Saturday 12 September 2020

An Unusual Problem - Inspiration by Vanessa Harbour


I have previously written about the importance of food in children’s fiction in this blog. It can add such depth and bring life to a narrative, giving the reader more clues about the characters and how they live.


When writing about food I have rather an unusual problem. I haven’t eaten properly since 2000 when my body reacted badly to surgery I had for a stomach issue. This meant it’s really difficult for me to swallow food. Those that know me are aware that I syringe special nutrition-based feed through a tube straight into my stomach. It is not an issue because it allows me to lead a relatively normal life and I’ve got very used to it now. However, this means I rarely cook food now and don’t really know the joy of enjoying a meal anymore. Unbelievably, can prove quite a stumbling block when trying to write about food.

My solution? I read recipe books and watch food programmes on TV. The presenters whether chefs or cooks are always passionate consequently their language is often rich and evocative. Watching the likes of James Martin (my daughter used to work for him) or Mary Berry, as she wanders around Paris waxing lyrical about food, or Nadiyah Hussain describing her joy in food, to name just a few, is really inspirational. It means I am not using the same food over and over again and can challenge my characters to eat diverse things. I loved food and was a real foodie before the op, so this is also escapism for me too, but I do like to introduce at least two rich food scenes in a manuscript.

I confess I do this for settings too! Great to watch house programmes. I also though tend to follow accounts on Instagram that are doing up houses as the ‘before’  pictures can be particularly inspirational. The other thing is to look at estate agents websites. I did this recently for a manuscript that was set in a certain place and it gave me a good sense of what sort of houses were in the area and what they might look like inside. The pictures can stimulate your imagination as you create the houses where your characters might live or visit.

I know people will say that Pinterest is great for this, which it is, but I find I just end up down a rabbit hole trying to find what I want. It is not something I use so much these days.


I apologise this post is short and sweet, but life is a bit full-on as I prepare to start lecturing again. I hope you enjoy finding inspiration for your food and settings in the meantime.


Dr Vanessa Harbour



Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this, Vanessa - so many roads writers travel to find what their books need!

Ness Harbour said...

Thank you.

I know, but it is what I love about writing. I love doing research. There is nothing better than finding that little nugget of information that will just lift the narrative to the next level.

Nick Garlick said...

I find research REALLY hard; I just can never concentrate. That said, looking at pictures as you suggest DOES help and it's good to be reminded of this. I should use pictures more often.

Ness Harbour said...

Pictures make it so much easier Nick. I am very visual when I write, the story plays like a film in my head, so I find images are great for drawing on. You might see something tucked right in the corner of the picture that might trigger an idea.

Penny Dolan said...

So interesting, and a good way of keeping the pleasures (and otherwise) of food there in your vocabulary and writing.

Ness Harbour said...

SO true Penny, it is the realisation that there are fads and fashions in food meaning there is the potential to sound outdated