, I must have been about 13 years old when I discovered Charles Bukowski, Irvine Welsh and Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn; it was like an epiphany for me!
You wrote Brass in the space of a few months at your mum’s kitchen table.
And it was a breeze. It was like an addiction! Now, writing my second book, it’s not so easy.
Was it difficult to write so explicitly about sex?
Absolutely not, on the contrary it was a lot of fun.
And what does your mum think of the book?
She liked it. You know I was brought up in a very liberal family home. My dad is a musician and I always had my freedom. My parents gave me love and security, but they also left me to do my own thing, even in my more wild phases.
Do you still have time for the Liverpool night life?
I love Liverpool. It’s an extraordinarily lively city – especially on the weekend! Liverpool is a worker's city, during the week we work really, really hard, and then when the weekend comes at last we all go crazy. That’s why we party so hard. I myself, moved to the green outskirts of the town. To be directly in the middle is not good for me. It would be too enticing for me, if I were to live in the party zone. Not really healthy!
Nineteen-year-old Millie O’Reilley is, clever, spiky and adored by men – yet increasingly alienated. An encounter with a world weary prostitute in Liverpool's Cathedral area leads Millie to question who she is and what she wants to get out of life. Brass is an unsettling but ultimately compassionate account of the possibilities of identity, plus a female perspective on the harsh truth of growing up in today's Britain.