Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell: September’s Irish Times Book Club choice

The award-winning author’s bittersweet debut short story collection traces the highs and lows of young women’s lives in her native Belfast

Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell is September’s Irish Times Book Club selection. The Belfast author’s short story collection, published by Faber in May, was described by Young Skins author Colin Barrett in The Irish Times as “a lively, humane book, gritty but wholehearted, and it offers an ultimately optimistic, progressive vision for the city of Belfast and the women who come from there, while never forgetting what has come before.

“Caldwell is not a writer who cultivates bleakness for its own sake, and the tone that ultimately prevails throughout Multitudes is one of tentative defiance, of a kind of celebratory bittersweetness and a refusal to finally bow to adversity.

“Set almost entirely in Belfast, featuring a succession of young female protagonists, and ordered in rough accordance with the the narrators’ ages, the stories in Multitudes collectively work as a sort of kaleidoscopic bildungsroman, tracing the archetypal milestones and tribulations of the various characters’ lives as they come of age in the city in the pre-Good Friday Agreement era.”

The Sunday Times review said: “Anyone who thinks adolescence is a happy experience should read Lucy Caldwell’s Multitudes, a series of stories about girlhood set mainly in Belfast around the time of the Troubles. Thirteen is a memorably grim tale featuring a miserable birthday party and a near rape, but most of these pieces (in a book neatly structured so that the various protagonists are older in each one, adding up to a composite whole) have something bleak or queasy in them. Caldwell captures every last sob and spew in a book redeemed by its underlying resilience and exhilarating vividness.”


Kevin Power in the Sunday Business Post wrote: “While the Young Turks and Tukesses of Irish Lit are all about the linguistic fireworks, Caldwell writes an understated, conversational prose that never advertises itself unduly.

“She has unfashionable virtues: a flawless ear for the ehythms of everyday speech, an interest in everyday sorrw, a scrupulous eye for the revelatory detail. Most of all, she has tact – the most unfashionable literary virtue of all.

“Multitudes is Caldwell’s first collection of short stories, and it’s brilliant.”

Caldwell was born in Belfast in 1981, read English at Queens’ College, Cambridge and is a graduate of Goldsmith’s MA in Creative & Life Writing. She lives in London. She is the author of three novels, incuding Where They Were Missed (2006) and The Meeting Point (2011), and several stage plays and radio dramas. Her awards include the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright, the BBC Stewart Parker Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award. Her most recent novel, All the Beggars Riding, was chosen for Belfast’s One City One Book campaign in 2013 and shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year. Her debut play, Leaves, premiered at Druid Theatre’s Chapel Lane and the Royal Court Upstairs in 2007. Subsequent plays include Guardians and Notes to Future Self, and her latest, a version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set in 1990s Belfast. She was shortlisted for the 2012 BBC International Short Story Award for her short story, Escape Routes, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Award (Canada & Europe) in 2014 with Killing Time.

Over the next four weeks, we shall publish a series of articles by Lucy herself, her editor Angus Cargill, fellow writers Mary Morrissy, Adrian McKinty, Glenn Patterson, Claire Kilroy and Joe Thomas, and academic Caroline Magennis. Lucy will explore the influence on her work of Van Morrison’s music; interview Luke Bird, the designer of Multitude’s cover; and explore the theme of teen mental health with the founder of the Niamh Louise Foundation. We shall also publish Poison, another story from the collection. Today, you can also read her short story, Cyprus Avenue; Colin Barrett’s full review; an interview with Lucy by fellow Belfast author Paul McVeigh; and an essay by Lucy on writing the collectiuon.

I also include here a link to the YouTube video of a heartbreakingly poignant BBC documentary of Belfast children singing street songs in 1971. As Lucy explains: “The Northern Irish poet Stephen Connolly, @closeandslow, tweeted a link to this old BBC NI documentary from 1971, and I happened to see the tweet, watch the documentary, and was entranced. It’s about Belfast children and the street songs they sang, the games they played, even as their wider world was disintegrating around them. It took me right back to my childhood, the endless skipping games and cat’s cradles, but even more preciously, it sparked a story, The Ally Ally O, which is now the first story in my debut collection.”

The series will culminate in a live event, a public reading by the author and an interview by Laura Slattery at the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin, on Thursday, September 15th, at 7pm, which will recorded and released as a podcast on September 30th.

Multitudes is published by Faber, £12.99