Lucy Caldwell goes on a wartime footing for new novel


The author has turned to the Blitz in her native Belfast while the pandemic delayed her short story anthology

Rescue workers searching through rubble after an air raid on Belfast

‘Are you reading much during the quarantine?” asks Lucy Caldwell, sounding breathless, as if she has just run up a flight of stairs — though, in reality, it’s how she talks. The playwright novelist and short-story writer has been in lockdown with her husband and two young children in their seventh-floor apartment in London’s Whitechapel for several weeks. “I’m finding that I don’t have the mental capacity to read for pleasure,” she admits. “I’ve always read prolifically, but not while entertaining two kids during a pandemic.”

While peers including Marian Keyes and Anne Enright have admitted to feeling unproductive as a result of lockdown malaise, Caldwell reveals that spring 2020 is one of the most creative periods of her career. Were it not for the pandemic, she would have been celebrating the publication of her latest collection, Intimacies, now postponed for a year. Instead, she finds herself “churning through” an as yet untitled fourth novel about the Belfast Blitz.

“It’s bizarrely resonant. I’m finding the parallels between then and now quite remarkable,” says Caldwell. “As we were approaching the outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe, I observed people across the Continent attempting to carry on as normal as possible for as long as possible, thinking it’s not going to happen or, if it does, it’s not going to be as bad as they’re saying. And that’s similar to what happened in Belfast after war broke out in 1939.

“Everyone felt that aerial raids on London were imminent, but they didn’t happen until 1940, so surely Belfast would go unscathed. It was too far out of range. It hadn’t happened so it wouldn’t happen. The government imposed rationing in London and elsewhere not because of supply chains, but because of panic buying. But in Belfast, they didn’t really panic. Very few children were sent to the countryside. So when the Luftwaffe attacked in Easter 1941, the city wasn’t prepared and there were more casualties than in any other single raid on the UK.”

(read the full article at the Time (Paywalled))

Rachel Dean’s Big Ask


Lucy Caldwell on her childhood in east Belfast and loss of much-wanted pregnancy

In this week’s interview Rachel Dean talks to author Lucy Caldwell (38), who grew up in Belfast and now lives in Whitechapel, east London, with her husband Tom Routh (38) and their two children, William (5) and Orla Rose (2)

Q: Tell us about your childhood

Big influence: Lucy with parents Peter and Maureen and her children

A: It was so happy. I was born and grew up in the Belmont area of east Belfast. My dad Peter was an architect and my mum Maureen a full-time mum.

I have two sisters, Kim (36), a palliative care consultant, and Faye (34), an English teacher. Both are near me in age and we were very, very close.

We used to spend weeks, months on end in our secret imaginary worlds. In later years, when I read about the Bronte siblings and their worlds of Angria and Gondal, and saw the tiny books they used to make, I felt such a headrush of recognition. One of our most elaborate worlds was called Braxton, and we drew and illustrated its chronicles, going back generations.

Everything we did and saw and read was folded into our made-up worlds, which sometimes felt more urgent and alive than the “real” world around us.

I didn’t want to grow up and found growing up very painful because there was so much I didn’t want to lose or have to leave behind.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: Family legend has it that I wanted to be a writer before I could actually write – I used to fold up pages to look like books, draw pictures and tell my mum what words I wanted and where I wanted them.

When I was 13, we were asked to write an extra chapter for the Jennifer Johnson novel How Many Miles to Babylon?

I wrote an alternative ending – I worked so hard on it, and handed it so proudly to my teacher, convinced it was even better than Johnson’s, but more importantly knowing that I was utterly sure about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

So to see my shelves of my own books sometimes feels remarkable.

I’m not sure I’d say I felt proud, exactly, because I’ve been so lucky to have the support of my family, encouragement of my teachers and mentors – anything I’ve managed is due to them too and I’m always mindful of that.

But what I think I am proud of are the small, private ways in which my writing has made a difference for people.

There are a precious handful of responses I’ve had from certain readers that I will never, ever forget.

Q: The one regret you wish you could amend?

A: Where do I begin? Sometimes I’m just a bundle of regrets.

Mainly it’s the small things – the things I should have done or said but didn’t, the things I did but shouldn’t, the times I should have been kinder or more patient, or just let something go, but instead enjoyed the blaze of feeling self-righteous …

Q: What about phobias? Do you have any?

A: Pigeons. I don’t mind dozy bumbling woodpigeons, but I can’t stand their scraggy feral inner-city cousins, especially when they flap right in your face. The only pigeon I can tolerate is the one in Mo Willems’s children’s books.

(read the full article at the Belfast Telegraph)

Following her own brilliant short story collection Multitudes, Lucy Caldwell guest edits the sixth volume of Faber’s long running series of new Irish short stories, continuing the great work started by the late David Marcus and subsequent guest editors Kevin Barry, Deirdre Madden and Joseph O’Connor.

Eimear McBride, Kit de Waal and Sally Rooney are among the writers to feature in  Being Various: New Irish Short Stories, which brings together new stories from Ireland’s current golden age of writing and features newly commissioned works from writers including Louise O’Neill, Paul McVeigh, Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney and Arja Kajermo.

Caldwell said: “Being Various has a brilliant array of writers making waves in the twenty-first century, from lauded names to newcomers ranging from their twenties to their sixties; Irish by birth, by parentage, or residence.”

