The food and drink rituals of famous authors
As someone who spends a lot of their life at a desk, tapping out words on a keyboard, I relate to the solitary aspect of a writer’s life. What fuels me? Endless cups of tea, partly because it necessitates a wander downstairs which restores the blood flow to the brain and less edifying parts of the body. I’m quite strict about food, with porridge for breakfast and nothing else until lunchtime. After a particularly successful day, making a gin and tonic at sundown (there has to be a reward for early dusk) is calming, satisfying and refreshing, putting a liquid full stop to the day.
Ahead of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (3rd – 11th March 2017) I asked a handful of authors about their own food and drink rituals. I questioned them about what they eat and drink during the writing process and whether they have any rituals or necessities (tea and biscuits every hour for instance). I was also interested to know which fictional meal they would like to have been present at (or perhaps would like to avoid)? Here are their answers:
While writing I find that my body clock, and the timing of the life, go haywire. So the answer is: there’s no plan for eating and drinking. I admire discipline, but have very little.
My writing ritual is to try to wake very early and get three hours in while everything is quiet. That’s it.
Moby Dick is one of my favourite novels. There’s an entire chapter on eating clam chowder as the hunt for whales in the Atlantic. My problem is I think I could exist on clam chowder but never kill a whale. So, no.
James Naughtie presented the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 for 21 years. His lyrical but authoritative Aberdeenshire accent springs into my mind as I type his name and I could go to his Lit Fest session just to listen to his voice. He has interviewed many of the most notable people in recent history and an award-winning author he has written about politics in London and Washington, and more recently fiction.
I write in the morning and tend to have a glass of water or a cup of tea with my breakfast, then I write until 10.30 or 11am and my reward is a mug of ground coffee with a teeny bit of sugar!
I have a restorative cup of Lapsang tea in the middle of the afternoon (no sugar!) – and trying not to have biscuits!
I’d love to have participated in the Cratchit’s Christmas dinner in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ -the description of that steaming goose makes my mouth water!
As a horticulturist, Alan Titchmarsh was a constant on television when I was growing up via things like Gardener’s World, and then won the nation over with a programme called Ground Force which secretly transformed people’s gardens over a weekend (I love it). I knew that he’d written fiction (famed for their ‘romantic’ passages) but didn’t realise that all ten made the Sunday Times Best-seller list, in addition to three volumes of autobiography, several books on royalty and over fifty gardening books. Read more about him by my favourite interviewer Lyn Barber.
I drink huge amounts of decaffeinated filter coffee; I love the sharp heat to keep me awake without the caffeine to keep me off the ceiling. Writing about food inevitably makes me very hungry, all the time. I write through the night. I sit in the quiet darkness at my laptop with only the kitchen lights on. I slowly empty my fridge as the night progresses. Writing books does my hips no favours at all.
I have no rituals or necessities except that there is no noise. I cannot work with any distraction. I need absolute silence and the absence of demands. hence the only time I can put fingers to keyboard and really dig deep is when my children are asleep and my cats have gone a hunting.
Nisha went slightly off-piste by choosing a feast from history.
I would like to have been present at any of Henry VIII wedding banquets. I find his kitchens in Hampton Court one of the most atmospheric and inspiring spaces. Big food, meat-heavy, hedonistic, fire and smoke charred. These were banquets where you ate with your hands and ate off bread trenchers. It was animal and it was gluttonous. I wish I was a Tudor dinner guest at least twice a week.
“Treating them like this is like giving them a gin and tonic and a karaoke mic” so says Nisha Katona on her approach to Brussels Sprouts. This could sum up neatly why her YouTube channel, demonstrating how to make simple Indian food quickly, has been such a roaring success. Her self-proclaimed ‘curry evangelism’ centres on cooking according to ancient Ayurvedic principles that focus on transforming cheap often meagre, seasonal, conscientiously grown ingredients into divine curries, simply and quickly.
During the writing process I eat and drink lots of water, green tea, the occasional cappuccino, nuts, fruit and dark chocolate!
Before I start writing I mediate for 20 minutes, exercise and do some deep breathing. I have instrumental music playing in the background and have vanilla candles lit. I make sure I get up every 90 minutes to stretch, have a quick jog on the spot to re-energize. I find being surrounded by nature helps too!
I would avoid the Mad Hatter’s tea party ( Alice in Wonderland). Perpetual tea time would soon wear thin for me …….. Variety is the spice of life!
Inspirational go-getter is an apt description for Julie Lewis who lives right here in Dubai. She has trained and led multi-national teams of women and men on more than 55 expeditions to over 20 countries, including the Arctic and Antarctica. She does manage to stay still long enough to write and her best-selling book Moving Mountains forms the basis of a personal leadership program being taught at several educational establishments in the UAE and overseas.
How to plan your visit to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
The festival spreads over two weekends this year and the schedule is jam-packed with interesting speakers, many local as well as the usual brilliant internationally renowned gang. Having attended every year I have a strategy of sorts for planning who to see. Read about it here on the Lit Fest site but do come back and leave me a comment if you think I’ve missed anything vital!
How would you answer? Do you write, and if so, do you have any rituals especially around food and drink? Which fictional feast tempts or repels you?
See you at the festival.