Book Review: tearing at thoughts by Andy Harrod

tearing at thoughts

Poignant, heart rending and thought provoking writing.

I first read and reviewed the original, online only, edition of this book several years ago. And now there’s a second edition – this time available in print and the author has added some new material.

I loved it first time around and I love this version even more. The writing remains poignant, heart rending and thought provoking.

tearing at thoughts is made up of pieces of short fiction, some of the pieces are very short and reminiscent of haiku, many of them are poetic. The tone is so intimate that, at times, the reader can feel like a voyeur, like they should look away but can’t.

The writing is a stream of responses to consciousness. Sometimes the thoughts are fleeting, and at other times they are prolonged and complex. They are all responded to by the writer. Sometimes the author’s tearing is minimal and the thoughts are simply stated, nudged, worried at. At other times the thoughts are more deeply examined, set in context and ripped apart. It operates on two levels – the physical which varies from a gentle caress to a visceral assault – and the psychological which varies from nudge to probe

The moods of the pieces vary. The fonts, shapes, layouts and presentation vary too. Some are beautiful, comforting and benign. Others are beautiful, disturbing and terrifying.

This is a book that requires to be engaged with and revisited. Reading it is akin to reading poetry, or looking at a painting or listening to a piece of music. You need to read, reflect and then return. Revisiting and further pondering will be rewarded as more and more of what Harrod is saying becomes more and more apparent.

The writing explores what it is to be human, to experience love and loss, to deal with ‘the grapple hook of grief’ but also to remain hopeful. Harrod seems to suggest that life’s setbacks aren’t so much to be recovered from as to be accepted – and that acceptance comes from living in the present while holding the past and future in a precarious balance. His writing indicates that we must carry our pain and loss with us but that we should do it balanced by and alongside our love and our hope.

My favourite pieces from the book remain Love Letters to the Mind (both parts), which I liked for its poignancy and truth and Mist and Trees which I enjoyed as a story and for its evocation of the work of psychologist R.D. Laing.

The book is beautiful in its brevity and it is packed full of human truth. It’s a challenging and rewarding read.

tearing at thoughts is published by Decoding Static and is available as a paperback.

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

 

Unique and Exquisite Writing ‘Living Room Stories’

I’ve been following Andy Harrod’s blog, Decoding Static, http://decodingstatic.blogspot.com  for some time now. I first ‘met’ him through Dan Holloway’s Eight Cuts Gallery.

Andy is a writer with a unique and original voice, an often unconventional presentation and  a, sometimes, painful honesty. On his blog he writes personal, biographical pieces as well as items of fiction. He often combines photography and art with his writing – producing works that are multi-layered and deeply affecting.

‘Living Room Stories’ is a collection of seven short stories written by Andy. The inspiration, the method and the format are all in keeping with Andy’s originality.

He wrote the stories to music – one a day for seven days – inspired by listening to a musical work called ‘Living Room Songs’ by Olafur Arnalds. The seven songs in the collection were released one a day for seven days in October this year –  and Andy wrote his stories, one a day for seven days, shortly after.

He has put the stories together on separate, unbound cards – text on one side and an accompanying picture on the other. The cover art is a photo transparency and the whole thing is contained in a (how neat is this for a collection of writing inspired by music?) seven-inch single record sleeve.

The first run of the collection is limited to 25 of these handmade copies. So don’t hang about if you like what you read below – order your copy from Andy’s blog site (url above).

If you do purchase this compact collection, I believe you’ll find it to be £5.00 well spent. The seven exquisite stories can be read as standalone tales or as a series of connected episodes. They are a wonderful mix of hope, despair, love, damage and redemption. In places the poignancy is almost too much to bear.

Andy recommends playing the ‘Living Room’ songs that inspired each story as you read. They can be downloaded free from http://livingroomsongs.erasedtapes.com    I first read them without the music and then with, but, having the music playing definitely added to my enjoyment and appreciation.

