An interview with my friend Andy Harrod, author of
Living Room Stories, a handmade book inspired by the music of Ólafur Arnalds.
Andy also takes pictures and often combines his stories with photography to synergistic and beautiful effect. Here Andy tells more about the book he has made and his personal journey.
1) Can you tell us a bit about yourself, what you write and why you write?
Who am I? At times I feel I have a secure sense of self, centred on creativity, be it writing, art or photography, both to understand and express myself. At others it is as if a carpet has been pulled from under me by my self critic, fierce and unrelenting; it is in the unknown battles with my self critic I find myself falling. However due to these battles I believe I am moving to a state of curiosity and away fear in my way of being, which I am expressing via my writing. This links with my journey as a trainee therapist, which excites and fascinates me. Two people in a room, full of stories.
My journey to be a therapist is also my journey as a writer. I often state I write to understand my existence, why I exist and what is living? I’m now starting to realise that I also write to express my perspective, my way of being. I aim to offer my perspective and ideas in my stories, creating a place for the reader to interact and to take as they wish.
My main themes are the individual, loneliness, troubled pasts, hope, relationships and most importantly love, both the destructive and distorted conditional love and the healing and wonderful unconditional love (inspired by my wife, Rachel). Without love I fear we are nothing. My writing inhibits a space similar to urban landscapes, like abandoned urban space the subject matters I write about are easy to shy away from and replaced with something more comfortable until there is no memory. But these spaces exist and I wish to challenge readers with the discomfort they bring. By offering this perspective I give the subject every chance, it is not what I think that is important, but what the reader will take away.
2) You recently released a collection of short stories called Living Room Stories. Can you tell us how the collection came to life and what it’s about?
In early October 2011 Ólafur Arnalds’ released Living Room Songs, a song a day for seven days. Ólafur’s songs connected to my heart and I decided to dive in, listening to each song for a few hours. As Fyrsta repeated, I pictured a couple and felt inspired and thought why not write a story a day to go with each of his songs. The preceding summer had been a limbo for me, I had great plans for my writing, 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. On watching the video Ólafur released for Fyrsta, 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.
For the physical handmade release I have reordered the stories into a linear retelling of the couple’s time together. However each story, which I see as a memory is on a separate card, these individual cards encourage interaction with these memories. There is no set order, there was the blog order and the liner handmade edition order, and most importantly there is the choice for the reader to develop their own order.
3) Living Room Stories are handmade. Why did you choose to do that?
Recently I was looking at my counselling learning journal and came across the process that led to the handmade edition.
‘The fan rattles, my head bangs. Grey. … Living Room Songs is playing and I have Living Room Stories in my head and I want to do something with them, a booklet – handmade, limited edition, but how? Typed pages with hand written annotations? Musical notation for pages? Not like I’ll sell many and I had to put that in didn’t I. What a back stabbing saboteur. … Creating meaning from nothing. Allowing my imagination to flow and I feel so very excited. What about as a 7 inch record? Card sleeve and then the stories as squares; photo and title one side and text on the other. Cover image to do with negatives. … And I feel so much more alive when creating. I feel I’ve found a home for Living Room Stories now. I feel excited. Living Room Stories is me, it is a big release. If I get it out there, it is up to others to buy, but it will help me to release it, let it fly. The head, the confusion has gone.’
4) You often combine photography or other art work with your stories. What is the reason for this?
I got into writing via music and in an ideal world I would be in a band, but a combination of timing, confidence and laziness has meant it has never happened. At present my guitar collects dust, alongside a didgeridoo in the spare room, at some point I like to pick them both up again. However 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. The writing always come first, though I rarely then take a photo to match, but instead look through my collection of photos and find the right one. Perhaps then the image comes first and it sits there on the edge of my awareness and the writing follows, though often years separate the two coming together.
5) What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the new piece?
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, as well as work I have posted, and also essays on the writing, art and photography. The writing will be grouped into themes, e.g., lost thoughts, black blues ep, a numb nothingness surrounds. I plan to release it as an A5 landscape book, possibly via LULU. Originally it was to be handmade and bounded together with metal, but the battle between ideals and time has been won by time. I love handmade, but it is time consuming and with living and studying, time is not a luxury I have. There may also be a kindle version, which would require some editing due to the photography and art and changing the layout to portrait.
After that, my start, stop novel Deception, which is 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. It is important to me to complete Deception as it is time to move onto new chapters in my life and I would like to close older ones.
Living Room Stories available at: http://decodingstatic.blogspot.com/2012/01/living-room-stories-second-edition.html
Thank you very much for the interview exchange, Andy!
Best of luck with the second edition of Living Room Stories and with Tearing At Thoughts and Deception!
(Image by Andy Harrod)