I wanted to give a little insight into the inspiration behind my first novel, The Doll House. The book is in no way autobiographical, but the central image is based upon a house my own father made for me when I was a child. We lived in Essex back then, in a tiny village (which is actually going to feature in my next book) and one of my favourite pastimes was playing with my doll house, creating a make-believe world in which everything was perfect, and which I could control. As an adult, one realises that that kind of world is just that – make-believe, but as a child, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to create another life in which you call the shots.
The house was nicknamed Pinkhose (I couldn’t say Pink House) and it opened up from the side, revealing three downstairs rooms, three upstairs rooms, a full staircase and even a loft. We bought lots of furniture to go inside, which I painstakingly put together – a dresser, table, bed, bath – you name it. It’s a strong childhood memory of mine, sitting cross-legged on the floor with the doll house, and so when it came to writing the novel, I knew the house was the starting point.
There is something about doll houses which I find sort of magical – I think it’s that idea of them being a microcosm of your own life. When you’re a child, you’re constantly being told what to do by the adults, but a doll house is where you get to take the reins. I used to act out the perfect little family life, play at being an adult with the Mummy doll making the dinner (horribly sexist, I now see), the Daddy doll coming home from work with his briefcase (I don’t think my Dad even had a briefcase!) and the children dolls sitting around the fire playing games, or having sleepovers with their friends up in the loft. Sometimes I roped my brothers in before they grew too old and progressed to football, but mostly it was just me – the only girl, bobbling the dolls around their (fairly spacious!) house.
When my parents divorced, the doll house went to my Dad’s flat and for years I didn’t really see it. When I got the book deal, I asked if he could dig it out, and on a recent visit I found that he’d retiled the roof, found all my old furniture for it and stood it in pride of place in the living room, ready for me to see. The gesture was touching, and lifting that little latch on the side of the house and opening it up pulled me right back to being a seven-year-old, creating that perfect world where bad things don’t happen and nothing ever goes wrong.
In writing The Doll House, I really wanted to explore that idea of perfection. Without revealing any spoilers, the sisters in the book find that the perfect life they thought they had as children is in fact hiding some very dark secrets, and their childhood doll house comes to represent the shattering of that idealistic family home. Our homes are so important to us, and I think that’s why as children we seek to recreate them in miniature form. The idea of becoming an adult with a house and a job and a mortgage fascinates us, but when the sisters in my book do become adults and look back on their former lives, they realise that they were being protected throughout their childhood and that the doll house stood for something much scarier than they’d ever imagined as girls.
I hope you enjoyed hearing a little about the story behind the book, and I hope you enjoy reading The Doll House too if you feel like hearing more!