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

Center of Makhtesh Gadol, Negev, Israel.
Image via Wikipedia

I previewed the Eight Cuts Gallery Exhibition  into the desert  a few posts back. The exhibition opened yesterday – and is only a mouse click away. I urge you to visit – there’s art visual and literary – poetry, short fiction, novel extracts… Here’s how my visit went:

Visiting any exhibition at any gallery has the potential to be exhausting. The senses are assaulted, the brain challenged, the body disorientated, time stands still and the feet and back get sore. And in the case of the Eight Cuts exhibition all but the last one apply – at least you can visit this one sitting down. I started by clicking ‘on the edge of something’ and then on each category listed in turn, after that on the website’s header. You can flit around, clicking on links within the exhibits – but I’m a linear sort of girl –and tried not to be distracted by glimpses into other rooms or to get too lost in the desert.

I began my visit yesterday evening. Fortified by a glass of wine and my husband’s excellent Friday night curry, I set off.  First I downloaded and read through the programme – so that I could be, at least a little bit, familiar with the contributors. Then for the next two and half hours, while a force 7 blew along the loch and the rain battered against the windows, I became oblivious to everything – except this most amazing, joyous, original, jaw-dropping gallery space. I’ve visited galleries all over the world – Barcelona, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, Boston, Cape Town, Sydney, Verona, Hobart, Prague, Jerusalem,  Singapore and, oh yes, Portree! And this virtual example is up there with them all.

Then this morning, the necessary household chores completed to keep the cottage sanitary, I returned to continue my exploration of the treasures on offer. Fortified this time by a cup of Taylor’s rich Italian blend coffee, I set off. I was very glad not to have to go further than my desk as, the south-westerly gale continued to howl and whistle and the white-crested waves bashed against the cliffs at the foot of the croft.

Pausing only for lunch and another, mid-afternoon, dose of caffeine I completed my tour. And, yes, it was an amazing journey. What talent is on display!  Artists – literary and visual –of great integrity, honesty and depth are all on show. Your philosophy, politics and preconceptions will all be challenged. Your brain will hurt – but at least your feet won’t.

Wow – just – wow! Glé mha! My preview didn’t do it justice. Dan Holloway, the curator-creator of this truly wonderful space, has done an incredible job putting this lot together.  As for the exhibitors and their exhibits – a few thoughts from me below.

But don’t take my word for it. Go visit!

BREATHS

Andy Harrod’s ‘Repeat till Fade’ – a picture = a 1000 words -a nightmare in a handful of words.

Allyson Armistead’s ‘Oasis’ – what a beautiful story – not a wasted word. Warmth, humour, pathos, love and that all-consuming fear of mortality all conveyed in a deceptively simple story. Wonderful!

AT THE EDGE OF SOMETHING

Andy Harrod’s ‘At the Edge of Something’ – moving- in my case to tears. A very close family member committed suicide ten years ago. Those of us he left behind will forever wonder if we could have listened and helped more. The photos and the words – I can’t think of a more intense example of human heart to heart communication.

Andy Harrods’s ‘Alice’ – DISTURBING! Chilling, menacing, ambiguous – it’s brevity makes it all the more sinister – and leaves the barriers in tact. Masterly writing.

SOMEWHEN OTHER ME

Sarah Melville’s– ‘French Lesson’ – three cheers for the child – in the story, and in us all. Acquiescence doesn’t necessarily mean compliance. The feisty, wee narrator says a lot – about adult/child relationships, power/vulnerability, and respect/disrespect in  a very few words. Clever, economical, powerful, story telling.

Oli Johns’ –  ‘The Things They Let Into the Classroom’ – VERY dark. We’re inside the head of a burnt out, exhausted, stressed, depressed, paranoid teacher. A narrator provoked beyond endurance and tolerance by a difficult pupil. Boundaries – between reality and dreaming, between characters and between right and wrong blur and bleed into each other. Horrible and sinister double standards surface – loving fathers are also potential child molesters. Reading this will affect the reader deeply. It’s gripping, horribly fascinating and unsettling. Oli is an original and uncompromising writer and he presents the more unsavoury truths about human nature and our capacity for destruction – of ourselves and of others.

