An Interview with Prue Leith, Author of The Prodigal Daughter

Prodigal daughter

I can’t begin to explain how excited I am to welcome Prue Leith to Linda’s Book Bag today to celebrate the paperback publication of The Prodigal Daughter. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed several of Prue’s books and am thrilled to be able to interview her today in celebration of the paperback release of The Prodigal Daughter.

The Prodigal Daughter is published by Quercus on 18th May 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.

The Prodigal Daughter

Prodigal daughter

It is 1968. Angelica Angelotti has grown up in the Italian food business started by her English mother and Italian father. Now she is using her cooking talent to strike out on her own, moving to Paris to go to culinary school. There, among the excitement and wild emotion of the student barricades, she falls in love with her charismatic but unreliable cousin Mario – a manic depressive ten years older than her whom her mother had sacked from their restaurant.

Navigating a blossoming career, from the Savoy hotel pastry kitchen to the world of food writing and presenting, alongside an increasingly toxic relationship, eventually proves impossible. Angelica has to leave Mario, and makes the decision to move back to the family home in Gloucestershire to help her other cousin Silvano with a new branch of the family business – reopening the local pub, the Frampton Arms, as a restaurant. As they get to know each other better, Angelica realises her mistake: she chose the wrong brother.

But when Mario reappears, determined to win her back, and as other jealous relatives plot the downfall of the Frampton Arms, will Angelica be able to hold on to her business and the man she’s come to love?

An Interview with Prue Leith

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Prue. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. I think you need no introduction but could you tell us a little about yourself? 

I’ve had a great life: happy childhood in South Africa, great career in restaurants and cooking and business; success as first a food writer and journalist and then as a novelist; happy marriage to a writer, Rayne Kruger, until his death in 2002. Two children, both happy and successful (one adopted from Cambodia) second marriage last year to John Playfair. We have five grandchildren between us and a lovely house in the Cotswolds.  So ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO COMPLAIN OF. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about your latest novel The Prodigal Daughter?

The Food of Love

It’s the second book in the Food of Love Trilogy, which follows the lives and loves of three generations of the same family from the war until now. The background to all three books is the change in food and farming from rationing and austerity to Heston Blumenthall and telly chef fame via Nouvelle Cuisine and much else, but the main focus of the books is the relationships and love life of the heroine. The Prodigal Daughter covers the sixties and seventies and is the story of Angelica, daughter of two restaurateurs. She learns to cook and falls in love in Paris, becomes a top baker at the Savoy and the first woman in the kitchens, and being feisty and emotional, her private life is as much a roller coaster as her career.

The hardback cover to The Prodigal Daughter has a cover that suggests a doorway to self-knowledge to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)  

prodigal daughter 1

To be honest, I had little to do with the cover and the paperback of The Prodigal Daughter is completely different. I thought the hardback cover, with the flowers and the archway, a bit too girly, and much prefer the new paperback one. Have a look on Amazon.  (Put in The Prodigal Daughter Prue Leith or you will get pages and pages of The Gilmore Girls TV)

You’ve obviously always written, with your cookery books and newspaper and magazine work, but how difficult was it to make the transition into being a novelist too?

It was easier because I already had an agent so she could hardly refuse to take on my novel, though of course she’d have preferred me to go on writing cookbooks. And the experience of journalism was useful. I knew I could handle the words, but I worried about the plot and had to get a lot of help from first The Arvon Foundations on whose excellent four-day novel writing  course I went on, and also TLC (The Literary Consultancy)  who edited my first book. And then Penguin bought it.

What skills from cooking have you found to be transferable to writing?

None except the need to meet a deadline. You can’t tell a customer the wedding cake will be a few days late.

(Oh – good point!)

To what extent do you think the travels in your early life have affected the settings in your novels?

I’m lazy and short of time so I always write about places I know and situations I know. Hence the Cotswolds, South Africa, places I’ve visited, and most of the novels are set in the food or business world. One was about a gardener, gardening being my other great interest.

The Gardener

(I know that book, The Gardener, well Prue. I really enjoyed it in the days before I began blogging otherwise it would be here on the blog!)

