Put it in Writing

Life written up


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Last four stones on the advent trail…

Christmas in the post-War United States

Image via Wikipedia

22. I babysit my tiny granddaughter while her parents register her birth. It’s official – we’ve all moved on, moved up. My girl marvels at her new status – mother to a daughter – and we slowly absorb our new roles. A personal advent is over.

23. A final push and we arrive at our Christmas destination. Settle in to our son’s small flat – cramped but cosy –  and warmly welcoming.

24. Each present wrapped in reflection and placed with love. Offerings in recognition and gratitude – for memories and for joy to come.

25. Moments to remember what is lost and to anticipate what’s to come. But, mostly, a day of being in light, love, hope. A happy Christmas.


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A third cairn of small advent stones

Edinburgh Skyline at Sunset

Image by d.p.Hetteix via Flickr

17. Nightwatch – city fallen quiet. Exhausted new parents slumber. Just me and the snuffling baby and the quietly ticking clock.

English: Ice rink, Princes Street Gardens Ever...

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18. A winter walk on Edinburgh‘s streets – raw east wind welcomes me back to childhood haunts. The grand old lady lets her hair down at Christmas – a yuletide market, a big wheel, an ice rink in the Gardens. I sip mulled wine and taste an overwhelming mix of memories.

christmas 2007

Image by paparutzi via Flickr

19. Cosy moments in my daughter’s flat. Soft, tree lights bathe a snoozing cat, sofa-dozing daughter and son-in-law and our tiny grandchild snuggles in her seanair’s* arms.        ( *seanair is the Gaelic for grandfather)

20. My father meets his great-granddaughter – four generations pose together for a happy photo. He seems momentarily happy and thoughtful. Minutes later he can’t remember the baby’s name.

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

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21. Hanukkah moments – pancakes, doughnuts, latkes – menorah lit in remembrance  - candle flickers mingle with the Christmas lights of joy to come. And tomorrow we mark the solstice. A rich human heritage – an amazing beautiful planet.


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Small stones for advent – a second handful

7. He stalks the school playground. Jet eyes scanning. At last the bell tolls – games over. He swoops. The raven gets the dropped chocolate santa.

8. Slates rattle, vehicles struggle to hold their line. Pines creak and strain, branches funnel the sniping wind. Bridge closed, boats chained, island battens down.

English: Advent candle

9. Four p.m., dark and still. Christmas lights line the way home. Moon rise sparkles the frost. Crunch, clean world waits.

10. O little town of hill and sea, of weathered stone and cliffs and rocks, decked out for Christmas, nestled down – anticipating.

11. Time links back and forward. My grandchild is born. Eva – a link of love in an infinite chain. An advent, an epiphany.

12. Season of anticipation, of joy, and rekindling of a marvellous hope for the return of the light. Time of renewal, reunion and quiet gratitude.

13. School: concert rehearsing, carol practising, santa phoning. Home: baking, gift-wrapping, packing… Mindfulness? No time :)

14. Preparing for a journey – a journey to meet a baby. I wonder at the advent of amazing possibilities – a personal nativity.

15. No donkey on a dusty road but a drive through a sun-glinted mountain snowscape to meet my Christmas baby. True magic.

16. I cradled you and rubbed your tiny back, fell instantly in love. Now you have your own child. Hello wee girl, I’m your granny.

 


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Stones for Advent – small winter gems of writing

Looking down the croft and across the loch to Trotternish ridge

As I mentioned here on Nov 26th, I’ll be taking part in Writing Our Way Home’s http://www.writingourwayhome.com  river of stones writing month in January. It was something I very much enjoyed doing last January and I’m looking forward to it.

But aside from that, I’ve also decided to do a collection of Advent stones and I’m publishing them daily on Twitter. I’m also going to post them here a week or so at a time. I may alter them slightly for the blog versions as I don’t have to be restricted to 140 characters but they’ll be mostly the same in both places. They won’t be of a particularly religious nature – although various festivals of light may be implied/referred to, but, I hope, they convey some of the sense of anticipation, of wonder, of light overcoming dark that a northern December inevitably brings. The ‘stones’ are meant to be a written record of a moment of stillness and observation – of mindfulness – experienced on that day.

So here goes – below are days 1 to 6 of my Advent stones. They can also be seen daily on Twitter with the hashtag #smallstone.

winter garden

One: Sun just up. Air crackles cold. A V-skein of greylags pass above, backed by the snow-topped Cuillin. Ravens line a roof ridge cawing complaints to the gannets opposite.

Two: Robin hopped in front of me on the hail-strewn pavement. I looked him in the eye, spirits lifted. Cheery wee bird.

Three: A Christmas baby. A scan of her in her liquid world. I anticipate my granddaughter’s birth – impatient to meet my little stranger.

