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.

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Reflections and Responses to Vandalism

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Vandalism was published in October 2015 by Merlin Publishers. The journey involved in the writing of the novel was itself intense and far from straightforward or easy. I began writing the book in 1997 during what was one of the most difficult periods in my life. In 2004, by which time I’d moved from Cardiff back to my hometown of Glasgow, I revisited the manuscript and in 2013, by which time I was living and working in Malta, I spent the summer editing the book for what, as it turned out, was to be the final time.

As my life changed, somehow Vandalism remained and continued, perhaps, to haunt me as Shirley Whiteside observed in a recent radio interview [Booked on Pulse 98.4, 8 January, 2017] Since its publication, the journey of the book has progressed in so many diverse and unexpected ways. Widely distributed in Malta, in May 2016, it also went on sale in Waterstones Byres Rd, slap-bang in the heart of the West End of Glasgow where the novel is set. As if that wasn’t enough, it sits alongside books by brilliant and prestigious writers whose work I admire immensely: Joseph Heller’s Catch 22; Murakami’s Norwegian Wood; and Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller, which has a curiously specific place in my own personal history.

In 2016, it was shortlisted for Best Novel by the National Book Council of Malta. Again, something I could never have imagined during the life in which the novel took shape and finally found its way to publication.

All of these things surprise me but what possibly overwhelms me the most is the response Vandalism has received from readers and the precise nature of this response. For me, in the actual writing of the book, I wasn’t fully aware of reaching out to any reader. I was writing because I needed to write and I needed to write this particular story as it unfolded in the process. Maybe the act of writing is always and in itself an act of reaching out to someone or something outside of oneself, but I could never have anticipated the very strong and deeply personal reactions evoked by the book and expressed in such thoughtful detail by the people concerned.

I want to include these together because, combined, they suggest that Vandalism, a ‘story of life, love and death’, is both a specific story set in a particular time and place and also one that speaks to a variety of readers with their own experiences of ‘grief and desire, of longing, love and love.’ For this and all of the following comments, I am beyond grateful.

Just finished reading Vandalism by the talented writer Lizzie Eldridge. Written as a novel the experience of reading it is intense and dramatic. The authentic voice of Moira draws the reader in challenging us not to pass judgement as events unfold “Do not dare condemn unless you are absolutely uncertain of your own unfailing and unquestionable credibility”. The novel is beautifully written and raises existential questions about love, life and the impact of the individual on those around them. It is impossible not to grow a little reading Vandalism. The backdrop of the book- the West End of Glasgow (like the characters of Moira and Connie also my teenage home) adds to the novel which equally could have been set at anytime in history anywhere in the world.” – Kate Lovett

I have just finished reading Vandalism. The last chapter had me crying, and then laughing. It is so melancholically real and you manage to capture every emotion so beautifully. I felt everything she went through, it is beautiful my dear, it is duende. You have it in bucketfuls.  I cannot say it better than you did yourself, so here, in your own words, for you: ‘A beauty that reaches to the very heart of your soul. Duende. Just like the fullest moon.'” – Ann Sammut

I finished this book a week ago and yet I feel it is still lingering, and I’m still forming opinions on it. Eldridge succeeds in telling a story with a number of touchy subjects at the forefront in a realistic manner, without protecting the reader. The voice shifts tenses, internalises and implodes, then talks to the ‘you’ of different characters. This confused me at first, but as I got to the thick of it, I could see that this was a succesful and realistic tool. As I closed the last chapter I already started to miss the characters. I wanted to know more. I wanted to fill in the gaps.” – Miriam Galea

Lizzie your book was amazing and I can’t wait to read more of your work. There is definitely a sequel in Vandalism. I really got so much from the book, it provoked so much emotion in me that I had to revisit painful memories of my own life.” – Marion Paton

Just finished reading Vandalism and wiping away the tears. I couldn’t put it down. Congratulations! (I would have bought it on the strength of the cover alone – amazing image.” – Louise Singleton

