Hauptbahnhof by Joanna Walsh

20 September, 2013


But it is possible to sleep on the station.

If you don’t look like a tramp, if you change your clothes with reasonable regularity, above all if you look like you are waiting for someone.

Hauptbahnhof by Joanna Walsh is not easy to define. A musing, an instance, a short story. A woman waits at Berlin’s central station, Hauptbahnhof; waiting, yearning, excusing the behaviour of the person she waits for, in denial that he or she has abandoned her. Her conversational style, in reality a fantasy conversation with her erstwhile, absent lover is chatty and observant if not underlined with sadness as we, the reader, realise that he or she won’t be appearing. Ever. And yet she still waits, like Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; turning up day after day, arguing, procastinating, although in Hauptbahnhof she is alone. But it’s a busy station, there is coffee to be drunk, hair to be cut and phone to be charged. And she’s become a dab hand at remaining unobserved as she has ‘perfected the waiting look.’

I quite like the narrator. She is someone who is proper, who doesn’t want to cause a ‘situation’, who can hang around and wait in this busy station like a civilised person. Ever patient, ever hopeful. Like a sophisticated stalker who doesn’t want to cause trouble.

Walsh, otherwise known as Badaude, is a skilled writer. Her narrator is totally serious and undertakes her endeavour with gravity. And Walsh is restrained in her dry, sly, witty take of this frankly bonkers woman. It’s a slice of crazy in a busy, non-stop world. But done with charm.

Published by 3:AM Press as a chapbook, I love the concept of these smartly finished single pieces of fiction.

I posed a set of questions to Walsh about her work which she kindly answered. Enjoy!

1) What was your inspiration for your story? What made you choose the narrator’s viewpoint?

The first time I visited Berlin by train, I spent over an hour walking around the Hauptbahnhof, wondering how to get from there to the place I needed to be. Like the narrator, I didn’t realise the station wasn’t connected up to the main underground network, and that you have to catch another train to link to it. It seemed perfectly possible to live in the station: it had so many conveniences. Reading through the proofs that have just arrived, of my short story collection that 3:AM Press will publish in the Autumn, I realise I’m always writing about people who are trying to make homes in impossible places.

2) I know you travel a lot. What are your thoughts on stations/traveling/waiting?

For years I didn’t want to travel. I didn’t want to believe it was possible to know more, or more deeply, or have more significant experiences by going somewhere else. It was part of a resistance to the ideas around travel and travel literature, which strike me as so male and privileged. Eventually I did travel, but only because I realised I was much more interested in the travelling than the arriving. … And waiting? I’m writing a book about love and travel, and the travelling-without-moving of the Internet (something of what it will be about is here). I’m interested in what Barthes says in A Lover’s Dialogue: “Am I in love? Yes, since I am waiting.” Love and travel put you in a passive, controlled position, subject to other people’s decisions. In a world that values autonomy and power, anything that requires giving up control is always interesting.

3) Can you please tell me a little bit about how you work? You are an illustrator. How do you find writing as opposed to drawing – do you work differently?

As an illustrator most of my drawings are responses to texts, but writing and drawing occupy different parts of my mind. If I’m planning a drawing – thinking out where to put what, or what is going to be there – I can’t listen to anything with words in it, but when I’m drawing it’s absolutely necessary for me to occupy the part of my brain that deals with words by listening to a spoken-word podcast or whatever, otherwise I get very bored and frustrated.

4) And lastly, I was expecting the cover to be one of your illustrations? How did you feel about someone else illustrating your story?

Happy – I didn’t want to illustrate it myself. A few months ago I had to illustrate a story I wrote, which is coming out with Union Books later this year, and that was odd because using words to describe things is unlike using pictures: the gaps are always in different places…

Thank you very much Joanna. I can’t wait to read your next work! And you can read more about her here.

6 Responses to “Hauptbahnhof by Joanna Walsh”

  1. nbtoo Says:

    I love the whole idea of such a story.

  2. Bellezza Says:

    As a person who loves travel, who loved the Hauptbahnhof in both Frankfurt, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland, I am so intrigued by this book. How wonderful to find something with a fresh premise!

    • sakura Says:

      There’s something about stations and airports which suspends you from daily life – like you’re in a bubble. This was a wonderful piece of short fiction.

  3. itoeri Says:

    sounds very interesting, especially in our modern world where waiting at a station has become almost surreal with the introduction of mobiles (if your appointment is kept, that is.) if you happen to have to ‘wait’, it could become an inner soul trip with questions and expectations, couldn’t it?
    would love to read it. but, it seems to be sold out at gallery beggar press…

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