Dear Baby Mine

Radio Plays

dear_baby_mineLucy Caldwell’s new radio drama for BBC Radio 4, Dear Baby Mine, was broadcast in June 2016. The omnibus edition of the drama will be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.


When Conor is told he has the condition azoospermia and is not producing any sperm, he struggles to come to terms with the implications of his diagnosis. He cannot father his own child. He cannot give his wife Keeley the baby she so desperately longs for. He feels lost, confused, guilty, responsible. All his assumptions and expectations for the future are thrown out of the window.

As both he and Keeley try to come to terms with the fact that Conor cannot father a child naturally and explore the other options available to them they embark on an emotional rollercoaster that will challenge their assumptions, their relationship, and their idea of family.

Listen to the drama on iPlayer

Five Things Right Now: Lucy Caldwell

Interviews, News

(chosen for Granta Magazine. See the original article here)

1. Dusty Bluebells documentary

The Northern Irish poet Stephen Connolly, @closeandslow, tweeted a link to this old BBC NI documentary from 1971, and I happened to see the tweet, watch the documentary, and was entranced. It’s about Belfast children and the street songs they sang, the games they played, even as their wider world was disintegrating around them. It took me right back to my childhood, the endless skipping games and cat’s cradles, but even more preciously, it sparked a story, ‘The Ally Ally O’, which is now the first story in my debut collection. (Stephen: if you happen to see this, the pints are on me.)

2. The Architecture Foundation: New Architects 3

Every ten years, the Architecture Foundation selects Britain’s best emerging practices and publishes the result in a glossy hardback. (Think Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists . . .) I’m very proud that my husband has made it in here with his new practice, Gatti Routh Rhodes. They’re currently designing a new church and community building opposite the V&A Museum of Childhood in east London.

3. Spitalfields City Farm

In the unlovely grid of streets between Bethnal Green and Whitechapel, a stone’s throw from Brick Lane, is the magical Spitalfields City Farm, an oasis of wildflowers, bees, ponds, organic vegetables and a treehouse (not to mention the animals). I come here several times a week to buy fresh eggs and pick vegetables, and inspired by the City Farm, I’ve been trying to create a (miniature) wildlife haven on my inner-city balcony. As well as herbs I’m growing echinacea, lunaria annua, or honesty, devil’s-bit scabious, buddleia and achillea millefolium, which always makes me think of Paul Muldoon’s poem, ‘Yarrow’:

Achillea millefolium: with its bedraggled, feathery leaf
and pink (less red
than mauve) or off-white flower, its tight little knot

of a head,
it’s like something keeping a secret
from itself, something on the tip of its own tongue.

4. Enda Bowe’s At Mirrored River

Irish photographer Enda Bowe won The Solas Prize this year with his series At Mirrored River, in which he visited the same, small, unnamed Irish town for four years, taking portraits of the town and its young people. More than just the beauty in the mundane, he captures his subjects at their most hopeful and most vulnerable, their dreams and fears shining from them. The series will be exhibited at Visual Carlow this July, and published as a book to coincide with the opening; the poet John Glenday and I have both contributed words for it.

5. In the Night Garden

Maybe it’s the chronic lack of sleep, maybe it’s the time of day, but it never fails to make me weepy: the moment when the stars in the sky turn into white flowers blossoming. In the Night Garden (on CBeebies every evening at 6.20 – but you either know that already or you don’t need to) has been a guilty pleasure of mine since my toddler started watching television. But! I came across an article by a Chaucer scholar who said it’s basically an introduction to the conventions of medieval poetry, and specifically early Chaucerian dream visions. Who knew! She quotes The Parliament of Fowls, The Legend of Good Women, The Book of the Duchess and more, and it’s a pretty darn convincing case.

On Why Short Stories Matter


maeve_brennanA good short story: greater than the sum of its parts

A short story is a shot of vodka (Chekhov), a love affair to the novel’s marriage (Lorrie Moore), a high wire act (Kevin Barry). It’s a hand grenade, a sprint, a shock, a shiver. There’s something taut, essential, elusive about it. There’s a magic to it, an alchemy. A good short story has to infer the entire and immersive world of a novel, create the same depth of consciousness in its characters, and yet with a mere fraction of the words. It requires the concision of poetry, and maybe the comparison with poetry goes even further: it needs to work on a symbolic plane as well as on the level of the literal narrative.

