I’ve become a stickler for regularity in my food snacks. I have the same things all the time so I don’t have to think, I can just grab and go from the fridge.
My new snack of choice with morning coffee is Vegan Bliss Balls. These are genius. They cleverly combine a nut, an oil such as coconut, a sweetener - rice syrup, honey or maple syrup - and a dried fruit which acts as a glue once you’ve macerated everything in the blender. Sometimes there’s a seed, and often shredded coconut is involved.
What does your characters' choice of food say about them?
While they’re high in fat, they are also high in protein and zero carb. A couple of these with my flat white and I can power through until lunch time.
My new found habit got me thinking about what characters eat, and scrutinising the Kate Atkinson novel I’ve just finished, When Will There Be Good News?
Very quickly it became clear that Atkinson uses food in this novel as an indicator of the character’s state of mind and approach to life.
“Reggie fed the baby a yoghurt, not regular yoghurt but a special organic baby yoghurt, no additives, no sugar, nothing artificial.”
That baby is the offspring of a mother with a very tragic childhood. You can tell, can’t you?
Early in the novel, three family members share a last morning tea of “little cartons of orange juice and a box of chocolate finger biscuits,” just before they are randomly and brutally murdered. The poignancy is in the detail, which is repeated later.
Mrs MacDonald is a retired teacher who has gone slightly potty and joined a rather odd Christian sect. She “had a recipe that made real spaghetti from a packet taste exactly like tinned.” That’s the devout for you. Not always brainy enough to make good use of the Lord’s provisions. Too busy thinking about sinning.
Nut hard police detective Louise is married to a good man, a surgeon, who lost his first wife in a car accident. “Patrick made French toast, served it with creme fraiche, out-of-season raspberries, the Wedgwood plates snowy with icing sugar as if they were in a restaurant. The raspberries had been flown all the way from Mexico.” Patrick is a man making the best of life. Let’s hope Louise comes to her senses and joins him.
She, meanwhile, is grimly pursuing a lead that’s become an obsession, drinking “tan coloured tea that was strong enough to clean drains” in a cafe in Yorkshire. “A slice of fruitcake arrives with a large slab of Wensleydale on it (cheese and cake, what was wrong with these people?)” Kate Atkinson is brilliant at telling you what’s going on with a character through their inner dialogue.
And what of Jackson Brodie, central character, hard bitten ex-forces, “I used to be a policeman”, whose first wife left him for the urbane David Lastingham, whose lover Julia had his child but told him it was another man’s, and whose second wife is actually a con artist who’s about to clear out his bank accounts and disappear? Well Jackson barely eats in this novel. Too busy dealing with existential angst, his own and other people’s. If he does eat, its serviceable fuel, nothing pleasurable. “Jackson buys an Ordnance Survey map, a newspaper, a cheese and pickle roll.”
Later, when he and Reggie come to an impasse in their pursuit of the truth: “Now what?” Jackson said when they finally made their escape. “Fish and chips?” Reggie said hopefully. “I’m starving.” “No one eats in my car,” said Jackson.
Back to those Vegan Bliss Balls. What do they say about me? That I'm bored after 90 minutes at my computer. That I'm middle aged and can no longer eat shortbread biscuits. And that I'd like to lose weight but I'd like a bliss ball more.
Out August 2018
"Compulsive reading for anyone who has ever thought they are not living the life they should!"
River Cottage UK
Apple Island Wife is available in e-book and paperback from August 2018.
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Fiona Stocker is an English author and freelance writer living in Tasmania.