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

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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.