To do your best writing, sometimes you have to put down your pen. Step away from the laptop. Lift your head and look up. There’s a whole world of creativity – and here are some ways The Prime Writers feed their writing.
When we think of food and writing, we think of cookery books – rich collections of recipes with writing that makes us want to cook and pictures good enough to eat. If the words can open new worlds, so much the better. Yotam Ottenlenghi takes us to Jerusalem, Claudia Roden to the Middle East and Spain, while Nigel Slater lets us live through a year in his garden and kitchen, one day at a time. There are plenty of novels about food, from banquets to famines, and some with recipes, including “Like Water for Chocolate”, a sensual love story told through the ingredients and processes for Mexican dishes and mole sauce. We read cookery books for the same spice and thrill. Sometimes we cook just to feed people, but other times we’re looking to fill more than stomachs: souls, spirits, creativity. Here’s how three Prime Writers, Martine Bailey, Karin Salvalaggio, and Cari Rosen approach food – and writing:
Martine Bailey, who writes “culinary gothic” novels filled with crime, gastronomy and social history, taught herself to cook, “as a poor student, to save money and feed my son. Like writing, I became fascinated by it and strove to take it to another level through cookery competitions and by learning as much as I could from amazing cooks. Making complex dishes takes preparation, timing, focus and the experience to know how to pull a dish back from disaster. If I rush I can botch it, so I plan timings and chill pastry or fillings over a series of days. I’m a planner in my writing too, filling notebooks with mind maps and sketches before assembling it all in layers of character arcs and historical research, set around the heart of the recipe – a carefully constructed plot.”
American crime writer Karin Salvalaggio belongs to a ‘gourmet club’, but her cooking was tested when her children became vegetarians. “I was both proud and a little worried. I would have to abandon so many of our tried and true recipes. It turned out to be just what I needed in the kitchen. I love a challenge and it opened the door to so many new ways of cooking. I love going to food markets, trying out new ingredients and cooking with friends. I also enjoy experimenting in the kitchen. The entire process relaxes me. The ingredients are characters, the recipe is the narrative and my guests are both my readers and my critics. Thankfully, I mostly get good reviews.”
For author Cari Rosen, baking is the thing. “I love the art of creating something from scratch. I have a picture in my head that I want to create and conveniently forget that I failed art O level (twice). I start off enthusiastically. I have great visions of how it will all look. And then I hit a point where the picture in my head just won’t transfer itself into reality and it all feels like it’s going to be a disaster and I wonder if I should just give up. And then, somehow, it sort of comes together. And so it is with writing. In my head a magnum opus. I know exactly what it should be, how it should look. I begin filled with enthusiasm. I hit a point where it all stops working and the temptation to screw the whole thing into a ball is overwhelming. But I press on and in the end it (mostly!) works the way I want.”
When looking for examples of cookery writers who went on to publish fiction, we could only find two: MFK Fisher whose “lost” unpublished novel was recently discovered and published, and Great British Bake-Off Winner Nadiya Hussain, just commissioned to write three novels for Harlequin. Maybe writing with food is the next big thing? Cooking and writing sure work for these Prime Writers!