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

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Vandalism Chapter One

 

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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.

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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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