Author Lucy Caldwell is back with a new book These Days, about a city under siege from a vicious four day bombing campaign.
Chris Power talks with novelists Lucy Caldwell and Louise Kennedy about their new novels, both set in Belfast at intense moments of 20th century history, both treatments of women’s lives at a time of war and conflict: Lucy Caldwell’s These Days is the story of sisters Emma and Audrey during the terrifying Belfast Blitz of 1941, while Louise Kennedy’s Trespasses is about a relationship between an older Protestant man and a younger Catholic woman during the Troubles.
In our Northern Ireland Writers Day 2 evening panel discussion, in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), we celebrated some of the finest Northern Irish writers working across form and genre today. Led by RSL Fellow Lucy Caldwell, sci-fi novelist Ian McDonald, Irish language children’s writer Máire Zepf, performance poet Abby Oliveira, and crime writer Steve Cavanagh discussed their work, routes into writing and the Northern Irish literary scene.
“The second-person narrator, when done badly, is the form of narrator that irritates me the most”: Lucy Caldwell on how to use “you” in fiction
Doreen Bates is a truly remarkable woman: ahead of and unvanquished by her time.
Born in Plymouth in 1906, she was posted to Belfast as a Tax Inspector in 1941, where she survived the Belfast Blitz, documenting it meticulously for the Mass Observation project, as “Diarist 5245”, and in her own private journals.
A selection of Doreen’s diaries were published by Viking in 2016 as Diary of a Wartime Affair, and deserve to take their place as one of the essential chronicles of the twentieth century. Brimming with soul, passion, candour and wit, they are an extraordinary read, giving a vivid insight into the life of a woman unvanquished by her time. Edited in an act of great love and generosity by her children, they detail the minutiae of her daily life in the 1930s and 40s, in love with her married boss.
In this event, Lucy Caldwell will be in conversation with Dr Margaret Esiri, daughter and editor of Doreen Bates. Lucy will talk of encountering Doreen Bates in the course of her research into the Belfast Blitz, and of writing her as a character into the forthcoming novel, and Margaret will talk of her memories of her mother, of how her mother’s unconventional life shaped her own, and about editing the diaries. Lucy and Margaret will present extracts from the diaries, including exclusive, unpublished extracts from Doreen’s struggles as a single mother to twins during the wartime years, and discuss the extent to which the societal pressures and issues Doreen faced are still relevant to women today, for both Margaret’s generation and Lucy’s, in the balancing act of working motherhood.
For the third year in a row, Lucy Caldwell has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2021
Listen to “All the People Were Mean and Bad” by Lucy Caldwell Read by Laura Pyper.
New voices dominate the 2021 BBC NSSA shortlist as three-time nominee Lucy Caldwell is joined by Dublin-born novelist, playwright and screenwriter Rory Gleeson; Orange Prize shortlisted writer Georgina Harding; former postal worker and Creative Writing lecturer Danny Rhodes and journalist, novelist and Mastermind Finalist Richard Smyth.
The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (BBC NSSA) shortlist was announced this evening, Friday 10 September 2021, during BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. Celebrating 16 years of the Award, the shortlisted writers have been influenced by a year of lockdowns with a focus on kindness, memory, loss and longing. The judges praised the shortlist for its humanity, compassion and hope with the stories inspired by teenage empathy, time passing and journeys triggered by ‘in-between spaces’ like planes and trains, folklore, loneliness, and the ‘Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature’.
The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University 2021 shortlist is:
- ‘All the People Were Mean and Bad’ by Lucy Caldwell
- ‘The Body Audit’ by Rory Gleeson
- ‘Night Train’ by Georgina Harding
- ‘Toadstone’ by Danny Rhodes
- ‘Maykopsky District, Adyghe Oblast’ by Richard Smyth
The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The 2020 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Sarah Hall who won for ‘The Grotesques’. The 2021 winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row on 19th October 2021.
All five stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds and published in an anthology produced by Comma Press. The readers of this year’s stories include Harry Potter and Merlin actress Siân Thomas, who reads ‘Night Train’; Northern Irish actress, Laura Pyper reading ‘All the People Were Mean and Bad’; Irish actor and screenwriter, Emmet Kirwan reading ‘The Body Audit’ and Krypton actor, Blake Ritson, reading ‘Maykopsky District, Adyghe Oblast’. TV actor, Shaun Dooley, whose credits include It’s a Sin, Innocent and Coronation Street completes the line-up reading ‘Toadstone’.
Intimacies, Lucy Caldwell’s second collection of short stories, follows young women interrupted by sudden, destabilising forces
At a point in Lucy Caldwell’s 2013 novel All the Beggars Riding, a character is struck by the anger of a widow: if you have to ask why wives and mothers risked their own health to nurse their dying husbands and sons then you do not, the message is, understand love.
Intimacies, Caldwell’s second collection of short stories, is also a work in which high stakes – the life and death of the body, disaster, violence, illness, loss – play out in domestic life, where they are handled with a delicacy that illuminates, rather than mutes, their profundity.
The stories follow young women, often wives and mothers, in states of domesticity,
interrupted by sudden, destabilising forces in the inner or outer world which prompt a look under the hood, as it were, of love. This love, even when it is reciprocated or anchored in a nuclear family, is lonely.
It also functions, formally, as a kind of emotional trapdoor. This is established in ‘Like This’, the opening story, in which a harried mother’s split-second decision to leave her baby with a stranger leads to a terrifying, dizzying sequence of catastrophe. There is also a moment when, immobilised by fright, she faces a confused crowd:
‘The mass of people; faces, talking. Dark jackets everywhere, brownish hair. A teenager, spots still on her cheeks, wearing the Frankie’s baseball cap and badge.
‘Excuse me, can I help you?’
‘She’s lost her mother.’
‘She’s not her mother.’’’
This proliferation of mothers feels signifcant. In the moment this is a mother who – stricken – needs mothering, and the theme of the sudden, strange, transformative responsibilities of parenthood as something that catapults characters from the
status of child to mother and leaves them bewildered recurs throughout.
In ‘Words for Things’, friends rock buggies while remembering, laughingly but with growing alarm, the mockery of Monica Lewinsky that was current in the 1990s when they were girls.
Dropping more quietly into a trapdoor (as well as “a late-night google black hole”, another place sleepless new mothers go), the protagonist decides to make a junk-food cake she remembers from childhood; eating cherries and marshmallows, she recalls a spirited schoolteacher, the feminist Nell McCafferty, and a host of girls and women sacrificed to the sugared violence of pop misogyny: Anna Nicole Smith, Shannen Doherty, Jade Goody.
She messages her own mother idly and discusses the baby. Her mother tells her – joking, or lightly, once more – “You’ll never be loved so much again.” Questions of love, of values, of what kind of woman is valued and what kind of woman is not, are let wash over us without being resolved.
(read the full review at the Irish Independent)