‘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)

A Multitude of experiences…

Interviews, News

Lucy CaldwellLucy Caldwell returns to Belfast this month to read from her debut short story collection about young love and growing up. She tells Jenny Lee about being inspired by Van Morrison’s lyrics and the near-death experience of her baby son that led to her writing close to the heart

(from The Irish News, 10 August, 2015)

BELFAST author Lucy Caldwell returns to her roots for the first reading from her forthcoming short story collection this month. The 34-year-old award-winning writer has used her memories of growing up in the east of the city as a catalyst for the collection, titled Multitudes, which has been 10-years in the making.

As well as a novelist, Caldwell is a much admired playwright whose stage plays – Leaves, Guardians and Notes to Future Self – and radio plays have won awards including the George Devine Award and the BBC Stewart Parker Award.

Her second novel, The Meeting Point, which centres around a young Irish missionary couple who journey to Bahrain, received The Dylan Thomas Prize, while her moving 2013 novel All the Beggars Riding was chosen as Belfast’s One City One Book.

With such acclaim to her credit, Caldwell felt the time was right to focus on short stories.

“Short stories take so much craft that I think it’s taken me all those years of writing novels, play, monologues, radio plays and various formats to have the ability to make a short story work. And I guess after becoming a mum it’s been a bit more easy to work on short stories rather than plunging into a novel,” adds the mum-of-one.

From Belfast to London and back again, the 10 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 – the drunkenness of things being various. She describes Multitudes, which will be published next May, as being “about love, the world and finding your place in it”.

These stories of longing and belonging culminate with the heart-wrenching title story, which she admits is the most autobiographical thing she has ever written. (read more)

Lucy interviewed by The Thought Fox

Interviews

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)

Interview with Writing.ie

Interviews

je07lucy_caldwellEleanor Fitzsimmons © 7 March 2013.
Posted on writing.ie

“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)

Drawing on dynamics, from Belfast to Iraq

Interviews

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)