On Thursday June 15th 2017, I’ll be reading from my novel Vandalism (Merlin Publishers 2015) at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow. I’ll also be including extracts from my other novel Duende. To use the old cliche about a dream coming true, this, I can say, is a dream come true and more.
I began writing Vandalism nearly twenty years ago and the manuscript remained with me as I moved from Cardiff back to my home city, Glasgow, and on to Malta where I now live permanently and work as a writer, theatre performer and teacher. The script of Vandalism remained with me all that time, both on paper and in my mind.
In 2014, I self-published another novel, Duende, which was the second novel I’d written but the first to reach publication. The year before, I’d spent the summer reworking and editing Vandalism, going through a story set in the grey and rain of Glasgow while I was sweating it out in the crazy heat of the mad Mediterranean sun.
In 2014, I sent my ‘new improved’ version of Vandalism to one of the leading publishers in Malta – Merlin Publishers. In October 2015, it was published in its current form and last year, it was shortlisted for Best Novel by the National Book Council (Malta):
Shortly after Vandalism was published, I went back to Glasgow to spend Christmas with my family. On my last evening there, I plucked up the courage to go into Waterstones on Byres Rd – right in the heart of where my novel is set – and asked the manager if he’d be interested in stocking copies in his shop. His positive answer actually caught me by surprise, despite my underlying philosophical belief that if you knock on a door gently, it might just open.
Nevertheless, like all small independent publishers – a situation intensified by the small size of Malta – Merlin Publishers has limited distribution capacities, resulting in me manually transporting the first 10 copies of the book to Glasgow in my Ryanair suitcase. I used the same trusted method of delivery last Christmas, meticulously wrapping the books in bubble wrap to try and protect them from any unnecessary turbulence…
On the back of this rather makeshift start, I’ve now been invited to do an Author’s Evening at Waterstones in June: an author’s evening in my favourite bookshop in a road in Glasgow which was my stomping ground as I was growing up; a road in Glasgow which is a central landmark in the narrative of Vandalism, and an enduring visual and physical location in the landscape of my life.
For me, and always, creativity and synchronicity go hand in hand. And, out of many examples, I want to describe just two.
I recently contacted Pat Byrne who edits and produces the website, Pat’s Guide: Glasgow West End. I sent her information about the Waterstones event accompanied by a standard publicity photo featuring the cover of Vandalism. Instead, Pat selected another picture which I took last Saturday following a reading I gave at a Literature Evening at Maori in Valletta on Friday 5th May. She couldn’t have chosen a better picture, even though, from my own point of view, it was a wholly unexpected choice.
It’s this picture which appears at the start of this article. Not only does it contain both my novels but it also includes postcards of paintings by my friend, Gabriel Buttigieg, himself a breathtakingly beautiful Maltese artist whose work and friendship continue to inspire me on a whole host of levels. The illustration for the cover of Duende comes from a painting by another friend and Maltese artist, Damian Ebejer. Entitled ‘The Divide of Reason’, both the name and the potent imagery of Damian’s painting provide the perfect counterpart to a novel which, set in Spain during the period culminating in the Civil War, chronicles the brutal disintegration of reason throughout the story. I am forever indebted to Damian for his kind permission to allow me to use his painting as it’s become a crucial aspect of the novel itself.
So, by chance and exquisite accident, a Maltese trio are somehow making their way to Glasgow, and this feels like a homecoming of a particularly magical kind. It adds yet another intricate link to the now seamless bridge between my two homes: Scotland and Malta.
The second example of the interconnection between creativity and synchronicity relates to one of my closest friends, Mercedes Richardson. We became friends at the tender age of 14 at a time when life and love had an urgency and beauty all of their own. After leaving school and continuing on our separate journeys, I re-contacted Mercedes in 1997 when my Mum was dying. It was her own Mum who answered the phone and passed me Mercedes’ number, and Mercedes was there beside me in what was the most painful period of my life.
Vandalism first came into existence during this time and I continued writing the novel throughout the grieving process, if, in fact, this ever ends. I was reminded recently of the force and power of creativity in the midst of trauma in an interview with Nick Cave who lost his 15 year old son in a tragic accident two years ago. Here, Nick Cave speaks of the painful struggle to reconnect with life after such a sudden and inexplicable loss. ‘There is a pure heart, but all around it is chaos’, Nick Cave says, and this poignantly sums up what I’m trying to express.
Mercedes’ Mum, a well-known West End artist, Rita McGurn, died in April 2015, a few months before Nick Cave lost his boy. Rita was a role model for me while I was growing up and, while Mercedes craved the order and stability of my family’s way of living, I envied the Bohemian randomness of hers.
To mark her Mum’s passing, Mercedes has decorated a bench in the Botanic Gardens (another familiar location in Vandalism). The bench is a colourful and magnificent tribute to Rita from her daughter who was also her best friend.
Mercedes was a major influence on Vandalism and permeates the characters within the story in many many ways. Two days ago, she sent me an e-mail with a picture. ‘Promised to add a flower on to my bench in memory of your Mum’, she wrote, ‘so here it is – a rose.’
A rose. For my Mum, Megan Rosemary Eldridge, to whom Vandalism is dedicated. A gift from Mercedes whose name appears in the acknowledgements to the book. And just as she was there beside me during my Mum’s dying, so, too, it was Mercedes who came with me to Waterstones when I first ventured in to ask if they might consider selling my book.
Life, love and death are the focus of Vandalism, ‘those three cornerstones of the human condition that seem hell-bent on letting you down.’ But out of the darkness and sorrow comes a vibrancy and light that is more than mere memory, but is itself an act of creativity sustaining life and a life beyond life.