Almost finished this beaut and I’ll be sorry to have to put it down. A truly touching, thoughtful wee gem and resonant contemplation on relationships and love.” – Andrew Galea

I have just finished Vandalism… And It engaged me so much that I read it in a week!! A very strong story about feelings and doubts and fear… Wonderful…and I have the handicap of being Spanish and my English is not very good…Congratulations!” – Regina Perez Garcia 

The full gamut of emotions, regret, sadness, but also good memories of times shared in Glasgow. Great writing…The moon night was very moving…It was all very evocative of the Glasgow I remember which is almost the only one for me since I left so long ago. I read it every day on the bus to work and it stayed with me.” – Drew Anderson

It is so lovely to experience a novel which celebrates the frailty of life and love without sugar-coating and sentimentality. The beauty of humanity is in the flaws, and Eldridge shares these imperfections with great skill, sensitivity and above all honesty.” – Marie Keiser-Neilsen

Just finished reading Vandalism this second and had to write to tell you “WOW! What an amazing read!” Started it yesterday morning and haven’t been able to put it down. It’s so intense! You very cleverly put into words so many emotions and thoughts which us lesser verbally-challenged mortals find so hard to describe. A very BIG WELL DONE to you, my friend.You’ve done a brilliant job. Will definitely be recommending this one!” – Catherine Vassallo

I like when the book which I have just read rattles inside my head and makes me think. I finished reading the last page of Vandalism yesterday on the bus on the way to work and my mind was filling up immediately with different thoughts and questions.
For me this book really wasn’t about a romance, but about fear and lowliness. Fear of what can be said or thought, fear of being honest with yourself and the fear of simply being with yourself in silence, fear of hearing the truth from your own self from the place very deep inside.
The lowliness of the main character was one of the most interesting motifs in ‘Vandalism’. I had an impression that Moira was living behind some kind of invisible glass wall. She was heard and she was being heard but she didn’t ever leave her comfort zone of lowliness. The only true friend who was able to speak to her without the barrier has died. There was no other person in the world who was able to pass Moira’s invisible guard.
The men around Moira seem to be only a promise of something sure, stable and the promise of being emotionally safe. Something which Moira couldn’t gain with her own company.
Finally the lowliness of Moira evaluated to confrontation with her feelings and the decision which can only be made without any advice from others, with no false and confusing whispers, but in the silence of her own inner voice.” – Magdalene Kasperowicz-Swanson

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Vandalism and Duende: The Poetry of All Things

This is a small performance piece I gave at Maori in Valletta on Wednesday 24th August 2016, organised by Inizjamed as part of the Mediterranean Literature Festival:

Say No to Vandalism (Damian)

My name’s Lizzie Eldridge and I originally come from Glasgow in Scotland. Some of you may have heard of Scotland. Some of you may even have been there. But just to jog your memory. We’re the ones who voted to say ‘Yes! We want to stay in the European Union’ during that recently surreal, absurd and bleakly comic but not-so-very-funny-at-all-when-you-stop-to-think-about it – that political shenanigans known as Brexit!

Anyway. Leaving politics aside for one evening…(as if you ever can…) My city Glasgow, well, we’re very very friendly, very welcoming (…particularly if you come from Europe) We really are very friendly, as you can probably tell from my general demeanour, appearance and overall genial interaction with you tonight.

