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.
LM: Happy publication day, Rachel! Readers may know you from your previous novels, The Many Colours of Us or The Things We Need to Say. Both of your upcoming books, including The Tearoom on the Bay take place in atmospheric seaside locations. Are they a departure for you in style as well as setting?
RB: In 2018 I spent a lot of time on the south coast due to my husband’s job. I’d never really spent a lot of time by the sea other than when I was on holiday and I really noticed what a meditative experience watching the sea can be, as though the sheer enormity of the ocean makes you realise how short your life can be and I knew then that I wanted to write a book set on the coast. The Tearoom on the Bay is set in the fictional Yorkshire coastal town of Sanderson Bay and while I didn’t deliberately change direction when it came to the style of my writing I did find that by setting a book on the coast a lighter style emerged even though the book deals with difficult themes. I think writing evolves over time as we evolve both personally and as writers and being by the sea and setting a book by the sea definitely saw me make some changes!
LM: There’s a strong thread of memory, family and stories passed down through the generations in almost all of your work. Is this reflected in The Tearoom on the Bay in the form of recipes?
RB: Ellie, our protagonist and owner of the eponymous tearoom, has been inventing recipes for different teas and tisanes since she was a teenager and grew her own herb garden. She dried the herbs and started experimenting with teas – lavender and valerian for insomnia, camomile and rose petals for anxiety, ginger and peppermint for nausea. She grew up in a cafe and her memories are all intertwined with tea. She also believes everybody has a tea that is “theirs” – the pub landlord for example who Ellie is in constant but friendly competition, is gunpowder tea, and Ben, who claims to be a hardened coffee drinker, is Russian Caravan. There is also a recipe in the book for vegan black bean brownies (this is a recipe that readers of my previous books will already be familiar with and now they can finally make them!)
LM: Do you have any particularly strong food memories that you find yourself re-creating in fiction?
RB: My favourite meal has always been afternoon tea – I’ve always loved home baked sweet treats – and there have definitely been a lot of scenes in my books that revolve around tea and cake. I also find that I often write scenes set in restaurants and cafes; I’m much more of a “dining out” person when it comes to socialising.
LM: What was your favourite part of conjuring Ellie’s cafe in The Tearoom on the Bay?
RB: I loved imagining what it would look like, how it would be decorated and thinking about all the care and attention Ellie would have put in to the small details to get her tearoom just so – the shelves with the boxes of loose leaf tea for example, and the way that none of the cups and saucers match and have all been picked up from shops and markets across the world. I also loved inventing the different herbal tea mixtures too!
Coffee or tea?
Tea of course!
Chocolate or cheese?
Breakfast or dinner?
Favourite beverage to relax with?
Earl Grey tea or a gin and tonic, depending on the time of day.
If you cook what’s your favourite thing to make?
Scones. (I told you afternoon tea was my favourite meal!)
LM: Can you tell us a little more about what you’re working on now?
RB: I’ve just finished the edits for my next book, The Summer Island Festival, which is out in March. It’s also set by the sea – this time on the Isle of Wight – around a music festival and the desperate search for a missing rock legend! There are a lot of chocolate croissants in this book too I’ve just realised! I’m also finishing up the first draft of my summer 2022 release but I can’t tell you very much about that just yet.
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