Thank you so much, Taryn, for inviting me to share an article on your lovely blog today! I’ve decided to write about a subject that I just know is close to both our hearts… FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD – and drink.
You write about it in such a gorgeously hygge-esque way in ‘Perfect Imperfections’, making us all want to run to the kitchen and whip up Blueberry Crumb Cake and proper hot chocolates. And likewise, I cannot seem to get a book out there without the culinary weaving a (hopefully) delicious thread.
But there are a whole bunch of rules, I’ve discovered – if you want to do the tastes and flavours you are describing maximum justice. So I’m going to let you feast upon what I have learnt so far after one novel that has more than an icing sugar dusting of all things sweet… and another that is choc full of exotic and unusual cocktails.
Come dine with me!
Now, just to be clear, I’m usually one for completely and utterly disregarding the standard set of writing rules, then proceeding to toss them over my shoulder like confetti (or should that be rice?). However, writing about food and drink is a little different. It’s an art and it has to be done sensitively and precisely.
Napkins at the ready? Here we go:
1: Spelling is everything
It might seem like a pedantic point to start my list with, but the last thing you want is a native of the country whose food you’re waxing lyrical about, to get in touch with you to complain that you’ve spelt croquembouche wrong! Always err on the side of caution and double check. Then double check again.
2: Use your common sense
It’s always best to write about food you have eaten, food whose tastes, textures and fragrances you can put semi-eloquently into words. If a macaron has a place on a page that let it zing, give it a little raison d’être, describe the way it feels as the character bites into its delicate, almondy crumble tinged with a hint of pistachio. Give your reader a visual of the way it looks laid out next to the rest of the rainbow-hued backgammon set of delicacies in that patisserie window. Tell us why your protagonist needs the saccharine bolster after a particularly crap day.
3: Get your facts straight
Food and drink has a rich history. So if you have a know-it-all character spilling the coffee beans on Absinthe’s provenance, check those historical facts over and over. It’s not enough to head to one Google resource. Cross check this for consistency. This is your work and your credibility at stake – no matter whether you are writing a War and Peace style novel, or a newspaper article.
4: Ramp up the empathy
There’s no better way to help your readers root for your main character than via the stomach. Even antagonists need to display a slightly personable side, after all! By hinting at a childhood memory of vulnerability, softened with a slice of Victoria Sandwich, or the zesty fragrance of Grandma’s Lemon Meringue Pie, you immediately help the reader to make a connection… encouraging them to engage in the storyline, despite the hideous actions of your baddie.
Food and drink shouldn’t just be randomly dumped on a table for your characters to eat/to pad out your chapters. Use it to set your scenes:
How can the smell of that approaching vat of bouillabaisse enhance/dissipate the family argument? How will your plate of ripe, juicy cranberry and white chocolate flecked cookies break the ‘no sugar before Christmas Day’ resolve of the steeliest businesswoman at the December 1st office meeting? What will your main female character do to escape her violent partner now that she’s let the heady ruby marigold mix of medicinal Campari and Blood orange slip down her throat and warm up her stomach?
6: Read your cookbooks
I have a giant bookcase positively bursting at the seams with calorific goodness and it is my absolute go-to when I am struggling to describe a food or a drink which just has to appear in my novel. I’m by no means suggesting you steal sentences from your favourite chefs, but just flicking through a couple of Nigella books cannot fail to kick start your imagination resulting in some of your own uniquely mouth-watering dialogue.
7: Make your settings authentic
If you’re going to feature a cocktail bar in your novel (or maybe I’m the only one crazy enough?), again, take your time to build up an authentic picture. Flick through pictures on Instagram and Pinterest and learn to put creative language to the things you see; rifle through the websites of the suave and sophisticated city bars of London, New York and Sydney. Leave no stone un-turned to ensure a realistic experience for your readers.
8: Liken your characters to food and drink
I probably shouldn’t divulge this one… it becomes seriously addictive and is a lot of fun. But for all that, I hardly ever see it happening in a novel. Food and drink, however, have distinctive personalities of their own, which make for quite a comedic image when we liken them to our characters:
“It was then that I realised I had my arms around a croquembouche, a rich tower of haute couture, the height of which was simply too majestic for a girl like me to scale.”
Harry Eastwood, the chef, does something similar to this, with stunning effect in her fantastically titled cookbook: Red Chocolate Velvet Heartache. Except she uses this technique the opposite way, almost anthropomorphising her cakes!
Well, I don’t know about you… but after writing all of that, my stomach is definitely rumbling.
Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. When she isn’t having her cake and eating it, sampling a new cocktail on the beach, or ferrying her children to and from after school activities, she can usually be found writing.
As a co-founder and a former contributing writer for the popular online women’s magazine, The Glass House Girls – www.theglasshousegirls.com – she has also been lucky enough to subject the digital world to her other favourite pastimes, travel, the Law of Attraction, and Prince (The Purple One).
She has recently become a Book Fairy, and is having lots of fun with her imaginative ‘drops’!
The Cocktail Bar is her second novel, following on from the hit sensation, Oh! What a Pavlova, published in 2017. Her third novel is currently being polished up and involves copious amounts of churros con chocolate: watch this space…
Blurb for The Cocktail Bar:
Rock star, River Jackson, is back in his hometown of Glastonbury to open a cocktail bar… and the locals aren’t impressed.
Seductive Georgina is proving too hot to handle; band mate, Angelic Alice, is messing with his heart and his head; his mum is a hippie-dippy liability; his school friends have resorted to violence – oh, and his band manager, Lennie, AND the media are on his trail.
But River is armed with a magical Mexican elixir which will change the lives of the Three Chosen Ones. Once the Mexican wave of joy takes a hold of the town, he’s glad he didn’t lose his proverbial bottle.
Pity he hasn’t taken better care of the real one…
https://t.co/1YJKDT8quf – Universal Amazon link to buy The Cocktail Bar
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Taryn Leigh is the Author of Perfect Imperfections, which is currently available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes&Noble, Exclusive Books and where all good books are sold.