Today I’m really excited to be bringing you a Q&A with Kate Beaufoy, author of The Gingerbread House. It’s a beautiful and moving novel about the realities of caring for a relative with dementia, you can read my review here.
I really loved reading The Gingerbread House. It is such a moving novel, what inspired you to write it?
Personal experience. For the first time in my writing career I drew directly on events from my own life and constructed a novel around them. It was a difficult time, and I could have ended up with a misery memoir, but I think the last thing the world needs right now is another tale of woe, so I had to think of a way of driving the story with energy and humour.
I think that we’re all going to be impacted by dementia more in the future. Do novels like The Gingerbread House have an important role to play in opening up discussion about it?
Yes! The strange thing is that the book was written ten years ago and the reality of the plight of dementia sufferers and their carers is only now making headline news. I think politicians have had their heads stuck firmly in the sand on this one, and that there’s been a massive abnegation of responsibility. It’s something I feel very passionately about: if we’re all living longer, then more resources are needed to improve the quality of that life.
Listening to the Woman’s Hour podcasts on elder care recently made me more aware than ever of how little is being done to support a growing percentage of the population – mostly women – who find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. If novels like The Gingerbread House get book clubs and readers talking about this issue, then that can only be a good thing.
Katia is a very special character. Do you feel having a teenage narrator changes the reader’s experience of the story?
I hope it allows us to step back a little, and see dementia from the viewpoint of someone who is curious about the world, who asks the kind of questions that many of us are afraid to ask and who gets angry at the unfairness of the status quo. Katia is naïve, but she is also very wise in her own way: she encapsulates those qualities of beauty and vibrancy that I observe in young people today.
I was at an event at Trinity College recently, and I was bowled over by the energy of the students – it reminded me of what Jack Kerouac has to say in his novel On the Road: ‘the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.’
I’m sure you often get asked about your writing routine. Did you do anything different to help you write the story from Katia’s point of view?
I usually construct a narrative in chronological order, but halfway through writing this book I woke up one morning knowing that I had to write the ending that day. Katia was commanding me to tell her story. It was the most difficult thing I have ever written.
A couple of general questions now – what’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?
On the very top of my reading pile is Marian Keyes’s latest novel The Break, which won’t be published until much later this year. I am the luckiest reader in the world – Marian is a friend, so I get to read her WIPs before anyone else. It is an absolute treat and privilege.
I love Marian Keyes’ novels, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to that one! Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s your current favourite?
No aural distractions at all are allowed – apart from ocean waves played in through headphones to mask any noise pollution that is going on. For a couple of years there was a building site next door to our house in central Dublin, and the din was so invasive that I had to flee to the other side of the country – literally. There on the west coast the only time I had to put noise-cancelling headphones on was when the local skylark sang too loud and too long. I know it sounds awful to say this, but skylarks’ songs are really irritating!
And finally, what’s next – do you currently have anything in the pipeline?
Yes – I’ve embarked on another historical novel which I’m finding really galvanising! However, there may be an interloper. A sphinx-like creature sidled into my head the other night, gave me an oblique look and said: ‘I have a story for you …’
Now that does sound very intriguing, I can’t wait to find out more! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Kate.
The Gingerbread House* is available now, published in paperback and Kindle format by Black & White Publishing
Photo credit: Conor Horgan, used with permission