I am absolutely thrilled to be starting off this blog tour. ‘The Gingerbread House’ is being published on the 2nd March by Black & White Publishing. I was very kindly sent a copy to review which you can read soon. First up though, a guest post by Kate Beaufoy herself.
An Introduction to The Gingerbread House
The Gingerbread House tells the story of Tess and Katia, a mother and daughter who move into a pretty bungalow in a remote country setting to care for Eleanor, Tess’s aged mother-in-law. Tess is trying to write a book, so a distraction-free zone is what she wants. Katia, however, finds the house eerie and claustrophobic; in order to escape its confines she retreats to her childhood treehouse and spends hours talking to an imaginary friend, telling herself stories, and spying on Toby, the fit young gardener.
Initially, Tess and Katia imagine that caring for Eleanor will be do-able – after all, what could be easier than looking after a little old lady? But it’s a tougher ask than either of them anticipates. Eleanor has dementia, and it’s getting worse. Soon Tess finds herself stressed-out and despondent, reaching for the wine bottle as soon as the carriage clock strikes 6.00 pm. And Katia is powerless to help …
Like most novels, The Gingerbread House is experience distilled through imagination. Although some of what Tess goes through is based on real events, the book is – as becomes clear to the reader turning the pages – a work of fiction.
I wrote the first draft ten years ago, never intending it for publication. It was an amalgamation of snapshot memories and a stream-of-consciousness record of a dark time, and I wrote it in just five weeks. Then I abandoned it. Back then it was something I felt I needed to do – a bit like talking therapy – but instead of communicating my feelings to a shrink, I wrote them down. Then I filed the story as ‘White Peacocks Doc’ and tried to forget about it.
However, as a writer, my job is to put a shape on words, and I couldn’t entirely ignore the fact that some 80,000 of them had spilled on to my computer screen. I couldn’t forget about the white peacocks and their spooky call. I couldn’t forget about the plight of Tess and Eleanor. I would open the file from time to time, rearrange the misspelled mess I had written in such a hurry, refocus, restructure.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from some of the best editors in the UK, and among the most helpful phrases iterated is ‘Take a knife to your little darlings.’ I cut 20,000 words. Instead of using a first person ‘Poor Me’ narrative, I brought Katia in to tell the story. I invented a friend for her, Charlotte, in whom she could confide her worries and sorrows. I conjured up beautiful Toby so that Katia could harbour a little crush, and so Tess could have someone to talk to.
What ultimately grew into a big story is driven by a small cast of characters. While some of them are fabrications, some are based on actual people: Lotus, Doctor Doorley, Donn. The white peacocks were, surreally, real. All of the women to whom Tess speaks on the phone are true friends of mine, to whom I reached out, and who helped me through a tough time. I was lucky – so very lucky – to have them.
Since I wrote the story of Tess and Eleanor and Katia, the concerns that made me tell the story have multiplied. Once as taboo a subject as cancer, dementia is being spoken about throughout the media. Equally importantly, the role of the carer is being highlighted. Just recently, BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour devoted an entire week to the subject.
Some women in similar situations to the one in which Tess finds herself have nobody to talk to. Hopefully this new openness will encourage those who have felt alone for too long that there are thousands and thousands of other Tesses out there.
The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy is published by Black & White.
The first thing I want to comment about is the cover which I absolutely adore. It’s simply stunning; I love the colours and the picture of the house which has been given the name, ‘The Gingerbread House’. It looks so lovely and homely and it makes you want to go and live in it. You would be forgiven for thinking that this story is a fairy tale. Except it isn’t, far from it in fact.
The story is narrated by Katia, Tess’s daughter. I really enjoyed the writing style and the way the reader is given a tour of the house. I couldn’t wait to visit all the rooms and learn more about it. Katia who seems to see and know everything that is going on gives a very honest account of the situation at hand and what her parents, especially her mum are going through. But poor Katia can only watch as things fall apart and as I found out later there’s a reason for that.
Reading about Eleanor who was suffering from dementia was heartbreaking. Yes, she was old, but that didn’t make things any easier. It must have been really frustrating for her to not be able to do the things she used to. I don’t think poor Tess ever imagined just how hard it would be caring for Eleanor. Being asked the same questions hundreds of times a day and having to wash her clothes and bedding regularly due to accidents was no joke. That sort of thing would be enough to give anyone a nervous breakdown. I really worried about Tess, especially when she started drinking more.
There was a very dark sense of humour throughout the story which took a bit of getting used to. I had to read a joke two or three times before I understood it. I guess the humour is what helped to keep Tess and Donn going though. Temporary relief is what I think you would call it.
‘The Gingerbread House’ kept me reading. It will hopefully strike a chord with those who have loved ones with dementia. I’m sure a number of things will ring true.
I give this book 4 out of 5.
About Kate Beaufoy
Kate Beaufoy has an MA in French and English literature from Trinity College Dublin. 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. Her previous book was Another Heartbeat in the House, which was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. The Gingerbread House was inspired by her experience of caring for her mother-in-law, when she was suffering from dementia. Kate has contributed to numerous publications and broadcast media in both Ireland and the UK. A former actress, she was the recipient of a Dublin Theatre Festival Best Actress Award. She lives some of the year in Dublin and some on the West coast of Ireland, and is happily married with one daughter. Kate is an advanced-level scuba diver, a wild swimmer, and the keeper of a bewitching Burmese cat.
‘The Gingerbread House’ can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK:-