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

Google, like everyone else!

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Anything to do with food flows with ease. I’m not good at the interior monologue bit, where I need to get into my character’s head and ponder. I’d much rather get on with the action.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I write anywhere and everywhere, mostly at the kitchen table.  As the deadline approaches I get up earlier and earlier. I can edit in the afternoon, but not write anything creative.

The Prodigal Daughter is the second in your Food of Love trilogy. How have you managed the planning for this series?

I plan my books in advance, chapter by chapter, but then don’t always stick to the plan. I had wanted to cover the development of food since the war for ages and would have written the trilogy before but my publishers were dead keen on my doing a memoir (called Relish) so I did that first.

relish

I write on a Mac Air, and happily I can write anywhere: train, plane, back of a taxi. I often write in the waiting gaps in the studio when filming.  If I’m at a seriously boring cocktail party I will write in the ladies’ loo. When I wrote Leaving Patrick, which starts in India, I used photos of a recent holiday to remind me of the markets, street life, palaces etc. I keep files on my laptop on all my characters so I know their back-stories and also what they look like. My P.A Francisca is brilliant at noticing when someone’s eyes were green in chapter one and are brown in chapter eleven.

leaving Patrick

The Prodigal Daughter‘s protagonist is called Angelica. Was this a deliberate link to your life in food?

No, I just like the name. And I like Italians for their love of food and music and family. I’d rather belong to the Angelottis than the English Oliver’s.

Most of the female characters are, at least in part, a reflection of me. Especially Angelica, whose career more or less echoes mine.

They feature food, they also have many other creative elements such as singing and gardening.

How important is such creativity as singing and gardening in your own life? 

I cannot sing a note, so the character Joanna in The Choral Society is like me in longing to sing, being unable to, and being a businesswoman. I’ve never been a gardener like Lotte in The Gardener, but I love gardening and the garden in the book is like mine, only ten times larger: where I have a pond, they have a lake, where I have a paddock they have a park, where I have a few roses, they have the National Collection, etc.

choral society

(As someone who can’t sing a note in tune, I remember being so sympathetic towards Joanna when she pretended to sing. I loved this book too Prue!)

Lots of your books feature inappropriate relationships. To what extent is this the voice of experience?

I guess they must be, but I have never thought of it. Most tangled love stories involve some “inappropriate” passions, don’t you think?

(I do indeed – but I can’t possibly say more!)

I know you write poetry. What is the stimulus for this form of writing?

I don’t write much poetry and I’m not very good at it. I never publish any of it. When I fell in love with a pianist I did, for some reason. He set a cycle of my poems to music, which was pretty romantic. But poetry requires a lot of thinking/dreaming time, and I am generally too impatient for that. I find just getting on with the story easier.

You’re recently married. Are we likely to see a version of John in a future Prue Leith novel? 

Probably, poor chap! But he is amazingly tolerant and easy going so I don’t suppose he’d mind. He’s lovely anyway, so he’s unlikely to be upset.

If you could choose to be a character from The Prodigal Daughter, who would you be and why?

Angelica of course

I know your Food of Love trilogy has been optioned for a TV series. Who would you like to play Angelica and why would you choose them?  

Vanessa Kirby, The girl who plays Princes Margaret in The Crown.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

Anything, currently, belatedly, reading Bill Bryson’s History of Everything, also Bee Wilson’s book on how we eat, Consider the Fork

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Prodigal Daughter should be their next read, what would you say? 

A tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, set in Paris, London and the Cotswolds. What’s not to like?

Thank you so much, Prue, for your time in answering my questions.

About Prue Leith

Prue

As a cook, restaurateur, food writer and business woman, Prue Leith has played a key role in the revolution of Britain’s eating habits since the 1960s, and was recently announced as one of the judges on Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off. With twelve cookery books under her belt, Prue gave up writing about food to concentrate on fiction. She has written five contemporary novels and a memoir, RelishThe Prodigal Daughter is the second novel in a trilogy that began with The Food of Love. All Prue’s books are in print with Quercus. She lives in Oxfordshire.

You can follow Prue on Twitter and find out all about her on her website.

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