In Part Two of our three-part interview with bestselling author of Gypsy Boy On The Run, Mikey Walsh, he tells us about life in London, his time in Manchester, and how his relationship with his father has changed.
Without wanting to give away spoilers, you end the book in London.
Even as a kid I always wanted to go to London. I always thought of it as somewhere magical and I still do. I always thought of it as somewhere movies were set. Not just gangster movies but things like Mary Poppins where you can ride a horse around the park and jump into chalk paintings; or run around with Fagin’s kids or go looking for someone around Portobello Road who does witchcraft. So I always associate it with things like that and I always knew I’d come here one day.
Is London somewhere you feel settled?
Yes, but I think no matter how long you live in London you’ll always feel a bit lonely in it.
It has an anonymous quality.
For such a crowded place.
Do you ever go back to any of your old haunts?
I went back to Manchester recently and it was lovely. I love it there. It’s not my home any more, but it still has the same energy and the same feel.
There’s a great deal of fondness for the place in ‘On The Run’.
What’s weird is that even though locations are still similar, I went up there with a friend: we both left Manchester around the same time, though we didn’t know one another at that point, and he’d lived in Manchester for a short amount of time, and I’d lived there for years. But wherever we turned he was constantly bumping into people he knew – and I didn’t see one familiar face the whole time I was there and I was really quite surprised by that. There were ghosts of so many memories around there for me.
It can be nice in a sentimental way to go back to places, but no so much if they’ve changed a lot.
The weird thing about Manchester was that even though there were new bars with different names the feeling of it was the same.
You make explicit reasons in the book why you leave Manchester.
The scene in Manchester is incredible. I do think that people, not just from my community but from any small community where being gay isn’t accepted – rather than battling with yourself to try to keep within that – the best thing you can possibly do is get your arse to a city where there are other people like you. That’s what I found in Manchester. There are people who’ve moved there to be part of a community that accepts them. But then you’ve also got to be there long enough to realise that this is just a part of who you are, and I don’t have to use all these places, all these bars, nightclubs, drugs and drink and fly-by-night friends… It serves its purpose and you have to take what’s best from that and claim your life back as an independent person. I think a lot of people must get trapped in the scene. That’s what I found. There were a lot of people who were doing the same thing for years, and having a lot of anger about why they came there in the first place. Reasons like family, lack of acceptance, horrible childhoods. So many situations about someone being penalised for being what they were, but here’s this place where you can celebrate what you are. But then there does come that point where you have that revelation where you think, “OK, if there was a pill to make me straight I’d never take it because I’ve fought so hard to be what I am. That’s what I am.” But then you realise that you think, “As well as that, I’m also this person too.” I think some people are really happy to do that kind of thing, but for me I’d already left home and felt like I’d had to die and come back again.
What’s the reception been like for ‘On The Run’?
So far it’s been amazing. I’m just so relieved it’s done. Beneath the ink on the page is blood. I feel like I literally vented everything, poured everything I have into that.
That comes across.
I just wanted to be as honest as I could.
One of the most beautiful aspects of ‘On The Run’ is the way your relationship with your father develops. He’s essentially the antagonist of ‘Gypsy Boy’. People have been surprised by your loving attitude towards him. There’s an incredible shift in this book, which is dedicated to him.
There’s this whole thing about bitterness… you meet so many people who are angry about their lives, and so may people that can be cruel… simple because, “I was abused, and therefore I’ll be a cunt to you.” I don’t think I was abused by my father. I always understood why. My father could have battered me, but regardless of that because of where I’m from and what was destined for me; if my father had trained me or not I’d still have had the crap beaten out of me by people coming to my door by the time I was eleven anyway. There’s also that whole thing of knowing there’s something different about your kid.
There are some tender moments where your father rescues you from drowning, and when he enjoys a school production of the ‘Wizard of Oz’.
Yes! (Laughs) I really wanted to get that across because I know my father loves me. There’s no time for being angry at people and I’d rather die than go through my life being angry. I’ve always got my father over my shoulder telling me to be a better person. Not physically, but that’s the way it feels. I’m my own worst enemy because I always feel that I could do so much better at everything I do. Things like that stay with you. But if it wasn’t for all that I wouldn’t be where I am now. My father’s an incredible, wonderful, complex, old school Travelling man. It’s a lot easier for me to let go of things. I don’t need any confirmation from my father whether he loves me or not: I know he does. He’s had a hard old life, and he’s been amazing since the book came out. But then so have uncles, aunts, cousins. It’s been incredible. Most of them knew the full story before the books.
There’s some recapping of the events described in ‘Gypsy Boy’ in ‘On The Run’ so that you don’t have to have read the first to understand the second. How did you find the right balance?
It was the same as the first one but the other way round. I ended the book then did a chapter to show that I was alive at the end of it! This one was the other way round. I watch a lot more films and TV shows than I read books, sadly. I’ve found it hard to pick up a book since I started writing.
You have a very visual style.
It’s because I’m too pig-headed to try and learn (laughs). I wanted the recap to be straight out and done: a chapter within a chapter to not completely bore the pants off people and very much like, ‘Last week on Dynasty’, to get the recap done; then on with the show, on with the story. That was something I was very insistent about with the publishers. I didn’t want to keep recapping throughout. There are little reminders throughout, but the main points are there in that first bit.
People who’ve enjoyed ‘Gypsy Boy’ will enjoy ‘On The Run’ too.
If you’ve read Gypsy Boy the great thing about having the recap is that it refreshes your mind and then you can pick it up where you left off. I hope they like this part. It definitely, emotionally and physically, did me in to do this one. A lot of people who follow me on Twitter suffered with me! (Laughs) I was up all night, and because I had such a short amount of time to do it. And all that happy ever after – when you constantly have to be positive but everything around you is so highly stressed – you feel like you don’t have a voice.
What have you made of the reception most readers have given your books?
It’s been amazing. It really moves me that people can be affected by it. You don’t have to have come from this situation or that situation to be moved by it or find it funny, or dark or scary. It’s like the Disney films in that there’s a character who doesn’t quite fit in and they go on a journey to find themselves. Everyone’s done that. Everyone’s had moments where they feel they don’t fit in.
It’s the same kind of writing style: honest, non-judgemental…
Well when you get ex-boyfriends and people like that, I could have gone on huge bitter rants; but I love these people. We had relationships, they were my family. I just hope they’re all OK and better now.
Join us for the third and final part of our interview with Mikey Walsh. ‘Gypsy Boy On The Run’ is out now in hardback and audio.