ON A ROLL

Penny Goring’s‘Temporary Passport’ – this recollection of a long gone love – a busking, poverty laden, peripatetic, partnership is raw and haunting. There are no regrets over the fact of the relationship but the loss of the narrator’s drawings of her former partner’s ‘fantastic face’ is deeply felt. The language and the imagery give this short story the feeling of a novel.

Kathryn Megan Stark’s ‘Touchdown Toward Midnight on the Potomac River’ – is a story of a plane ditching in a freezing river. The passengers’ stories are told with such depth that they made this reader gasp. Wonderful writing. I was especially impressed by the assault victim’s take.

EMBRACE

Cendrine Marrouat’s ‘Grains of Sand’– the photo is striking – are the structures nothing more than sand sculptures – vulnerable and frail like life? The poem is a liberation from concerns over life’s fleetingness. Cendrine takes an eternity-embracing view in this deeply philosophical musing on time and life. The desert she presents here is anything but barren. An incredibly talented poet at work here.

Joyce Chng’s ‘Desert Mother’– this is a reverential and touching poem – the tone is both respectful and sad. The desert mother could be both literal and metaphorical. is the ‘heat and grit’ symbolic of a late mother’s personality. This is a poem to ponder upon, and to revisit.

SHRINKING FROM THE SUN

Marc Nash’s –‘Feed Tube’   This poem is surreal – I hope I’ve ‘got’ it – it’s one hell of a drug-induced trip. It’s a stream of yearning consciousness; at least it is on the surface. I don’t mean it’s gone straight from the poet’s brain to the page – there’s real craftsmanship present here and I think Marc’s poem demands re-reading – in a good way.

SOMEWHERE ELSE

Stacy Ericson’s ‘Sole’s Rest’ – this is awesome – a waltzing rhythm of arresting imagery – depicting day’s (life’s?) end – a fading to black of sky and hills and being called home by the desert dogs.

Quenntis Ashby’s ‘Into the desert of breaking things without pause for concern’ – post-apocalyptic prayer and warning message for those haunted and taunted by their casual disregard of our beautiful, wee, blue planet, of its structures – physical, natural, political and economical – i.e a call to all of us. This is reminiscent of P.D.James’s ‘Children of Men’  (I loved that book and the movie) – it’s ‘Children of Men’ on the moon, if you like, and what might come next. Clever and entertaining.

Alexander McNabb’s ‘The Salamander’– Fuelled by ‘power and passion made molten and pure’ the Salamander – or is it really a rather sick and discarded old tramp in a heat induced nightmare stupor – roams the streets – looking for the One. Delusion, illusion, drunken dream – whatever it’s powerful, it’s shocking – you’ll stop and, in a weird way, you’ll enjoy.

Sabina England’s ‘Brown Trash’– it’s a hymn, a war cry for inclusiveness, for the right to be yourself, to embrace your beliefs. Go girl! Here’s to all who dare to be different just by being themselves. Nobody has a monopoly on truth – Sabina’s shout needs to be heard.

STRANGER

SabinaEngland’s –‘Self-Portrait’ video – GASP! LOL! GASP! OMG! love it! Just remember the little old lady might not want to cross the road or indeed the young woamn may not need you to holler ‘Stop!’ She might actually be able to manage just fine by herself!

Chris Graham’s ‘What’s Going On?’– dark! I laughed, then felt I shouldn’t; hands covering mouth, I watched the narrator drop his bomb on his parents and then applauded him for doing so. Being true to yourself has its price – but it’s worth every penny.

THE DESERT

Thomas Stolperer’s ‘The Desert’ – Stick with this one and come back. It’ll repay a revisit or six. The characters reflect on the many aspects of a/our desert life. There’s self-justification, self-deprecation, cynicism, subversion, regret, humour and resignation. It’s life as we know it.

WASTELAND

Grace Andreacchi and Natasha Guy – are the contributors here.  Theirs is  stark, bleakly beautiful poetry.

Grace’s ‘On the U-Bahn’ and ‘Dream’ are laden with menace and (self) destruction and Natasha’s ‘Barren Determination’ sings out with perseverance.

Thank you, Dan and all the exhibitors for a wonderful day out (of myself).

Oh and for anyone in or around Oxford on November 18th there’s a LIVE SHOW with presentations by many of the above artists and authors – at the O3 gallery.I wish I could go – yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t live in the Hebrides.