Category — Books & Reading

My new book-baby 3

June 5, 2017

 

Elizabeth Gilbert (superstar author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear) suggests that we don’t call our books “our babies”. It’s not all that helpful or healthy to be so attached to your work output that you assign it the same importance as a human infant. Liz is right, of course (she usually is) and yet it’s hard not to have some similar feelings. Protectiveness being high up on the list.

 

It’s not that us authors think our books are perfect. Much as we don’t think our own children are perfect (sorry girls). In fact a lot of the time they drive us crazy. Tearing-out-hair-crazy. But we also don’t want to see them bullied in the playground, called names or disregarded. We want them to find their own tribe. A crew of good friends who stick up for them, appreciate them for who they are, not desire them to be different or better, who love them for who they are, flaws and all. We simply want the best for them.

 

As per my first two book-babies (The Color of Tea and Season of Salt and Honey) I wrote my latest book-baby – A French Wedding – with the idea of creating a story I would like to read. In this case – a story for the kind of person who is intrigued by the dynamics of old friendships, the tension of a romantic crush about to be confessed, who likes to feast, drink good wine and longs for long lunches in France (served up with a hint of mystery). Set in Brittany, France, A French Wedding is the daydream you have while folding laundry and wishing for elsewhere; it is about gathering to celebrate a birthday, visiting local village markets, walking the wild beaches and laughing and singing into the night. The story begins with a wedding, but you don’t find out whose wedding until the end of the book, when the fates of birthday boy Max, best friend Helen, unhappy Rosie, French chef Juliette and the rest of the friends, become clear. It’s a book for Francophiles and foodies, lovers and friends.

 

I have to say that it is as odd to have three books out in the world as it is to have three daughters in the world. It’s exciting. It’s surprising. It can be downright discombobulating. Those of you with children will know the feeling of sheer disorientation when you observe your offspring from a distance and have to remind yourself that yes, you helped make that. It seems impossible. Though you know it to be true and still poignantly remember all those hours rocking and willing them to sleep, allaying fears, entertaining, feeding, encouraging, coaxing and scolding. You probably had some not-great moments amongst the raising – of confusion, frustration and exhaustion. Moments when you wondered if you were the right person for the task and if your babies deserved better. But yes, ultimately, they are yours.

 

As with babies, the days spent with a book manuscript often feel impossibly long and endless. Edit after edit after edit, day after day after day, the publication date so far on the horizon it seems unreal. And then, suddenly, here it is. “Pub day”, as they refer to it, for A French Wedding is almost here! A monumental day when nothing actually happens and you walk around in your everyday life lurching between feeling smug, numb and anxious. Not too dissimilar to the sensation I had when I was finally able to leave my girls in childcare for the first time. “Oh thank goodness! I think…?”

 

But, despite the emotional evidence, Elizabeth Gilbert is right to warn against comparing books to babies. They’re not and we shouldn’t get so silly and precious about them. You do your best work, you put your work out there, you wish for it to find its place, for it to resonate. Liz masterfully unravels my flawed comparison with one slam-dunk quote that puts it all into perspective – “Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby.” Ah, yes, so right. From “pub day” with one book we go on to the next book. Stepping forward with all those lessons we have learned, moving on as a different person, a different writer than we were before. Thankful for the experience with those characters, in that setting, who taught us so much, who become so dear. Discovering that it’s not us shaping the books, but the books shaping us, in various and unexpected ways.

 

Love,

Hannah

 

A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launches in the U.S. and Canada on June 6th. Here at Fork & Fiction we are going to be celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family over this month. PLUS, we have two copies of the book to give away to U.S. and Canadian fans! One for you and one for your favourite reading buddy. Go to the Fork and Fiction Facebook Page or the Fork and Fiction Instagram Page from June 6th to find out more. 

 

If you would like to buy your own copy of A French Wedding click here. If you would like to see a brilliant interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, exploring her views on creativity, writing and life in general click here. Thank you, x

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting, Writing

What we’re readin’. 3

May 10, 2017

Last week we went to our local library (only the BEST LIBRARY IN THE UNIVERSE) and for the first time B1 snuck off to a cosy corner to read by herself. B2 was still keen for me to read to her (read as: shove a book at me before proceeding to wrestle my body into a more pleasing, arm-chair-ish shape with her knees, shoulders, skull and elbows) while B3 careened and screeched and launched herself into the beanbags. Observing them all I had that dawning, cliched realization. It is, my friends, the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

 

While the girls are at different stages with books, they all, thankfully, seem to love them. Phew. So now I have the perfect excuse to seek out and read not one but three different kinds of children’s books and I am absolutely loving it. Exploring chapter-book authors with B1 whilst getting picture-book nostalgic with B3; I’m having a ball along with them. If you too love nothing more than a new book / author recommendation then these three lists, based on what we’re reading and adoring, are for you.

