Writer's Block with Kate Beaufoy - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block with Kate Beaufoy

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author KATE BEAUFOY about life from the West of Ireland to WESTERN AUSTRALIA, SCUBA DIVING, BIKRAM YOGA and what she MISSES ABOUT ACTING

Photograph by Conor Hogan

Kate Beaufoy is a bestselling Irish author with a stellar background in the dramatic arts, most notably as Terry in the iconic serial Glenroe. Otherwise known as Kate Thompson, she has published a dozen romantic novels, including the highly popular The Blue Hour (2002, Bantam Press), which was short-listed for the RNA award. Under her pen name, she has written three historical novels so far. Her first title, Liberty Silk (2014, Transworld), was inspired by her grandmother Jessie Beaufoy’s handwritten correspondence in the aftermath of the Great War. Her second, Another Heartbeat in the House, was short-listed for an Irish Book Award in 2015.

Kate’s latest work, The Gingerbread House (2017), is a deeply poignant story about a family’s struggle with dementia, reminding readers of the countless lives the disorder touches. Amongst a ream of high-profile praise, Roddy Doyle has called the book “gripping, heartbreaking, funny and surprising.”

During her time as a professional actress, Kate won a Dublin Theatre Festival Best Actress award – before exiting stage left to begin a full-time writing career. She has an MA in French and English literature from Trinity College Dublin and recently collected the prestigious Bram Stoker Award. Her prose has been translated into French, German, Greek, Italian, Czech and Dutch. She has contributed to several newspapers and magazines in Britain and Ireland, written and broadcast for RTÉ, and habitually participates in many literary events.

Kate Beaufoy divides her time between Dublin and the West coast of Ireland with her husband Malcolm Douglas. She is currently staying in Western Australia with her daughter Clara and new grandson, Dante.

The Gingerbread House (€11.20) is published by Black & White Publishing and available from bookshops nationwide.

On home

Until last summer I lived in Dublin’s Liberties, in a small Victorian terraced house with a disproportionately long back garden. We lived there for twenty-five years, and saw the neighbourhood slowly change from humble to hipster. I loved city centre living: I loved being able to cycle everywhere, I loved being able to dive into Saint Patrick’s cathedral for Evensong (I am not remotely religious, but to sit and listen to choral singing at the end of the day is a rare treat), I loved being able to stop and chat with the proprietors of the shops in Camden Street. As the neighbourhood began to thrive, I loved taking coffee in the Fumbally café, shopping in the market on Newmarket Square, and attending yoga classes in the Bikram Studio in Drury Street. I feel I may have got out before things changed irrevocably: just before we moved, our street had become a thoroughfare for tourists visiting the Teeling Brewery; an enormous development of student accommodation was underway in the Blackpits, and planning permission had been granted for at least two new hotels. It was great fun while it lasted.

On Down Under

I am in Western Australia, about 30 minutes’ drive from Perth city. I am living in an apartment with an all-blue view of sky and sea. I came here six months ago, to be with my daughter who was then pregnant with her first baby, and there are six months left until my visa expires. The baby, Dante – a scrumptious boy with devilish eyes and a captivating smile – is now twelve weeks old. So life has changed for ever. And yet … I am unexpectedly, and chronically homesick – a malady which manifests itself in mirage-like optical illusions. I have mistaken a bank of cloud for a mountain range, an expanse of corrugated steel roofing for a shimmering lake, and a posse of slow-moving Utes on the horizon for a herd of grazing cattle. These are all conjured memories of the West of Ireland, where I spend all my downtime, in a weather-beaten shack on Clew Bay.

On roots

I lived in Belfast, and grew up when the troubles were in crescendo, so the sound of rotor blades overhead always brings back memories of helicopter surveillance, and the anticipation of something bad about to happen. But other happier and more formative memories are from holidays, which were always by the sea in Connemara or Donegal, or in our weekend cottage on the Antrim coast, twenty miles away from the beleaguered city. So the sound, smell and the taste of sea on my skin is an indelible part of my psyche.