Four: My  Magnificat – Love and loss; labour and rest; friends foes; ease challenge; children elders; sickness health; home and travel; want and plenty. A rich life lived and wisdom gained. Why me? Why not? Who knows? But I am grateful.

Five: Clouds, like smoke from a volcano, emerge from the top of Fingal’s Seat. Slats of light behind the hill. All that remains of the day.

Six: No fear of falling. No sense of a chill. Embracing the novelty, the season, the joy in the moment. Children and snow.

 


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The writer behind the unique voice – an interview with Andy Harrod

In this post I’m interviewing writer, Andy Harrod. Andy can be found at http://decodingstatic.blogspot.com   Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Andy. I’m sure people who read my review of your book, ‘Living Room Stories’ will be keen to know more about you.

Anne: When did you become a writer? And what drives you to keep writing?

Andy: I started writing after I fell in love with music. I was 17, Britpop reigned, and there in the songs, I heard myself. I saw many mirrors reflecting my experiences, feelings and thoughts. My first attempts at writing were lyrics about love. Lyrics and poetry remained my mode of writing for about five years, until I started journaling when I was intensely sad and fearful (depression). Journaling felt a need, an act of self medication which I am now reaping the benefits from. My journaling provided a base for writing fiction. A lot of my writing now has an element of the therapeutic to it.

It is only in the last few years that I have felt comfortable attaching the label of writer to my sense of self. Expression of feelings and thoughts is important to my sense of self and this is what drives my writing. I write because if I don’t, my head resounds with noise; I disconnect from the world. To write frees me.

Anne: Tell us about your blog. What sort of things do you post?

Andy: I refer to my blog, Decoding Static, in my email signature as home and it is that, it is a place for my expression. I began my blog when I started writing Deception, perhaps if I hadn’t it would be finished! But if it wasn’t for the blog I wouldn’t have met so many other writers and my blog and life would be a lot emptier. My blog has grown in many directions and encompasses my own work and others. I write music and book reviews and interview authors and bands; I enjoy sharing the music and books that speak to me. The writing I post is mainly snapshots of my fiction and posts about mental wellbeing. I also post art and photography, sometimes as a set of landscapes, but more often than not it accompanies my writing.   

Anne: So, as you say, your writing is often accompanied by photography or other artwork.  But why is that? Do the pictures come first?

Andy: The writing always precedes the art or photography, they are an extension of my writing. As I’ve said I got into writing via music and in an ideal world I would be in a band singing my lyrics and playing guitar. As it is my guitar collects dust, a mixture of time and low self belief. When I realised a band wouldn’t happen anytime soon, I started placing art or photography (my music) with my writing to enhance and extend the words. Much like how music and lyrics work together to speak to us and pull at our emotions.

Anne: How did ‘Living Room Stories’ come about?

Andy: The preceding summer had been a limbo for me, I had great plans for my writing especially tearing at thoughts and Deception, but found no flow, I just staggered and stalled.  So on feeling this impulse to write, I ran with it and took a chance on myself. Living Room Stories is the essence of that limbo.

At the heart of Living Room Stories is music. Ólafur Arnalds’ released Living Room Songs, a song a day for seven days. For me Ólafur’s music is very emotive; there is a beautiful simplicity to it. His songs connect to my heart and on this occasion I decided to dive in, listening to each song for a few hours. As Fyrsta repeated, I pictured a couple. On watching the video Ólafur released alongside the song, I found my beginning, it was dark out, a yellow lamp reflected in the window, a window which dripped with rain and there she was, standing alone. I plugged into the sparse piano and sketched a moment of waiting. I re-read beginnings and felt my common themes of loneliness, troubled pasts and hurtful behaviour, but I also saw hope, for I saw her as part of that couple. Love is key to these stories. As such I wanted my next story (light) to be happy, however it depended on Ólafur’s music and luckily for me it worked out that way.  On his next song (Near Light) his sister and mother played some synths, which I heard as applause; I proceeded to pour my hopes onto the paper and from then on I danced with the music and a life in seven moments was formed.

Anne:  Music is clearly important to you – in your real life and in your writing life – are there any musicians who particularly inspire you to write – not necessarily in as direct a way as ‘Living Room Songs’?

Andy: Before Living Room Stories I had previously thought about writing to instrumental music, but Ólafur’s music was the first time I created the space to listen to an individual song on repeat for hours at a time, it also coincided with the need to release myself from my limbo of a summer. 

Music is nearly always on in our home, it is a constant background to my writing and as such I don’t have particular musicians who inspire, but instead I use music to draw me into certain moods. With Deception I have found Wilco’s Spiders (kidsmoke) and Joy Division, especially She’s Lost Control, 24hours and Transmission to be especially good at plucking at my emotions and getting into particular characters’ frame of reference.

