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Helen Walsh Interview
In this interview, Helen Walsh is more than ready to provide insightful answers to those burning questions we all have about her controversial and very explicit first novel, "Brass".
(2006.03.20, 21:25)

There are many woman-on-woman sex scenes in "Brass", but would you describe your novel as a lesbian book in any way?

I would describe it more as a queer book.

Millie has a very male, almost destructive gaze on the female body - as she says herself at one point, fed by pornographic imagery. Why did you choose that gaze for her?

It was never really a conscious decision. The character, Millie, and the character's journey was very organic, very intuitive. I guess there was a part of me that once thought like Millie, but I took her thinking to extremes. What you have to understand though is that her world view is very much influenced and to an extent, determined by heavy drug use. The strange, disjointed and subliminal lens through which she sees the world when she's going up/coming down, is very different to how she sees the world sober.

Why does Millie dislike students so much, her own father being a renowned university professor?

Partly because she feels threatened by them - by the ease with which they bond. Millie is a loner, she loves her best friend Jamie, but ultimately she is a loner. Part of her solitude is choice but a bigger part is inadvertent; she finds it hard to connect with people and especially women. She's nineteen, but she's quite immature in many ways, particularly in her repugnance of student life.

I found it very curious that the young protagonists led this seemingly radical (druggy) lifestyle, but still lived at home with their parents, who, in Millie's case, even chose the university classes for her! Is normal for adults in Great Britain to continue living with their parents when they go to college, or did you want to point out something about the characters?

No, it is not normal! Millie first and foremost feels duty bound to her father; with her mother gone, the filial role is subjugated to a more maternal one.
Secondly, her own insecurities and fears prevent her from striking out and getting her own place. She likes the idea of home, however splintered and contrived that idea is; she is very much like a child in some ways - she looks forward to her adventures but she equally looks forward to going home to the warm lair of her family, even if it is a ruptured family.

In the UK, you have often been called the female Irvine Welsh. How would you like being called the female Houellebecq, considering that you make use of a similarly drastic sexual imagery, but in relation to a female protagonist?

I don't really like being called the female anything! (Although the irony is that as a teenager I was utterly in awe of Irvine Welsh. If I had've known back then that one day, critics would draw comparisons...!)

Why doesn`t Millie have any female friends and why does she use women only for sex, not ever having had a (romantic) relationship with a woman?

I drew on my own tomboyish adolescence to colour in this aspect of Millie's personality. I found it very difficult to forge friends with females as a child and even now as an adult. The female friends I have now are very similar in make up - very queer in their thinking, very solitary individuals. Like Millie, I also found it incredibly difficult to have lasting romantic relationships with women. There always seemed to be a gender bias underpinning them in which I was expected to take on the dominant male role, which was fine for a week or so, but then I'd want to revert to a more passive, female role. It's weird - with men, or at least with the men I've been involved with -, there's none of that gender confusion! It's easy for me to flit between one gender role to another without ever questioning or having my partner question my motives. I guess at the end of the day, I just find women too much like hard work, but I do love their bodies.

Is your novel a rally against the impending gentrification of your beloved Liverpool?

Yes! I'm so glad you picked up on that! I'm much more at ease with the realigning of the city's skyline now, I'm even pleased for Liverpool - I want things to work out for my city, I do, but at the same time I still feel sad when I see the new buildings and new faces - pasting new life on the veins of the old city. The red light district where Brass is set for example is no longer a working red light district. It was so poetic, so incredibly beautiful back in the late nineties - you'd see working girls tottering along the cobbled streets in their heels and now they've been pushed back to the ugly, depressed flats of North Liverpool. Brass land is now a hotbed of trendy designer restaurants and hotels.

Is it very annoying for you that everybody wants to perceive your novel as autobiographical, or were you prepared for that?

I love Millie - warts and all (excuse the pun!) so I could never be injured by any level of comparison, only flattered or amused!

In one review I read that "’Brass’ must be one of the few books I can imagine appealing to feminists and Loaded readers alike." Do you think this is an accurate assessment, do you feel comfortable with it?

Yes, I think it’s a pretty amazing feat to appeal to both intelligent fems and alpha males!

In the interview with you said that you didn't believe in belonging to one specific sexual camp. Are you interested in the deconstruction of gender identities and sexual personae, or did these theories have nothing to do with the writing of your book?

I've always endeavoured to deconstruct the conventional bipolar gender paradigm in everything I've ever done. I've been deconstructing gender since I was two years old! However, as I see and learn more, I'm beginning to understand just how important 'sexual' labels are to the people who subscribe to them. My immaturity when I was a student prevented me from seeing this - I exhorted everyone to become gender revolutionaries by ditching their labels and embracing a more fluid, capricious sexual identity - one where you could tap into different sexual camps without ever having to declare yourself! Now, I can see how the process of 'coming out' as a lesbian or bisexual or homosexual or transgendered is an integral part of the identity making process - I guess it's just stupidly idealistic to covet a society where people don't feel the need to 'come out.'