Bursting onto the literary scene in her early twenties with her debut In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl, award-winning novelist Rachel Trezise said she wanted to ‘write three blockbusters then retire’.

But following the success of her second book Fresh Apples, which won the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006, she began to feel “a duty to live up to the prize”.

“I felt people might be saying I’d only won the prize because I was young and Welsh,” she explains. “I had to prove to them, and to myself, that I could do it again.”

And so despite having since written further novels, short story collections and plays for stage and radio, cementing her position as one of the leading Welsh writers of her generation, Trezise is determined to keep moving forward.

“I don’t re-read my previous work,” she says, offhandedly describing some of her work as “the mad ramblings of a 20-something – a person I used to be.”

“I’m always trying to be better. I won’t get involved in adapting my own work for the stage or for a film – that’s someone else’s job!”

The release of her latest book ‘Easy Meat’ is a return for Trezise to Parthian, the Welsh publisher with whom she experienced her early successes, and the writer admits her experiences with larger London publishers like HarperCollins were “very impersonal”.

“They either tried to market me as the female Irvine Welsh, or as chick lit – and neither of those fit,” she says. “Parthian understood where I come from, and the Welsh sense of humour.”

Easy Meat arose from a conversation between the author and her publisher Richard Davies.

“I showed Richard what I was working on, and he wasn’t interested. He wanted me to write a novella set on the day of the Brexit vote, one step removed from the politics. At first I thought: that sounds boring, I’m not doing that!”

Trezise had already written what she calls ‘the steel play’ (‘We’re Still Here’, produced by National Theatre Wales in 2017) and ‘one about abortion rights in Northern Ireland’ (‘Cotton Fingers’, NTW, 2019).

Both featured Brexit as a backdrop to some extent, and she felt it was time to move on.

Davies encouraged the new project by referring Trezise to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ – about a man in a Soviet labour camp. She laughs: “But however bad you think it is, Brexit is not the gulag.”

The more the author mulled on the idea, however, of a short novel that would be “a character sketch, art not politics”, the more she became attracted to exploring the frustrations that had led to large numbers of people in the south Wales valleys – beneficiaries of significant EU funding – voting to leave.

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Thinking about who her Rhondda Valley Ivan Denisovich might be, Trezise asked herself “what’s the worst job you can have in the valleys?”

She recalled her experience as an 18-year-old vegetarian on the dole, sent to interview at a meat factory.

Trezise says the predominance of Polish workers in the industry gave her a clear link to the Brexit debate. And she says: “I get why most local people would not want to do those jobs.”

Easy Meat is full of vivid, often startling descriptions of the atmosphere and activity inside a slaughterhouse, so it comes as a surprise that Trezise’s research relied on the testimony of a good friend’s sister, who works at a meat processing plant in Merthyr Tydfil, for their authenticity.

“I couldn’t have watched the slaughter,” she says.

Similarly, the novel’s use of untranslated Polish – an effective way of plunging the reader into the main character Caleb’s alienation from his colleagues – was written first in English, and then translated.

Another interesting feature of the novella, in common with much of Trezise’s previous work, is its mixing of real and fictitious place names, creating a kind of alternative south Wales.

“I wanted to muddy it up a bit,” explains Trezise. And so we get settings like Rhosybol, Maesygwaith and Temple Green, each with a real world counterpart that the author revealed with a handy key on Instagram.

Trezise’s next publication will be another collection of short stories – again set in the valleys she has made her own fictional territory – and although she describes these new works as “not massively political”, the thing that holds them all together is “poverty and the social situation”.

Over what is now nearly 20 years of published writing, Trezise has never shied away from the biggest issues facing people in south Wales.

She is also working on a novel about the spate of suicides around Bridgend in the late 2000s, and it’s clear that a sadness and anger about the lack of agency for ordinary people is at the heart of her work.

“Easy meat" is Caleb’s brother Mason’s description of the working class predicament.

At just 122 pages, Easy Meat is a slim volume, but concision and restraint are the book’s greatest strengths.

Direct references to Brexit are few and far between. It doesn’t take sides, let alone preach – but Trezise’s opinion is revealed in more subtle ways.

“All the pubs are named after myths and legends, like The Unicorn – like the bus!” she adds.

For a book so short, Easy Meat feels like a monumental achievement. A one-sitting page-turner that gives voice to the voiceless while checking the country’s pulse, never once flinching from the contradictions of everyday life in modern Wales.

Twenty years in, Trezise’s writing is not only living up to the fanfare of the early awards and reviews – it’s getting better. Wales should be very grateful she didn’t retire after book three.

Easy Meat is out now, published by Parthian.

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