On Censorship

MużiKartI

Censorship is alive and well in Malta…but it’s not what you think it is.

Many have this notion of Ministers compiling lists of who is acceptable and who isn’t, but Ministers operate on the suggestions of politically appointed experts whose role is to offer advice. Very often, these people act on behalf of a Minister or an institution without any consultation or even right to do so, leading Ministries and institutions in some very awkward and embarrassing situations. In the cultural sector, these political advisors tend to be ‘creative practitioners’, and their advice rests more on furthering personal interests than improving the sector.

The biggest threat to artists in Malta is pretty much other ‘artists’. I put the latter in inverted commas because these people are often obliging mediocrities who are more interested in ingratiating themselves to the powers that be than actually doing anything remotely creative. By censoring or…

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The Artist’s Way

the artist's way

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has had a profound influence on the subsequent course of my life. It’s a magical book and it worked – and still works – its magic on me.  Subtitled ‘A Spiritual Path to Creativity’, it’s a practical, playful and creative guide to unlocking and unleashing your creativity, and the tools which Cameron provides are tools for life. They’re a gift. All you need to do is open them and go.

Back in 2001, I was living in Glasgow and working in Edinburgh, a commute made additionally difficult because I was a single mother and my daughter was still young. I was teaching theatre in a university in Edinburgh and the job was deeply unsatisfying. Having performed and directed before, I felt I had become that frustrated creative who resents teaching people because she just wants to make work herself. I felt trapped and I felt blocked. I felt frustrated and resentful.

In Christmas 2001, my friend and neighbour, a film editor called Kristina Hetherington, gave me what turned out to be the best present of my life: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I should mention that since then, Kristina has worked on award-winning films, such as Yasmin and Summer, and has herself received a BAFTA as an editor on the film, Mo.

When I first started reading The Artist’s Way, I was a little sceptical about her reference to God but picked up on one of the provided definitions: Good Orderly Direction. I dilligently wrote 3 pages every morning – Morning Pages as Cameron calls them – 3 pages of free writing without self-censorship. You can write about your dreams, your feelings, your complaints, your discomfort, your…anything that comes into your head as you write. I bought colourful stickers and used crayons, and I collaged and sketched images of where I was now and where I so desperately wanted to be. The pictures I drew were of the me I was then: a single mother; an alcoholic surrounded by writing and books and theatre; a functioning alcoholic but an alcoholic nonetheless.

The pictures I drew of the me who I wanted to be were much happier. I was singing and acting and drawing and surrounded by beautiful, life-affirming objects and visions. I was in the full flow of my desired creativity. And what did I want to be? I wanted to be a freelance artist but could see no way of fulfilling my dreams in a country where despite my extremely good wage, the money gets spent on the bills, on the train fare, the council tax, school trips, etc etc etc. The idea of working freelance in Scotland seemed an impossibility.

One day, I went on an Artist’s Date. You do this on your own and the aim is to play and have fun. I went to Arran, taking a train and then a ferry to reach the island. While I was there, it began to rain – that kind of vertical rain which doesn’t stop and from which, that day, I had absolutely no excape. I got completely and indisputably soaking wet. And I also felt alive – more alive than alive. I was soaking wet and I was happy.

In June 2002, I directed a multimedia version of Genet’s The Maids. Shortly after, I organised a collaborative theatre project with practitioners from Bulgaria and Macedonia. In 2004, I revisited a novel, Vandalism, which I’d written in pen and ink several years before. In July that same year, I went to New York to visit a man who had been a central influence on the writing of that book. When I returned, it was to the news that my daughter had decided to live with her father in West Wales and she wasn’t coming back.

I felt sick, shocked and bereft. Utterly bereft.

After the grieving period and time off work, I decided to do all the things I’d felt unable to do while my daughter was there beside me in my world. I set up a theatre company. I received an e-mail from a man who was very interested but couldn’t make it to the initial meeting so we met up later in my university office. His name was Toni Attard and he came from Malta.

