Friday, December 18, 2020

FOODFIC: Please Welcome M.W. Craven, Author of The Puppet Show

It had never been my intention to give food such prominence in the Poe and Tilly books, and even when it happened, it kind of happened organically. Poe eats what he wants, when he wants, mainly sausages and black pudding and Tilly has been a vegan since she was thirteen. Having them eat a meal together, or discuss (let’s not pretend; they argue) Poe’s diet allows me to a) showcase the very different personalities of my two leads without hammering the reader over the head with it, b) inject human moments into what can occasionally be quite dark books and c) add some humour.

Before they could leave, Poe had to navigate his way through their ongoing discussion about his diet. This one was about wholemeal bread, specifically Poe’s refusal to eat it.

‘Life’s too short to not eat white bread, Tilly,’ he said as he reached for the last piece of toast. He slathered it with salted butter and took a bite.

‘You keep saying that, Poe,’ she said. ‘But all you’re doing is stacking up problems for tomorrow.’

He held it up. ‘It’s one bit of toast.’

‘That is one bit of toast, Poe. But so were the other seven bits you’ve eaten.’ 

Of course in Black Summer, the second Poe novel, food became one of the central themes as the novel involves a murder that may or may not have taken place in a Michelin-starred restaurant. The juxtaposition between Poe’s usual diet and that of the food prepared in the restaurant was great fun to write. One scene popular with readers sees Poe and Tilly eat a seventeen-course taster menu and I think this little snippet sums it up quite well:

A succession of small but delicate dishes followed, each one more complex than the previous. A sea urchin that Poe felt sorry for was served in its own shell. It had the texture of set custard with the briny taste of fresh oyster. Every time he took a bite, Bradshaw said, ‘Yuk’.

But it’s not just with Tilly that Poe discusses food. This bit is taken from The Botanist, out June 2022, and sees Poe holed up with someone he can barely tolerate:

‘It’s not all bad news though,’ Poe said. ‘I’m treating everyone to a nose-to-tail goat later. There’s a Moroccan place nearby that dry rubs a whole one with five types of chillies before it’s basted in its own fat for twenty-four hours. Comes with the works: preserved lemons, toasted almonds, the lot. If you stop moaning you can have one of the eyeballs.’

‘You’re disgusting,’ Salt said.

Of course it’s not just Poe who gets all the amusing lines when it comes to food, as this fragment from The Puppet Show demonstrates. Here Poe and Tilly are meeting with the Bishop of Carlisle:

Ordinarily Poe would have declined but he wanted to keep it informal. ‘I’ll have a coffee please, if that’s OK? Tilly?’

‘Do you have any fruit tea, Nicholas?’

‘I believe Mrs Oldwater enjoys a cup of liquorice tea every now and then. Will that do?’

Bradshaw shook her head, ‘No thank you, Nicholas, liquorice gives me diarrhoea.’

Anyway, I’m off to eat a bacon sandwich . . .

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Mike!

You can find Mike here:

Twitter @MWCravenUK

Facebook Fan Page

Books on Amazon

Friday, December 11, 2020

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Brenda Drake, Author of Analiese Rising

Certain scents, places, and foods can remind us of our loved ones who have passed away. In Analiese Rising, Analiese and her brother go to the same coffee house they’d visited with their father for years. Their father had recently died and, whenever they’re in the area, they stop in and have a coffee together in honor of him. She remembers their first time there and how it started with her and her brother getting hot chocolates and how they graduated to coffee now that they’re in their teens. 

The coffee house holds many warm memories for Analiese. The gradual change from hot chocolate to coffee reveals her growth from a child to a young adult. There was once joy in going to the coffee house with her father and brother. And now, it’s only a ritual. One they haven’t broken since he died, but one that brings a sadness and yet a warmth to her. 

Analiese’s real parents died when she was a baby, and the only father she ever knew was her uncle. Their relationship was perfect to her, he was perfect. But one day, on the way to the coffee house, an accident happens in front of it that sets off a crumbling of her belief in who her father was and her true identity. The coffee shop disappears as that safety place for her. It becomes the jumping off place of all her fears. 

We remember many special things from when we were children. Sometimes the further we grow away from them, the more special they become. And sometimes, the distance of our past can cause us to forget. Growing up and losing our special moments that only our childhood can give us, seems inevitable. It’s a rite of passage we all must take even if we don’t want to.  

At this time of year, during the holiday season, I’m more reminiscent of old family traditions. I used to be sad that they were no longer the same. No longer as magical as I remember them. It wasn’t until I started my own family and my own traditions, adding many from my youth, that I realized I can give my children the memories I was so lucky to have and pass it on. 

What old traditions do you miss? What new ones have you started with your family?

