Thursday, 24 September 2009

MY WELSH ICONS: Rachel Trezise, author.

Rachel Trezise is one of Wales' best young writers. She was born in Cwmparc in the Rhondda Valley in south Wales in 1978.

Her parents separated and divorced when she was four and her mother brought her up through a troubled childhood - at 14 she ran away from home. By 16 she was editing a music fanzine called Smack Rupunzel.

She studied Journalism and English at Glamorgan University in Pontypridd and Geography and History at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. She graduated in 2000 and her first book In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl, was published by Parthian in the same year. In 2002 the book won a place on the Orange Futures List.

Her second book Fresh Apples was published in 2005 and in 2006 won the inaugural EDS Dylan Thomas Prize, an international award for the best young writer in the English speaking world, winning comparisons with Joyce's Dubliners.

Dial M for Merthyr, was published in 2007, part memoir, part tour diary, as Tresize took to the road with Merthyr band Midasuno.

She is also an essayist and freelance journalist and writes for theatre. Rachel's work has been widely translated and celebrated around the world.

She now divides her time between New York City and Treorchy, where she lives with her husband and her cat.

These are Rachel's Welsh Icons:

What’s your favourite place in Wales?

That would be Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd, aka, Ponty Park. I like to call the south Wales valleys, American Wales, because in essence that’s what it is; a little corner of Wales that’s actually American. We are outward looking, mostly non-Welsh speaking and rich with the influence of migrants. Ynysangharad Park is, if you like, our version of Central Park. Both parks were designed for the same purpose; to be a little haven of green amid the hustle and bustle of busy city life, although the mines have gone and the valleys are much greener now. If you go to Central Park on a summer Sunday afternoon it’s full of people from all over the five boroughs, relaxing and socialising. If you go to Ynysangharad Park on a summer Sunday afternoon it’s the same thing, families from the three valleys all together. They are the only two parks I’ve ever seen with traffic lights inside. Someone did try to mug me in Ponty Park once though.

Who’s your favourite Welsh writer?

Gwyn Thomas. I’ve dedicated my next novel to him. He was from the Rhondda and his writing straddles that very precarious line between utter darkness and intoxicating humour, which is unique to the valleys. I found him quite late in life. I’d already written two books before I discovered The Dark Philosophers. He said once that the people left in the valleys were the ones who missed the boat to America. That’s spiritually, and often actually true. His writing about the hideousness of the Rhondda is vicious, without ever being cold. That’s a massive achievement.

What’s your favourite Welsh music?

It changes all the time. Some days I like the Super Furry Animals. Other days I don’t. First album I loved the Stereophonics, the rest of the albums I don’t. The only Welsh band that I have truly enjoyed from beginning to end is The Manic Street Preachers. On my ipod I’ve got a playlist called ‘Funeral.’ Bird On A Wire by Leonard Cohen, The Sex Pistol’s cover of Eddie Cochran’s Something Else, and not one, but two songs by the Manics, their cover of Working Class Hero and of course, Little Baby Nothing. There’s one song on Charlotte Church’s pop album I like too, called Moodswings. I don’t like it enough to have it played at my funeral but it’s good for the vacuuming. I still love Midasuno but they’ve split up.

Your taste of Wales?

The Station Road Fish Bar in Treorchy. When people say, ‘nothing compares to my mother’s cooking,’ I say, ‘nothing compares to Steve’s chips.’ My mother couldn’t cook so that’s what I had instead. The first meal I ate when I came home from being a student in Ireland was pie and chips from Steve’s, and I miss it when I’m in America, though there’s a great fish and chip shop in the meat packing district called ‘Assault & Battery,’ owned by Brits. It’s fashionable in the
Rhondda now to name your chip shop after Hollywood films. There’s a chip shop called A Fish Called Rhondda, and another called Casino Rissole. I want Steve to change the name of his shop to ‘Grease.’ He does a mean mushy pea fritter. I saw Mo Mowlem in there once, standing at the counter eating a chip butty out of a cone.

What makes you most proud of your Welshness?

Given, there isn’t much to choose from, but at a time when the American right are trying to chop chunks out of it, I’d like to say I’m proud of the NHS. It saves a lot of people’s lives. ‘The verb is more important than the noun.’ That’s what Bevan said. I agree with him, indefatigably.

Welsh Icon:

Frederick Thomas Hall, a boxer and writer from Ponty, aka Freddie Welsh. If anybody encapsulates exactly what it is to be Welsh, it’s him. There’s a rumour going around literary circles that he was the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I’d so love to believe that.


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