 

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In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting

How She Does It: Sara Alexander 0

May 3, 2017

Welcome back to our ongoing author series, How She (or He) Does It, wherein we explore the fascinating (and often delicious) lives of creative people we love and admire. Here and here are a few of our faves if you want more of a taste.

Today we bring you the delights and musings of Sara Alexander, a British-Sardinian author whose new novel, Under a Sardinian Sky is all about the things we love best here at Fork & Fiction: food, adventure, love, seductive places, food… Sara has been kind enough to answer a few of our questions and then she’s given us a glimpse into her kitchen and the kinds of things she’d cook for a languorous, aromatic Sardinian meal.

 

 

Welcome, Sara! It’s so nice to have you here on the blog. Let’s start with the basics. Tell us a little about yourself–your background and family.

My husband, two children (10 & 4), my parents and I all live together in a house in a London suburb. I’m a born and bred North West Londoner. I’ve been acting since I was a child and hovering in a make-believe world since I can remember. I’m a passionate foodie and love nothing more than a house full of folks, friends and family feasting together. I’m a descendant of some culinary wizards with a reverence for superstitions and a keen tinkering of magic….(the digestible kind, of course).

That sounds like a flavourful life! What part of the writing process brings you the most joy?

Fleeing to another time and space, the mutability of floating between characters’ outlooks, passions, desires, thoughts.

 

 

 

What do you enjoy least about writing a novel?

The sticky middle where you doubt whether you should ever have begun in the first place. That sparse blank page. The nagging voices of negativity I’m forced to work through, be it the university lecturer who told me I suffered from written constipation or an off-hand remark from a well-meaning friend about a blog post being over-written a decade ago. That sort of thing.

Oh, the sticky middle is the worst, isn’t it? Those ugly voices always shout in the quagmire. Can you tell us which books made the biggest impact on your life and why?

I adored trailing through Chaucer at school and Jane Austen because our teachers were phenomenal – they passed on their passion in spades. I also adore Isabel Allende, Joanne Harris and Tracy Chevalier for the worlds they float me to, their fierce attention to detail, their reverence for feisty and sensitive female protagonists.

Who would be on your dream dinner party guest list and why?

What a wonderful question! I think I would need to balance some literary genius with a robust amount of gregarious personalities; Cleopatra beside the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. Audrey Hepburn for elegant conversation. Grace Kelly to spin me on the dance floor after dinner. Marcus Aurelius to lead some philosophical meanderings, perhaps Buster Keaton to liven up proceedings and Amelia Earhart for stimulating descriptions of adventures to keep us all entertained.

Oooh, a dinner to remember. Perhaps a new, experimental novel idea?? We’d love to hear the conversations around that table!

Can you describe the best meal of your life? (We know it’s hard for foodies to pick just one, so a compound answer is just fine.)

That’s a toughie! Amongst the top ten is a Brazilian feast we ate at a churrascaria in San Francisco. The meats were phenomenal and the salad bar was strewn with dishes prepared with such passion and care, you could taste the attention poured over them back in the kitchen. A close second is the fish feast we have annually at my favourite restaurant L’Artista, in San Teodoro, Sardinia. The freshest seafood, cooked simply, with high quality ingredients accompanied by excellent wine – heaven.

 

 

What is always in your fridge or pantry?

Coconut milk. A dairy’s worth of parmesan and pecorino. Pasta and lentils of any colour. Monsooned Malabar coffee beans.

Why are you drawn to write about food?

Food is a language. It’s expressive. It describes the feelings of the cook, the state of mind they were in during prep. It’s laced with messages about the care the cook feels for the people they prepare for, and, for themselves. It’s an act of vulnerability and creativity. It’s the magic of alchemy. When I’m having a bad day I take the making of a broth very seriously and show myself a little love. For my Sardinian family, who are of few words, this is how they express their deepest feelings.

 

 

We couldn’t agree more (and couldn’t be more charmed by your Sardinian family)! Can you describe how you feel about the intersection between food and writing? Perhaps share some cooking tips or a recipe?

My favourite part of the writing process for Under a Sardinia Sky was delving deeply into the descriptions and acts of preparing food. It is important to me that food, much like sex, should not appear in a story for it’s own sake but because it reveals something deeper about the character and their personal journey. Food is an incredibly sensual way to explore character and story. I love trying new things, creating dishes and growing our own produce. Food is a portal to other lands, and, sometimes as close to time travel as you can get without drawing on the complexities of Quantum.

