When Books and Food Collide

Hi everyone! Today I’ve got something very exciting to share with you… I had the chance to interview Elizabeth Murray, the author of Caramel Hearts! I absolutely adored her novel and I Ioved having the chance to ask her a few questions, most of which are about food as it plays such a major role in her latest novel.

If you haven’t read Caramel Hearts yet, here’s a little synopsis so you’ll know what we’re talking about:

Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into their mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship.

One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation — but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles in the way.

Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.

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“Never give up. Keep chasing words, be true to your story, put in the hours, and you’ll get there.”

Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for agreeing to let me ask you a few questions in celebration of your latest novel, Caramel Hearts. I absolutely adore your gorgeous, touching book and I can’t wait to see what you’ll bring to us next!

Today, my questions mainly revolve around food as it plays a major role in your latest novel. I can’t wait to see what your responses are!

Let’s begin.

Caramel Hearts book

If your book were a type of food, what food would it be? 

Ooh, can it be a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Several layers, some bitter, some sweet.

Of course it can! To be honest, I’ve never actually had a peanut butter and jam sandwich! I prefer Vegemite. But I do think a peanut butter and jam sandwich represents Caramel Hearts. Speaking of books and food, have you read many other YA novels where food or cooking plays a major role? Do you think that food should play more of a role in novels?

I think food is treated badly these days; we need it to live and yet the media is all about denial and restraint. What we put in our bodies is so important, as is the way that we use our body’s fuel – but I don’t think we receive decent information about how we balance the two in a natural, healthy way. There is a basic skewed belief in developed countries that skinny is good, not skinny is bad – it doesn’t matter what else you achieve, this will always be commented on.

Eating shouldn’t be seen as a Bad Thing and yet, I don’t know a single woman that hasn’t agonized at some point over a portion of cake at lunch time or choosing sugary over diet coke. I would love to see relationships with food discussed more positively in some young adult fiction; but that’s not to say that eating disorders should be overlooked, I’d simply like to see more of a balance.

I don’t know of any YA books where cooking plays a major role (please do let me know if you have any recommendations!!) but there are some excellent novels about eating disorders and characters that aren’t the typical skinny role model. Three of my personal favourites are; Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, which handles body image beautifully with all the feels; Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, a smart and gripping look at how futuristic society values women; and Nothing Tastes As Good by Claire Hennessey, which has a snarky anorexic ghost that you might not love, but you’ll never forget.

You raise some really interesting points and I completely agree with you. While I think the media is improving in that it’s beginning to understand the effect of body-shaming and many TV shows and programs attempt to represent people of all body types, we still have a long way to go before body-shaming is eliminated.

Hmm, I don’t think I’ve read any other YA books where cooking plays a major role either! But as you said, there are definitely some really great novels about eating disorders and, on the other hand, body positivity. I’m absolutely adore Eleanor and Park! I haven’t heard of Only Ever Yours (but I think I’ll have to look it up now) and Nothing Tastes As Good is one that I’ve heard such amazing things about and I’m planning on picking up soon. Some of my other favourites include Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and Paperweight by Meg Haston. 

If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Turkish Delight – it’s not technically a dessert, but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and this is my favourite.

Turkish Delights are delicious! Good choice. Do you like to snack while reading and writing? If so, what do you snack on?

I’m one of those people that, when reading or writing, gets so immersed, I forget about everything else. So if I have snacks nearby, most go stale by the time I remember to eat them. So good snacks for me that survive the long periods of concentration are olives, jellybeans or blueberries.

I guess it’s a good thing that you get so immersed! And I can’t eat and read or write at the same time because I hate the leftover residue of food on my fingertips getting all over my things!

As Caramel Hearts is based on real recipes, where did these recipes come from? Were they from a beloved cookbook? Was your family into cooking? Did you learn to cook when you were younger?

I made up all the recipes; I researched recipes that would be localized and also available at the time Liv’s mum would have been baking, and then I read a variety of recipes and created my own versions. I baked them to test them out, and – seeing as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth – I tested them on lots of willing victims, and altered the recipe until people felt it was just right.

My family wasn’t into cooking, and lots of what we ate was tinned or dried. But I was always interested in food; I wanted to do Home Economics at school but couldn’t afford the ingredients. Luckily, we lived in a multi-cultural area growing up and I got to taste lots of ethnic food (particularly Indian) – I’ll never forget those explosions of flavour. They made me realise food could be exciting.

For me, one of the best things about being an adult and earning a wage is the ability to buy fresh ingredients to cook with! These days, I even grow my own vegetables and catch my own fish. I love mixing together herbs and spices and creating something marvelously mouth watering. You can’t beat home cooked food.

