BELFAST author Lucy Caldwell returns to her roots for the first reading from her forthcoming short story collection this month. The 34-year-old award-winning writer has used her memories of growing up in the east of the city as a catalyst for the collection, titled Multitudes, which has been 10-years in the making.
As well as a novelist, Caldwell is a much admired playwright whose stage plays – Leaves, Guardians and Notes to Future Self – and radio plays have won awards including the George Devine Award and the BBC Stewart Parker Award.
Her second novel, The Meeting Point, which centres around a young Irish missionary couple who journey to Bahrain, received The Dylan Thomas Prize, while her moving 2013 novel All the Beggars Riding was chosen as Belfast's One City One Book.
With such acclaim to her credit, Caldwell felt the time was right to focus on short stories.
“Short stories take so much craft that I think it’s taken me all those years of writing novels, play, monologues, radio plays and various formats to have the ability to make a short story work. And I guess after becoming a mum it's been a bit more easy to work on short stories rather than plunging into a novel," adds the mum-of-one.
From Belfast to London and back again, the 10 stories that comprise Caldwell's first collection explore the many facets of growing up – the pain and the heartache, the tenderness and the joy, the fleeting and the formative – the drunkenness of things being various. She describes Multitudes, which will be published next May, as being "about love, the world and finding your place in it".
These stories of longing and belonging culminate with the heart-wrenching title story, which she admits is the most autobiographical thing she has ever written.
“Shortly after William was born he was very, very ill with a form of meningitis and at one point we were told he had a 50 per cent chance of making it. It was crazy, but when he was just seven weeks old I had this compulsion like I never had before to somehow write about what had happened," she explains.
“I think it took everything I had to both retain all the emotion of that time but also to contain it. Writing about your baby or an ill child could so easy be very sentimental and not work, but my editor loved it and said it should be the title story."
A few of the stories in Multitudes have been previously published. Killing Time, on the topic of teenage suicide, which won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Canada & Europe) has just been published in the anthology All Over Ireland, edited by Deirdre Madden and her story Poison, set in Dundonald, was published last November in Stuart Neville and Adrian McKlinty's Belfast Noir anthology.
However, as well as her new writing, she includes three stories she started working on almost a decade ago. Making the last story in the collection in the collection about motherhood was appropriate as a place to stop, Caldwell feels. “It was like the final piece fell into piece".
"All the stories are told from the female perspective from being a child, to a teenager, to a young woman and mother."
She is thoroughly enjoying being a mum, though admits her rigorous early morning writing schedule has long been set aside. “I’m really enjoying looking after him as the baby years fly by so fast. I was used to having so much more time to work but actually when you only do have those little windows of time it’s amazing how much you get done.
"Writing was always something I needed to do, rather than something I was doing for pleasure. Though there are those mornings where William's been up every hour teething and the last thing you want to do is haul yourself up and stare at a computer screen," she laughs.
Although her other short-stories are not as personal, she does admit her childhood in Belfast was influential in her thought-processing. "Fiction, even if all the facts are made up, still needs to have an emotional truth at the heart of it. Short stories, like poetry, demanded that I wrote a lot closer to the bone. So, I have used places from my childhood and growing up and things that have happened to me, or those close to me, in a way I haven't before.”
This can be seen in her short story Cyprus Avenue, which Caldwell will be reading it in its entirety when she returns 'home' at the end of this month as part of the EastSide Arts Festival. She admits the love story about a girl growing up and coming back to Belfast and remembering her childhood is "written in homage to Van Morrison".
"It's a love story but also about the yearning to be elsewhere and the places that become talismanic to us. I’ve never read that story in public before and it’s great to be reading it at an event where Van Morrison himself will be performing. I loved that album; it’s the backdrop to so much of my childhood.”
Morrison himself has already had a sneak preview of Caldwell's short stories, as she posted him a draft copy when asking for permission to include lyrics from the album in question, Astral Weeks, in her story.
"I was desperate to have some lines from Astral Weeks, but thought it was unlikely as normally if you are wanting to include song lyrics the author, not the publisher, has to pay thousands. It was so generous of him to give me his permission free of charge and I'm grateful to his manager Colin Dundas in clearing the right in the US and UK."
Having written in so many formats already, does Caldwell foresee branching out into children's literature? “It’s funny it’s something I always wanted to do and I love reading books to my son, so who knows?”she laughs.
:: EastSide Out Loud: Multitudes, readings by Lucy Caldwell, August 28 at 11am, Ballyhackamore Library, 1-3 Eastleigh Drive, Belfast. For tickets visit Eastsidearts.net.