A literary homecoming | Lizzie Eldridge

Scottish-born writer and actress Lizzie Eldridge has made Malta her home over the past decade, publishing two novels, Duende and Vandalism, with the latter even being shortlisted for the National Book Prize. But when Teodor Reljic caught up with her, it was to chat about an upcoming reading event at Waterstones in Byres Road of her native Glasgow

Lizzie Eldridge
Lizzie Eldridge

What the books are about

“Vandalism is a contemporary novel which takes place in a very short space of time. Duende is set in a specific period in history, unfolding in Spain between 1900 and 1936. Vandalism is written in first person and often has an immediate, sometimes stream-of-consciousness, effect, while Duende relies on a much broader working canvas. Its historical framework and use of third person gives rise to a greater sense of distance between the writer and the writing. But I say this hesitatingly as I became just as deeply and intimately involved in the wider and more complex landscape of Duende as I had with the psychological intensity of Vandalism. 

“In many ways, the historical framework of Duende meant I was writing with the benefit of hindsight, enabling me to discern patterns with the privilege of distance. The vivid and immediate style of Vandalism was more, I think, about discovering the patterns in the process of discovering the story.” 

Heading back on home turf

“Every year, I expect things to get quieter but so far, the reverse has been the case. In January 2016, shortly after the publication of Vandalism in Malta, I went into my local branch of Waterstones in Glasgow, slap-bang in the area where I grew up and where the novel’s set. I tentatively asked the manager if he’d be willing to stock copies of the book and, to my surprise, he agreed. At first, this involved quite a makeshift mode of delivery. I made two trips to Scotland to visit my family and packed 10 copies of the book each time, while still complying with the luggage restrictions laid down by RyanAir! 

“This year, however, I’ve been invited to do an Author’s Evening at Waterstones on June 15, a date which coincides with the West End Festival, an annual arts event in this part of Glasgow. In connection with this, Waterstones recently placed an order for 40 copies of the book – a huge amount for a relatively unknown author and again, completely unexpected. At this point, my heartfelt thanks have to go out to the National Book Council of Malta who’ve generously paid for the books to be shipped across, easing my burden in many more ways than one.

“What it means to be doing an Author’s Evening in Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow is something that I find almost impossible to describe. Waterstones is a massive high-street bookshop and a household name in the UK and beyond. Byres Road is the West End’s main artery and was my stomping ground as a teenager as well as being a central landmark in Vandalism. The idea of reading from my work at this particular bookshop in this specific place is a homecoming of quite an extraordinary kind. Vandalism, Glasgow and me – not a holy trinity but certainly an integration of elements which are crucial to my life. And added to this is, of course, Malta, where Vandalism, a novel firmly set in Glasgow, was first picked up, published and promoted [by Merlin Publishers]. So it’s a homecoming which also spans my own sense of home both in Malta and in Glasgow. It is, and acutely so for me, a homecoming of a unique kind and of profound significance. 

“In Glasgow, and due to the kind permission of Merlin Publishers as well as Waterstones, I’ll be reading extracts from Duende as well as Vandalism. Given Duende is a self-published novel available on Amazon – and so isn’t a source of profit for either the publisher or the bookshop – being allowed to read from both works is another unanticipated gift and there’s something truly magical about all of this, something truly magical. Even the word ‘gratitude’ doesn’t do enough justice to what I actually feel.”

The benefits of Malta 

“I moved to Malta in 2008 with the specific intention of focusing on my artistic and creative work. Prior to that, I taught theatre at university level for 14 years, but I felt increasingly restricted by academia and needed to find another option. I first came to Malta in 2005 to perform in a devised theatre production and there was something about the energy and theatricality of Maltese culture which really struck a chord with me. I moved here permanently in 2008 and although I didn’t arrive with any particular plan, since then I’ve managed to achieve a much greater degree of autonomy over practically every aspect of my life. I’m still trying to find the perfect balance between financial needs and creative space but there’s much more sense of equilibrium than I was able to find as a university lecturer in Scotland. 

My main source of income now comes from teaching English as a foreign language. I’ve worked at EC Malta for over seven years and it not only provides a way of financing my artistic work but it’s a job I feel passionate about and which is highly creative. Every day is different and every day, I’m lucky enough to meet fascinating people from a diverse range of cultures and with a wealth of stories of their own. I’ve now reached a place where I can truly say my life and my work are firmly interconnected, and I don’t think I can ask for anything more.”