Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Prue Leith, CBE, has had a successful career in journalism, food writing, the restaurant business and education, having run her own catering company, cookery school, and restaurant company employing 500 people. She has also sat on numerous company boards and charities.
When she turned 50, she sold her business and gave up food writing to concentrate on fiction. Since then she has published five novels (with another on the way), and an autobiography, Relish, published by Quercus.
She is the widow of the writer Rayne Kruger and has two grown up children, Li-Da, an adoptee from Cambodia, and Daniel, who has three children with his wife, Emma.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I went to the Arvon course on novel-writing for four days with the first three chapters of my first novel, Leaving Patrick. My tutors were wonderfully helpful and encouraging.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest novel is the first of the Food of Love Trilogy, a family saga starting WW2 and ending today, with the development of food and cooking in the UK as the background—from rationing to Heston Blumenthal, really. But like all my books, they will be love stories.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I write anywhere, even in the ladies’ if stuck at a boring party. Preferred space is my kitchen.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
No such thing as typical. I write on planes, trains, the back of taxis for snatched minutes or at my desk or table for hours. When deadlines loom, I get up before the day begins, sometimes as early as 4 am.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I start with the backstory for the lead characters and their physical characteristics so they don’t end up with blue eyes in one chapter and brown in the next. Then I write a chapter by chapter synopsis and then try—and generally fail—to stick to it.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
No idea. Pat Kavanagh, the famous agent (now sadly dead) once said, “Why do you writers do it? First all you want is to finish the book, then all you want is to get it published, then it has to be a bestseller, then a film!” It’s not even the money. I’ve done well enough in my business life to not do it at all. Must be ambition. Or egotism. Who knows?
I’ve always written something—poems as a child, a play at university, business reports and speeches, stories for my children when they were little, and endless cookbooks. I think writing is a kind of disease. Either you are afflicted with it, in which case you have to do it, or you are free of it. I think I keep going in the hope of a giant bestseller or a long-running TV series or a block-buster movie. Well, one can dream…
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Stories in the papers, friends’ real life adventures, imagination. Very occasionally, a dream.
Novels are usually triggered by a tiny thing: seeing a woman weeping and wondering why? Seeing a child shouted at in a supermarket, hearing of a diplomat being made to return a gift from an Arab potentate, touring a crumbling house and thinking of its previous occupants. Anything at all.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A WRITER?
Getting the timeline (dates, events, ages of the characters, historical accuracy) right. With a Trilogy of novels, keeping the time line correct over 75 years and three generations is a nightmare.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
On a personal level, I want to write well, and keep writing better. I’d dearly like to be thought of first as a novelist and then as a cook/businesswoman. Sadly, I don’t think that will happen.
My vision for the industry is for publishers to stop yearning for a replica of last year’s bestseller. I’m told there is now a company that sells publishers info about what the most popular names are for romantic characters, what the best-selling backgrounds and nationalities are, etc etc. That way all originality and new writing will just die. Everything will be a cross between Downton Abbey and Fifty Shades.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR/S WOULD YOU LOVE TO HEAR MORE FROM?
Hilary Mantel—it’s a long time between books (understandably because they are huge)
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR/S WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Jojo Moyes, who is funny and a terrific writer, not to be dismissed as “chick-lit”
Thank you, Prue Leith!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Colin Thomas
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