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