'A nice understated sense of the absurd...keeps our sympathy
mobile, our laughter on edge'
The Times Literary Supplement
'Cobbold is the wittiest of writers ... quite glorious'
'An original, painful, funny, fresh book'
Guppies for Tea, my first novel, got off to a great start as
it was selected for the W.H. Smith Fresh Talent Promotion and
subsequently short listed for the Sunday Express Book of the
Year and serialised on Radio Four's Woman's Hour. Later, I was
very excited to see it made into a film by German television,
starring the late and great Inge Meysel.
The inspiration for the novel came from the years when, as
a twenty something mother of two small children, I was faced
with the care of my elderly and confused mother-in-law. At the
time my own parents, both still mercifully fit and well, were
barely in their fifties so the issue of caring for an ageing
parent was not one that I had given any thought. Instead I was
busy with school runs and Sports Days and Tootles the Taxi at
bedtime and wondering if tinned peaches counted as 'produce'
for Harvest Festival.
Certainly, I was woefully unprepared for what seemed like the
sudden transformation of an adult mother figure to that of needy
confused 'old person.'
The tragi- comedy that is old age unfurled before my eyes as
care at home ceased to be an option and became instead, care in a
Home. When my beloved grandmother, back in Sweden, deteriorated
in much the same manner as my mother in law and even the dog
became incontinent I feared, momentarily, for my sanity.
It struck me, too, that most of us behave as if old age is
something that happens to other people, as if the elderly are
a separate species, descending on earth, pre-wrinkled and handily
attached to a Zimmer frame.
I wrote Guppies in a state of some anger; at the way we, as
a society, view our old people, at myself for opting not to care
for my ailing mother-in- law at home, at life for ending so badly.
My way of dealing with most things, although obviously there
are exceptions, is to make a joke. There were plenty of funny
moments, many of them blackly funny, through all this and many
of these got translated into my fiction. Of course, I had to
be careful not to fall for the Hollywood treatment, you know
the one: brave feisty old person battling against uncaring, too
busy to bother, younger relatives. The whole issue of ageing
and caring for the elderly is way more complex than that.
There are no easy answers in Guppies For Tea. Who amongst us
have answers to death and decline? But judging by the hundreds
of letters I received from readers around all around the world
after the book's publication, I think I may have asked some of
the right questions.