Food in fiction: reposted from Writer Unboxed

I thought readers of this blog might enjoy my latest post around the craft of fiction, reposted from the wonderful site Writer Unboxed. This one’s on food in fiction.

In life, people’s days are punctuated by meals. Food is an important part of our lives: of course, we need it for survival, but it’s much more than that. It’s pleasure, it’s penance, it’s anxiety, it’s joy—depending on our relationship with it. Eating together or alone, eating at home or out in restaurants and cafes, eating on the go or around the family table: it’s all part of the fabric of human life, all over the globe.

And in fiction? Well, it always used to puzzle me, as a kid, when people in books never stopped to eat or drink or you never got to hear what was for lunch, if it was mentioned. For me as a child, it was important to know: my diary as a twelve-year-old is full of mentions of the delicious things my mother had cooked up for us that day, or the yummy thing I’d bought at the school canteen that day (which my mother would have considered rubbish) or, conversely, the yuckiness of something I’d been made to try by a friend, such as vegemite—an Australian classic but not to my taste. Sure, I’m from a French background and food was intensely important in our family, but we certainly weren’t alone in that. To read a story in which there was no mention of food at all seemed odd. But to read one in which exotic delights like ginger pop (as in Enid Blyton) were mentioned—often!—was such fun. I had no idea at the time what ginger pop was but it sounded exciting, like the adventures the Famous Five or Secret Seven went on. And when Edmund, in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, is offered endless Turkish Delight by the White Witch to bribe him to betray his siblings, I was horrified, but understood. Hard to resist Turkish Delight! Growing up through adolescence and into adulthood, I never lost my interest in food and cooking, and never ceased to wonder why in some novels, people seemed to exist on air.

When it came to writing my own books, that was never an issue. Food always appeared, whether glancingly or more substantially, in both my fiction for young readers and for adults. Sometimes it was just for the sheer pleasure of the description, sometimes to evoke an atmosphere, sometimes to symbolize something about a character. I couldn’t imagine leaving it out altogether. In my recent adult novel, for example, A Hundred Words for Butterfly, which is set in the French part of the Basque country, where my mother’s family is from, food functions very much too as an expression of an ancient, distinctive culture and landscape, as well as illuminating certain aspects of family. If you’re interested, the publisher produced a lovely, free digital magazine which featured some of my Basque family recipes as well as entries from a microlit competition they ran, as part of the publicity for my book.

Right now, I’m working on another adult novel in which food—and especially the creation of dishes and meals–is absolutely central, indeed a crucial part of the characters’ emotional journey. That’s a challenge in itself: because of course you can overdo it. You can cook up too rich a stew, you can overwhelm the senses with too many smells and tastes, you can nauseate the reader with too much indigestible detail. You can’t be too self-indulgent; but equally, you can’t be too restrained. It’s a fine line to tread.

I’d read recently a number of contemporary novels which featured food as a central theme—ranging from Jenny Colgan’s Meet Me at The Cupcake Café, to Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients to Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, and others, all of which handled the food theme adeptly and enjoyably and with great diversity too. They all showed something important to me as a writer: in a time when people watch cooking shows for fun and cookbooks sell like, well, hotcakes, at the same time there’s less time for many around the actual stove or table. Getting the balance of ingredients right in a food-themed novel is more important than ever. Sure, they’re about dreams, escape, pleasure: but also about being grounded, about rediscovering simple things, about the basic human joy of creating something delicious that for the enchanted space of a good meal might unite us all.

Looking forward to the Dubbo Writers’ Festival!

I am much looking forward to the Dubbo Writers’ Festival, which is on this coming weekend, 9-11 September, in Dubbo of course! The theme is ‘Shorts’–with a feast of practical workshops on short fiction, short poetry, short blog posts, as well as consultations with publishers, an In-Conversation, and a ‘submissions spur’. I’m presenting at several events, see below. You can get tickets and the full program via this link here.

