Tuesday 24 April 2012

Writing about food

See what happens you don't blog for a while and then three come in quick succession - a bit like buses I suppose.

You will know from the post before last that I can't eat. Does this mean I have no interest in food? Do I avoid writing about it? Anything but. I am fascinated by it instead. This blog post was triggered because I have just been marking (again) and I was reading a student's description of a meal and it was just glorious. I could almost taste the food and feel the atmosphere it was so evocative.

It started me thinking about food in books. Warning confession coming up - I just love the way JK Rowling describes her meals in all the Harry Potter books. They are just magical and full of life. The fact she even spent time inventing new foods and sweets and made them feel so real just amazes me. Then there was the description of food in The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. It was so detailed but added so much to the story. These are just two of mine, what are your favourite descriptions of food or meals in books?

Many years ago in a short story I wrote I did a description of making bread. My then lecturer insisted it was read out because it was, apparently, the most sensual description of bread making they had ever heard. That hadn't been my plan. I had just described how it felt to me. Bread making never was the same afterwards.

I think we should never underestimate how useful food/meals can be in a novel. They can give hints as to what the characters are like, where they live, whether they have plenty of money or none at all. Is food all about survival or just something that is eaten three times a day? I feel it can be an under used device for adding characterisation or depth to a story. Well worth considering sometimes. The other thing you can do when developing your characters is to take them out for a meal and talk to them and see what happens (on paper of course) - like with free writing it doesn't necessarily have to end up in the final piece but will certainly tell you more about them and how they interact with others.

I couldn't really end this blog with anything other than this song....so here's to Food Glorious Food!


  1. And let's not forget HOW they eat, Ness. Are they nibblers or stuffers?
    And confession from me too, I love the way she uses food, although in reality I do think Hogwarts would have had an obesity problem. Maybe there was a special spell for staying slim - Reductivus?

  2. Excellent point Maureen on both counts. Shame Reductivus isn't real, she could make so much money with that.