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

Vandalism: A story of grief, desire, longing, love and loss

vandalism FB image

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]

chagall corazon de melocoton

Marc Chagall ‘The Promenade’

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.

dali the moon

Salvador Dalí ‘Still Life by the Light of the Moon’

[Vandalism – A Novel by Lizzie Eldridge (Merlin Publishers 2015). Available from bookshops across Malta, Merlin Publishers, and Waterstones Bookshop Byres Rd, Glasgow]

Please support this Duende ‘thunderclap’ campaign

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/42645-duende-is-the-true-struggle

If you click on this link, then click on the FB/Twitter/Tumbir button, you kindly add your support to a sort of ‘flash mob’ joint message on 14th June 2016. The message? THE TRUE STRUGGLE IS WITH THE DUENDE (Federico García Lorca)

Thank you Thank you Thank you

Duende Take 2

Earth Day: Celebrate the Spirit of the Earth Within

Michelle Adam and her beautiful and pertinent description of duende…

Michelle Adam

AMIDST CHANGE AND UPHEAVAL, AWAKEN DUENDE!

Dear Readers…I am taking a break from my regular blog to share parts of my recently published novel, Child of Duende, and to write about the spirit of DUENDE. May it inspire you! 

As birds court the earth with their love songs, and we renew our vows of change and new life with the earth, I wish to share a special word and spirit with you: duende. It seems so many people are talking about immense change, upheaval, and confusion in their lives. Yet, maybe, this simple, yet powerful word, duende, can give insight into what’s happening, and inspire us to truly see what’s possible in our lives.

Dancing and Singing in Honor of Duende, 2014

The famous Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca, once said that duende is “the spirit of the earth” that one must awaken in the remotest mansions of…

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