Category — Travel

Notes From a Writing Trip 3

November 22, 2017

Recently I got the chance to go away, as I have before, to write. Just write. (Well, maybe there was a wee bit of socializing. But not much.) I have a tight revision deadline for my latest novel, so any time I can grab to work on it, I take. And this time I had a whole weekend. 49 hours, actually. How amazing is that? Really–it’s not a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you how amazing it is:

It’s a silence-filled writing space amazing. It’s hours, back to back, to ponder the words on the page amazing. No interruptions accept for bathroom breaks that didn’t involve toilet training amazing. Just–it was sanctuary.

I took a few diary-esque notes while away, so here’s how it went.



12:41pm: Finally the ferry is leaving, late, from the berth. De-berthing? Am exhausted. Both kids were up early and I was up with them in the night for all the many reasons kids get parents up at 2am. Was going to start writing as soon as I sat down in the ferry, but am going to take a nap first.

2:14pm: Slept the entire ferry ride. No writing, but feeling more human. Now to catch buses.



3:45pm: Arrived at writing sanctuary, unpacked most important items (laptop, notes and reading material), brewed some tea and sat down. To write and write and write. This is JOY.


(Reading material…a bit optimistic, aren’t I?)


5:30pm: Meet a friend for dinner and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. And Thai curry.

7:00pm: Will now sit down to write until eyelids can no longer stay open. What started this afternoon as a shifting of a relationship between three characters is now more of a re-write of several major scenes throughout the story. Must remember not to get so excited about ‘developing’ relationships next time.

11:35pm: Eyelids heavy. Save changes. Brush teeth. Read a paragraph of Maya Angelou and pass out.

7:20am: Wake up refreshed, having slept through the night, feeling sure it must be at least 9am (with accompanying guilt at lost writing time). Nope. Have apparently lost the ability to sleep in.

8:00am: Finish breakfast of toast, tea and chocolate and reread last few pages of revisions from last night. Ugh. Fix things. Force myself not to go back to the beginning. Plough forward, into the mess. Make it better.

1:00pm: Shut laptop, get out of pyjamas (sigh) and ready to meet friend for tea and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. Afterward, walk around the streets a little and think about the lives of the people who live here. It’s not my neighbourhood, but it’s my hometown, so the familiarity is bittersweet. And bittersweet is the best kind of sweet.



4:00pm Arrive back at laptop and make a a deal: if I write for two hours, I can have ice cream for dinner.

6:00pm: Get a double scoop (cookies and cream and sticky toffee pudding) and know, to my bones, that this is the right dinner for me.

6:20pm: Change back into pyjamas, brew more tea. Sit down. Write until eyelids droop.

10:45pm: Can’t do any more. Brain overloaded. Must stop looking at words. Scroll through Instagram, fall asleep.

7:03am: Dammit! Even earlier than yesterday?!

7:35am: Tea for breakfast–not feeling the toast. Ice cream hangover? Look through only the last two pages of last night’s work. Any further back and I’ll fall into the rabbit hole of editing edits. Scribble thoughts on paper, stare into space, find the offending chapter, and GO.



11:46am: Starving. Must get lunch. Buy a wrap, scarf it down at the kitchen counter while cleaning old tea mugs and utensils. Pack bag with everything that isn’t my laptop and manuscript. Get everything ready to go, then sit down to write until my alarm says run for the bus!

3:50pm: The ferry is late leaving. Again. A wild Pacific storm is thrashing around us and the crossing will be slow. Find a carrel and set up the laptop for the last hour and a half of writing I can squeeze in. It’s not enough. I’ve made progress, but the vast majority of the book is still in need of work. I know now I’ll need way more time to revise than I will have. There’s so much work to do. It feels so good to do it, but there’s so much more. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

Who knows where the time will come from–I might have to make it out of nothing. But this book is important, the story is valuable, and making it better is a sacred service to it. I have to find the time. Somehow.