In the summer of 2005, Toni got funding which enabld me to go to Malta for the very first time. I worked as a performer on a devised theatre collaboration with Maltese and Scottish performers.

Most of All

Immediately, Malta struck me as a creative and vibrant island, with theatricality oozing out of its pores. I kept going back and I kept going back and – with some major life changes in between – I moved there in January 2008.

I’m still here, nearly 10 years on. I work as a freelance artist whose main financial source of stability comes through teaching English as a foreign language, a job tailor-made for me. No day is ever the same and I meet a fascinating range of people from all over the world on a daily basis. It relies on my creative and intellectual skills, and brings in my capacities as a performer.

I also work as a performer and have performed in plays such as Attempts on Her Life by Martin Crimp, The Sex Comedies by Iain Heggie, The Last Seduction of Almighty God by Howard Barker. I’ve worked on an Edward Bond production and had the unforgettable opportunity to meet the playwright in person. I’ve done some bits of directing work, including David Greig’s version of The Bacchae and Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley.

I’ve also, and perhaps most importantly, published 2 novels since I moved to Malta. The first is a book called Duende which I self-published as a second edition in 2014. It’s set in Spain in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War and incorporates all the things that have fascinated me throughout my life: art, literature, philosophy, politics and Federico García Lorca, a writer whose work I fell in love with many years ago.

The second book is called Vandalism, which I referred to earlier. A novel which travelled me for so much of my life was picked up by a Maltese publisher and hit the Maltese bookshops in 2015. The following year, it went on sale at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow, a bookshop whose location is the setting for Vandalism– the West End of Glasgow where I grew up.

In 2016, Vandalism was shortlisted for Best Novel by the National Book Council Malta and in June this year, I was invited to do an Author’s Evening at Waterstones. This event was a homecoming of an incredible kind. Amongst the audience were people from different parts of my life, both past and present, and the fact that the book was published in Malta and yet now also being sold in Glasgow created a bridge between my two homes, one connected by my writing. I couldn’t ask for more. I really couldn’t ask for more. Waterstones Author Evening 1

Synchronicity has played a major part in my creative journey to date, something which deserves a blog post all of its own. And synchronicity is a word which Julia Cameron uses a lot, referring to the act of writing as a spiritual practice in which connections spring forth from the wider universe and are interwoven with our work. As we create and surrender to this process, we tap into forces far beyond and above us.

I gave a copy of The Artist’s Way to a very good friend of mine just before I left Glasgow for Malta. She’d got sober in 2004 and in 2009, 2 years after I’d given her the book, she told me that The Artist’s Way was The Twelve Steps of AA. It took me another 5 years to understand what she was talking about. In 2014, I stopped drinking, too, and discovered in working the AA 12 step programme that the spiritual path of creativity and recovery are two and the same. Ultimately, a spiritual path is a spiritual path whatever the motivation for embarking on this journey.

While I’ve always been fiercely creative, my creativity liked to dance on the dark side, turning to drugs and alcohol in the hope of perceiving deeper truths. Utter despair and defeat took me to the doors of AA. Terrified that a life without alcohol would somehow diminish my creativity, I discovered that the ideas which had resonated with me so strongly in The Artist’s Way were being given the fresh air I had craved for when I first engaged with the book. And, although I’m not a religious person, the words ‘knock and the door shall be opened on to thee’ carry a real significance for me now. I used to feel I was banging on the door of life, always fighting my corner and defending my cause. The notion of surrender isn’t something that comes easily to me but what I have found, and on a daily basis, is that when I let go and stop resisting, the doors somehow open in the most unexpected of ways. As Julia Cameron says, ‘Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.’vandalism-and-murakami

Vandalism Chapter One

 

vandalism FB image

Vandalism (Merlin Publishers 2015) is set in my home city, Glasgow, and it was published in Malta, the country where I’ve lived for nearly 10 years and which I now, and very easily, also call my home. The year after it was published, it was shortlisted for a National Book Prize and, at the same time, Vandalism went on sale in Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow: the heart of the novel’s location and the place where I grew up. Last June, I was lucky enough to be invited to do an Author’s Evening there, a homecoming all of its own [Vandalism Goes Home: An Author’s Evening at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow] This year, Vandalism was made available on Amazon.

