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
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.