Lucy interviewed by The Thought Fox


blog-caldwell-lucy21From the award-winning author of The Meeting Point comes another powerful exploration of love, desire and family, featuring a narrator raking over the past to uncover secrets long-buried – secrets that take in The Troubles in 1970s Belfast. All the Beggars Riding confirms Lucy Caldwell as one of the most accomplished young novelists writing today – and we’re delighted to hear that the Arts Council in Northern Ireland have chosen it as their One City One Book Belfast choice for 2013.

(this is an excerpt, the full interview can be read here)

Lucy answered a few of our questions …

– Where did the idea come from for All the Beggars Riding?

Some years ago, just after my first novel was published and before I’d even begun my second, I had a dream, in which this double-layered, double-crossing surgeon’s life came to me. It was such a vivid and startling dream that I took note of it, and for the next few years started seeking out stories of people who lead double lives and men who have a second family, mistresses who have their lover’s babies …

Around the same time, my mum had been researching our family history, and she uncovered the story of an ancestor – my great-great-grandfather – who left a wife and seven, soon to be eight, children in Bristol to sail for the gold mines in America. He disappeared almost without trace soon after he arrived, and there are enough mysteries in his story and the documents that remain to make us suspect he fell in love with someone on the voyage and decided to start a new life, or had simply had enough of the grind of life in England and wanted to disappear. This has nothing directly to do with my novel, of course – but we were talking a lot about him and about family secrets.

Also, my novel The Meeting Point had been about thwarted and illicit love affairs and dangerous obsessions, and I wanted to take that idea further, go even deeper into the darkest corners of the heart.

And finally, the spark that set me actually writing was watching a brilliant, incredibly moving film called My Architect, a documentary made by the son of the architect Louis Kahn. When Kahn died, he left behind three families – and his son Nathaniel made the film as a way of trying to find out who his father was, going to the buildings he’d designed and speaking to the women who had loved him and stayed with him, even knowing they weren’t his only families. (read more)

Lucy visits Hydebank Wood Prison


HydebankSee the original post at Sharing Stories

On 18th September 2013, our shared reading group at Hydebank Wood Prison welcomed a much anticipated visit from Lucy Caldwell, author of the Arts Council’s ‘One City, One Book‘ choice, All the Beggars Riding. We have been reading the novel in our group for a few months now, a few pages one week, swathes of it the next. I read the novel aloud, as I do in all my groups, because we feel it better, that way. We savour the words, the sentences, the pauses and the gaps as they come to life through the simple act of being read (“no book ‘exists’ without a reader”, says Caldwell). And we talk. We pour our own experiences into our reading(s) of the text; the text projects for us a new set of experiences that we map on to our own, and we keep going with making meanings until, somehow, we have reached a dynamic, multi-layered reality of which we are all a part, because it is one that we, organically and unselfconsciously, have all helped to create.

The women have really connected over the book, and Lara, the central character and narrator, is regarded as a ‘friend’, someone we have got to know, and to whom we offer suggestions, perspectives and reassessments – all this for a fictional character. Yet fictional, for us, does not mean unreal – Lara, like us, has to face real-world challenges, has real emotional responses; she endures, regrets, celebrates. Feeling part of something is central to what we do in our shared reading groups and fiction, as Caldwell tells us, “allows you to live other lives”, to participate in the realities that, were it not for this or that, could just as easily be ours.

We are sitting in the prison library, and Lucy has said hello to everyone individually. When she talks or reads from her book, she addressees each person by their name – not their surname, as is the usual habit in a prison, but the names by which these women are known by the people that care about them. There are some questions, tentatively, at first, then the eager, excitable chattering gives way to an immediate, voluntary hush as Lucy reads from the opening page:

‘You’ve waited for this day, counting down each morning, as you wait for every second Thursday. Sometimes the waiting – delicious, unbearable – is almost better than the day itself, when it finally comes. The waiting, now, is like a bubble in your chest, and you are light and breathless with it’.