The story focuses on a young woman, Moira, whose best friend is dying of breast cancer when a man she once loved reappears in her life. Exploring the universal experiences of love, loss, betrayal and grief through the eyes of particular characters in a specific situation, Vandalism seems to tap into emotions which impact on us all.

Here’s a wee taste and I hope you enjoy the opening extract from the novel and that it inspires you to want to read more.

Vandalism

Chapter One

 

            Don’t come out till you’ve stopped laughing, were Ewan’s final words.

Don’t come out till you’ve stopped laughing, he said.

I never did stop laughing. But life went on anyway. It always does. The earth can swallow a thousand people in one go while the survivors manage to pick up their belongings and fill their stomachs with warm soup. My loss seemed insignificant in comparison.

It wasn’t as if we’d been in love for long. Seven weeks of looking into each other’s eyes and wishing we could defer the pain of what was to come. But the limited timespan of our romance was its making, not its undoing. No worries about growing grey and tetchy together. Contempt for the familiar was not an option.

The next time I sensed that same urgency was when my closest friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Both twenty-eight, friends since school, such things didn’t happen to girls like us. We met up in the same bars, smoked the same cigarettes, shared endless complaints about the men who didn’t stick around and the ones we wished had not. Connie was older than me by a whole month and that month now lurked like a gaping hole within her absence.

She told me she’d found a lump.

It’s like a penny piece, it is, but without any hard bits… A penny piece without any edges, she said.

She found it when she was having a bath and was going to get it checked, the day after next. It was probably nothing. She was sure it was nothing. Och, nothing to worry about, she said. And when Connie didn’t phone to cancel, we met up the following Thursday as we always did.

Connie was already in the pub when I arrived. It had been raining and both of us had come out without our brollies. Connie was sitting on her own, staring firmly through the window. I knew as soon as I looked at her. I bloody knew.

They’re going to operate as soon as possible, she said.

And I sat down, mouth stupid and wide open, unable to offer anything that might come close to consolation.

After that, I found myself clinging to each moment that we met, each quiet pause when neither of us needed to say a word. Limitations place infinite significance on the everyday mundane. Perhaps all of life should be lived like that, I thought, remembering crying as a child because Christmas Day was over for another year. Never enjoying the present because of its ephemeral loneliness. And then love and death enter the equation, forcing things to be perceived in a wholly different light.

Our love affair was tightly packed. We crammed into a few short weeks what most lovers share across the years. Full speed and fast forward, sleep was an unwelcome interruption.

This might get dangerous, he said when we first kissed.

And I smiled, almost frightened, but hopeful that he might be right.

We met analysing Ford Madox Brown’s cattled view of Scotland. Fuelled by Furstenberg, Connie was at that party, too, but left before the debate got fully underway.

Highland fuckin cattle? cried one voice in disbelief. That’s Scotland, is it? I bet the stupid bastard had never been to the Drum.

Ahistorical rants are always a sure-fire winner when nobody can be bothered taking sides.

What are you talking about? asked someone else. Who the hell would want to paint the Drum? Would you not rather see a few daft cows?

I noticed him then, laughing at the disparity between Highland cattle and Drumchapel, a poxy housing scheme which seemed to provide the majority of chefs for the entire city, wee neds with checked trousers and mothers reminding them to go out there and get a job, son.

I noticed Ewan then. Eyes glanced, quick down. Laughing at the same jokes is no guarantee of eternity but you like to think it helps. We smiled briefly and then to check or verify, we caught each other’s gaze once more.

