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.

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.

A 1978 Playlist

After several requests, I’m delighted to share the 1978 playlist we put together for the launch party of An Echo of Scandal last week. I’m a firm believer in immersive research, and music is a huge part of that for me. My job is made all the easier when the era in question is filled with such a wealth of great songs from totally different music genres. So, without further ado, let’s hop back in time for a few hours, to a hot, July day in Tangier during the summer of 1978…

If you like hearing about research, do consider signing up to my newsletter, where I share my historical discoveries, food from other eras and exclusive recipes just for subscribers.

The Secrets Between Us: Bibliography

Author’s Note & Bibliography

(This author’s note can also be found at the back of The Secrets Between Us, but I’m posting it here too for ease of sharing links).

The Secrets Between Us is a fictional work inspired by true events that took place in the Alpes-Maritimes during the summer of 1943.

From February to September of that year, the town of Saint-Martin-Vésubie, situated around forty miles from Nice, was designated an “enforced residence” for displaced Jews. Through a combination of sympathy, politics, altruism and the efforts of Jewish Italian banker Angelo Donati, the Italian Fourth Army moved thousands of Jewish refugees into Saint-Martin-Vésubie and the surrounding villages. For one summer, the valley became something of a safe haven, where the Jews were protected from persecution from German and French forces. It offered respite, relief and a degree of security for the refugees, many of who had already been fleeing for years.

With the announcement of the armistice, and Italy’s withdrawal from the war, the refugees’ safety vanished, and they were left with an impossible choice: stay in villages like Saint-Martin and await the German authorities, or take the perilous old salt roads across the mountain passes, into what they believed would be safety in Italy.

Over a thousand refugees made the crossing from Saint-Martin-Vésubie, not knowing that German forces were waiting for them on the other side. Some of those who escaped were aided by résistance members, anti-fascist groups, or French or Italian civilians, who hid the refugees in barns, attics and remote farms, even presenting Jewish children as their own during the round-ups. Many more of refugees were captured and interned at Borgo San Dalmazzo, before being sent to Drancy, and ultimately, Auschwitz.

In The Secrets Between Us, I decided to set the action in a fictional town named Saint-Antoine, rather than in real-life Saint-Martin-Vésubie. I chose to do this because – while I sincerely hope to bring this underreported area of the Second World War to wider attention – I did not want to conflate my work with the reality of what was experienced by those who were present in Saint-Martin-Vésubie.

For many individuals, that summer in the Alpes-Maritimes was just one chapter in a whole series of heart-breaking, remarkable events. The real-life stories of both the Jews and their French and Italian protectors are ones of bravery and suffering, endurance and survival that need no fictional embellishment.

The Secrets Between Us imagines only a tiny portion of what took place during Italian Occupied France. My research spanned everything from salt mines to crayfish catching, songs in Yiddish to first-hand testimonies, but these are the works I turned to the most.

Holocaust Odysseys: The Jews of Saint-Martin-Vésubie and Their Flight through France and Italy, Susan Zuccotti (Yale University Press, 2008)

La pierre de Juifs, Danielle Baudot Laksine (Editions de Bergier) Book one of five on the subject.

A Pause in the Holocaust (1943: Le temps d’un répit), 2009. Documentary directed by André Waksman.

Mussolini’s Army in the French Riviera: Italy’s Occupation of France, Emanuele Sica (University of Illinois Press, 2016).
Wandering Star, J.M.G. Le Clézio (Gallimard, 1992. Translation: C. Dickson, 2009)

Marche de la Memoire, a yearly walk, held every September to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Saint-Martin-Vésubie.

APJN page on Saint-Martin-Vésubie: (Anonymes, Justes et Persécutés durant la période Nazie dans les communes de France – “The Unknown, Righteous and Persecuted of the Nazi period in French communes”)