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Interview: Rachel Tresize, Dylan Thomas EDS prizewinner

23 January 2008

I was walking to the pub the other night with my husband; the weather was terrible, and I was reminded of the weeks I spent on the streets as a homeless person when I was a teenager. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. It seemed freezing. But at 14 I thought I was invincible.

I always jump at the chance to promote any homeless project, which is why I accepted the invitation to read some of my works at the cutting of the ribbon at the new Wallich Centre in Wales. At the moment, it helps 500 people in more than 30 projects in 12 local authorities.

Writing about my awful childhood certainly wasn’t an escape, but I suppose it was cathartic. My first novel, Out of the Goldfish Bowl, was autobiographical, and it features my sexual abuse and neglect. It didn’t get rid of my past, but helped me face it, and led me to having counselling.

The exact details of the moment of running away and the first night on the streets are a blur. I was brought up in the Rhondda Valley, and took myself to Birmingham and then Nottingham. I saw some horrendous things but somehow survived. I ended up in a squat until the police found me and took me home.

I met the Archbishop of Wales [Dr Barry Morgan, the honorary president of Wallich] at the opening, but it was very brief, as I was off somewhere else. I’m not really a church person, but anything the Church is doing to help the homeless has to be good. I think it’s the sort of thing it should be doing, and I’m really pleased there is a Homelessness Sunday*. I hope lots of people support it.

There is such a big stigma to being homeless. I remember what it was like, begging on the streets, and people just telling you to get a job. If only it was that simple.

If I was God or the Prime Minister, I don’t think there’s any obvious answer to the problem of homelessness, but there should be less ignorance and more action. That is why I like projects like the Wallich.

I got my exams at school despite running away, and went to university. All the time I was writing and did articles for music magazines and the Big Issue — of course.

Publishing is a strange world. It was one of my short stories that first got my writing noticed. I had written my novel right through university, but when I sent it to publishers in London everyone rejected it. Then the publisher of my short story asked if I had anything else, and that was it: he took it straight away. It’s funny how things turn out.

My favourite author is Toni Morrison. I am drawn to books about oppressed women and how they escape their situation. I also love anything by Annie Proulx. I am currently writing my next book, 16 Shades of Crazy. I do sometimes argue with the publisher what to call my books. I didn’t like Fresh Apples as a title, but they won.

I am happily married to someone I knew locally. He is a welder. I do see my mum regularly, but my biological father left us when we were four. We finally met when I was 26. He lives in Spain.

As a child, I always wanted to be an artist. I was very ambitious, but when I paint now it ends up feeling like work; so I stick to my writing. But I’m told that, although I wanted to paint as a child, I always had a pen in my hand; so being an author and journalist was meant to be.

I do have regrets, but I don’t think about them much.

I would like to be remembered for my writing and for being a decent person.

Joe Strummer from the Clash has always been a great influence and inspiration.

I started reading the Bible when I was younger, but never finished. I think I need to start again.

I get very angry about ignorance, particularly about the issue of homelessness and mental health — those sorts of social problems. People try to push them under the carpet and pretend they are not happening.

I am happiest sitting around on grass, in parks, in the country, wherever. I get great inspiration for my work listening to people, and this is a good way to do it.

I am a great fair-trade fan, and love any of the chocolate products. I’ve never really been on holiday, apart from day trips to the south-Wales coast. But I do travel now with my work. I am a writer in residence at the University of Texas.

When I am not writing, I like to bake cakes, but my husband is a much better cook than I am.

I would like to get locked in a church with Billy Connolly, as he is a very interesting, genuine person — and very funny.

Rachel Tresize was talking to Rachel Harden.


*Homelessness Sunday is this Sunday (Epiphany 4), also the start of Poverty Action Week.





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