A good short story needs to be far greater than the sum of its parts, something that unfurls in you after you’ve read it, echoes within you long after you’ve finished it. My favourite definition, perhaps, is William Carlos Williams’: “Short stories are the flare of a match struck in the dark, the only real form for describing the briefness, the brokenness and the simultaneous wholeness of people’s lives.”
A short story… eleven years in the making

I attempted to write my first short story collection over a decade ago, just after I’d finished my first novel, in that strange no-man’s land before publication. I saw the shape of it perfectly in my head: the stories would all be set in Belfast or between Belfast and London, and they’d all be narrated by girls or young women. I thought it would be easy (cue hollow laugh). I realised very quickly that I had none of the skill or technique to make even the simplest of my ideas work: and it’s taken a further decade of reading, and the writing three novels, a novella, several stage plays and radio dramas to learn or acquire enough of the craft that stories demand.

Two of the stories in my collection, Multitudes, have first drafts going back eleven years to those earliest attempts: I’d come back to them every year or couple of years, unable quite to let them go, unable to make them live.
Demanding a lot from the reader

It’s often said that the short story is perfect for modern times: for our short attention spans, for our commutes, for our over-stretched, time-poor, bite-sized lives. I think this is utterly wrong. If a novel is a warm bath, something that you can sink into and get comfortable in, the short story is an ice-cold plunge pool.

The short story can be a profoundly uncomfortable form: it often demands a lot from the reader. It requires concentration as you’re reading, and it needs to be allowed the space and time to resonate in you after you’ve read it. You need to read a story in its entirety, in one sitting, and you often need, as Mavis Gallant recommends, to close the collection or the anthology after you’ve read one story in order to recover and regain the strength to plunge into the next.
Five short stories to love and learn from

Here, in no particular order, are five stories that I have loved. I am excluding Chekhov, Lorrie Moore and Kevin Barry on the spurious grounds that I have already mentioned them; I am also not allowing myself to look at my bookshelves as I choose the stories otherwise I’ll find myself paralysed with quandariness…

“The Eldest Child” by Maeve Brennan

I first read this story in the excellent anthology The Long Gaze Back, edited by Sinéad Gleeson. Maeve Brennan is better known for her acerbic, witty New Yorker columns, and this story floored me. It’s narrated from the point of view of a mother remembering the death of her newborn son, and the sleepless vigil she kept for his soul. It is impossible to read the final lines without your heart breaking.

“Sleepwalking” by Amy Bloom

If “The Eldest Child” breaks your heart, then “Sleepwalking”, from psychotherapist Amy Bloom’s first collection Come to Me, will stop you breathing. In my edition, the moment comes 13 pages in. You think you know where you are, and you’re ignoring the faint, creeping sense of dread and then, in an awful, inexorable rush, it happens. The brilliant thing about this story is that Amy Bloom doesn’t leave it there: like the best of Greek tragedies, she forces you to look, and look, and look.

“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace

An entirely different tone now: the most tender coming-of-age story you’ll ever read. “Forever Overhead” comes as a shock and a relief in the tangled, tortured, brilliant collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. On one hand, it’s about a young boy deciding to dive from the highest diving board at the public swimming pool one slow, hot day at the end of the summer. On the other hand, it’s about… everything.

“Brownies” by ZZ Packer

Another coming-of-age story from her first, and to-date only (come on ZZ!) collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. A high-spirited young Brownie pack from Atlanta, Georgia go to summer camp, where they become convinced that a group of white girls are racially abusing them. But there’s an unexpected twist. The story is both playful and profoundly serious, and asks all sorts of questions about the confusions of growing up and the complications of friendship.

“Boxing Day” by David Park

I’m really torn here for my final story. I was about to write about one by a criminally under-read writer, Katherine Anne Porter, and the title story from her recently reissued Collected stories: “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”. It’s about a young woman hallucinating in a hotel room in Colorado in the influenza epidemic of 1918, as she lingers at the gateway between life and death. It’s an astonishing story. But North American writers, I suddenly see, are over-represented in my list.

I could go instead with Zimbabwean Dambudzo Marechera’s jagged, brilliant “The House of Hunger”, or I could attempt to answer the question I’m always asked and always make a hash of: what is my favourite Irish short story (today it’s a toss-up between Claire Keegan’s “Walk the Blue Fields” and Sean O’Faolain’s “Lovers of the Lake”). But I’m going to choose, instead, a brand-new story from a brand-new collection.

Northern Irish writer David Park published his second collection of stories, Gods and Angels, on the very same day that my Multitudes was published. The second story in the collection, “Boxing Day”, is about a father taking his truculent teenage son on the boy’s annual visit to his estranged, mentally ill mother. The story is almost unbearably tender. The collection is worth buying for this story alone.