But we do have our own wee ways of doing things, our own particularities, our own idiosyncracies, which may seem a bit strange if you don’t actually come from this city. If you’re barrani – as you Maltese like to say! For example, if we like you, we can come across, well, as almost unpleasant…So if we give you a compliment, that’s when you know you’ve got a problem, pal…

Now, this word ‘unpleasant’ and all its different meanings, permutations and connotations. It’s actually an epithet I could easily attach to my own ‘Oh so recently published novel’ Vandalism. Now, please – don’t think that I am merely here to promote my own work! Far be it for me to do such a thing (although why else I’d be here on a Wednesday night in the middle of the working week is beyond me…)

Lizzie Maori

Now why, you must be wondering, would a writer (i.e. me) describe her obviously brilliantly written piece of fiction – nay, literature no less – as ‘unpleasant’? Let me explain…

Vandalism deals with the big issues. It deals with all the things – good and bad, ugly and beautiful, heartbreaking and deeply joyful – that confront us all as we meander along this so-called journey of life. And it deals with these in a very direct way. It doesn’t shy away from the conflicts and contradictions which inevitably occur when emotions and events come together, crash and collide, in all sorts of messy and unpredictable ways.

But at the heart of all this carnage, this brutality, there is poetry because poetry is, for me, the fundamental essence of life. Poetry is the texture, the shape, the feel, the movement, the pulse, the energy…Poetry is the essence of our existence.

And this reflects the influence of a particular writer on my life, my thinking, my ideas, my work: Federico García Lorca. Lorca was a Spanish writer murdered by the fascists at the very start of the Spanish Civil War. And Lorca says this:

Poetry exists in all things, in the ugly, in the beautiful, in the repugnant. The difficult thing is to know how to discover it, how to awaken the deep wells of the soul.  Lorca photo

In Vandalism, the central character, Moira, is watching her best friend dying of breast cancer when Ewan, a man she loved many years ago, reappears in her life. When they originally met, nine years previously, their love affair had limits, parameters. Seven weeks to be exact. You see, when they met, Ewan was already planning to move to Toronto to start a new life, a new job, and the likelihood of him ever returning to Scotland was pretty remote.

In one chapter, there is the recollection of a night nine years before when Moira and Ewan set off into the Glasgow evening to try and catch sight of the full moon. They don’t succeed in their quest but when Ewan leaves, Moira writes this poem:

                        we searched for the moon that night

futile for the clouds

and we were in the city

where lights smother stars

we found the swing park though

kissing beneath out blanket sky

that hid our goal

the moon was full that night

 

and now you’re gone

a journey beyond my world

beyond this city

where lights reflect tears

you left before the moon

could swell to its full strength

and fading stars

seem bright beside my hope

 

but last night something strange

the moon was clear

so gold and round

but not quite full

one small corner shuddered

a head just slightly bowed

a silent soft respect

for the moon we never found

The moon has a fundamental and significant role throughout all of the work of Federico García Lorca. And Lorca appears as a character in my other novel, Duende. Set in Spain during the period leading up to the Spanish Civil War, Duende focuses on the lives of two men, two homosexual men: Nayo, an artist, and José, a philosopher. The story focuses on their love, their life together, the development of their ideas and thinking – all against the brutal and terrible backdrop of escalating violence, political and social divisiveness that culminated in civil war.

At various points during the story, José writes a poem for Nayo and this, as it happens, is his final one:

if Paradise was ever lost completely

if light grew dead

and darkness embraced my mind

if the curve of your body

became a shadow

and the sky collapsed within the sea

I, sleepless, would forever search for you

 

the truth I seek,

desire, delight and dreams

the honesty of angels

whose wings

unfurl to the pulse of our existence

 

windows watching strangers

lighting shipwrecked passers-by

church bells

toll against a weary world

spinning ceaselessly around

 

if the shoe fits

chains may break

and blindness turn to sight

 

the sea baptized us

the water and the wind

gave us a name

 

a sheltered cove

was our creation

our beginning

and our end

 

wine and stars

white moon and snow

sharp russet rose

 

perhaps no home

or country

but still a memory

a whispered touch

a long held sigh

 

you are all I want

all I could need

it’s you I find

infinite and dancing

in the pathways of my soul

The soul, and Lorca’s desire ‘to awaken the deep wells of the soul.’ This, ultimately, is the search for duende. And duende is that need, that impulse, that compulsion, to connect with the deepest parts of ourselves and, in doing so, to make contact with the overarching and vast forces of the universe in which we live and breathe. Frightening, dangerous but vital and imperative, I want to finish with a description of duende taken from the novel itself:

Duende. Mysterious and inexplicable like Goethe’s notion of the Demonic. Duende, that mischievous spirit in myth and folklore. Duende. Something primal, living, shuddering and vibrant. Duende which evokes tears through its music and its poetry. Duende which comes from the depths of the body through the roots of the earth and shakes the entire universe.

