EF recently caught up with bestselling author Mikey Walsh for an exclusive UK interview to mark the release of the paperback version of Gypsy Boy On The Run, the second and final part of his extraordinary memoirs, which is out now.
We learned about the perfectly-titled Swedish translation, what Mikey lately rescued from a skip, and about the charming habits of Brian, his gorgeous new canine companion.
The paperback of Gypsy Boy On The Run is out now…
Yay! It’s officially released now. It’s got a new cover which I really like.
You prefer it to the hardback cover?
I do, the reason is that with the hardback one I said I wanted a modern trailer in the background; but it looks more like a family going to Devon! It’s not a proper Gypsy’s trailer. But I wanted it to look happy, so I like the boy on the bike. But I wish I’d put a dog like Brian on it now instead of the Jack Russell. But at least it now says it’s a sequel! I was worried people might have thought the hardback was just a tarted-up version of the first book.
How do you feel about it now, six months after the hardback came out?
After the response from the first one, and the rise in Gypsy shows that weren’t around when Gypsy Boy came out, it all happened soon after, and my book linked into all that. But I never wrote to be a representative of Gypsy people, I wrote my story – and that’s it. I never wanted fame or money. It was a testament to what I’d learned, and that’s why I wroteGypsy Boy. I know it’s a great story. It was a way to get all the shit out and let go of it.
You said last time we spoke it had taken it out of you emotionally. Can you be any more objective about what you’ve achieved this time round?
I’m still exhausted by it. I only had four months to write On The Run. The first one took me fifteen years. With On The Run I had to end it exactly the way I wanted to and bring people up to date with what I’m doing now. I’m not sitting in a castle throwing money up in the air! I’ve got a little flat, I’ve got a dog, I work in a school. I can walk out and be myself and that’s what’s amazing. There was an initial shock when it first came out with the family, but now I have an amazing relationship again with my father, mother and siblings. The one thing that really frustrated me about the first book was the negative vision of my father. All I wanted was to make him proud of me.
And in the end you have, though not in a way either of you would have predicted.
No, in a completely different way!
‘On The Run’s’ dedicated to him.
Yes it is, because I love him to bits. And he’s been so supportive.
Did that surprise you?
I suppose it did. But I never saw my dad as vicious – he was fucked up too. After everything that happened, he said “You’re my boy” and there was no need to say sorry for anything. We’ve both been on a journey. The whole family has.
They could see that there was no malice in the books?
That’s the thing. It’s not about attacking anyone, it’s about my journey. I’m not bitter or angry. There’s good in everybody: even the people who haven’t come off so well.
I don’t think the books would have resonated with people if you had taken that approach. And they continue to resonate. You were in Stockholm recently?
Yes, it was a quick trip. I spent most of it in Stockholm airport in the child’s play area because of fog at Heathrow. But it was fun. The Swedish translation’s called Slags-Kämpen (laughs). They didn’t understand when they gave me the book why I was laughing! The weirdest thing is looking through it and seeing it all translated.
‘Gypsy Boy’s’ out in the US soon too?
It comes out in America in February. The cover’s really brooding and dark. It looks more filmic. It’s brilliant, it’s a kid smoking a cigarette in black and white, but I think it makes it a bit darker. I don’t know whether the book is dark. There’s a lot of raw emotion in it.
Both books are hopeful, but you end ‘On The Run’ on a very hopeful note.
Things don’t always end with fireworks and everyone throwing their hats in the air. I just have my daily routine now, and that’s the amazing thing. That’s what I wanted. I really wish I could have been fifteen and known about this.
Would your fifteen year-old self have believed that his story would be read by people in many different countries?
No! (Laughs) I just thought that maybe people would read it and think that life’s not so bad. And also for Travellers to read it and think that there are some things in our community that have to change.
You’ve had some support from Travellers though?
Yes, some have. Those who haven’t are the ones who aren’t happy about what I am.
Once you’re an author, and you put a work in the public domain – in a way you lose control over it. You can’t predict its reception, or even control the reviews, though they’ve been universally excellent.
I suppose there’s more at stake when you’re not just a character in a book but a real person.
How would you feel if your memoirs were still being read in twenty-five years by the next generation?
Very strange! It would be lovely. The books are set in a certain era, at the very end of when the Gypsy race and its customs were still very strong in this country. Society’s changed so much and things are very hard for Travelling people now.
On the one hand, they are your memoirs, your story – but they do have a historical resonance too, about changing times in Gypsy culture, even if you didn’t intend that.
That’s a bit overwhelming, really. I wouldn’t have been able to write it if I hadn’t included how we all were. But if I’d wanted to write about Gypsies it would have been a different book. I am a Gypsy. And it’s really lovely to get messages from Gypsies who are gay. Not just Gypsies, but some cultures and religions have a lot to learn about the natural way we are. Some people are gay: get over it! It’s not a disease, it’s not something from the outside and it’s not something you can change.
