We are in for a guilt-free treat! Josephine Moon is the Queensland author of two thoroughly delectable works of ‘foodie fiction’. I described her latest release, ‘The Chocolate Promise’, as the literary equivalent of a nourishing, heart-warming cup of tea – which, funnily enough, was the focus of her first novel, ‘The Tea Chest.’
In this interview, Josephine talks to Book Birdy about her literary influences, her writing practices, and the origins of her ‘food as medicine’ ethos.
Q: I suspect about 95% of the world loves chocolate, but few of us have thought to write about it. What gave you the idea?
When I got to the end of writing The Tea Chest, I naturally began to wonder what food I would write about next. So of course I thought ‘chocolate’ because… why wouldn’t you?! Just think of the research!
Q: You describe your work as ‘foodie fiction’, and you seem to believe quite strongly in the idea of ‘food as medicine’. Where does that ethos come from?
Good question. I think it comes right from childhood, actually. I was born with a severe milk intolerance and really struggled to thrive in my first year of life and was even hospitalised and force fed. My mother was very ‘onto’ this whole food allergy and intolerance thing right from the start and my grandmother ended up getting goats and milking them by hand and we would drive to her house every weekend for years to collect raw goat milk straight from her nannies. And as I got older, I developed an autoimmune condition and with that comes multiplying food intolerance. I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant back in 1991 and way back then hardly anyone had even heard of gluten. You couldn’t buy anything ‘gluten free’ and it certainly wasn’t considered on menus, so I had to learn to make food from scratch quite early on. Back then, it was a chore, and embarrassing, and a resentful thing to do. But now, I just LOVE food! I love that ‘special’ food has become so exciting and nutritious. I love being able to nurture my body with amazing food. I’m highly conscious of how food makes me feel every day, and not just the food that might not agree with me, but how I can get the maximum out of food at every meal.
Q: Christmas Livingstone is such a lovely ‘heroine’ in ‘The Chocolate Promise’. How do you walk the line between creating characters who are ‘likeable’ but not sickly sweet?
Honestly, I don’t think about it much in the first draft. At that point I’m just racing to get the story down and the characters’ words down as I hear them. In later drafts, it’s really important to get excellent feedback from readers about how my characters are coming across. I know the character really well, so I know what’s in their heart, but if the actual demonstrative words don’t end up on the page then I have to go back in and make sure the reader is seeing and hearing what I know.
Q: Tell me about the research for ‘The Chocolate Promise’. I have visions of you eating boxes and boxes of chocolate, then flying off to France. Is this accurate??
The boxes and boxes of chocolate is definitely accurate. Seriously, I put on a lot of weight while writing this book. I now own a cross-trainer!
Sadly, though I had plans to go to Provence, that aspect of the research didn’t pan out. But I have a good friend who is married to a man from Provence and they helped me a lot.
Q: Who are your literary influences?
In terms of their style, Monica McInerney, Liane Moriarty and James Herriot have always been a big influence on me as a reader and as a writer.
Q: Can you tell me about your writing process?
I have a two-year-old so a lot of my time is dictated by him. But I have three days a week that are dedicated writing days and that means I have to show up at the page/keyboard whether I like it or not. Outside those times, I do whatever I can do whenever I can and I’m grateful for whatever I get.
I don’t like to leave a ‘session’ before I’ve hit 1000 words, though. Sometimes I can do that in an hour, other times a whole day. And as for drafts, some drafts are harder than others and each book has been different.
Q: I understand you wrote a number of manuscripts before landing your first publishing deal. What was different about ‘The Tea Chest’? And what role did Monica McInerney play in the process?
The Tea Chest is the first book I wrote that truly defined me as a writer and the type of writer I want to be and the type of story I can tell. It was also the most commercially viable thing I had written as far as a publisher was concerned (and a publisher won’t take on your book unless they know they can make money from it), in as much as it fits neatly under the umbrella of ‘contemporary women’s fiction’. Unconsciously, I also set myself up to continue to write about food and thereby brand myself as a foodie fiction writer, something that I’m thrilled to have stumbled upon.
Monica read a partial of my manuscript and sent it to her agent, who signed me up as well and sold the book quite quickly.
Q: Now, you’ve written about tea and chocolate, so coffee has to be next, right?
Well… It was going to be about coffee and I had done heaps of research about it and tried to map out a master plot line but it just wasn’t coming together for me. Ultimately, although I was really intellectually interested in coffee (particularly its history) I’m not passionate about it; and unless you have real fire in your belly for the subject you’re writing about it just won’t be your best work. So I let it go and turned to where I was finding real passion. But it’s just a touch too early to share what that is just yet 😉
Thank you for having me along!