Being Various: New Irish Short Stories is published on May 2, 2019

Being Various: New Irish Short Stories

News, Short Stories

Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story

News, Short Stories

Lucy Caldwell is among the authors selected for the new anthology, The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story, “a literary treasure trove” of “30 great short stories published in the last 20 years”,.

The anthology has been edited and curated Philip Hensher who – following on from two-volume collection The Penguin Book of the British Short Story published in 2015 – has returned to the archive, reading hundreds of “contemporary” short stories to make his selection.

The other writers whose stories have been included are Kazuo Ishiguro, Ali Smith, A L Kennedy, Tessa Hadley, Graham Swift, Jane Gardam, Neil Gaiman, Martin Amis, China Mieville, Peter Hobbs, Thomas Morris, David Rose, David Szalay, Rose Tremain, Helen Oyeyemi, Leone Ross, Helen Simpson, Will Self, James Kelman, Lucy Wood, Hilary Mantel, Eley Williams, Sarah Hall, Mark Haddon and Helen Dunmore.

The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story will be published by Allen Lane on 4th October 2018 as a £20 hardback.


US production of Caldwell’s “Three Sisters”

News, Plays

Living Room Theatre, a boutique Equity company of New York professionals entering its seventh season that concentrates on classics (Chekhov, Shaw, Strindberg) is  presenting the U.S. première of Lucy Caldwell’s Irish adaptation of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” set in Belfast in the 1990s at the end of the Troubles directed by Christopher McCann.

The cast includes Monique Vukovic as Orla, Oona Roche as Erin, Hannah Beck as Marianne, Allen McCullough as Vershinin and Kirk Jackson as Uncle Beattie and is  playing through Aug. 18 at Living Room Theatre in North Bennington.

Discussing the production, Director Chris McCann,  a founding member of the company, emphasized that Caldwell’s play was not just a simple rewrite of Chekov.

“Though these different circumstances inform the actors, and ultimately audiences, in substantial ways, `Three Sisters’ is not about the time and locale,” McCann said. “Rather, it’s about the people within the time and locale hoping to live normal lives, with expectations that change and dreams that go unrealized,”
(see a full review at the Berkshire Eagle)


Cast Interview

More theatre Talk interviewed the cast of Three Sisters. Click below to listen to it

Interview with Living Room Theatre

Production Photographs from “Three Sisters”

News, Plays

“The acting in this play is superb top to bottom, and I would be remiss if I didn’t single out the sisters themselves. Vukovic, Beck and Roche absolutely grasped the cross-generational dynamics at play in Caldwell’s version, taking the very different but also powerful female leads, and making them planets about which the rest of the cast beautifully orbited.

In addition, LRT co-founder McCullough, as well as Wadsworth and Jackson, provided three radically different, but intensely effective, testosterone balances to this story’s equation.

There is so much to this play, and discerning audience members will need a bit of time at the start to digest all of the characters entering the scene of Erin’s birthday party. Once oriented though, Caldwell’s tapestry welcomes and drapes you.”

(from Bennington Banner)

Lucy Caldwell made fellow of Royal Society of Literature


Lucy Caldwell has been made of fellow of the Royal Society of Literature as part of the “40 Under 40 initiative” chosen to bring a diverse set of fresh fellows into the society, reflecting the ‘bold expressiveness’ of a new generation in institution that has been ‘overwhelmingly’ white and male.

(by Alison Flood in  The Guardian)

Nearly 200 years after it was founded, the venerable Royal Society of Literature is stepping away from its “overwhelmingly white, male, metropolitan and middle class” history, with the appointment of 40 new writing fellows under the age of 40, ranging from the award-winning Jamaican poet Kei Miller to the bestselling English novelist Sarah Perry.

The RSL’s 40 Under 40 initiative saw publishers, literary agents, theatres and author organisations put forward an array of names to a panel of RSL fellows, who were looking to honour “the achievements of Britain’s younger writers” with the selection of a new generation of fellows. Prior to the initiative, only three of the 523 fellows were under 40, with none under 30 and the average age being 70.

The 40 names they chose were almost three-quarters female, with 30% from black and minority ethnic backgrounds; names range from novelist Jenn Ashworth to poet Sarah Howe, playwright and poet Sabrina Mahfouz and feminist writer Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

“We want the pulse of the RSL to keep time with the efflorescing, irrepressible, bold expressiveness of what writers are writing now,” said the society’s president Marina Warner, announcing the new appointments.

Author and critic Blake Morrison, who sat on the nominating panel, said he and his fellow judges had found a wealth of young literary talent in Britain. “For much of its history, the RSL has been overwhelmingly white, male, metropolitan and middle class. But literary culture is changing rapidly and our choices reflect that,” he added.

The society was founded in 1820. Its fellows, who have to be nominated and seconded by existing fellows, have in the past included names from Thomas Hardy to Henry James. New fellows sign the RSL roll book using either TS Eliot’s or Byron’s pen. This year, George Eliot’s pen has been added in a small first for women writers.

Northern Irish novelist and playwright Lucy Caldwell, one of the new recruits, said that when she left primary school in 1992, she was given a copy of Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss “by teachers who were convinced I’d be a writer”.

“I don’t know if any of us would have imagined that one day I’d be writing my name alongside famous writers with George Eliot’s own pen,” she said. “It is a great honour to be elected to the RSL as one of the 40 Under 40 fellows; an honour that belongs too to the teachers, libraries and house full of books that encouraged me at such an early age and set me on my way.”