The Seven ‘Living Room  Stories’ :-

beginnings: In this first story a woman waits on a rain soaked street – the accompanying picture of a dark road and streetlights reflected in puddles, along with the melancholic piano and cello of ‘Fyrsta’, add to the mysterious atmosphere. Whose is the bearded face?  Is the woman waiting or hiding? There is a sense of terrible vulnerability. Is there an observer – the one who is alive with curiosity?

month eight: A woman, perhaps the same woman as above, even more vulnerable, terribly hurt. The ache and longing of the words perfectly reflected in the ‘Agust’ track.

the third person: There is unbearable sadness here too but also a bit of a turning point. The woman hears ‘the sweep of bows across strings in her head’ and this ‘plucks at her memories’ – memories of some kind of awful abuse. This is all mirrored by the music of the third track ‘Film Credits’. But then she connects with her companion – someone who clearly loves her and she begins to open up and to share her pain. The terrible beauty of the language is stunning. The image of the ripped paper is amazing, representing ‘a flesh she couldn’t tear’.

together: A simple, romantic and effective picture backs this story of a wedding ceremony. Hope is restored in this utterly romantically told tale. Gorgeous.

home: Here  the husband experiences several emotions as he observes his wife at a party. He feels love but this is soon overwhelmed by anger at what she has had to suffer in the past. However, she reassures him that she’s healed, they dance and he’s able to let the anger go. Again the music, ‘This place is a shelter’ only adds to the beauty of the language.

light:  This has to be my favourite in a very close field. A simple family scene builds to something deeply poignant – a triumph tinged with disbelief at something so good – a moment of appreciation of love and happiness – and the musical track ‘Near Light’ – provides a glorious underlining of the sentiment.

yesterday’s call: Hard to read – hard to bear. Something calamitous has happened. The man is alone.

I have never read anything like this. As an artefact it’s unique, as a concept it’s original. As a piece of storytelling,it’s brevity belies its emotional depth and intelligence . This is a life story – beautifully told. It’s heart-wrenching, absorbing, wonderful.

Do all you can to get your hands on a copy.

Into The Desert Exhibition – preview

Eight Cuts  – those of you who’ve been paying attention will know exactly what this is – is about to have its first gallery exhibition. See http://eightcuts.wordpress.com for a full list of, and links to, exhibitors. The exhibition runs from October 1st until November 30th.

In this post I present my personal pick of the previews. As always Eight Cuts takes the word ‘eclectic’ pummels it, kneads it, stretches it to its limits and shapes it and bakes it into a damn fine, tasty mix.

Here’s my sample:

  • Stacy Ericson’s ‘Images without Borders’ showcases and sells photos with all profits going to the charity Doctors without Borders. Many arresting and thought-provoking pictures.
  • Penny Goring’s ‘Bone Dust Disco’ is disturbing, poignant, cheeky and laugh out loud funny.
  • Natasha Guy’s poetry includes the hymn to love – ‘Steady Lover’ – a read it and weep.
  • Andy Harrod’s ‘Decoding Static’ blog is a rich and delicious blend. There’s music and books and plenty of his own writing and reflections. His ‘Love Letters to the Mind’ parts 1 & 2 are achingly sad. His novel ‘Deception’ – a work in progress – is a psychological study of responsibility and choice.
  • Quenntis Ashby – WOW! Gorgeous poetry. From the poem ‘Wake Up’“Tune into you and switch off your berries and pods and eat them instead as you unfreeze time and the images imprisoning the spirits of artists such as yourself.” Then there’s the amusing and clever ‘Mr Grape’ and the gut-grabbing ‘Suicide’.
  • Grace Andreacchi’s website is a thing of beauty and her poems for children are superb. But that’s not all. there are plays, fiction, non-fiction. One example of her wonderful writing that I particularly enjoyed was ‘The First Stone’  – a clever retelling of the ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’  bible story.
  • Allyson Armistead’s – inspirational blog on writing. Great honesty, humanity and support on offer here for writers as well as an interesting reading log.

So spend a little time at the gallery over at Eight Cuts and see the above – and more – for yourself.