On creating

In Dublin, I worked in the attic of our house. When I stood up from my desk, my head touched the apex of the roof. It was freezing cold in winter, stiflingly hot in summer, and despite my best efforts to put manners on it, my workspace was always cluttered – although it was a clutter that made sense to me. I chose to work there because it was difficult to access: once you were ensconced up there, it was a pain to come back down. So I was effectively trapped in my workspace. My cat was a permanent feature. She was the prettiest Burmese in Ireland, and she often contributed to my WIP. Her most cogent note, made sneakily one morning when I went off to make myself coffee, was a one-word observation: “POO.” On Clew Bay, any time I try to work I have to turn my back to the view because it is so dazzlingly distracting.

On favourite bookshops

The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin. I was enormously privileged to have Bob Johnston’s labour of love as my local (the Temple Bar shop – there is also a branch in Dalkey). The Gutter won Independent Bookshop of the Year (UK and Ireland) at the British Book Awards last year, and is the venue for many very jolly book parties – four of my novels have been launched there. Bob and his team are just wonderful – helpful, inspiring, funny, and interested – and the shops are always busy with events.

On her nightstand

Jonathan Franzen’s Purity. I hated The Corrections, but decided to give this one a go, and am so far not regretting it. Tim Winton’s memoir Island Home is an elegiac hymn to Australia’s wild places, and a conservationist call to arms. I have advance copies of two exceptional works of grip-lit: Liz Nugent’s alluringly nasty Skin Deep, and Dervla McTiernan’s astonishingly accomplished debut, The Ruin, both to be published in March. For The Humanist Times, I am reviewing Nikki Gemmell’s remarkable, beautiful and searingly honest account of her mother’s death by euthanasia, while a book which is always by my bed is The Silence Living in Houses by Esther Morgan, a collection of haunting, poignant and exquisitely written poems.

On pastimes

I took up scuba diving when I was researching an early novel; my heroine decided to embark on an advanced course, so naturally I had to follow her lead. Part of the training involved abseiling down the side of a flooded quarry in full gear before descending to a depth of thirty metres in practically zero visibility and in near freezing conditions: they say that if you can dive in Irish waters, diving anywhere else in the world is a piece of cake. Frankly, Caribbean conditions are more to my taste – diving a reef in Jamaica one Christmas morning was pretty close to heaven on earth. Here in Australia my daughter, who is a dive master, has taken me diving with sharks – she has a jar of sharks’ teeth that she has picked up from the ocean floor. Swimming in the sea is something I have done since before it acquired the hip moniker “wild swimming.” I swim every day in Clew Bay when conditions allow; wild weather is a deterrent, but the cold is not – I’ve swum when there has been snow on the mountains. It gives me a buzz unlike any other – except, paradoxically, for Bikram Yoga, which is at the very opposite end of the spectrum. Bikram classes are conducted in 40º heat, and are physically extremely demanding – I have seen grown men weep in the hot room! Even in the Australian summer I try to get my yoga fix at least five times a week. I can date this passion back to the year after I finished treatment for cancer, during which I went through the gamut of slash, poison and burn. I guess my body emerged from its living corpse-like state craving sensation.

On acting

I miss the camaraderie. I miss the sense of belonging to a tribe. I miss the irreverent humour of actors, and the way of working that functions on an intuitive level. I miss the passion for the craft. I don’t miss the bullying and the lack of respect for actors, which was in my time endemic in RTÉ, and was one of the reasons I decided to quit the profession.

On the elderly

Dementia and the ripple effect it has on families was the subject of my last novel, The Gingerbread House. I am very conscious of the gargantuan problems that society is facing in the rise of the ageing demographic, but I have no solutions, other than personal ones (I have a “Do Not Resuscitate” directive tattooed on my collarbone). I feel very, very strongly that there is a wildly unfair imbalance in the responsibilities that caring for the elderly brings with it, and that it is becoming increasingly onerous for women. I hope, as the third wave of feminism surges forward, that this gender imbalance will be readdressed along with the myriad other injustices at which the patriarchy has been conniving for centuries.

On what’s next

In an ideal world I would divide my time between WA and Ireland. In Australia I could dedicate six months to my daughter and grandson, in Ireland I could devote myself to friends and to writing. I am working on a stage play, and a big novel has been simmering on the back burner for some time now. I also harbour a dream of studying to be a Bikram yoga teacher – even after reading Benjamin’s Lorr’s book on the subject, Hellbent, which should put any sane person off …

@SophieGrenham

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