As a child I often lied to people about where I was born. “Boston, Massachusetts,” I’d say. However, the truth was far less exciting – no one was as interested when I told them “Stockport”. That said, it wasn’t a complete fabrication, as I am a dual-national, American/ English citizen. My grandmother, Grace, moved to Boston from Ireland in her twenties. Here, she fell in love with my grandfather, Joseph “Joey” O’Donnell. I never met Joey as he passed away when I was a baby: he was still in America. I grew up romanticising his life and the country he lived in, to the point that I developed a fiction about him, believing it until much more recently.
In January of 2011 I sat down with my grandmother to talk about her memories of Joey and America. I planned to drive across America, hitting all of the signi cant places in the story, ending at his grave. Until our conversation I believed him to have been a jazz musician – signed at an early age, he toured around the north-east before falling in love and starting a family. Family pressures had been too much for him in his early twenties, though, so he left for a second shot at a career in music on the west coast. This failed, so he moved to Las Vegas, indulging in a lifestyle that consumed him and ultimately ended his life too soon.
However, this wasn’t true. At least, not all of it.