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Lucy Caldwell wins BBC National Short Story Award 2021

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | From the Front Row

Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin

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Three-time nominated Lucy Caldwell has won the sixteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) with ‘All the People Were Mean and Bad’, a story taken from her 2021 collection, Intimacies. The news was announced live on BBC Front Row t by 2021 Chair of Judges, James Runcie. Caldwell, a multi-award-winning writer from Belfast, was previously shortlisted in 2012 and 2019.

Praised by the judges for ‘masterful storytelling’, ‘deep truthfulness’ and ‘deft precision’, ‘All the People Were Mean and Bad’ is the story of a woman navigating a long-haul transatlantic flight alone with her 21-month-old daughter after a family loss. An intimate exploration of parenthood, marriage, religion, kindness and the seductive power of an alternative life, the story was variously influenced by Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘Sleeping on the wing’, Walt Whitman’s journey-poem ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Adrian Tomine’s ‘Translated from the Japanese’. The story is available to listen to on BBC Sounds.

Talking about her story, Caldwell says “I wanted to write about the distance between where we come from and where we end up; between who we think we are and who we turn out to be. Between what we dream, and what we do.” She adds “A lot of my stories are set on planes, or in airports, on car journeys, in in-between spaces, spaces where time seems to stop, or is elsewhere for a while – places or spaces of exile, of not-belonging, of longing, places where different paths, different destinations, momentarily seem possible.”

Named “One of Ireland’s most essential writers” by the Sunday Times, Lucy Caldwell is the author of four novels, including the forthcoming These Days (Faber, March 2022); stage plays, radio dramas, and, most recently, two collections of short stories: Multitudes (2016) and Intimacies (Faber, 2021). Her work has won many awards, including the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Chair of Judges, James Runcie says:
“Lucy Caldwell’s story has a confidence, daring and authenticity that is wonderfully sustained. All five of the stories on our shortlist were excellent, but this totally assured and moving piece of storytelling commanded the award.”

Di Speirs, Editor of Books at BBC Audio and judge of the Award since its launch says:
“I discovered Lucy Caldwell as a short story writer a decade ago. Since then, between bouts of novel writing, Lucy has turned out a series of spell-binding short story collections, and now been thrice shortlisted for the BBC NSSA. I’m delighted that one of our consistently accomplished and increasingly mature story writers, who is always so generous in her curation of others in the field, is this year’s very deserved winner of the Award, which was set up to celebrate those creating the very best short fiction in the UK.”

Caldwell beat a shortlist dominated by new voices including Dublin-born novelist, playwright and screenwriter Rory Gleeson; Orange Prize shortlisted writer Georgina Harding; former postal worker and Creative Writing lecturer Danny Rhodes and journalist, novelist and Mastermind Finalist Richard Smyth.

This years’ judging panel was chaired by novelist and former Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Arts James Runcie. He was joined by Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Fiona Mozley; award winning writer, poet and winner of the Desmond Elliot Prize, Derek Owusu; multi-award-winning novelist and short story writer, Donal Ryan; and returning judge Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Audio.

The BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University was established in 2005 and is recognised as the most prestigious for a single short story with the winning writer receiving £15,000 and the four shortlisted writers, £600 each. As well as rewarding the most renowned short story writers, the Award has raised the profile of new writers including Ingrid Persaud, K J Orr, Jo Lloyd, Cynan Jones and Clare Wigfall. The 2020 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Sarah Hall who won for ‘The Grotesques’.

About Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell:

Intimacies exquisitely charts the steps and missteps of young women trying to find their place in the world. From a Belfast student ordering illegal drugs online to end an unwanted pregnancy to a young mother’s brush with mortality; from a Christmas Eve walking the city centre streets when everything seems possible, to a night flight from Canada which could change a life irrevocably, these are stories of love, loss and exile, of new beginnings and lives lived away from ‘home’.

Taking in, too, the lives of other women who could be guiding lights – from Monica Lewinsky to Caroline Norton to Sinéad O’Connor – Intimacies offers keenly felt and subtly revealing insights into the heartbreak and hope of modern life.

‘Precise and beautifully controlled fictions but with strange, wild energies pulsing along just beneath the surface. A tremendous collection.’ Kevin Barry, author of Night Boat to Tangier

‘Heart-stoppingly good.’ Lisa McGee, writer and creator of Derry Girls

Order your copy online here.

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