Small Talk: Lucy Caldwell

Lucy Caldwell, 31, studied English at Cambridge university and creative writing at Goldsmiths College, London. Where They Were Missed, her 2006 debut, was followed by The Meeting Point (2011). Caldwell has written several stage plays and radio dramas.

Who is your perfect reader?

Probably a combination of my sister-in-law, who is never afraid to say that something’s not working, and my mother, who is proud of everything.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

A dusty pile of New Yorker magazines, Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ, Peter Murphy’s Shall We Gather at the River and Letters of Louis MacNeice.

What book changed your life?

Probably Jennifer Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon?, which I read at school when I was 13. That led me to read the poems of Yeats – who is mentioned in the book – and to discover that I wanted to be a writer.

Where do you write best?

In my study. It’s the size of a shoebox but it’s completely my own.

What do you snack on while you write?

If it’s going well I don’t even bother to snack. If it’s going badly it’s whatever I can lay my hands on – biscuits, cubes of cheese.

Who are your literary influences?

Louis MacNeice, who is my favourite poet. I’ve used his poems as epigraphs to all of my novels. And stylish women writers of the early 20th century – Rosamond Lehmann, Willa Cather and Elizabeth Bowen.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Chekhov. The play that I wish I’d written is Three Sisters. He had a job, he knew how to live and he was a very kind person.

What are you scared of?

All of the usual fears, like losing your loved ones but more specifically, not being any good and not getting any better.

When do you feel most free?

The few hours and days after I’ve finished writing something big, before the sinking feeling that it is not actually any good.

How do you relax?

A greedy glass of wine and a boxset.

Do you keep a diary?

No. I stopped when I was 19 after reading Sylvia Plath. Everything was so perfectly expressed that mine felt banal in comparison.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

David Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash”. If you woke up looking at that every morning, every day would be joyful.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Strangford Lough, on the Ards peninsula in Northern Ireland. It is the most beautiful place in the world. And a hilltop town in Andalucia where I quite often go to write.

What does it mean to be a writer?

Being able to live hundreds of lives; and being able to legitimately read all day.

Lucy Caldwell’s latest novel is ‘All the Beggars Riding’ (Faber)

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