Lucy Caldwell has wonthe BBC national short story award for her “masterful” All the People Were Mean and Bad, in which the mother of a young child takes a transatlantic flight after the deathof a relative.
Exploring parenthood, marriage, kindness and the glimpse of an alternative life, the story was praised by judges for its “masterfulstorytelling”, “deep truthfulness” and “deft precision”. It draws its title from the Noah’s Ark picture book that Caldwell’s protagonist is reading to her 21-month-old daughter as she flies back to London from Toronto after her cousin’s funeral.
“All the people, it says, were meanand bad. Except for Noah. Noah was good, and because he was good, God saved him,” reads the mother, who hates the story but needs to keep her toddler entertained for “the remaining seven hours and 36 minutes of this flight” – and does so with the help of the kind, insightful older man sitting next to her.
“I wanted to write about thedistance betweenwhere we come https://www.imdb.com/user/ur146033848from and where we end up; between who we think we are and who we turn out to be. Between what wedream, and what we do,” said Caldwell. When writing the story, her influences included Frank O’Hara’s poem Sleeping on the Wing, Walt Whitman’s journey-poem CrossingBrooklynFerry, SofiaCoppola’s Lost in Translation and Adrian Tomine’s Translated from the Japanese.
The childrenassembledfirst, of course. Schoolwas recentlyoverfor the summer, and the feeling of libertysatuneasilyon mostof them; theytendedto gathertogetherquietlyfor a whilebefore they brokeintoboisterousplay, and theirtalk wasstillof theclassroomand the teacher, of booksandreprimands. BobbyMartinhad alreadystuffed hispocketsfull ofstones, andtheotherboyssoonfollowedhisexample, selectingthesmoothestandroundeststones; BobbyandHarryJones andDuckyDelacroix—the villagerspronouncedthis name“Dellacroy”—eventuallymade a greatpile ofstones in onecornerof the squareand guardedit againstthe raidsof theother boys. The girlsstood aside