Published by Headline Review
Ebook & Paperback | 13 July 2017
This book really does look gorgeous and I must thank Millie Seaward of Headline for including me on the blog tour and for the review copy which I will be reading and reviewing soon. For my turn on the tour, I have the most mouth-watering guest post for you. Enjoy!
The Food of My Novel
by Emylia Hall
‘To know how to eat is to know how to live,’ said French culinary legend Auguste Escoffier. While working on The Thousand Lights Hotel I couldn’t help feeling that to know how to eat was to know how to write. With main characters of a chef, an hotelier, and a travel writer raised on passionate home cooking, food was always going to be a major part of the novel. That it also became a significant part of my writing process was down to a desire to experience the world I was creating, as well as, in all honesty, my personal gluttony and capacity for procrastination. For this is a novel raised on wedges of Torta della nonna and oozing Burrata and voluminous bowls of pasta. Marinated artichokes forked straight from the jar. Sweet and soft almond biscuits, warm from the oven, and served with the strongest coffee. It was, by far, my tastiest novel to write.
On days when the words weren’t flowing I found solace in cookery books; downed tools and made a duck ragu, or prepared a salad of mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, and peaches, twists of prosciutto and scatterings of mint. I reveled in the words of others; the rich, exuberant, writing of Marlena de Blasi in A Thousand Days in Tuscany, and Tamasin Day-Lewis’s wonderfully celebratory Where Shall We Go For Dinner? I savoured the introductions and notes and preambles of recipe books, Nigella Lawson’s warm and ebullient prose, Nigel Slater’s crisp, glorious descriptions. I turned to the classics, Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy, and Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. My collection of Italian recipe books grew and grew as I added the beautifully designed Phaidon tomes The Silver Spoon, Tuscany, and Recipes From an Italian Summer, and Emiko Davies’ gorgeous Florentine. At two, my little son – a fellow food lover – was calling them ‘Yummy Books’, and we’d pore over them together, me getting in some sly research while seemingly on motherly duty. While The Thousand Lights Hotel was still little more than scribbles in a notepad I could, in this way, feel like I was doing something constructive towards its development. I read, cooked, and ate; and I could never get enough.
Cooking is never just cooking. To me, it’s conjuring a sense of place, and travelling from your kitchen. It’s looking after people, and making them happy through small gestures; and it’s doing the same for yourself, a delectable dinner for one. It’s a creative process, a journey of discovery – if I add this ingredient to this, what will it become? I grew up in a home where the kitchen was the heart, with a mum who rarely took off her pinny, and if I look back through my teenage diaries there are more details of the meals I ate than the boys I kissed. I once worked for a winter season as a chef (well, a cook, really, I wasn’t expertly trained) in a chalet in the French Alps, and it turned what had always been a pleasure into an even more enjoyable sense of duty. I liked being the one in the apron, responsible for dinner. I liked feeling part of a social gathering, but one step removed. Even now, with my little family, I feel most at home in the kitchen. I feel useful, there: employed. And creative, even when all I’m doing is chopping onions, oil heating in a pan behind me. For the most part I’ve lived in houses and flats with small kitchens, and while I might bemoan the lack of surfaces, I’ve always enjoyed the sense of cocoon. For me, cooking has always been a happily solitary activity. Now my son loves getting involved, and I encourage it – I adore tying the strings of his little apron, equipping him with a wooden spoon – but in the main, I prefer not to chat as I’m slicing and dicing. I like being lost in my own thoughts, and, although I consider myself fairly deft, I want to concentrate on what I’m doing. Music playing. Surrounded by pleasing paraphernalia – an apple green coffee pot, turquoise painted bowls, postcards from travels, and more aprons than anybody ever needs hanging from a hook.
When I went to Elba for a research trip, I ate my way around the island. Highlights were the pistachio ice cream from a family-run gelateria, its delicate flavour unexpected after the deep green colour. Tagliatelle with scallops and almonds, enjoyed overlooking the water, a dish that tasted so unctuous yet included no cream. Clam linguini, my old favourite, whipping the pasta around my fork at speed, considering how pretty a necklace the shells might make, as all the while my mouth fizzed with garlic and parsley and white wine. In my hotel I was something of an oddity as a solo diner – it was a holiday spot, there were no business travelers – and I rather enjoyed the speculative looks I drew at dinner. When asked, I said I was a writer, but I didn’t offer more. If they imagined me a hard-nosed restaurant critic would I get a bigger slice of pie? An extra fistful of prawns? I returned home full of Italian food, and full of inspiration.
In The Thousand Lights Hotel, food is far more than just what’s served at mealtimes. It’s a unifier; of people, and conflicted selves. It’s how some characters have found their purpose in life. For others it’s how they communicate, express generosity. It’s a link to the past, a pleasure in the present, and a hope for the future. It’s Valentino offering a salad of sunflower petals, a dish delicate and beautiful, to a treasured guest: assuming nothing, wanting only to please. It’s Oliviero, full of anticipation and desire, hurrying across the sun-scorched lawn carrying a bowl of ice-cold lemon granita for a wounded person. It’s Kit, standing on her balcony, eating a slice of Torta della nonna, not knowing if she’s coming or going, only that this taste is achingly familiar, and – despite everything – delicious. It’s food as kindness and bounty and connection. Altogether, it’s food as love.
About the book:
THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL is the gorgeous new novel from Emylia Hall, author of Richard & Judy Summer Pick THE BOOK OF SUMMERS. Set in idyllic Italy, it’s the perfect holiday read, for fans of Louise Douglas and Hannah Richell.
When Kit loses her mother in tragic circumstances, she feels drawn to finally connect with the father she has never met. That search brings her to the Thousand Lights Hotel, the perfect holiday escape perched upon a cliff on the island of Elba. Within this idyllic setting a devastating truth is brought to light: shaking the foundations upon which the hotel is built, and shattering the lives of the people within it.
A heartbreaking story of loss, betrayal, and redemption, told with all the warmth and beauty of an Italian summer.
About the author:
Emylia was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying English and Related Literature at the universities of York and Lausanne, she spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, the comic-book writer and children’s author, Robin Etherington. Her first novel, The Book of Summers, was a Richard & Judy Bookclub pick in 2012.