In: Books & Reading, From Ria, Travel, Writing

Come with me to Brittany… 2

July 1, 2017


I recently received this lovely note from a reader, Sandi, regarding A French Wedding: ‘Wonderful book. My husband was from Brittany and we enjoyed Douarnenez every summer. His Aunt’s seafood platter and Kouign-Amann was amazing. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories.’


It’s such a joy (and relief) to hear from readers who give the thumbs-up on your depiction of a setting. Because places are so dear to us it’s impossible to completely capture them in a way that will satisfy everyone. This was always going to be a challenge for the location of Douarnenez, where A French Wedding is set – trying to get it right for those who know and love Brittany as much as I do, painting the right kind of picture for those who haven’t yet been. Too much fondness applied and it becomes too saccharine, a pinch too much cynicism and fictional Brittany is suddenly bleaker than its weather.



As I mentioned in my last post about it’s famous pastry, the more I learned about Douarnenez – its tiny size, its rugged geography, its fishing industry, its history and folklore – the more I knew it was where A French Wedding needed to be set. Douarnenez is exactly where Juliette would come from and where she would go back to after living in Paris, bereft and in search of, well, herself. And, of course, Max – British, wealthy, famous and similarly lost – would buy a cottage on the coast and transform it into the kind of holiday house worth showing off to friends – full of glass and brass and large wooden tables ready for entertaining.



I took these photos of Douarnenez on a research trip back in 2015, with my family in tow. We had just come from Korcula in Croatia, where the Adriatic sea glittered and the sun shone white and hot, so Douarnenez was a stark contrast. Always a fan of the underdog, I loved the town. I loved the stone houses in the village clustered around the oily marina, the gulls riding the thermals, even the brooding grey of the sky. We stayed in an incredible, ancient home – Manoir de Kerdanet – run by Sid and Monique, eating Far Breton for breakfast and sipping local cider in the evenings while Monique told us the local myths and history. We went to the local markets and ate all the local produce we could find including cheeses, salt-marsh lamb and the incomparable kouign-amann. One night we went out to a restaurant perched on a cliff’s edge and devoured fresh lobster baked in glossy copper pots, as the mist rolled in towards us.


The trip was validation that I had chosen the right place for Max to celebrate his fortieth birthday and set the story for A French Wedding. I had been seeking somewhere small, coastal, historical, unpolished and real, wild even – and Douarnenez ticked all the boxes.


Have you been to Brittany? Did you love it?


In: Food, From Hannah, Travel, Writing

The french pastry you’ve never heard of. 5

June 14, 2017


Is it a croissant? Is it a brioche? Is it a kind of donut?! Nope, it’s kouign-amann.


My romance with kouign-amann began with a hunt for the setting for my next novel. Already a Francophile I had a few ideas about where I wanted to set A French Wedding but needed a specific location. The story of a group of old college friends, gathering together to celebrate the fortieth birthday of one of their own – musician Max, who relocated from London to Paris – required a setting that wasn’t too flashy, a bit rough around the edges. Not too far from Paris (an easy drive for a man who likes fast cars) and by a beach but not one that is too pretty or too full of tourists. A village where people turn when a foreigner walks in the door to the pub, who have unpolished, unpretentious lives, who buy their food from the local market not because it is trendy but because it’s what generations before them did, because it is practical. Real people.


Dordogne and Brittany were top of my hit-list, two of my favourite regions in France. Dordogne was quickly ruled out because of the lack of beach. Why I needed a beach I’m not quite sure; but the story just didn’t make sense to me without one. Armed with my laundry list of needs, I met with a friend of a friend, a French teacher, Veronique, and discussed my desire for just the right setting. Perfectly, Veronique turned out to be from Brittany. We hunched over a map as she described the various parts of Brittany. The Finistere region is so west it is considered to be “the end of the world” and I loved it immediately from Veronique’s descriptions. Small, rugged villages with locals who fish for sardines, with inclement weather and few tourists. I scrawled down all the places Veronique mentioned. One of those villages, Douarnenez, is known for a particular kind of pastry – kouign-amann. To say that my ears pricked up at this is an understatement.