This beginning is almost an ending, too. It suggests a kind of validation of the life Lara’s mother led, that we as readers have yet to encounter: “You wouldn’t change anything, you suddenly think”.
In preparing for today, Lucy has included some material from authors that inspired her as a writer. Reassuringly unpretentious, she is comfortable with just leaving it with the women to read in their own time. One of the writers she refers to is Anne Enright, whose observations on literary openings and the worlds embedded within them reflect the simultaneity of beginning and ending that Lucy has just read. Enright puts it like this:

“The beginning of a good book contains the entire book: your job as a writer is to look at that first page until you see what you have done; to stare and stare until your fractal sentences yield their inner fractals and you fall into the world that you have made.”

‘Falling into the world’ is what we, as readers, do every week. A lady, for whom that world is very real, asks Lucy to talk about the inclusion of the ‘Chernobyl effect’ section, which takes up the theme of unconditional love introduced in Lucy’s reading; “I read this as Lara’s way of proving – to herself, maybe – that her mother’s love was real, that it was all worth it”, our group member says. Herein lies our beginning and ending.

Explaining why reading is so important and why we need to be able to exercise our intellectual and emotional ‘muscles’, Lucy tells us that “the more you read fiction, the better those muscles get”. One member of the group asks her about the writing process, where she gets her ideas from and whether she knew she wanted to write this particular story. Considering this “wonderful question” thoughtfully for a few seconds, Lucy responds with “you write, not because you have something to say, but to discover what you have to say”. For us, reading is a discovery, too. We read to discover a way of saying, of knowing – of living, maybe. To know what it’s like from somebody else’s point of view. Mr Rawalpindi, Lara’s creative writing classmate sums it up nicely – speaking about the writing process, and the need to make sense of the realities that Lara is trying to fix, desperately, into fact, he says this:

[Don’t get] hung up on hunting and pinning down exactly what happened. Like a butterfly collector, you know, those poor dead creatures stretched and skewered to a wooden board. Let yourself be free. Imagine yourself into your mother and write from her perspective, what it was like, being her. When you don’t know something’ – he tried to snap his fingers – ‘like that, just make a decision, use what comes most naturally to fill the gap, and if it doesn’t work, replace it with something, until the thing seems to hold together, to ring truest’.

‘Whatever rings truest’. That’s it. We read to discover our own truest truth.

The Watcher on the Wall

Radio Plays

macnieceTo mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death, the story of poet Louis MacNeice’s trans-Atlantic love affair with the American short story writer Eleanor Clark and the poetry it inspired, dramatised from his Letters by playwright Lucy Caldwell.

In 1939 Louis MacNeice fell in love. The poet had had a tough few years: his world had fallen apart when his adored wife eloped with their American lodger, and now, with divorce proceedings acrimonious and MacNeice a single parent looking after their young son Daniel, the poet plunges himself into his travels and his work.

Then, in the spring of 1939, MacNeice met Eleanor Clark, a young, beautiful and gifted short-story writer. Their intense, passionate, desperate affair – he in England, she in New York, the war and the Atlantic Ocean between them – consumed the next few years, and the poet’s imagination. Communicating through letters, their relationship becomes for MacNeice one of pursuit rather than possession, but nevertheless amid the pressures of parenthood, debts, deadlines and the on-going war, it inspires some of MacNeice’s most famous and passionate poetry, most notably “Meeting Point” and “Cradle Song for Eleanor”. But can a relationship that exists more in the mind than reality ever endure, or will its fate simply be that of a passing poetic fantasy?

The Watcher on the Wall was broadcast on Wed 4 Sep 2013. For more information, see the BBC iPlayer page here.

Interview with


je07lucy_caldwellEleanor Fitzsimmons © 7 March 2013.
Posted on

“I start the novel with this fictional documentary based very much on the stories told by the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich (in her book Voices from Chernobyl) using testimony from people, especially women but some men also, firemen and soldiers, who had been involved in the Chernobyl catastrophe. One story in particular is told by a woman about her fireman husband. I base my fictional documentary on it because it is one of the most moving stories about love I have ever read.”

