Monday, January 14, 2013

My First Time: Lisa O'Donnell

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Lisa O'Donnell whose debut novel, The Death of Bees, has just been published by Harper Collins.  Library Journal had this to say about the book: "Quirky characters with distinct voices enliven this sometimes grim and often funny coming-of-age story in the vein of Karen Russell’s best seller Swamplandia!"  If you'll recall, I was completely sucked in by the novel's opening lines.  O'Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award.  A native of Scotland, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Los Angeles with her two children.

My First Poetry

Mrs. Bulloch was the first English teacher I ever had who felt deeply about what she was reading, particularly war poetry.  I’m not saying the other teachers I had didn’t feel as deeply as Mrs. Bulloch, but when she read us Wilfred Owen’s "Dulce et Decorum Est," or "Anthem for Doomed Youth" or even Tennyson’s "The Charge of theLight Brigade," you could hear a pin drop.  She moved around a lot when she read, she was very dramatic and instilled a fear and a tragedy with a brevity that took your breath away.

The idea of these young men (oftentimes boys) sent to war to die, some of them poisoned by mustard gas, terrified the life out of me.  Mrs. Bulloch never let us forget they were children.  I was troubled by it and at the same time fascinated by the plight of these young men thrown into a world of chaos through no fault of their own.

However, it was "Spain 1809" by Frank. L. Lucas that blew me away.  The poem tells the story of rebels during the Peninsular War who invade a small town to loot it and take whatever they want from it.  The villagers flee and leave behind a girl who ends up serving the soldiers wine and whatever food is left.  She is mauled and molested and in evident danger from these ravenous soldiers, but she doesn’t care.  She is courageous and while they eat what is left of the food and drink the wine, she lets the soldiers know they have all been poisoned and will die in her village.  The narrator at the end says he will not speak of the things they did to the girl in revenge but that she died a heroic death.  The poet never lets us forget our heroine is a child, like I never forgot Marnie and Nelly in The Death of Bees, despite the chaos they are thrown into, are also children.

Photo by Vanessa Stump

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