The many faces of Lucy Caldwell

by Alex Peake-Tomkinson at BookanistaLucy_Caldwell_portrait

Multitudes is the first book of short stories from the prizewinning novelist and playwright Lucy Caldwell. The collection is eleven stories strong and each of the stories seems to describe a character in peril so that holding one’s breath whilst reading them sometimes feels unavoidable. Caldwell agrees to meet me to discuss the stories and I worry that she might be quite earnest – few people write their first novels at 21, after all. My fears dissipate, however, when she suggests we talk over glasses of wine at a bar in Spitalfields.

The stories in this collection feel quite perilous, as though the characters are on the brink of something that could be dangerous and there is a sense of people waiting for their fate. I guess that’s what it’s like to be a teenage girl, when you lack agency, I suggest.

“Yes, and I desperately didn’t want to grow up, I was the eldest of three sisters and I wanted to stay playing Lego with my sisters. I was more than a year younger than the girls in my class, so when I was still a child of 12 there were girls in my class of 14 who were being proper teenagers, smoking and drinking, and I was so terrified of those things and having to grow up. I think growing up can be pretty scary for any young woman, but perhaps particularly against the backdrop of Belfast. Although I was 13 when the ceasefires happened so I had a relatively normal childhood, you realise that even if you’ve had a really sheltered or middle-class upbringing, something of that is still in the air.

“I’m really interested in the rates of teenage suicide in Northern Ireland, which are some of the highest in the world, and you wonder if it’s because there’s a history of violence or self-loathing or self-monitoring and of self-censoring, and even though the outward violence is no longer acceptable, the violence is somehow turned inwards, you wonder if the psyche of the country is somehow damaged. There’s a small thread of that in this collection. The narrator of ‘Killing Time’ attempts suicide and you find that out in the first line. I wanted to state the facts at the beginning and then look at the aftermath. Suicide is often glamorised and that’s why you get so many clusters of copycat suicides. I wanted to go as deeply as I could into that idea that sometimes the biggest battles we fight go deep into the inner chambers of our hearts or our souls and no one else would really know what we’re fighting or what’s going on.” (read the full interview at Bookanista)