Lucy describes the difficulty of inventing memoir in a way that makes it truly authentic and credible.

“I had to do such meticulous research. I used a brilliant website that I credit in the book, CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) and using this I was able to check what was actually happening on any given day in Northern Ireland. For instance when Lara travels to Belfast as a little girl I was able to check what the weather was like on that actual day.”

Was it important to be that accurate, I wonder? As this is a novel surely she could have simply made it up? Was it necessary for her to incorporate that level of accuracy?

“It was important as it had to be as close to memoir as possible. It was important for this book and for this character as she is so concerned with the difference between something being true and being untrue, fact and fiction and recovering the truth and how memories come to you suddenly out of the blue and how you don’t narrate your own story in a seamless telling of it.” (read the full interview)

Fiction Uncovered – Shortlist

Awards, News

fiction-uncovered-2013All The Beggars Riding is among the 8 titles on the Fiction Uncovered shortlist. Fiction Uncovered is a promotion which celebrates our best British fiction writers. The titles were selected by a judging panel chaired by novelist Louise Doughty, with judges Sandeep Mahal, Programme Manager at the Reading Agency, Lynne Hatwell, aka influential blogger dovegreyreader, and writer Courttia Newland.

The promotion is supported by Arts Council England and funded by the National Lottery.  The titles will be part of a summer promotion supported by retailers Foyles, Kobo, Waterstones, iBookstore, Amazon and independent bookstores across the UK. Fiction Uncovered authors receive a artist-bound edition of their book. For more information, visit the website

Fiction Uncovered Review

Lucy Caldwell’s All The Beggars Riding is difficult to write about without spoiling its effects. Not that the twists and revelations in it are particularly dramatic – in fact almost the opposite – but that they are so deeply woven into the fabric of the story that to tell to any great extent what the book is about, and how it goes about being what it is, would be to diminish it, and in the end make it rather less worth reading than it is.

In other words, it’s one of those books you have to take on trust – though if I mention that it’s been shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2013 and chosen as Belfast’s One City One Book mass read this year (this month, in fact), then at least you’ll know it’s not just me you’re trusting.

The book’s narrator is Lara Moorhouse, a young woman living in London under the shadows of a string of losses: being dumped by her long-term boyfriend, the death of her mother, and, further back, the death of her father, in a helicopter crash in Northern Ireland, where he worked as a plastic surgeon, patching up people who’d been blown half to pieces in the Troubles, only making it back in snatches to see his patiently waiting family. His job, of course, is deeply ironical, for all the time he is saving lives and faces, he is sinking the knife deeper and deeper into the life of his family, so slowly that you might not notice how much damage is being done.

What we get, then, is a portrait of a family seen with the bitter clarity of hindsight. “All the time I watched them as a child,” Lara writes, “and was convinced that no parents on earth loved each other as much as my mother and father – it wasn’t love, it was desperation, and addiction, and a shared guilt, and a need for that guilt and its consequences to feel justified.”

And that Lara writes what we read is equally important – for that’s another thing Caldwell gets just right. Lara’s self-discovery comes about through writing, through ‘Creative Writing’, and Caldwell very accurately mirrors the particular way that memoir and fiction mix and blur in contemporary literature, and the way that the Creative Writing industry is sanctioning, even formalising, a particular way for people to think about and use their own past.

Which might make the book sound tricksier or more severe than it is. All The Beggars Riding offers the reader a subtly intelligent and moving journey through domestic tragedy and its long aftereffects. If Lara Moorhouse had really written it, or if it really were Caldwell’s own story, disguised, we might applaud them their courage, and their accomplishment. But she didn’t, it isn’t, and so we must applaud Caldwell for something altogether slyer and more intriguing – a fake fake memoir that lives up to the demands of its genre, while also gently lifting the cover to show the machinery at work beneath. I could say more, but I’d ruin it.