Multitudes: eleven stories


MultitudeFrom Belfast to London and back again the eleven stories that comprise Caldwell’s first collection explore the many facets of growing up – the pain and the heartache, the tenderness and the joy, the fleeting and the formative – or ‘the drunkenness of things being various’.

Stories of longing and belonging, they culminate with the heart-wrenching and unforgettable title story.

Praise for “Multitudes”

‘An underhyped Irish writer? They do exist. Lucy Caldwell … writes an understated, conversational prose that never advertises itself unduly … Multitudes is her debut collection, and it’s brilliant … Like Joyce’s Dubliners, Multitudes begins with stories of childhood, moves on through stories of adolescence, and ends with stories of maturity.’
Kevin Power, Sunday Business Post

‘ The stories in Multitudes collectively work as a sort of kaleidoscopic bildungsroman … a lively, humane book, gritty but wholehearted, and it offers an ultimately optimistic, progressive vision for the city of Belfast and the women who come from there, while never forgetting what has come before.’
Colin Barrett, Irish Times (full review)

‘Caldwell has produced a collection that feels like a truly unified work of art, and one that demonstrates how all of us, no matter how different we may seem, suffer the same, age-old growing pains.’
Roger Cox, Scotsman (full review)

‘A clear, calm voice in your ear… As carefully designed for coherence as a pre-iTunes LP.’
Anthony Cummins, Telegraph (full review)

‘Affecting and truthful … Caldwell’s poignant stories combine to describe a collection of moments that shape and define us.’
Big Issue in the North

‘Caldwell captures every last sob and spew in a book redeemed by its underlying resilience and exhilarating vividness.’
Phil Baker, Sunday Times

‘Everything you write requires a portion of your soul, I think, to make it live’

Interviews, News

Lucy Caldwell, whose collection Multitudes was published yesterday, opens up about it and her adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters to fellow Belfast writer Paul McVeigh

(from The Irish Times)
Lucy_Caldwell_portraitWere you always going to be a writer?
It seems so – I wrote my first “novel”, “the robin’s party”, when I was 4½. My Mum says that before I could even write I would ask her to fold pages up to look like books, and tell her what words I wanted in them. I made a programme recently about the Brontë siblings – who were half-Irish, as people often forget – and was digging around in my parents’ attic in search of my own “juvenilia” (not to glorify it with such a word!) and I found boxes and boxes of the “books” and “magazines” I used to make for my sisters, thick chronicles of our imaginary worlds and the genealogies of their inhabitants.

Like the Brontë siblings, my sisters and I made up fantasy worlds as soon as we could read and write. The Brontës started with Branwell’s wooden soldiers; we had Lego people, whose stories we chronicled for generations, and years on end, sending them to die on the wagon trail, or to brave ghettos in a world we called “Braxton”.

I didn’t want to grow up: wanted to stay in those worlds and our childhood forever; and leaving it, when I had turned 12 or 13 and it had started to feel a shameful secret, was one of the most painful times of my life. I understand, deeply and instinctively, what the adult Charlotte felt when, deeply unhappy in Brussels, she wrote to Branwell that at night she retreated “as fanatically as ever to the old ideas the old faces & the old scenes in the world below”.

When I teach creative writing classes for beginners there are always participants who talk of how intensely and joyfully creative they were as children, how somehow it was quashed out of them, and how they’re trying to reconnect with that imagination, that sense of possibility.

You know the words by Brian Friel inscribed onto a wall of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast? “This is your playhouse. Come play with us here.” When something I’m writing is going badly, or not going at all, and I’m in agonies over it, I try to remember that – the joy and lightness of play, of the way children play. We all know how to do it, even if we forget. Doing it, that place that writing comes from, feels like home for me.

You were casting with the Lyric last week for your reworking of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. It’s a project that’s important to you.
Yes! I’m thrilled it’s finally happening – and it had to be the Lyric, it couldn’t be anywhere else. Three Sisters has long been my favourite play – I’ve seen countless productions and adaptations of it, including two in Russian – and I’ve talked about doing my own version for years. I always thought I’d go to Russia first, learn a bit of the language, visit Yalta and – I don’t know, pour a libation of vodka on the ground and seek the blessing of the spirit of Chekhov. I saw Benedict Andrews’ version at the Young Vic in 2012, and it really was extraordinary, it illuminated so much of the play in so many ways, and it was faithful to the original and yet entirely his own, and I thought, I have to do this.
(read the full interview here)