- Malcolm Jack
- 7 August 2008
This article is from 2008.
Warrington author cleanses the past
If Helen Walsh’s Betty Trask Award-winning debut Brass came from the guts, its follow-up Once Upon a Time in England comes from the heart. Set in the author’s native Warrington, the book charts two decades of English/Malaysian family the Fitzgeralds, the only mixed race household on their estate, just as Walsh’s was when she was born in 1977. ‘The story isn’t autobiographical,’ she insists. ‘But I suppose my journey, and my parents journey in particular, is scattered all over the landscape. I use my mum and dad’s experience in an oblique way, as a working metaphor.’
Talented and aspirational but beset by misfortune and racial hatred, the Fitzgeralds endure heavily. Walsh’s own upbringing was more stable, but she went ‘off piste’ in her early teens, embarking on an ‘acid house sojourn’ that spiralled into cocaine addiction and a midnight bunk – aged 16 – to Barcelona, where she spent two years working as a ‘fixer’, hooking men up with prostitutes.
After near total mental and physical collapse, she moved back to Liverpool, enrolled in university and penned Brass, a raw, angry story about a teenager who binges self-destructively on pills, powder, booze and rough sex. Walsh describes the writing of that book as being like ‘lancing a boil’. She’s clean and sober now, and mopping up praise for her novels. ‘Writing has purged a lot of that indulgence out of me. It’s a great way to get out of it in a safe way. And I don’t wake up the next day with a crushing hangover.’
13 Aug (with Philip Hensher), 10.15am, £9 (£7).