Drawing on dynamics, from Belfast to Iraq


8488968398_fc1b101395_bLucy Caldwell’s latest novel is inspired by an ancestor’s dramatic life, and her own career has taken her from the stage to the page and recently to Iraq
Interview published in the Irish Times, Monday April 15.

When Lucy Caldwell was 13, an English teacher at school set her class an unusual exercise. The students had been reading How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston, and were asked to write an extra chapter for the book.

Caldwell, who knew the characters well, became obsessed with it – and decided to write an extra ending. “It came after Jennifer’s ending and I loved working on it. That’s honestly when I realised that I wanted to be a writer.”

Her first work was not in fiction, but in theatre – a short play, The River , which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A longer play followed, Leaves , produced by Druid and directed by Garry Hynes. Drama and literature did battle, and in the same year, Caldwell’s debut novel, Where They Were Missed , was published.

“I started off writing plays and novels at the same time, because I go with whatever tugs at me, but I can’t work on a novel and a play simultaneously. You need to be in control of your form, while knowing the possibilities and limitations of each.”

A third novel, All The Beggars Riding , has just been published, and its genesis comes from a fascinating family story. Caldwell’s mother, in tracing the family’s genealogy, discovered that Lucy’s great-great-grandfather emigrated from Bristol. He left behind a pregnant wife, seven children and was never heard from again.

“We think he faked his own death, and started a new life,” says Caldwell over a pot of tea in Dublin. “As a novelist, you want to fill in the gaps about why he did it, where he went. Around the same time, I had a dream about a doctor who led a double life. At the time I wasn’t looking to write a new story but I would rip stories out of newspapers about secret lives and people kept telling me their own stories at literary festivals.”

All The Beggars Riding is told from the point of view of Lara, a woman whose surgeon father died when she was young. Lara’s life is in London, but she discovers her father had another family in Belfast. It examines the horror of separate families who share a father and husband, with many dualities to the story. “I’m fascinated by the extent to which you can ever really know someone and as a writer, you are, in a way, leading a double life, because you spend far more time with your characters than with your own family.” (read more)

Erbil Literature Literature Festival


Lucy travelled to Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, with the British Council for the second Erbil Literature Literature Festival. She wrote about her experiences for the British Council.

“It was the exclamation mark that said it. In the days before I left for Erbil, my emails invariably included an exclamation mark, in parentheses, after the word Iraq. ‘I can’t next week because I’ll be in Iraq (!).’ ‘Let’s meet up when I’m back from Iraq (!).’ I’m pretty sure there was an exclamation mark in brackets when I spoke about the Erbil Literature Festival, too, translating as, ‘Can you believe it?’ and, ‘I know!’ and, ‘Aren’t I intrepid – or maybe foolish, haha!’ A sort of nervous laugh-cough, which I didn’t realise I’d been doing.

I noticed only this morning, reading an email from my publisher that ended with Iraq, bracket, exclamation mark, bracket. They’d emailed to double-check something, and, dashing off a holding email in a brief patch of wi-fi, I’d written, ‘I’ll get back to you at the end of the week when I’m back from Iraq.’ It was the first time, I suddenly thought, scrolling back up through the email chain, that I’d written it straight, as an uninflected place-name, no need to anticipate or acknowledge or defuse a reaction.

It was odd arriving in Erbil. The road signs show that it’s 87 km to Kirkuk and 81 to Mosul, an only slightly-more-reassuring 320 to Baghdad; placenames that have become synonymous with conflict, car-bombings, hijackings and all the rest of it. Notorious, freighted names; and the nearest of them less than an hour’s drive away. But on patches of wasteland at the sides of the road young boys played football; girls with plastic Disney backpacks giggled as they walked home from school; mothers pushed their toddlers on brightly-coloured swings in playgrounds.

Hoardings along the side of the road advertise new business centres and prospective developments, and our hotel rises sleek and shiny and new, like any hotel in any city in the world. It shouldn’t be surprising but it is, how ordinary life goes on, and just how ordinary, in many ways, much of that life is.” Read more here

The poet and translator George Szirtes who also participated, has blogged about his experience here.