If I prepare gnochetti and fresh sauce to perfection I am in my grandma’s kitchen aged 6. To summon the spirits of Sardinia: Tip a couple of fists full of dried gnochetti (do not confuse with potato gnocchi) per person into plenty of salted simmering water. Whilst they’re cooking heat a smushed clove of garlic gently until it begins to soften in two tablespoons of olive oil. Add a bottle of passata, season well, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in a little sugar or nub of dark chocolate and, when it’s cooked through (20 mins or so), tip in several fresh basil leaves, immediately turning off the heat. Allow to infuse. When the gnochetti are cooked, drain and stir them into the sauce pan, coating every little nub with the sweet tomato. Be generous with some more grated pecorino.

Delicious. Thank you, Sara. We’ll be scouring the internet for the next flight to Sardinia. All the best with your beautiful novel, and may the gnochetti-eating commence.

Ria and Hannah

XO

In: Books & Reading, Food, From Hannah, From Ria, How She (or he) Does It, Includes a recipe!, Interviews, Travel, Writing

Back to China 0

March 8, 2017

In a few days time I will be on a plane heading back to a place that has given me so much. Wonderful friends, my eldest child (“Made in China”, ahem) and a beloved career. Oh, and let’s not forget the unnaturally eager predilection for yum cha.

 

 

My last trip to Macau was in October. I took my two biggest girls back with me for the launch of the picture book, Marjory and the Mouse. Announcing the trip was a blast – two enormous fortune cookies with surprise messages inside – but the trip itself surprised me; it exceeded all my expectations. Travelling solo and long-haul with two kids make you think of that emoji face with the gritted teeth? I get it (I made that face many times before and during). But truly this trip was incredible for all of us. The girls got to experience a completely different culture, the sparkling lights of the casinos, the morning smogs, apartment living, fine dining, crazy taxi rides, heat and madness and a beautiful, heartfelt book launch with Marjory Vendramini, the inspiration and protagonist for Marjory and the Mouse. We were fortunate enough to visit Cradle of Hope, the orphanage Marjory founded and to which all the profits from the book go to, the day after the launch and the girls saw how the kids live and are cared for with all the love and support Marjory and her team provides them. Okay, so they still mostly remember the trip to Hong Kong Disneyland but perhaps, one day, the other experiences will be recalled and cherished. It was a joy, for me at least, to watch them experiencing so much for the first time. I didn’t expect to get such a huge buzz out of that.

 

 

But this time I am travelling solo. I have been invited by Helder Beja and his hard-working team to The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival. The festival schedule is jam-packed with authors, filmmakers and artists of all kinds; two weeks of dialogue, celebration and inspiration, which I am hugely honoured to be a part of. I am also very excited to be visiting two schools as part of the festival – International School of Macau (Monday, March 13th) and Zheng Guanying Official School (Tuesday, March 14th) as well as a public event with three other festival guests:

 

Writing from Within or Without – The Local vs the Universal

A discussion with Ciwanmerd Kulek, Sanaz Fotouhi and Grace Chia

Sunday March 12, Old Court Building, Macau

 

I am really going to miss my two tiny travel partners-in-crime (they have placed their present orders) but returning to Macau, to talk about Marjory and the Mouse and the incredible role model Marjory Vendramini is for us all, being part of such a dynamic, ambitious, trilingual literary festival such as The Script Road is an opportunity I could not pass up. Extra bonus – going to the bathroom by myself. Yes!! (Parents are nodding)

 

If you are based in Macau (or Hong Kong!) I would love to see you at The Script Road. It’s worth scrolling through the festival schedule for events, concerts and performances that tickle your fancy. And if you’re not near Macau I promise to post photos. Here, on instagram and on facebook. Without my accompanying travel duo I will have free hands for taking snaps! Imagine that.

 

With love,

Hannah

In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting, Travel

Books, Books Everywhere 2

January 26, 2017

It’s that time of year again…yes, the time when the year’s new books start to be released into the world and I wonder how much more space I can find on my already double-stacked book shelves. I have way more books than I can read in a year. Probably in decade. Let’s face it, in a lifetime, if I include the rate of new books coming in, making the official to-read list pretty ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I’m offering a short list of books I’m most looking forward to this year, though this roundup will be out of date as soon as the nest wave of releases arrives and I’m oohing and ahhing over those. It just never ends—and thank goodness for that.

First, of course, a novel for children—you know my inclination—about bring curious, and also dinosaurs. I’ve loved the story of Mary Anning discovering fossils near her home in England since I first heard it when I was a kid, and now it’s going to be a novel. Yippee! I’ll be buying a copy for Little e. And myself, of course.

 

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In: Books & Reading, From Ria