At certain moments, when I rummaged through those times again, I was left feeling ridiculous, naïve, used, things I’d never felt when it was happening. Still didn’t, even now, when hindsight should provide the best advice. But, no matter what anybody else might say, I’m not a complete fool.

Vandalism – available in bookshops across Malta, at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow, and on Amazon

Vandalism Goes Home: An Author’s Evening at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow

Vandalism, Duende and Gabriel

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):

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160902/arts-entertainment/which-of-these-books-will-win-a-national-book-prize-award.623835

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.

Duende Take 2

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.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/may/04/nick-cave-death-son-struggle-write-tragedy?CMP=fb_gu

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.’

Mercedes Rose for Mum

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.

vandalism FB image

 

 

The Second Spanish Republic and the Crucifixion of Goodness

Second Spanish Republic 1

The 14th April 1931 saw the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic, and a real sense of optimism and hope for the future spread across Spain, a country which had suffered from a dictatorship, the insidious growth of right-wing extremism, ongoing civil unrest, a fervently oppressive Catholic Church, and the unsparing brutality meted out by the infamous Civil Guard.

The Second Spanish Republic was grounded in a constitution created by thinkers and intellectuals, people attempting to use logic, reason and notions of equality in order to bring into being a fairer better world. The Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, was instrumental in this and his words have a powerful resonance today:

To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code, and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed.

Despite some of the Republic’s achievements – granting votes to women, legalising divorce, the reduction of church powers in relation to the state  – within a year, the idealism enshrined in its values had effectively come apart. Ortega y Gasset washed his hands of the new government whose actions became as oppressive and corrupt as those they sought to overturn.  As one character asserts in my novel Duende:

The Republic was founded on ideologies. It was inspired and created by the thinking people. The intellectuals. But it was Azaña who implemented the Law for the defence of the Republic, for Christ’s sake. A deliberate attempt to ensure that the order enshrined in Republican values was maintained, a move which went against everything that the Republic was supposedly about. We defend our liberty – no, we enforce it – through repression and oppression. They shot us down when we were crying out for the very freedom we were promised.

Duende Take 2

Duende by Lizzie Eldridge

The ultimate failure of the Second Spanish Republic paved the way for General Franco and his fascist forces to begin their assault on Spain in July 1936. Shortly after, the Spanish writer, Federico García Lorca, was shot dead by fascist soldiers in his home town of Granada.

Lorca photo

Lorca was a writer who spoke of love and he spoke of love above all else. Lorca was also a homosexual whose sexuality was outlawed by the society in which he lived and worked. Lorca is a man who still lives and breathes through his words, through their everlasting beauty, and as a symbol – but never simply just a symbol – of the consequences of the forces of evil when they are wantonly unleashed upon the world.

It seems deeply pertinent that today is not only the anniversary of the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic but also marks Good Friday, a shameful remembrance of the crucifixion of goodness, however its significance is personally understood. It is the crucifixion of goodness that we remember and sadly, we remember this in a context which seems bitterly devoid of good.

The random absurdity of Donald Trump has now become a daily reality, his latest arbitrary action occurring only yesterday when the ‘mother of all bombs’ was released over Afghanistan. This is coupled with the news of the beating and torture of homosexual men in Chechnya. Just as Lorca was rounded up with other prisoners and taken to be shot, so, too, gay men in Chechnya are being treated in a similar way, with reports that some of these men may later have been killed.

All of this comes hard on the heels of Sean Spicer’s incredulous assertion that ‘someone as despicable as Hitler…didn’t even sink to…using chemical weapons’, deftly erasing the gas chambers and the Holocaust in one outrageous sweep.

So today, on Good Friday, we remember what for some is considered the greatest sin committed by so-called humanity: us. We atone for a crime that was committed in our name. The hope for resurrection has to wait and it seems that two thousand years later, we wait, and still we wait.

But I want neither world nor dream, divine voice,

I want my liberty, my human love

in the darkest corner of the breeze no one wants.

