Talking Food With… Katy Moran

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today, I’d like to introduce as my guest author Katy Moran. Katy is a former book editor who now lives in Shropshire with her husband and three children. Her first novel Bloodline was published in 2008 and was an epic adventure set amongst the warring kingdoms of the Dark Ages. After a series of successful Young Adult Novels, Katy has turned her attention to adult fiction. Her debut adult novel False Lights has been described as ‘Georgette Heyer meets William Boyd’ and as having ‘… a marvellously dark and compelling anti-hero and a truly gutsy heroine… a terrific read’. Katy’s latest novel, Wicked by Design, was published in September.

And if you follow either of us on Twitter, you’ll know that Katy and I were allies this summer in the fight against the never-ending courgette hoards.

LM: Hi Katy! Your latest book, Wicked by Design, is set in an alternate Napoleonic era. Do historical recipes and/or food history have a place in your research? 

KM: Yes, I think that because my books are set in an alternative Napoleonic universe, details like period recipes and the food that people ate have an important role in grounding readers in the world and making them believe in it. In Wicked by Design, I seem to focus in on details of what people are eating or drinking at moments of extreme stress. There is a moment in St Petersburg when one of my heroes, Crow, is really falling to pieces at the supper table under the combined effect of grief, opium and too much brandy. Somehow, zeroing in on the details of the creamed spinach tart and beef olives that everyone else is eating throws his state of disintegration into contrast. (There is a recipe for beef olives in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, published in 1747). Crow’s state and behaviour at this moment were also partly inspired by the music video for Johnny Cash’s cover of hurt, which features him surrounded by a feast; opulent but somehow repellent platters of rich food. 

LM: Any favourite examples of food in fiction?

KM: Yes, I always remember Sylvia Green’s tiny ham rolls that she ate on the train north to Willoughby Chase, and the awful contrast with her unnerving travelling companion’s rich confectionery oozing with violet icing. Actually, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken was one of the inspirations behind my alternative timeline: ‘This book is set during a period of history that never happened’.

LM: Can you share a little about your research process? Are there any tips, tricks or strange practices you find yourself following?

KM: I work in a second-hand bookshop and much of my research is driven by books I stumble on while filing new stock in the history section, so my advice would be to visit a shop like the one I work in, that has a varied and esoteric selection of books. It’s one of the best ways to get yourself out of a plot hole, too. I always find answers that I’d never have come up with by approaching the problem head on.

LM: What is it that draws you to the Cornish coast as a setting? Can you share a favourite historical fact or piece of folklore from the region?

Hell Bay, Bryher

KM: For one of the companion novels to Wicked by Design, I needed a setting in close proximity to an island. My husband’s father was born on Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, so that’s why one of my heroines, Hester, was brought up on the island of Bryher, and that’s how I arrived at the more general Cornish setting, too.

LM: Some quickfire questions! First, coffee or tea?

KM: Coffee!

Chocolate or cheese?

KM: Chocolate.

Breakfast or dinner?

KM: Dinner.

What’s your favourite beverage to relax with?

KM: A Gin & Tonic.

If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

KM: I love baking and anything that involves the creative use of leftovers or hiding vegetables so that they are undetected by my children. Last night, I made a pie from the remains of a roast chicken and a baked ham, and the stock from the chicken is bubbling away in my kitchen. My kids spent the summer gorging on chocolate cake without a clue it was made with courgettes from the terrifying mountains that kept appearing in the garden. I’m not always this organised, though, and we’ll be having frozen pizza this evening.

LM: Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

KM: Another novel set in the world of Wicked by Design, but eight years further on.

Thank you Katy! You can find out more about Katy at: https://katymoran.co.uk/ and follow her on Twitter @Katyjamoran.

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Talking Food With… Lucy Hounsom

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today, I’d like to introduce as my guest author Lucy Hounsom. Lucy is the author of The Worldmaker Trilogy. Her first book, STARBORN, was shortlisted in the 2016 Gemmell Awards for Best Fantasy Debut. Her fourth book, SISTERSONG, will be published by Pan Macmillan in 2021. She is a Waterstones bookseller and co-hosts the award-winning geek feminist podcast ‘Breaking the Glass Slipper’, which last weekend won Best Audio at the British Fantasy Awards 2019. She lives half the time in Devon with two cats and the other half in Skyrim.

