Both of us have read all of her Kate Thompson books and fell in love with her Kate Beaufoy Liberty Silk novel last year so when we were asked to be part of the Another Heartbeat in the House blog tour we jumped at the chance to ask Kate a few questions.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest novel Another Heartbeat in the House?
It tells the story of two women from two different eras – the 1930s and the 1840s. Edie and Eliza are bright, independent and ambitious, and their lives intertwine in a way that turns out to have life-changing consequences for both of them.
How did the title Another Heartbeat in the House come about?
I found the house in a remote beauty spot, overlooking a lake. It was derelict, and for sale. As I wandered through the silent, empty rooms I could hear my own heartbeat, and I became keenly aware of the fact that other pulses had quickened, raced, and slowed to a halt within those walls 150 years ago
What inspired you to tell the story in this way, through a hidden memoir? And how hard was it to write the narrative in this way?
I had toyed initially with the idea of letters or a journal rather than a memoir, but because I wanted something that had been composed with a view to posterity rather than just jotted down in a hurry, I opted for the latter. The narrator harbours dreams of becoming a published author, so I gave her what I hope is an elegant and humorous voice. I immersed myself in the literature of the 19th century (Austen, the Brontes, Thackeray), and once I was comfortable with the vernacular, I went for it like a greyhound out of the traps. Writing Eliza was a joy!
This is your second historical fiction book how challenging do you find it writing going back and forth between Edie's and Eliza's story?
I wrote most of Edie’s story first because I had already familiarised myself with the 1930s while researching my previous novel, Liberty Silk. With Eliza, I wanted the reader to feel as excited about turning the pages as Edie is, so I tried to end each section with a cliff-hanger, in the way the way that many Victorian novels did when they first appeared in serial form. Having a genius editor – Harriet Bourton – was key.
Was there anything surprising or unusual you uncovered during your research into 1930's Ireland/London?
Yes. I was astonished that the Irish famine of the 1840s had become a mere footnote in British history, less than a century after the event. To this day, few people outside of Ireland know about the awful calamity that killed a million people and forced a million to emigrate.
How much input had you into the cover design? It is very striking.
I sent the design team pictures of the real house that inspired the novel, and they took it from there. They also had floor plans to consult, which were drawn up by an architect friend and which are included in the back of the book. The house is very shabby now, and any external folderols such as decorative window shutters and finials are long gone.
When I first glanced at the cover of the book I thought the house looked like a plantation house from a Caribbean island, have you any plans to set future books in more sunnier climates?
You’re right about the house - it is in the style of a French colonial villa (they were popular worldwide – think of the Robillard’s house in Gone with the Wind), but they were quite unusual in rural Ireland. As for sunnier climes – the beauty of setting a novel in Ireland is that in this country we often experience all four seasons in one day, and that makes for a wealth of climactic conditions to influence plot or mood!
Having read all of your previous Kate Thompson books, how did the change of writing style and pen name come about?
I had just delivered the last of my Lissamore novels when I got a breast cancer diagnosis. This forced me to take time off and regroup. After a year spent undergoing treatment I sensed that it was time to embark on something new. I had always had an idea for a novel based on my grandmother’s letters (Liberty Silk), so it seemed auspicious to take her name – Beaufoy – as a nom de plume.
Do you see yourself continuing to write in this genre or will you ever return to romance. I really have a soft spot for your Lissamore books.
Thank you! I have a soft spot for the earlier novels too, but I’ve found that writing contemporary stories just gets more and more challenging – and not in a good way! Most novels are written at least a year before they appear on the shelves: that’s twelve months of new apps waiting to be discovered. Has the heroine lost her keys/her way/her mind? There’ll be an app for that. Is the hero dycalculic/dyslexic/dysfunctional? Simply download an app for that too! Writing novels set in the past means that I no longer have to worry about what may or may not happen in real life in the future.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a novel written from the viewpoint of another famous literary heroine (Another Heartbeat in the House was inspired by Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp), but I’m afraid I can’t divulge more …
What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
It was from Deirdre Purcell, when I sought her advice after my first novel had been rejected. It was: ‘Persist, persist, persist.’ Many, many times I have felt tempted to throw in the towel, but fifteen novels later I am still here, still writing.
Do you have designated writing hours or is it a case of writing when the inspiration hits?
Once I get an idea for a book and have the first chapter or two down, I can’t afford the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to come calling. Whoever said ‘writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ was bang on. I head up to the attic space where I work at around midday, staying there until 6.00 or 7.00 pm without a break. After dinner in the evening, I spend another couple of hours researching.
What three things to you need to have to hand nearby when you're writing?
A flask of strong black coffee; a photograph of my daughter, and my Burmese cat.
Would you ever consider writing in a collaboration with another author? If so, who?
I regularly go hillwalking with two writer friends, Marian Keyes and Hilary Reynolds, and we bounce ideas off each other all the time. However, any Eureka moments are mostly in relation to our own WIPs, which we send to each other as they evolve. We mainly proffer each other advice and encouragement, and spend a lot of time just laughing.
When you've finished writing/or when you book is published, do you treat yourself to a reward?
I go straight to a Bikram yoga class. It doesn’t sound like much of a reward, but I’ve discovered that there are few greater pleasures in life than getting through an hour and a half of strenuous hot yoga.
Did you do anything exciting to celebrate on publication day?
Yes! I went to a rather swanky event at the Westbury Hotel in Dublin, where Image Magazine was hosting an Evening with Marian Keyes, along with one of her famous Glitterin’ Raffles (with proceeds going to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre).
Finally where would be your idyllic writing retreat?
I have one! It’s a battered mobile home on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking Clew Bay. It has a stunningly beautiful view, it’s incredibly peaceful (sheep and skylarks are the only noise pollution), and I swim every day, even when there is snow on the mountain. There is no wifi connection and no television, so instead of distracting myself with Facebook or Twitter when I finish work, I read and read and read instead.
When Edie Chadwick travels to Ireland to close up her uncle’s lakeside lodge, it’s as much to escape the burden of guilt she’s carrying as to break loose from the smart set of 1930’s London.
The old house is full of memories – not just her own, but those of a woman whose story has been left to gather dust in a chest in the attic: a handwritten memoir inscribed with an elegant signature . . . Eliza Drury
As she turns the pages of the manuscript, Edie uncovers secrets she could never have imagined: an exciting tale of ambition, hardship, love and tragedy – a story that has waited a lifetime to be told. . .