Yan Ge and Lucy Sweeney Byrne In Conversation with Lucy Caldwell
Join Belfast Book Festival Patron, Lucy Caldwell in conversation with two stellar short story writers, Lucy Sweeney Byrne and Yan Ge.
Lucy Sweeney Byrne’s debut short story collection Paris Syndrome (2019), explores travelling the world alone as a young woman. She has recently been shortlisted for the Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize Yan Ge has been writing and publishing in Chinese for many years, and began writing in English in 2016. Her work was featured in Being Various: New Irish Short Stories.
Louis MacNeice’s ‘Autumn Journal’, written August to December 1938, was an immediate personal response to the public events of those months and the mood on the streets. ‘It is the nature of this poem,’ a prefatory note declared, ‘to be neither final nor balanced.’ In ‘Spring Journal’, written between March and late August 2020, the novelist Jonathan Gibbs replies to MacNeice and redeploys his form in an urgent, fluent act of witness to the events of this Covid year. Angry, desperately sad, self-aware, sceptical about what writing is for, the book is both a week-by-week record and something ‘carved from chaos’.
Lucy Caldwell joins David Collard, Jonathan Gibbs and Michael Hughes to reflect on the making, the form (‘elastic quatrains’ in cantos) and context (WWII, COVID-19) of both poems.
Is Ireland going through a ‘golden age of literature’ when it comes to women’s writing? Sally Rooney and Anna Burns are hugely popular but what is behind this boom in new writing? Writers Lucy Caldwell and Jan Carson discuss.
An online panel discussion with Lucy Caldwell. Caleb Azumah Nelson and Eley Williams, shortlisted writers from this year’s BBC National Short Story Award with chaired by BBC’s Editor of Readings Di Speirs.
Now in its fifteenth year, the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is one of the most prestigious for a single short story. From the short and pithy to the layered and literary, via robust poetics, family hierarchies and maligned youth, this year’s shortlist is the perfect reflection of all that can be achieved in few words.
Small Wonder Festival at Home is a weekend of free digital events to mark Small Wonder: Charleston’s annual festival dedicated to short stories and short form writing which runs from 10am (BST), Friday 25 September – 10pm (BST), Sunday 27 September.
Three talented writers from Northern Ireland – Lucy Caldwell, Paul Muldoon and Glenn Patterson – are hosted by BBC presenter and broadcaster Marie-Louise Muir in a conversation about their work and their best books of the year. From Belfast Book Festival.
Multitudes is the first book of short stories from the prizewinning novelist and playwright Lucy Caldwell. The collection is eleven stories strong and each of the stories seems to describe a character in peril so that holding one’s breath whilst reading them sometimes feels unavoidable. Caldwell agrees to meet me to discuss the stories and I worry that she might be quite earnest – few people write their first novels at 21, after all. My fears dissipate, however, when she suggests we talk over glasses of wine at a bar in Spitalfields.
The stories in this collection feel quite perilous, as though the characters are on the brink of something that could be dangerous and there is a sense of people waiting for their fate. I guess that’s what it’s like to be a teenage girl, when you lack agency, I suggest.
“Yes, and I desperately didn’t want to grow up, I was the eldest of three sisters and I wanted to stay playing Lego with my sisters. I was more than a year younger than the girls in my class, so when I was still a child of 12 there were girls in my class of 14 who were being proper teenagers, smoking and drinking, and I was so terrified of those things and having to grow up. I think growing up can be pretty scary for any young woman, but perhaps particularly against the backdrop of Belfast. Although I was 13 when the ceasefires happened so I had a relatively normal childhood, you realise that even if you’ve had a really sheltered or middle-class upbringing, something of that is still in the air.
“I’m really interested in the rates of teenage suicide in Northern Ireland, which are some of the highest in the world, and you wonder if it’s because there’s a history of violence or self-loathing or self-monitoring and of self-censoring, and even though the outward violence is no longer acceptable, the violence is somehow turned inwards, you wonder if the psyche of the country is somehow damaged. There’s a small thread of that in this collection. The narrator of ‘Killing Time’ attempts suicide and you find that out in the first line. I wanted to state the facts at the beginning and then look at the aftermath. Suicide is often glamorised and that’s why you get so many clusters of copycat suicides. I wanted to go as deeply as I could into that idea that sometimes the biggest battles we fight go deep into the inner chambers of our hearts or our souls and no one else would really know what we’re fighting or what’s going on.” (read the full interview at Bookanista)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.