That’s such an interesting process – it sounds like it would have taken a while though! And it’s so cool that you’re able to grow your own vegetables and catch your own fish. I think I’ll have to invite myself over for dinner at your house one night! 

Speaking of home cooked food, how did you decide what recipes to revolve the story around? Are they favourites of yours? Have you had experience cooking these foods before?

The recipes had to fit the story and the mood, as well as the emotions of the characters. It took a long time to get the recipes in their correct place, as some would fit in multiple spots; it was all about where they had the most impact, where they fused best with the story.

Are you on team cake or team pie?

Team (savoury) pie, but I usually only eat the filling. My favourite is spinach pie without any pastry from Gibraltar – but I have never tasted key lime pie and I have built it up to mythical proportions and imagine it to be one of the most delicious things in existence (I haven’t even seen one – it just sounds magical).

That does sound magical! I think I’ll have to hunt one down and give it a go! 

If you had the chance to rewrite a popular book or series in the style of Caramel Hearts — by including recipes — what book or series would you choose and what kind of recipes would you include?

Ooh, great question – how about Wuthering Heights? The recipes would be good old Yorkshire fayre, to combat the cold and all that wandering around the moors – roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, hearty stews and broths, corned beef hash (called ‘panaculty’ where I grew up), rhubarb crumble and custard, bread and butter pudding.  Hearty, heart-warming stuff (with an extra helping for Heathcliffe, of course!).

That’s such a good choice! I’m actually salivating right now; all those things sound delicious! I’m particularly fond of Yorkshire pudding – it reminds me of Sunday afternoons at my grandparents’ house, eating Yorkshire pudding with our roast for lunch and playing Uno on the table afterwards.

What’s your first food memory?

It’s actually a food nightmare! I was staying at someone house and sneaked downstairs for a secret midnight snack. In the fridge, I found a bowl of strawberry flavoured Angel Delight, so I took a huge spoonful of it and… it turned out to be taramasalata (for those of you not familiar with this, it’s made out of fish eggs and mayonnaise – not quite what I was expecting)! I still can’t eat taramasalata to this day.

Oh my gosh, that is a nightmare! I can’t think of anything worse!

Now for a particular fun one. Can you give us an idea of your writing process by writing it in the format of a brief recipe for all us aspiring authors to learn from?

My writing process used to be: up at 6am and write before the rest of the world wakes up. But since I moved to the countryside, this has changed – particularly in the winter when it is dark and freezing cold until 8.30am. Writing should never feel like a chore! Also, I’m onto my fourth book in 20 months so I’m tired, and those 6 am starts are becoming unbearable, so I’m currently experimenting with new ways of working.

I find the outdoors and exercise energizing, so at the minute I’m spending the morning walking the dog, swimming and going to the gym, with a 12 noon start and working later into the night; but it’s to early to tell whether it’s working or not. The one thing I always make sure, however, is to give my best, most alert part of the day to writing. Freelancing, emails, social media, book promotion etc comes afterwards.

As for the recipe:

How to Write – By E.R. Murray

Forget the internet, your troubles and what’s going on outside your window – switch off from everything, find a quiet corner and take a deep breath…

Ingredients

  • Faith
  • Lashings of determination
  • Oodles of open mind
  • Skin like a rhino
  • Time
  • An open heart
  • A pinch of courage

Apparatus:

  • A sharp knife!

How to Make the Magic Happen

1. Take a big dollop of faith and add lashings of determination. Start writing, even if you feel afraid or doubtful or nervous, and let the words flow. Add those words with an open mind, and prepare for the unexpected!

2. Next, begin to mix those words over plenty of time, until they begin to gel and the magic of story starts to happen. Then, reach for that sharp knife and cut, cut, cut!

3. Add more words and repeat until golden. Sprinkle on some more faith (you’re going to need it).

When the consistency starts to look just right, let your words rest for at least a few weeks before you reread.

4. When you’re certain your story is ready, add a pinch of courage and send it out into the world – even if you feel afraid or doubtful or nervous. A skin like a rhino will form as the rejections come pouring in – but remember, it’s all part of the learning process.

5. Never give up. Keep chasing words, be true to your story, put in the hours, and you’ll get there.

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Well, that’s all my questions! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these and connect with so many other bloggers in similar Q&As. I’ve loved reading all the posts about Caramel Hearts and I’m so pleased this beautiful book is getting all the love it deserves!

I’d also like to thank Bloomsbury Australia for providing me with a copy of Caramel Hearts and giving me the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Murray. You guys are the best!

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