THREE-TIME nominated Lucy Caldwell has won the sixteenth BBC National Short Story Award (NSSA) offered in conjunction with Cambridge University.
The Belfast-born writer takes the title for her story All the People Were Mean and Bad, which is taken from her 2021 collection, Intimacies.
Caldwell, who was previously shortlisted for the prize in 2012 and 2019, was praised by the judges for her “masterful storytelling, deep truthfulness and deft precision”.
Her story depicts 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.
“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,” Caldwell explained.
“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,” she added.
Chair of the NSSA Judges, James Runcie said of Caldwell’s win: “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.”
Caldwell was one of five shortlisted authors vying for the prize, in a line-up that included fellow Irish writer Rory Gleeson as well as Orange Prize shortlisted writer Georgina Harding; former postal worker and Creative Writing lecturer Danny Rhodes and journalist, novelist and Mastermind finalist Richard Smyth.
Named “One of Ireland’s most essential writers” by the Sunday Times, Caldwell has written 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 previous awards include 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.
Caldwell’s winning story is available to listen to on BBC Sounds.