I’m delighted to be taking part in the tour today for contemporary fiction The Gingerbread House. I loved Kate Beaufoy’s historical novel, Another Heartbeat in the House (it was a 5 * read for me). It captured my emotions through the highs and lows, the sorrows and the victories. I’m looking forward to reading The Gingerbread House – an emotionally compelling, and darkly funny story about a family struggling with the devastation of dementia.
Kate Beaufoy has an MA in French and English literature from Trinity College, Dublin. She began her career as a professional actor – winning a Dublin Theatre Festival Best Actress award – before becoming a fulltime writer. As Kate Thompson she has had a dozen novels published, including the Number One bestseller The Blue Hour, which was shortlisted for the RNA award.
Kate’s novels have been translated into French, German, Greek, Italian, Czech and Dutch, and are available as audio books. She has contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines in Ireland and the UK, written and broadcast for RTE, and is regularly invited to participate in literary events across the media.
As Kate Beaufoy her first historical novel – the critically acclaimed Liberty Silk – spent four weeks on the Irish Times bestseller chart. Another Heartbeat in the House – was shortlisted in the popular fiction category in the Irish Book Awards 2015. Inspired by William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, it tells the story of the woman who became governess to his children and who may have been the prototype for literature’s most enduring and engaging heroine, Becky Sharp.
Kate lives some of the year in Dublin and some on the West coast of Ireland. She is an advanced-level scuba diver, a wild swimmer, a keen practitioner of Bikram yoga, and the fond keeper of a bewitching Burmese cat.
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise The Gingerbread House in 20 words or less.
The Gingerbread House is a deeply moving, compassionate – and occasionally wickedly funny – novel about a family’s struggle with dementia.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most Kate?
I really enjoyed choosing the chapter headings! It was at the suggestion of my editor, and I spent a lovely day or two playing around with ideas. My favourites are ‘How to Knit a Velociraptor’ and ‘The Weighing of Hearts’.
… and the hardest?
The denouement was the hardest thing I have ever written – and I can’t say why because that would constitute a spoiler. I often cry or laugh out loud when I’m writing, but this time I was inconsolable. When I finally typed ‘The End’ I phoned my husband to tell him, and because I was so inarticulate in my distress he assumed that some awful real life tragedy had befallen us.
Can you tell us the social barriers your novel tackles?
The Gingerbread House tackles many social concerns, including depression, empty nest syndrome, dementia, problem drinking, elder care and the challenges that have arisen from the ageing demographic. That makes it sound a real bundle of laughs, doesn’t it? But there is humour there. Marian Keyes has described the book as ‘darkly comic’, while Roddy Doyle has called it ‘funny and surprising’. The dilemmas unfold through the narrative of a fourteen-year old girl, Katia.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be?
Don’t go there!
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if The Gingerbread House was optioned for a movie Kate?
Doesn’t everyone want Meryl Streep in some capacity?! I’m working on a stage adaptation of the book, and have been lucky enough to have it read at the Bow Street Actors’ Studio by a top-notch cast including actresses Olwen Fouéré and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
How do your characters come into existence? Do they have a bio?
They tend to announce themselves. I usually hear their voices before I ‘see’ them, and on one occasion the sound of a character’s footsteps alerted me to her presence – she literally walked into my head! I know many authors like to keep a fictitious ‘bio’ of their characters, but I find that can impose unwelcome restrictions. I like to keep as flexible as possible.
Do you have a favourite place you go to for inspiration Kate, or a favourite activity?
Bikram Yoga. It’s a sequence of 26 postures in a very hot studio (40°C), so tough that it has been known to make grown men cry. I love it. When I unroll my mat I know that nobody can get into my head for the next 90 minutes.
Are there any tips you could share with new writers?
For MS submissions most publishers specify 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced with a half-inch indent. Here’s a trick: When you reach the editing stage of your MS, try changing your format. Experiment with a different font size, style and spacing. By playing around with the formatting during the editing process you will always read your work differently. I discovered this by chance when I copied and pasted some paragraphs into an email and the font defaulted to Ariel. You become more attuned to the rhythm of sentences when you see your work in a different format, your eye will be drawn to any elusive literals and you may even find the mot juste that had hitherto eluded you. Just be sure to reformat your work before you finally send it off!
Can you share with us what you’re working on now?
I’m working on another historical novel, which – like Another Heartbeat in the House – is set in two different eras: the 1930s and the latter part of the 18th century.
Final question Kate, what has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
When my first novel was published, it was chosen as a WH Smith Travel Read of the Week. Travelling home alone from London after the publicity tour, I found myself in the shopping concourse in Heathrow surrounded by WH Smith outlets, all of which all had the book on prominent display. I was so overcome that I wanted to tug the cuff of the stranger standing in the queue next to me and say ‘I wrote that!’
Thank you for being my guest today.
Wishing you success with all your creative projects Kate.
Thank you so much, Shaz, for inviting me to participate, and for asking such thought-provoking questions!
The Gingerbread House is published 2nd March by Black & White, price £7.99 in paperback original.
Nestled among cherry trees in a picturesque country garden, the Gingerbread House resembles an illustration from an old-world storybook. But beware! For in the fairy-tale, that s where the witch lives…
Away from the city, with no distractions, the Gingerbread House seems like the perfect place to start work on a novel. That’s what former advertising copywriter Tess thinks when she goes there to live with Eleanor, her aged mother-in-law. But Eleanor is suffering from dementia, and caring for her proves tougher than Tess could ever have imagined: feeling increasingly isolated, her only comfort is wine o’clock and weekend visits from her husband. Meanwhile her teenage daughter Katia is helpless to intercede; in the end she can only watch as things fall apart and a tragedy even closer to home surfaces.
The Gingerbread House is a deeply moving novel: a compassionate and occasionally wickedly funny tale of a family’s agonising struggle with dementia.