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 children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting thesmoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Ducky Delacroix—the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”—eventually made a greatpile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys, and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers orsisters.