Vandalism was published by Merlin Publishers in October 2015 and marked the culmination of a long journey, personally, professionally and geographically. I began writing the novel nearly 20 years ago and the manuscript – in all its various forms – travelled with me from Cardiff (where the writing began) to my home city, Glasgow (where the novel is set), and on to Malta, where I now work and live…and where the book was finally published.
It feels strangely fitting that the book should have found a publisher here in the country where I’ve lived for eight and a half years, and which is very much my home. The publication of Vandalism felt, and feels, like a particular kind of homecoming, something which seems additionally appropriate as the writing of the novel was in itself a crucial means of finding some direction home.
While Vandalism is not autobiographical, like most works of fiction, it draws on aspects of my own experience, subsuming these within a fictional narrative which has a life all of its own. As Oliver Sacks observes: ‘Every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.‘ [Musicophilia]
Vandalism also emerged from an urgent need to write, a compulsion which underscored the writing of my second novel, Duende. While the latter is both historical and literary fiction, Vandalism is set in contemporary Glasgow and explores issues that may be familiar to many readers: breast cancer; the loss of a close friend; the conflict between the present and the past; memories versus the lived-through moments of the now. And a love affair which brings together a sense of dreams which could have been and places this in sharp distinction with the actuality of what, and so painfully, is.
This contradiction and its heart-wrenching push and pull creates the structure, theme and pulse of the novel in which a young woman, Moira, is anticipating the death of her best friend when a man from her past reappears in her life. To say this gives rise to a juxtaposition of emotions is an understatement and Vandalism doesn’t shy away from exposing some of the blatant and brutal disparities which inevitably occur. Although the side effect of this may at times be shocking, occasionally veering into an ‘in your face’ mode of delivery, the style of the novel is in accordance with the story that it tells.
It is a bare-faced while rhapsodic narrative of love and loss, of longing, desire, ache and grief. It is a story with no holds barred, unsparing in its refusal to conform to anything that comes close to any black and white morality. It depicts life in all its wide and gaping spectrum of emotions, and it does so without pride, without shame, without condemnation or judgement. The story moves at the same frenetic pace as the actions and their aftermath, simultaneously interweaving the present, the past and, at times, the imagined future. The narrative chronicles the fictional events as these happen and tells the story as seen through the protagonist’s eyes. Anger, pain, regret, abhorrence are just some of the emotions that spill out across the page. As Moira asks at one point:
Why are we all so walking fuckin wounded? We seemed to have everything going for us and now look. Turning thirty with such lack of joie de vivre, such lack of lust for what life has to offer because, of course, we’re bitter and we’re twisted and we’re used to making do with second best. And does our cynicism make us old before our time or have we simply found the easiest way of compensating for the fact that life is not very kind, is not some old and trusted friend who’ll take you to one side and explain everything quite clearly and quite calmly and quite rationally?
As indicated by the above, the brutality of life remains steeped in a poetic vision, with beauty and cruelty forming two sides of the self-same coin. Whether implicit or overt, the overall depiction of life emanates from a fundamental and unwavering poetic source. This no doubt reflects the influence of the Spanish writer, Federico García Lorca, on all of my work, a perspective captured in his premise that:
Poetry exists in all things, in the ugly, in the beautiful, in the repugnant. The difficult thing is knowing how to discover it, how to awaken the deep wells of the soul. [Impressions and Landscapes]
Lorca appears as a character in Duende, but his presence is there, too, in Vandalism. At one point, Moira and Ewan go to watch Lorca’s play, Blood Wedding, and Moira clearly perceives the parallels between the onstage action and her own love affair:
I almost felt sorry for the expectant groom as his bride-to-be turned to dreams of horse-backed saviours and the heat of another man’s breath. And I trembled at the thought of me and Ewan meeting our gory fate at the hands of some howling mob who refused to understand that our love was true and invincible. Rational explanations would never stop them tearing us apart, limb from screaming limb, and I breathed a quiet sigh of relief that my mother hadn’t phoned for several days now.
The ‘expectant groom’ in Moira’s case is Andy, the man she’s betraying in her desire to be with Ewan. Andy who, while Connie’s in the final throes of her disease, is the one who ‘continued to empty the bins, keep the fridge stocked and fresh, sift through the e-mails, take down phone messages, writing down the names and every number.‘ Andy. The one who unwittingly copied down Ewan’s name and number and so becomes an unwilling accomplice to his girlfriend’s affair. Andy. The man who seems the paragon of virtue: ‘Andy and fuckin Moira.The perfect bloody pair.‘
In a novel which depicts life as a fairly haphazard process of trial and frequent error, perfection is difficult to come by and the title concept of vandalism permeates the story at every level. It is the needless assault, by cancer, of a young woman’s body; it is the reckless sabotage of a settled relationship in the pursuit of overwhelming desire; it is the wanton desecration of conventional norms in the search for something true. In Vandalism, ultimately, it is a quest, against all odds, to glimpse the fullest moon, ‘to catch sight of a mystery we could never hold in the palm of our hands but would belong to us for always in that chapter of our lives.‘