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'sixth sense' Writer Lucy Caldwell says her newborn son almost dying twice inspired to write about motherhood

Belfast author's sixth sense told her infant son was seriously ill

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Lucy Caldwell

Lucy Caldwell

Lucy Caldwell

Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell's stories of motherhood are told from the heart.

The multi-award-winning author's latest book, Intimacies, follows women through the terror of a lost child, a breast cancer scare and the guilt of taking abortion pills.

The 39-year-old has revealed the inspiration for it and her previous book Multitudes came from her terrifying first few weeks as a mother when son William almost died twice.

Lucy, author of All the Beggars Riding, whose next projects include a novel about the Belfast Blitz and a film about enclosed Carmelite nuns, says it was listening to her instincts that sent her to seek help for him.

"My son was very ill after he was born, and we were told he didn't have a very good chance of making it," she says.

"I always think as a woman you are told in so many ways not to trust your instincts and this was just a pure case of knowing that something was wrong and being bold enough to insist," she says.

William, now six, was just nine days old when Lucy felt uneasy about him and went to her local out-of-hours GP at Royal London Hospital.

When the doctor insisted he was fine she asked for a second opinion and the doctor agreed to call on a consultant.

"Within the 45 minutes that we were waiting for them to come his temperature had rocketed and the paediatrician said we are going to admit him.

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Lucy Caldwell is the award-winning author of three novels

Lucy Caldwell is the award-winning author of three novels

Lucy Caldwell is the award-winning author of three novels

"With a very young baby they always treat it as worst-case scenario and as the night went on it was the worst-case scenario.

"They think that we were lucky because we caught it in time. He had group B streptococcal septicaemia."

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But just a few weeks later, on the day he had been given the all-clear, the condition struck again.

"I had this sixth sense that something's not right," says Lucy.

"I went back to the GP and they thought I was neurotic. He was in a sling and when I took him out his eyes went back in his head and he started making this unearthly noise.

"The doctor said to take him straight to A&E. I asked if they were going to send an ambulance and she said, 'no it's quicker if you just run'.

"They said there are almost no children on medical record who have had this twice, and he's completely fine now."

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Lucy Caldwell's new book cover

Lucy Caldwell's new book cover

Lucy Caldwell's new book cover

Lucy, whose writing career started at university with debut novel Where They Were Missed, is now a respected writer for stage and radio, and a creative writing lecturer.

After starting an earlier raft of stories about young women, which she'd never published because she didn't feel they were good enough, she started the project again as a way of coping with her baby son's harrowing experience.

"I wrote with him in a sling, on a laptop in the kitchen and on my iPhone at night. It felt like writing for survival.

"It felt like I had taken something and made something of it.

"The stories were working. I finally got the right combination of craft, not caring what people thought, and material, and so Intimacies is a progression from Multitudes, and it's centred on motherhood because that's been my life."

Lucy, also mum to Orla Rose, believes writing was her destiny since she and her sisters started making their own books about worlds they had created when they were growing up in east Belfast.

She says UK publishers' reluctance to support books from Northern Ireland unless they were about the Troubles has now gone, and her next book, These Days - snapped up by Faber - is about the Belfast Blitz.

It centres on two sisters, one engaged to the wrong man and the other in a secret relationship with a woman, whose lives are changed by the four nights of bombing.

Lucy could find only two novels about the Blitz, by Brian Moore and Joan Lingard, despite the devastation the city suffered. The German bombing raids inflicted the worst damage on any UK city outside London.

"I wrote that during lockdown, April to May, it was so intense, like nothing else I've ever written.

"I was convinced there must be more novels, but the other thing I realised is all these stories are in living memory."

Envious

She's also working on a movie project inspired by her interest in Carmelite nuns, an enclosed order which is dedicated to silent prayer.

"Especially in the 21st century I'm fascinated by why young educated women would choose that lifestyle," says the writer.

"There is a Carmelite monastery in the heart of London where they believe they are keeping the soul of London afloat, that without them London would be lost.

"I'm fascinated and a bit envious of anyone who has that kind of certainty."

After that she plans to produce more short stories focusing on women's experiences and feels she's earned the right to write about Northern Ireland.

"People are starting to realise this is an interesting place with more than one story," says Lucy.

n Intimacies is available now published by Faber.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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