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Brenda!

You can find Brenda here:

Twitter @BrendaDrake

Facebook Fan Page

Books on Amazon

Friday, December 4, 2020

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Rosanne Dingli, Author of How to Disappear

When ice cream is more than just ice cream

A number of objects, themes and settings can be used in fiction to ground the action; to make it real. Characters seem to spring to life when they dance and run, embrace or cry; but little adds subtle weight to a story better than food and drink. The way the hero of the piece holds a fork; the way his rival points his knife, and crams chips into his mouth, dripping with sauce or mayonnaise.

We have read of a princess daintily spooning crème brûlée into pursed lips while thinking of her figure. We have watched children greedily tuck into filled rolls after a swim, dangling feet off a jetty and smiling through lettuce, cheese and tomato. We have nodded as we recognize the lunchtime hunger of high school students standing in a canteen line and eyeing dreary mashed potato, grey peas and watery stew. We have read of a portly parish priest waiting at a stained tablecloth for his meagre lamb chop and claret, while jealously thinking of the mayor and a large poached salmon, two doors down the high street.

In my novel How to Disappear, which is written in lyrical repetitive language used to express the tone and mood of the female protagonist’s situation, I try to express longing, or boredom, or happiness, or grief through food. It also jogs readers’ memories about food and the roles it played in their young lives. The emotional episodes of my youth and childhood were all accompanied by food. There was the miserly thin meat of school dinners, the generosity of grandparents and their trifle and roast pork. There was the clumsy attempt at baking a first cake, poorly iced but so delicious, and the boiled eggs and toast fingers of the sick bed. And how could I forget the struggle of learning to eat spaghetti?

The challenge in my novel is to make it as subtle as I can, to portray the waking emotions of a woman too long stifled and suppressed by the people she thought loved her. Here is an excerpt taken from the first section of this two-part novel:

She watched him eat two hamburgers, grasping them like they were alive, like they would escape if he loosened those spatulate fingers. Flattened fingernails. Tinged a kind of mauve underneath broad ridged nails. Rolled up sleeves on his blue, blue shirt revealing sinewy muscles and hairs bleached and bristly. Working jaw, chewing, square, what her friend Thelma might label strong and scary. He could be an axe murderer, she’d said.

‘I told … I said I was taking the coach. Except to Thelma. I told Thelma I’d met you again.’

Raised his eyes. Oh. Dark, dark brown in here out of the sun. ‘Again?’

‘Since school and all that.’

Laughed. ‘All that you hardly remember.’


Wiped his mouth in long drags, side to side, with a paper napkin folded into a strip, a horizontal thing, left to right, right to left. Taking a deep breath, smiling hugely. ‘That hit the spot.’ Drinking tea like it was necessary. ‘Do you want more tea?’

She nodded.

‘And something from … A cake, or something?’

Oh. Wanting, needing, wanting to enjoy this properly. ‘Ice cream. Let’s have ice cream.’

‘Now, Selby-Brixham-Bec-Winmarley, now go ahead and enjoy this properly then.’

How did he know? Walked over to the counter. Watched the girl pile three differently-coloured scoops into a fluted ice-cream dish. ‘Do you want nuts or sprinkles with that?’

Morgue calling from the table. ‘Both! Both!’

It was a holiday. She didn’t know, three days ago, that she wanted a holiday. Had not even wished for one. And here she was, dipping, dipping a spoon, taking turns with two spoons. Laughing. Scooping up green, cream, pink ice cream tasting of real cream, country cream. Avoiding the nuts in the dish. Sharing ice cream. With two spoons. Never done before.

‘You don’t like nuts.’ Not a question, but a mental note taken. He would remember, like he remembered her graduation ball gown.

‘Are we on holiday?’ Shaking, lowering her head and smiling. ‘I must be crazy.’

‘You are. You left town with this guy you hardly remember from school. Just like that.’ Broad smile. 

That hot tea, those hamburgers, the ice cream, those nuts; they frame the action and are more than mere props. There is meaning, emotional meaning, in their invention. Although a writer rarely stops to think too much about the food placed in a story, it is intuitively chosen for its suggestions, its hints. It is emotional, communicative, suggestive of the feelings floating around the characters as they play out the complications. We call the complications plot, we call the food and utensils, the plates and cutlery props, but a good writer knows they are more than that. They are carriers of mood, emotion and meaning, and they travel from writer to reader like the scent of herbs and garlic, or of caramel, lemons, and vanilla. Food is introduced and served a number of times through the narrative, and it always carries the weight of meaningfulness.

Enjoy the next course by finding this novel on Amazon and eating and drinking with the protagonist on her adventure.

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Rosanne!

You can find Rosanne here: