The darkly amusing tales of Andrew O'Donnnell take us into a world of postmodern angst, mild decadance, and the overriding apathy of the narrator. His stories, while seeming to wander through details, are character studies of laser precision, analyzing and revealing the motives of their young protagonists. They provide consistent humor and intelligence.
From 1995 to 1998, Andrew lived in Stoke-on-Trent, studying Literature and Philosophy at Staffordshire University. He began writing his poetry collection, ‘The Maelstrom Notebook’ about Bolton. He also wrote a short opera libretto entitled ‘Transmission’ which was shown in Huddersfield. In 1999, he travelled throughout Central India, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. He then flew to Kobe, Japan and began teaching English. He completed the ‘The Maelstrom Notebook’ in September 1999.
The next year, he continued teaching in Kobe. He started a poetry collection called ‘Subway’ in March, 2000. The schema of the collection was based on the Kobe subway system. He started writing short stories during the summer.
In January 2001, Andrew left to return to India, He travelled round the Northern Himalaya and then back to Nepal a second time. He stayed in Pokhara, Nepal and continued work on his short story collection (working title ‘High Tension’), ‘Subway,’ and some articles on travelling in India and Nepal. He moved back to Kobe in April and started an untitled novel. He started to teach again, and moved to Osaka, where he worked on a one-act play ‘Biped Congregational’. This year, Andrew is in London.
Andrew has been published in English and Canadian magazines such as First Time, The Rue Bella, Voice and Verse, and Grain. "The Maelstrom Notebook," "India Variations," and his new collection of short poems, "Slivers," have yet to be published. He's currently working on "Subway: A Love Poem in Many Parts," "High Tension," an untitled novel and a play, "Biped Congregational." Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew's works here at Unlikely Stories are:
An Evening with X
The Eighth Day Adagio for Strings
'Blank Spots,' or, 'Like Penguins, Baby!'
What follows is exerpts from an interview with Andrew O'Donnell. It was taken in The Railway, in Putney, England, on the 25th of January, 2002. It was conducted by Felix Symonds.
FS: So, what will it be?
AO: I think a pint of Guinness, they’re on special today, they’re only a quid, I think... are you buyin?
FS: Well, I guess I am. Do you have any cash?
AO: I’m afraid not.
Later, they get settled down at a table and the interviewer starts plying Andrew with questions. Andrew politely answers while chain smoking his duty free cigarettes, perhaps one of the only benefits of moving around too much.
FS: So, we’re just gonna have a chat about your stuff ...just so people can get a bit of an impression about you and your writing, OK?
AO: Yeah, fire away...
FS: So when did you start writing?
AO: I don’t know, really ...I suppose properly when I was around sixteen or seventeen... in that I was collecting poems in a notebook, all of them of dubious origin!... I gave them titles like ‘Chip Barm no.28’ and stuff like that [Readers in the US might like to know that a chip barm is basically a big barmcake or bread bun filled with greasy chips... mmm, lovely!] ...I didn’t really take it seriously and in some ways still don’t... I’m not one of these people who was writing little stories from an early age although I was quite good at drawing when I was in Primary School... but I kind of gave it up when I got to Secondary School. I was born in Blackpool but lived all of my ‘youth,’ as they say, in Bolton... which is a fairly large town about twenty minutes from Manchester in the Northwest. I would just wander round my neighbourhood and write these weird nonsensical poems. I try and keep everything I’ve written (which can be quite painful if you happen to re-read your stuff after any length of time!) but those notebooks have disappeared... shame really... coz they were kind of quirky and not as depressing as the stuff I’ve been writing recently... I’d like to check them out again.
FS: So, tell us a bit about the stories that are in Unlikely Stories would you?
AO: Yeah, right... so... er, these stories started to be written when I was living in Japan... I was staying in a suburban apartment block that resembled a five story block of concrete... it was just outside of Kobe ...which is about half an hour away from Osaka. Kobe is where they had they had this terrible earthquake a few years ago. The first story I wrote there was called The Eighth Day... that must have been about June/July 2000... I think I wrote it in one sitting... I can’t remember... but, anyway... it was the first proper short story I’d ever written... I’ve never actually liked reading short stories but I suppose I’ve since come to realise how difficult and how disciplined they can really be. I’ve probably only ever read about three or four books of short stories ever! My friend told me about Hemingway’s ‘The Snows of Kilimanjiro’ ...just because I’d emailed him and he said that my lifestyle at that time sounded like that of the guy in the title story. I didn’t think that much about the Hemingway though, really. I got my hands on a compilation of some of Raymond Carver’s stuff... which I thought was amazing... especially that one ‘The Cathedral’ and ‘Where I’m Calling From’ I suppose you can see bits of that story in some of these ones, which is inevitable really. Anyway... I just started writing these stories one after the other within the space of a month... I suppose bits of them were quite autobiographical but overall the writing of them was a bit of exorcism I s’pose... since I wasn’t having a great time of it, generally. Yeah... so all of them were written around that time... ‘Adagio for Strings’ was kind of a return to the situations in ‘The Eighth Day’. It was a very weird time for me, really. I was finishing up my first time in Japan and needed to leave for the sake of my own sanity... but I didn’t really know what to do next. I didn’t have any form for what I was doing ...I couldn’t see myself finishing a collection of short stories... I was just writing these stories in my tatami mat room in Kobe, Japan. I’d gotten a laptop the previous January so I was using that to type everything out on... I had the laptop on the floor and I would seal myself up in that room with numerous cans of Lemon Chu-Hi and...
FS: What’s Chu-Hi?
Andrew: It’s like an alcoholic derivative of sake with flavouring, I just happened to find the lemon variety the most rewarding!
FS: Oh, I see!... so... yeah... go on, what were you saying?
AO: Er, nothin ...just, yeah, ...just that the writing of these stories was very much some kind of ...fucked up process of healing... I was teaching during the day... I’d really come to hate the job and was just writing these stories as an escape. I s’pose they are kind of an attack on the lifestyle I was leading then... or at least ...the authority narrative voice has ...it gives that lifestyle a little more clarity. I s’pose its just presenting a case and saying ‘Whaddya make of this?’
FS: Right, yeah... oh... so what are you up to now?
AO: Well... I just got into London. I sometimes come in here to write my book... I’m doing it old-style... with a notebook and pen... but only coz I’m sick of hiking the laptop everywhere, really! Yeah... so... the novel... half of its still in Vancouver... I need to raise the money to get it sent over. And... what else? Yeah... the collection of short stories... I’m writing a longer story called ‘Heaven’ which is like a bunch of fragmented lives connected with Stoke-on-Trent [a lovely grey English town that dares to be situated close to Birmingham!] ...yeah, I’m quite excited about that... and the two collections of poetry... most of which refuse to be published!
FS: Great! So... thanks for that... hopefully people will be a bit clearer about your stuff, then...
AO: Another pint?
FS: All right, go on then.