Friday Sept 9:

Saturday:

Sunday will be the Submissions Spur, 2-4pm.

Story seed, story feather: one of my writing workshops

I run a lot of writing workshops, both in person and online, and today I thought I’d highlight one of my favourites, Story Seed, Story Feather. Suitable for both kids and adults, it features two really fun and intriguing ways of starting a story, and to explain the concept I’ve created a little video which I hope you enjoy.

And if you’re interested in finding out more about booking one of these workshops for your school or writing group, contact Speakers Ink.

A fabulous launch; a lovely digital magazine to celebrate

We had the best time last night at the launch of A Hundred Words for Butterfly! Part of the launch included readings by the fabulous writers who were finalists and winners in the #100words4butterfly writing comp, and their stories, as well as some of my Basque-themed recipes, appear in this gorgeous digital magazine put together by the wonderful Hannah Oakshott from Spineless Wonders Short Australian Stories. Yummy food and amazing microlit–a perfect combination–check it all out below!

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners, and thank you so much to all the wonderful Spineless Wonders team, it was an absolutely awesome launch and I am still on a high!

Launching Fox and Chook Creative Activity Pack for families, schools and libraries

I’m absolutely delighted today to announce the launch of a fabulous brand-new creative activity pack for children and their families, carers, schools and libraries, which I’ve created with Kathy Creamer, a good friend of mine who’s a fantastic illustrator. It’s called the Fox and Chook Creative Activity Pack and is themed around, you guessed it, foxes and chooks (for non-Australians, that means chickens!)

This gorgeous pack, which is presented as a downloadable PDF, includes lots of fun activities: from lots of creative writing exercises to colouring-in pages; from looking at and discussing classic paintings to discovering fabulous facts about foxes and chooks; from listening online to a fun fox and chook story(one of mine) to sculpting your own fox and chook out of modelling clay, from sharing real-life stories of foxes and chooks to learning how to draw them and to make your own shadow puppets–and more!

You can access the full activity pack directly here on my blog: Fox and chook creative activity pack by Sophie Masson and Kathy Creamer full final or from the special page on Sophie Masson Presents, where you will not only find the full pack but also the colouring pages as a separate PDF to download and print out easily.

Please note that this activity pack is copyright to me and Kathy Creamer. Till September 30, it is available free for families, schools and libraries to download, use and print, but must not be extracted or reproduced without written permission and acknowledgement of authorship and cannot be sold or used commercially by any entity or individual.

Kathy and I would like to thank the fantastic New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) in Armidale, for kindly researching paintings in their collections for the Foxes and Chooks in Art section of the pack, and for giving us permission to include images of them. We would also like to acknowledge Christmas Press and illustrator David Allan for images from Two Trickster Tales from Russia and photographer Nathan Anderson for the wonderful fox photo on title page (photo available free to download on Unsplash).

So have a look, check it all out–and hope you enjoy! And as we’d love to see your creative responses to these exercises, do tag me if you decide to put them up on social media. You can tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And you can contact me via this blog, or via the contact form at Sophie Masson Presents. You can contact Kathy here.

 

 

 

Free online creative writing exercises on my presentation website

Illustration © Kathy Creamer

Today I’m launching a new, free resources page on my presentation website, www.sophiemassonpresents.com  On the page, I’ll be featuring fun free creative writing exercises for children and adults which people anywhere in the world can access directly from the page, or download for later use as a PDF. To launch the page, I’ve put up the first exercise, Fairytale Flurry, which, as the name indicates, is based around a fairytale theme. I’ve collaborated on it with the fabulous illustrator Kathy Creamer, who has provided three great illustrations as story starters. This exercise is suitable for both children and adults, and is very flexible, so you can add characters, settings, formats, etc, as you like, and shuffle everything around.

I’ll be adding more exercises, around all sorts of themes and genres, as time goes on. Check out the page, and Fairytale Flurry, here–and hope you enjoy!