Duende Take 2

Vandalism

Vandalism is a novel I began writing many years ago but it continued to follow me around through different countries and various stages in my life. The book is set in my home city, Glasgow, and tells the story of Moira, a young woman whose best friend, Connie, is dying of breast cancer when Ewan, a man from her past, reappears in her life. Although Moira is in a settled relationship with Andy, she begins an affair with Ewan, one which contrasts sharply with her routine life with Andy and, much more brutally, with the rapid deterioration in Connie’s health.

In 2013, I returned to this novel and, in the intense heat of a Maltese summer, I returned to the grey and rain of Glasgow which was the setting for my book. At the beginning of 2014, I submitted a couple of chapters to the main publisher in Malta, Merlin Publishers, Malta having then been my home for 6 years. To my surprise, given the novel’s set in Scotland, the publisher asked to see more of the work, quickly requesting the complete manuscript and, in April of that year, Merlin wrote to say they wanted to publish the book. To say I was delighted is an understatement.

It appeared in the bookshops in Malta in October 2015. Since then I’ve had the privilege of receiving a lot of feedback from readers and just as I was taken aback by the fact a Maltese publisher was so keen to publish the novel, so, too, I’m deeply touched to find such a range of readers responding to the book: young and old, men and women, people of different nationalities and from different cultural backgrounds. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for more.

To include some examples:

‘WOW! What an amazing read! Started it yesterday morning and haven’t been able to put it down. It’s so intense! You very cleverly put into words so many emotions and thoughts which us lesser verbally-challenged mortals find so hard to describe.’ [Catherine Vassallo]
‘A truly touching, thoughtful wee gem and resonant contemplation on relationships and love.’ [Andrew Galea]
‘I just finished the book. I’m crying and laughing at the same time. It’s so melancholically real and you manage to capture every emotion so beautifully. I felt everything she went through, it’s beautiful, it is duende. You have it in bucketfuls.’ [Ann Sammut]
‘It is so lovely to experience a novel which celebrates the frailty of life and love without sugar-coating and sentimentality. The beauty of humanity is in the flaws, and Eldridge shares these imperfections with great skill, sensitivity and above all honesty.’ [Marie Keiser-Nielsen]

One intensely moving reaction came from a woman I was at school with. She spoke of how the book reminded her of the Glasgow she grew up in, and, more specifically, how it found her reflecting on the loss of her best friend, someone who was also a shared school friend and who tragically took her own life several years ago. This response is one that stays with me strongly, painfully and poignantly, and always will.

I think, at this early stage in the book’s wider life, I’m beginning to realise why this was a novel that never disappeared from my own mind. On the cover is a quote from the story and this seems to capture exactly what I mean:

IMG_20160207_1035300_rewind (1)

Life, love and death. Pretty much the fundamental basis of our shared human experience and of our expression of this through writing and every other art form. Life, love and death which, in themselves, don’t always make much sense but, perhaps, acquire a little more understanding through the sharing of these experiences. Life, love and death: the focus of our ongoing questions about what it means to be human in the face of the callously inhumane. Life, love and death, which in themselves hold no answers yet, in their diverse colours, shapes and textures, constitute the fabric of our collective existence.

The writing of Vandalism came from my own responses to particular situations, resulting in a story with fictional characters and a context of their own. Other people’s responses to the book have left me feeling extremely humble and immensely grateful that this specific story resonates with the individual lives of those who read this book. Through these responses, I’m discovering a deeper understanding, one intimately connected with those whose journeys intersect with mine. Thank you.