Walsh, Helen 1977–
Walsh, Helen 1977–
PERSONAL: Born 1977, in Warrington, England. Education: Liverpool University, graduated.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Canongate Books, 14 High St., Edinburgh EH1 1TE, Scotland.
CAREER: Novelist and social worker. Worked at a film and literary agency and at various call centers.
Brass (novel), Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Helen Walsh's debut novel, Brass, is the dark, coming-of-age story of Millie, a young woman from Liverpool who must face unwanted change and difficult decisions in her life. The story is fueled by drugs and sex, shot through with an undercurrent of youthful nihilism, and punctuated with the desire for the forbidden and the taboo. "There's no denying that Brass is as loud an entrance into the publishing world as a first-time novelist can make," commented Vanessa Craft in an IdeasFactory Base Web site interview with Walsh.
Walsh herself lived part of her life as a rebel who sought out places and experiences that were at times unsavory. Born to a Malaysian mother and an English father, she was a well-behaved child and superior student until she discovered the club scene and drugs when she was thirteen, noted Claire Sawers in Scotland on Sunday. "Her next decade was spent getting high, teasing older guys, stealing, terrifying her parents and, above all else, running in desperation from the goodie-goodie image that everyone held of her," Sawers reported. Walsh had her first Ecstasy tablet before her first period or her first kiss. She moved to Barcelona at age sixteen, where she worked as a "fixer," a sort of intermediary who helped introduce men to transvestite prostitutes (notably, the title of her book, Brass, is a slang term for prostitute). She worked a number of dead-end jobs, interrupted by destructive drinking binges and deteriorating psychological stability. She sought help after waking up one morning and realizing that she had stabbed herself. She was diagnosed with depression and started taking antidepressants, which helped her find some order in her life. "Creativity provided relief" for Walsh's depression and tension, reported Colin Walters in the Sunday Herald. "At the kitchen table, she began to write. 'Brass purged me. Although I was lonely and debilitated by depression, Brass came out really easy.' Nine months later, after 'a painless, gorgeous process,' Brass was ready," Walters stated.
The wild and gorgeous Millie, the protagonist in Brass, is disturbed by changes in her life. Her mother has abruptly left the family, and her best friend Jamie is in the process of renouncing his partying ways to marry and settle down. Her grief at her perceived loss of Jamie and the trauma of her mother's departure spark a rapid spiral into a depraved world of drugs, prostitutes, sexual predation (Millie becomes a rapist who convinces herself that her victims encourage her), and self-destruction. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book a "fast-paced, gritty look at the back streets of Liverpool that could benefit from more depth and less dirt. Still, newcomer Walsh's energy and language give an entertaining ride."
Even though Walsh spent part of her life on the seamier side, Brass "isn't autobiographical—which sometimes isn't what journalists want to hear," she remarked in an interview with Vanessa Craft for Ideas-Factory.com.
A reviewer in the London Guardian called the book a "very noisy piece of writing indeed, not so much executed as spewed by a woman who is, without a shadow of a doubt, a force of nature." London Tele-graph reviewer David Isaacson stated that Walsh "has exploited some very raw material to good literary, if not always literate, effect," concluding that "Brass is compelling and disturbing." "Certain episodes are undeniably shocking, but beautifully poetic prose quickly proves this girl's plight is far more than a hard-hitting hard-luck story," noted Sawers. The book's "depiction of predatory female sexual behavior is, at times, shockingly edgy, and the prose is never less than exquisite," commented Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson. A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that "Millie's … commentary on the … sexual and intellectual power of postadolescent women heralds the arrival of a promising new voice from the darker fringes of anti-girlhood."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Brass, p. 391.
Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 2004, Jennifer Reese, review of Brass, p. 88.
Esquire, December, 2004, Beth Greenfield, "A Writer We Love," interview with Helen Walsh, p. 58.
Guardian (London, England), April 3, 2004, Sarah Adams, "Where There's Muck …," review of Brass.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004, review of Brass, p. 836.
Library Journal, November 1, 2004, Prudence Peiffer, review of Brass, p. 78.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 2004, review of Brass, p. 56.
Scotland on Sunday, March 21, 2004, Claire Sawers, "One Girl's Journey toward Self-Destruction," review of Brass.
Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), March 7, 2004, Colin Waters, "The Grave Side of Helen Walsh."
Telegraph (London, England), February 5, 2004, David Isaacson, "Out of Her Mind, She Rages," review of Brass; February 5, 2004, Ivo Stourton, "Every Kind of Intoxication," review of Brass.
British Broadcasting Corporation Web site, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (October 9, 2004), Michael Williams, profile of Helen Walsh.
IdeasFactory.com, http://www.ideasfactory.com/ (October 9, 2005), Vanessa Craft, "Brass in Pocket," profile of Helen Walsh.