The Reading Wales book group met on Wednesday evening to discuss Rachel Trezise’s award-winning collection of short stories Fresh Apples. After discussing Margiad Evans’s Country Dance in April, Palas Print owner Eirian James suggested a modern text. Eirian had read and loved the collection of stories when they were first published in 2005 and admitted that although she could not remember all of the stories there were certain images created by Tresize that had stuck in her mind over the past eight years. This was a quality of the stories that a lot of the group could identify with. Those of us who read short stories regularly agreed that it is usually imagery (in this case chickens, bubble-gum and train tracks) rather than plot lines we remember when it comes to short stories.
Some group members found Trezise’s subject matter of drug and child abuse challenging and would have preferred the stories to explore a wider range of issues. Some found the dark humour laugh out loud funny whilst others would have liked more hopeful outcomes for some of the characters. I suggested it would be interesting to read one of Rachel’s novels where the character development and the length of the text might provide more humour and further insight into character’s lives.
It was Rachel’s setting of the valleys that provoked the most conversation in the group. As a North Walian with no experience of the South Wales Valleys it is interesting to see how the place can divide opinion. One reader suggested the main character of Rachel’s stories are the valleys themselves – in the same way that the border country characterised Margiad Evans’s novella. However, we also agreed that the stories are not limited to South Wales – they could represent any post-industrial landscape. For me, the most interesting thing about the stories is how they represent a community that has changed very little in a post-industrial era. The dark humour and marginal characters reminded me of Gwyn Thomas’s depictions of the valleys – proving the issues at the heart of people’s lives have not changed over the twentieth century. This does not mean that life is always bleak but it does highlight the importance of community in these parts of South Wales. This was best summed up in my favourite story ‘Chickens’ which beautifully depicts the unique relationship between a young girl Chelle and her Grandad. It is these carefully drawn relationships between family and friends that we particularly appreciated as a group.
We all felt that the best is still yet to come from this young Welsh writer. One member wondered what Trezise’s future work might explore now that she has documented her experiences of the valleys. We also agreed that it would be interesting to read her latest collection of short stories Cosmic Latte, in order to see how her work has progressed over the last few years.