Anne: I said in the review of ‘Living Room Stories’ that you write with incredible brevity but also with amazing depth. How on earth do you do that?

Andy: First of all thank you. I have never stopped to think that is something I do – which is down to my saboteur, an internal critic, which keeps my self belief down, though it is losing a lot more battles of late.  Thinking about it, it probably stems from writing lyrics and poetry and then developing a taste for fiction. When I wrote lyrics my words would tumble out in an abstract fashion; they created images that required interpretation. As such I spent time editing them as often the first words weren’t what I was looking forward but a way into the next layer which was what I was aiming for.  My fiction now works in much the same way, though the more I write, the less intense the editing, as I am finding I am reaching the layers I aim for first time.

Anne: The concept of the handmade book, and the way you present the Living Room collection, is unusual. Why was it important to you to publish in this format?

Andy: I decided to publish Living Room Stories because I had a need to finish a project. It felt very important to do that. I looked into publishing it as a book via lulu, but it didn’t feel right. Then I found myself looking at my record collection and saw my 7inch singles and it fell into place. 7inch squares housed in a record sleeve. An ep in words.

I also like the idea that the cover art of a book or a record can be an extension of the words and music and then the book or record becomes more than it is.  With Living Room Stories, each story is a memory, the individual sleeves encourage interaction with these memories, there is no set order, there was the blog order, and the handmade edition order, and there is the choice for the reader to develop their own order.

Anne: You’re working on a novel, ‘Deception’ – tell us a bit about it. Do you intend to publish it? If so when?

Andy: My start, stop novel! Deception is a novel about the struggle for the survival of the self. It centres around two main characters, 7892 and C6401, both of who represent aspects of me. Their respective endings reveal much of what I value and believe in and the importance of love to me. Deception is set in an unknown future, where the people live in Biomes, which hints at a certain level of damage to the earth, but also provides control for the Educators. The Educators are a group of people with set ideas and ways of living. They have created a two tier system comprising of their selves and the Workers, who have numbers for names; this is linked to ideas of the individual and a sense of self.  Opposing the Educators is the Collective, a mix of Educators and Workers who vehemently dislike the Educators programmes and policy and wants change.

Deception begins in Biome 4, where 7892 slugs back another beer, while C6401 watches his reflection retreat. Alone in a society anaesthetised by work, possessions and a diet of chemicals they fizz with anger at the Educators and their programmes. Recruited by the Collective they release their desires for revenge and change. Tunnelling into the human psyche we learn that freedom comes at a cost, responsibility, and the frightening prospects if we shrug that individual responsibility.

I am planning to start Deception up again in early 2012, due to wanting to put together and release a collection of 9 years of writing, photography and art. I am hoping this will clear my head and free my mind to concentrate on Deception.

Anne: ‘Living Room Stories’ is available from your website for £5 as a limited handmade edition. Any plans to make it available in a more easily /widely distributed form?

Andy: Yes if there is interest and if any publishers are interested please get in touch! Seriously, if there is the interest I will consider a second run, though with a different cover, so to keep the first 25 copies as a limited edition, of which there are copies available!

Regarding a more widely distributed form, say via a publisher, I would still want Living Room Stories, to be released as it currently is. I think I could be a publisher’s nightmare in terms of how I would want my work presented. This is due to the presentation being very much part of the work and an idealistic streak in me where art is worth more than money. This reminds me of Spiritualized and the tale that when they released Ladies and Gentleman we are Floating in Space, for the limited edition version, all 12 songs came on individual 3inch cds in a blister pack. The cost of this meant they had to forfeit their advance.

Anne: Finally, what are your future writing plans?

Andy: tearing at thoughts, my collection of writing, art and photography from the last 9 years is my next planned released. It will contain work not previously shown on my blog or elsewhere and also essays on the writing. The writing will be grouped into themes, e.g., lost thoughts, black blues ep, a numb nothingness surrounds. It will be A5 in size, possibly landscape and bounded together with metal. Though I may have 2 editions, a limited hand made edition and then a paperback version. The version(s) will depend on the outcome of a battle between ideals and time!

Anne: I wish you well with it. It sounds like another innovative and original work of art is on its way. Good luck with it and all the best for the novel and Living Room Stories. Thanks again, Andy, for agreeing to do this interview.

And thank you Anne for the questions and the space to speak about my writing. It has been enjoyable and beneficial.

 

To find out more and to purchase Living Room Stories, handmade edition, go to http://decodingstatic.blogspot.com/2011/11/living-room-stories-hand-made-edition.html

 

And there is also a competition to win a copy of the cover art for Living Room Stories at  http://www.decodingstatic.blogspot.com/2011/11/living-room-stories-competition.html

 

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