Kouign-amann originated in Douarnenez. It is made simply with butter, sugar and dough, but tastes, like all simple, traditional French treats, exquisite. Sweeter and toothier than a croissant, less bready and more caramel than brioche. Unfussy and delicious. The name translates to “butter cake” in the local Breton language and kouign-amann can be found in most bakeries and at local weekend markets. During a research trip (more on that soon!) we visited Treboul market in Douarnenez and encountered a row of sizzling cast iron saucepans, each filled with kouign-amann, the contents still bubbling and blistering with butter and sugar. The smell was unreal. Though sometimes served in individual portions, like the one pictured above, all the kouign-amann I ate in Douarnenez were wedges cut from a larger circle. They were dense and sweet and crisp-topped. The pieces I couldn’t manage to finish left dark, grease shadows in their paper bags. My husband, Matt, wasn’t too sure about travelling to the other side of the world motivated by a pastry. But after eating his first kouign-amann declared that “this might be the best thing I have ever eaten”.

Have you heard of kouign-amann? Have you tried it? Are you part of the smug club that knows and loves it?


With love,



A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launched June 6th in the U.S. and Canada. For the month of June we are going to be celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family.


To win two copies of the book – one for you and one for your favourite reading partner – go to the Fork & Fiction Instagram or Facebook page and don’t forget to tag a friend. Winners drawn and announced Sunday 25th June.


*Kouign-amann tips! For Auckland / NZ-based folk I recommend the kouign-amann at Rendez-vous café, located next to The Pumphouse theatre in Takapuna. For Sydney / Australia-based folk I recommend the kouign-amann from Sonoma bakery. The latter is served “American style” – in individual portions with custard and a little jam.

In: Food, From Hannah, Markets & Food Stores, Travel, Writing

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


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

Forward Motion 4

March 29, 2017

Friends, March just tipped over into spring and the snowdrops are out. The coldest, snowiest winter we’ve seen in a lot of years (because we are spoiled with warm, rainy winters most of the time) has become an archived story filled with even more of those superlative adjectives. Now it’s time to move on.

As in, move house.

The quaint old character home we’ve lived in since before the kids were born is soon to belong to someone else. We are soon to leave this city for a bigger one. Find new friends, playgrounds, bookstores and food spots. Opening the proverbial new chapter.




It’s funny how nostalgia creeps into your thoughts even before you’ve left a place. I’m already walking through rooms picturing them bare and sunlit, like when we moved in. I think about how much younger we were. How much older we are.

I’ve started compiling photos from the seven summers we’ve lived in this house, the first few years concentrating on food and garden, unsurprisingly. Memories of sleeping in and making self-indulgent breakfasts. Long afternoons in the garden digging potatoes, the dog waiting at the edge of the patch for a stray tuber to roll his way. Cutting flowers for the kitchen table.

The second group of photos: the kid-filled ones. The painted wooden stork on the porch that proclaimed both babies’ arrivals. The birthing pool in the living room where The Tiger was born. A multitude of food-splattered faces at the dinner table. Christmases, Easters, Halloweens. All in this house.

We knew we wouldn’t stay here forever. We knew it would be less than a decade. It feels good–really good–to move on. But. This house is ours, and it will be ours forever, even when it’s someone else’s. Just like the house I grew up in, now renovated and repainted and a hundred kilometers away, is still and always will be mine.

This morning Little e’s newest pet, a woodbug, died. She’d had him for fourteen hours. We talked about the lifespans of wood bugs and the abruptness of death and how many other woodbugs exist in our garden and she accepted it all with a five-year-old’s gravity and openness. We talked about memory and gratitude, though not in those terms. Then we went out and found another woodbug.

And soon we go out to find another house, and though there is nothing dead about our current one, it does feel like that sort of loss. A choice to stop and turn. A choice to abort one life-course and start another. All the things we could do in this house will never come to be. We have chosen it that way.

But we will pack those things up and move them somewhere new. We will find new woodbugs in a new garden. Find a new house that could never not be ours, for however long we will be in it, and beyond.




In: From Ria, Seasonal, Travel