Is it really almost a year since EF spoke to bestselling author Mikey Walsh about his incredible childhood memoirs, Gypsy Boy? Recently we caught up with him again and he told us about the second and final part of his memoirs, Gypsy Boy On The Run, which is out to buy now.
I reached our rendezvous early, but Mikey was only a few minutes behind, ready with a smile, even after arriving straight from an emotional day, as I was soon to find out.
Mikey Walsh, how are you today?
I’m good. I’m doing my last bit of volunteering work at a school and it was a leavers’ thing, so we all had to learn Somewhere Over The Rainbow in sign language. They all sang at the end of it and were getting teary. It’s really funnySomewhere Over The Rainbow in Makaton, which is used a lot in special schools – and I think Mr Tumble uses Makaton – it’s a simplified sign language. But it’s amazing how many diva poses are in it. You’d sing, “Can’t I?” with a Celine Dion-like thump on the heart and a big gesture!
The song was your choice?
No! But it was really lovely and funny. When you’re in a school with these kids who are leaving, and you know the pressures that will come on them when they do, some of the kids – the hard work they’ve had to put in just to prove they can be part of society – to prove that although they may be in a wheelchair, or not as quick with their hands or voice – that they’re still able and can do as much as anyone. Now putting that to the test for themselves especially when you’ve had so many years in a secluded place with so many understanding people and friends who go through the same things with you all the time – going out into the big wide world is scary. And then with Somewhere Over The Rainbow, I was listening to the lyrics from their point of view.
It must give you a good sense of job satisfaction.
I love that job and working with them. We all have difficulties but some people have to work so much harder just to be able to do what they want to do. To watch these kids grow into adults is lovely, and I feel a great sense of purpose having been part of that. It’s been an emotional day!
You’ve got your second book, Gypsy Boy On The Run, out now. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s the sequel to Gypsy Boy. I’d like it to have been called ‘The Boy Who Wished He Was Skeletor’! On The Run is apparent because you have the recap of the first book, and it’s me from age fifteen until now. When I wrote the first chapter of Gypsy Boy I wrote from three months after I’d left home. I was originally going to write from where I am now, reflecting back, but it kept changing as I wrote more and more. Then the chapter that got the book picked up didn’t end up in it anyway, so I was able to put it all back in for this one.
Were you always planning to write a follow-up?
I always planned to end the story. I needed to end the story. I was unsatisfied with the way I had to clear up and compromise. You get a so-many-page book deal: so if I’d tried up until the present day in 279 pages it wouldn’t have happened. So I ended up completely cutting off the end and then doing a compromise where I did an epilogue – a ‘where are they now?’ but through the present-day moment of my wedding day. I think there was such a lack of faith in the first book from all around, even from booksellers that didn’t want it. I worked my arse off to get people to see it, and when I sat with the publishers and made the compromise when the end came off; I joked: “I’ll save it for the final part,” and there was this kind of, “Yeah, whatever”! (Laughs) But with the second one: because of the repercussions, and the effect the book had and everything that happened afterwards meant that there was so much more to put down to end the story.
Was the writing process different for On The Run? When you were writing Gypsy Boy it hadn’t been published, so in that respect there was less pressure?
The first one was picked up after I’d only written one chapter. Then with the first book they wanted a ghost writer to write it, but I said in that case I’d rather not do it because writing the book was a testament to everything I’d learned. I didn’t go to school and I learnt to read and write much later on when I was in my teens after I’d left home. So I was put through lots of tests and finally they said, “Ok, let him write it.” I was writing Gypsy Boy for fifteen years, because I write about what I know. So when I got the book deal and they asked me to write an outline of the final part, I had four months to write it.
Four months!? How did you manage that?
I became a complete and utter recluse, on top of that dealing with everything that came of Gypsy Boy, because more people kept discovering it. It never had an official release date but it kept having these bursts when I’d do another interview. Gypsy Boy had been out and a success a year before My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding; which people were discovering, and my book as well.
Is that your fault, do you think? The appeal of shows like that and media interest in Gypsy culture?
Oh god! No, I think it had to come sooner or later. But it’s always Irish Travellers anyway, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. People say, “Have you watched this show?” and, “Have you read this book?”, but I’m a Gypsy! It could be something amazing but it doesn’t really interest me, and I know what Irish Travellers are like anyway, so it’s nothing new. But I was a bit – whoa! – when they had people dragged off camps to comedy music. I was hounded by everyone for quotes, but I thought, “Well, if you’d read the book you’d know the difference between the two cultures anyway.” I hadn’t intended to be an Evita of Gypsies. This was a book about my life, my childhood and my growing up. If I’d wanted to write a book about Gypsies I would have done, but that isn’t what this is. It’s a coming-of-age story which is my life.
You move between four different British cities in On The Run as well as the Traveller camps…
The thing about it being ‘On The Run’ is that I’m physically on the run and mentally as well. Constantly dying and being reborn. I feel that’s been my whole life, really. I Tweeted today saying that life would be easier if we were all a bit easier on ourselves. Even after everything you can still drag yourself all over the place, and I am still the world’s harshest critic of myself.
As most of the best artists are. There’s that terrifying moment when you’ve run away with Caleb and you have to shave your head and wear no clothes, and you literally have no possessions. Not a position most people will ever find themselves in.
I always feel when I need to change something that I shave my head. (Laughs) I feel like my whole life has changed over and over again. Sometimes there comes a point where you just have to change something that’s wrong.
Come back for Part Two of our interview with Gypsy Boy On The Run author Mikey Walsh.