I take it there’s not a Russian translation on the horizon?
It can still be hard even here, especially in smaller communities. If you feel suffocated and can’t fit in you need to be able to escape from that. Your family have their traditions but they do love you. Sometimes it takes something very drastic for them to come round.
You’ve had lots of letters from readers who say your books have really helped them in that respect.
It’s really amazing and I do try to respond to everybody. I’m very moved by it. I’m very glad they’ve helped people.
The appeal’s been universal though. Gay people, straight people, Travellers, people all over the world…
It’s the old story. Person who doesn’t fit in goes on a journey and learns who they are.
I don’t know if you remember, but last time we spoke you were threatening to go out and get a French bulldog…
(Laughs) And now I have one! And he’s chewing a pig’s foot as we talk.
But you didn’t call him Evil Lyn.
When I saw him I thought, “He looks like a Dave or a Brian.” So I went with Brian. It suits him. He’s so funny. He’s like my child. It’s lovely to have someone to look after. My mum and dad love him.
I don’t see how anyone couldn’t!
My mum sends me text messages asking, “How’s fatso?” I’ll be seeing my family around Christmastime. They want to see the Christmas lights. My sister’s little boy’s never been to London and my dad wants to take him to see the lights. It’s what we used to do when we were little. So they’ve said when they come down, “We’ll pick up you and Fatso and we’ll all go and see the lights together”. That’s going to be weird. I’ll get in the back of the car and take my shoes off like I’m five again!
Rewind to the 80s.
I always rewind to the 80s. But when I speak to my mum I realise where I get a lot of my sayings from. I say “minge” a lot on Twitter. I spoke to her on the phone the other day and she said, “What are you having for your tea?” She always asks what I’m having for my tea…
It’s a mum question.
It’ll be, “Have you eaten your tea?” If I say “No”, it’ll be, “What are you having for your tea?” I told her I was having gnocci. I’d not had gnocci before but my mate was cooking. She said, “That’s pastary stuff, isn’t it?” I said yeah, and she said, “I’d rather have a pig’s minge myself.” (Laughs) That woman needs to be online!
Perhaps she’ll be ordering that in London restaurants over Christmas…
(Laughs) That’s been the most amazing thing though, to have this relationship with them all again.
The last time I asked you, you were vehement that you wouldn’t write any more…
That’s still the case. People keep asking me, “When’s Gypsy Boy III coming out?” I’ve got nothing to say!
What about a book about Brian?
Well, I could write a book about Brian but all he does is fart, burp and eat a pig’s foot! One day, maybe. It’s been nearly a year since I finished writing On The Run, but I keep meeting people as Mikey Walsh. I’m glad I’ve finished the story, but at the same time I don’t think I’ll get back to normality so long as I’m Mikey Walsh.
You say you’re seeing your family over Christmas. Are you a festive person?
Oh yes. I’m putting my decorations up this weekend. I already have a snowman that’s a lamp. I fished it out of a skip. With it being the end of the year, and New Year’s resolutions and all that, I’ve been thinking, “What’s next?” What I feel I need next is just to come away from everything.
Perhaps a nice but scary position to be in?
Yeah, I was in such a settled place when I wrote the first book. The effects of it wiped it all out. People didn’t know how to deal with it and I lost so many people. My marriage broke up. Now the second one’s finished I can start again with a completely clean slate. I’m no better off in any other way apart from knowing that I’ve got my shit down.
You can look back on the books with pride?
I’m proud I was able to write them. I’m proud of being a Gypsy and I’m proud of being a gay man too.
Any plans for the future?
I have no idea… It would be good to find somebody nice. I have a lovely publisher and agent, supportive friends, and I’m really lucky to have my family back. That’s what’s important. At the moment I’m a single gay man in a big city with a nine-to-five job, and I have a dog who’s looking up at me now…
… and that’s good enough for me. I’m at that point of wondering what I do now. No idea! (Laughs) It’s time to catch up with friends and family. I lost Leigh and that’s been something very hard to deal with, and I do still miss him very, very much. It’s four years next week since he died. But at the same time I’ve my friend Dee who was also a friend at that time and used to tell me my story would be a great book. It was only Leigh dying and not knowing what to do with myself that I wrote it. He was always so persistent that I write it; but first I needed to learn how to write. He did creative writing: that was his thing. When he died and I had such a gap in my life I wrote to fill that gap. The only way to heal is through time. But if it hadn’t been for Leigh I’d never have written a book in the first place. I’m proud it’s done. Some things you can’t change, some people you can’t bring back: that’s life. Yeah, friends and family time. All these people from up north gather down here eventually!
Mikey Walsh, thank you.
Mikey’s book ‘Gypsy Boy On The Run’ is available in paperback now. You buy your copy on Amazon.