And for people who don’t know… she is also my older sister. 🙂

LM: Hello, err, Lucy. (I won’t share our ridiculous nicknames for each other here). Let’s get started: what are some of your favourite examples of food in fiction?

Lucy: Definitely the descriptions of fruit in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. They’re so luscious and visceral; I especially love the way she dwells on each fruit in its turn:

Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy

– Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market (1859)

Another all time favourite has to be from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry is found on the Knight Bus and taken to The Leaky Cauldron. Cornelius Fudge sits him down in front of the fire with an enormous platter of hot, buttered crumpets. Every time I read the passage, I have this unreasonable fear that Fudge will devour all of the crumpets before Harry can even take one; I always want to yell at him to stop talking and start eating!

LM: Well, now I want crumpets. Can you share some of your strongest food memories, pleasant or otherwise?

Lucy: An unpleasant memory is undoubtedly the time I stuck my fork into a chicken kiev and it exploded boiling garlic butter all over me. I must have been about ten at the time, and I remember the exact top I was wearing. Even though it was washed, it forever after smelt of garlic…

A much better memory is from when we were younger, just about old enough to use the oven on our own. We used to sneak Linda McCartney pies from the freezer and cook them in the afternoon while Mum was at work, completely ruining our dinner. She must have noticed that they always went missing, but never said anything. After a few years we lost interest, partly because I’m sure they reduced the salt content… or perhaps it was just the illicit fun of cooking pies unsupervised and wolfing them down in secret.

LM: Do you ever use food to set the scene in your own work?

My new book, Sistersong, set in magical ancient Britain, actually uses a lack of food to set the scene. For example, at Beltane, in May, they celebrate the coming summer by eating the first strawberries, but it quickly becomes apparent that ominous weather will lead to a terrible harvest. In an isolated, tribal community, such as the one where Sistersong is set, the success or failure of the harvest is life or death, bound up with the prosperity of the kingdom. In a time of famine, everyone starves, even the King’s household.

On the other hand, the opening chapter of Starborn takes place inside a busy inn, filled with hot stews and pints of cider and ale, while rain pours down outside. I wanted to juxtapose the inclement weather with a deep sense of familiarity, comfort and security that will all too soon be threatened…

LM: No spoilers!

Lucy: Fine! I will say that inns in fantasy – and the food you find there – are tropes in their own right. Picture The Prancing Pony in The Lord of the Rings. Adventurers come in from the cold and sit by the fire with flagons of ale, a wheel of cheese, a hunk of dark bread and bowls of stew… “Unidentified Stew” is classic fantasy fare, and can range from delicious and savoury to downright disgusting.

LM: Time for some rapid fire questions! First, the eternal choice: chocolate or cheese?

Lucy: Cheese.

Tea or coffee?

Lucy: Aaaaah. Tea. For the varieties.

Potatoes, bread or rice?

Lucy: Bread.

Breakfast or Dinner?

Lucy: Breakfast. Brioche. Croissants. Muesli. Porridge with blueberries. Endless delights.

Favourite drink to relax with?

Lucy: Tough one. I’ll say prosecco or a nice Provence rosé.

LM: If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

Lucy: Probably jambalaya with prawns and frankfurters. Or anything with smoked paprika!

So, there we are – I hope you’re all now suitably hungry. You can check out Lucy’s work at https://lucyhounsom.co.uk/ or follow her on Twitter and Instagram as @silvanhistorian or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/lucyhounsom.

SISTERSONG will be published under the name Lucy Holland by Pan MacMillan in Spring 2021.

If you liked this post be sure to sign up to my newsletter which I send out on the last Friday of every month. Subscribers get first access to new and historic recipes, Q&As like the one above, historical research, offers, events, and original fiction.