My human love!

Federico García Lorca

Crucifixion
Oil on board
1946Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others film

Rarely do I watch a film that not only captivates me from start to end but makes me want to write about the experience as soon as it finishes. The Lives of Others is a rare film which has had a strong and immediate impact on me.

When I was growing up, East Germany was something there in the background, conjuring up images of the Berlin Wall, with watch-towers housing uniformed soldiers who shot and killed those trying to escape across the border. It was part of my media landscape on the TV news and part of my ideological questioning about what the hell socialism actually was in comparison to what the Eastern Bloc had become.

In November 1989, I’d just returned to my home town of Glasgow after travelling around Europe with my violin, busking on the streets of Amsterdam, Paris, Montpellier, Florence, Bern, but never reaching Germany. In November 1989, I watched the TV news in Glasgow in amazement as the Berlin Wall was dismantled and destroyed. I’m shaking my head as I remember this because it was such an unbelievable sight which did, quite literally, usher in a new era of Gorbachev, Glasnost, and a few months later, the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment. There was a real sense of optimism and hope for the impossible, the undreamed of, and the aspirations yet to be fulfilled.

I now live in Malta. As well as writing and acting, one of the ways I earn my living is through teaching English as a foreign language and this brings me into contact with so many lives of so many others and on a daily basis. It’s a privilege to meet these people and to share our  lives. It gives me a whole new and intensely personal perspective on the people who lived – and live – through the same history as me, but from the other side of the camera, or the other side of the wall.

This was the reason I actually watched The Lives of Others. Recently, I taught a class with 2 students who grew up in East Germany and they recommended the film to me. One woman, slightly older than me, talked of how when you were in a group of 9 people, you knew 1 of them was a spy. You didn’t know which one but you knew that one of them was. The other was a man who celebrated his 18th birthday the day after the Berlin Wall came down, and I thought of all those lives being lived out while I was watching the news in Glasgow in 1989.

The Berlin Wall - The Fall

I cried as I watched this film. I cried to watch the story of a ‘Good Man’ who was working for the Stasi but, moved by the lives of the artists under his surveillance, he began to alter the evidence in order to save them being caught. It is the story of one good man in a system based on corruption, deception, suspicion and betrayal, a system in which, as one of my East German students told me from her own experience, your neighbours could be working as informers.

This film triggered several things in me. It reminded me of my own personal history; of where my life has been, where it is now, and all the unforeseen interconnections along the way. It reminded me of my political beliefs; of what I think is worth fighting for and the kind of world I want to live and breathe in. It reminded me, as so many times I’m reminded by the people I meet through teaching the English language, that, as human beings, we do live in circumstances not of our own making and in the shadow of overarching political and economic forces that shape, and sometimes determine, the choices we can make and the nature of the choices available to us. But what I witness – and what I feel so privileged to witness – is the strength and resilience among my fellow human beings as they, or we, live out our lives. What I witness – and as a tangible reality – is the basic humanity underlying our encounters, and how this brings together people from diverse cultural backgrounds, with different religious beliefs, and such a vast range of experiences of the shared world in which we live.

Brecht is mentioned in The Lives of Others and his insistence that history is about the lives of the ordinary people seems acutely pertinent. There are global forces at work intent on bringing about destruction but these destructive tendencies don’t emanate from the people whose lives are played out in the spaces in between. And I’ve met thousands of people during the 9 years since I started teaching, including Libyans visibly traumatised by their own recent war. With the exception of a handful, the overwhelming majority of these people can quite happily sit and talk together in a small classroom, discussing different issues without voices being raised.

This never fails to impress me deeply and it sustains my optimism within this 21st-century climate whose overall political outlook is exceptionally bleak. We’re confronted by the absurdity of the powers-that-be scrambling to build walls and create division. We have the egomania of Donald Trump and his crazy vision for the Mexican border. We have Brexit and the triggering of Article 50, an action that seemed to arise from its own volition rather than any semblance of rationality. We have attempts to perpetrate divisiveness rather than foster humanitarian ways of living through that vital acknowledgement of our similarities.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom were not symbolic gestures. They were actions promoting more humane and egalitarian ways to live. The Lives of Others places altruism at the forefront. Early on, a member of the Stasi insists that people don’t change. Throughout this film, we see they can and that they do.

Brecht quote

 

Booked on Pulse 98.4, 8 January, 2017

This is a recent radio interview I did during my visit to Scotland over Christmas. It was an incredible trip, both personally and professionally. Going back to my home town of Glasgow is always a significant experience for me, particularly since moving to Malta permanently in 2008. It reminds me of where I’ve come from and how much I still love the city where I grew up. Maybe it’s true that you only grasp the magic of the familiar when you’ve gained some distance, but I always loved Glasgow and I always always will.

Glasgow is the setting for my novel Vandalism which was not only published in Malta by Merlin Publishers in 2015 but was subsequently shortlisted in the category of ‘Best Novel’ by the National Book Council of Malta. This was a huge honour and privilege for me, especially as my novel was the only work written in the English language which made it to the final five on the list. Quite an incredible thing.

Vandalism has long since held a deeply important place within my own personal history as it followed me around for many years before reaching actual publication. In the interview, Shirley Whiteside describes it as something that ‘haunted’ me and I like her use of this word. The story, albeit fictional, draws upon my own experience of my Mum’s death through breast cancer, my childhood and teenage years growing up in Glasgow, and all the friends and places which shaped by early life and who I am today.

Perhaps it was only in the moment of responding to Shirley’s image of the novel ‘haunting’ me that I realised it no longer did, or, at least, not in terms of the darker and more negative connotations associated with the word. There has been some kind of resolution to the painful emotions which triggered the novel, even though this has been a process lasting many many years, mirroring the journey of the book itself.

There is something very fitting, and very satisfying, about the situation I currently find myself in, and I say this against the backdrop of a global context which stands in bleak contrast. So as I reflect on my own personal experiences, on the pattern of my own specific pathways through life, and, included within this, an increasingly spiritual awareness, I’m forever conscious of the wider structures and forces in place in which any and every individual life takes shape.

Vandalism is possibly a pertinent title in this respect, describing the ongoing acts of sabotage and willful carnage enacted on the international political stage, with Brexit and Trump’s election being the most obvious examples. Nevertheless, Vandalism, for me, is about reconciliation, compassion, about the bringing together of unresolved grief, anger, and self-destructive energies. The most fruitful acts of vandalism are those which intentionally make a statement in themselves, paving the way open for new and alternative ways of being, perceiving and radically reconfiguring. It can, as it did for me, involve rupture, disfiguration, agonising crises, and painful but necessary moments of catharsis, without which comes the risk of annihilation: the nature of our tenuous human condition perhaps and yet, simultaneously, the possibility of progress through survival.

The text of my novel Vandalism survived across the years and followed me through different phases of my life and within different countries. It haunted me in that the themes and conflicts underpinning the story had the potential to pull the ground from beneath my feet without any warning.

And yet…

Vandalism encompasses a span of 18 years between its original conception on pen and paper and its ultimate completion in published form. While the idea of ‘completion’ seems a little too final, it conveys, to me, a sense of reconciliation between my past and my present which, no longer quite as disturbing or at odds with each other, enables acceptance of the connection between the two.

Vandalism; a novel set in Glasgow, published and acknowledged in Malta.

Vandalism: a novel on sale in Malta and in Glasgow.

Vandalism: a bridge that carries me home.

Vandalism (Merlin Publishers 2015): available from leading bookshops across Malta, at #Waterstones Bookshop Byres Rd Glasgow, and from http://www.merlinpublishers.com

Post by @ShirlWhiteside.

Source: Booked on Pulse 98.4, 8 January, 2017