As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, we had David Bumpus from the Lunch Ticket Magazine answering questions last week. Today I’m pleased to welcome Elaine Chiew, award-winning author, and editor of the Cooked Up anthology.
This anthology includes stories from names like Ben Okri and Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, and is an absolutely delightful read, because it is all about Food, Food, and more Food. Food is one of my favorite topics– one of my pleasures in reading a book is finding the description of (an often unfamiliar, and sometimes only too familiar) food or a meal, and to languish in the deliciousness of it.
Feel free to leave your questions for Elaine in the comments section, and she might stop by to answer them.
1. Tell us about your writing journey. When and how did you start writing fiction?
In 2005, I began writing after I had my first child, probably due to an avalanche of maternal hormones (After years in the investment banking industry which sapped me of fellow feeling or the ability to feel anything, this rush was unexpectedly welcome).
2. What aspect of writing a short story do you find tough, and which one do you find easy? Why?
Each aspect is an element in an organic whole, and thus, I find it depends on each story. In some stories, the voice comes immediately (Leng Lui for Pretty Lady) so it felt deceptively easy. In others, the ending takes awhile to come around (one that feels true to the story and its characters, what’s called “earned” — e.g. Run of the Molars.
3. What tips would you give unpublished writers who are trying to get their first story published?
Try online litmags but read them first (widely and frequently). Support the community.
4. Name any 5 short stories that are your absolute favorite.
This switches around, because when you reread at different points in your life, different things speak to you. If I were to teach a short story course though, I’d always include:
a. Lorrie Moore’s. People Like That Are The Only People Here.
b. Alice Munro’s Floating Bridge
c. Haruki Murakami’s The Ice Man
d. Raymond Carver’s A Small, Good Thing.
e. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
5. Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What’s your recommended cure?
Two tried and true methods:
1. Work on something new. But make sure you come back to yr block.
2. Walk. Make tea. Cook. The mind does not stop working just because the fingers stop typing.
6. Tell us more about the anthology you edited: Cooked Up. Is there a target audience? Why do food and fiction mesh so well together?
Cooked Up is for anyone who loves food and anyone who loves short stories. People open up whenever there is talk about food. Food especially enhances story-telling. Food is so ever and omni-present in our lives, as is story-telling. We eat to live, but likewise, we tell stories in order not just to make sense of our world, but also to live. We aren’t properly human unless we tell stories, from early cave-dwellers onwards. No surprise either that a lot of people’s earliest memories are of food and of someone (possibly a parent/grandparent/relative/carer) telling them a story even as they are being fed. I’m constantly amazed that even the most unapproachable or taciturn of humans smile and have something to say about their favourite foods, and the act of explaining why that is their favourite food is already a telling of a story.
7. How did you go about compiling the anthology? What did you have in mind when you chose the stories to go into the collection?
I solicited emerging literary talents whose work I admired (some of whom I’d interacted with on social media) and others whom I wrote to out of the blue (one, I chased up by attending an event he was speaking at and then pitching the anthology to him on the spot!) I was looking for stories where food as a theme is front and central (or highlighted its significance and cultural meaning), stories where food acted as trigger, signifier, enabler of story. But in the end, it had to be about the story. The story was paramount.
Elaine Chiew is a London-based writer and her stories have won the Bridport Prize, been shortlisted in the BBC Opening Lines (2015), MsLexia (2014) and Fish Short Stories Competitions (2012), among others, and published in anthologies and literary magazines (most recently, in Unthology 7 (Unthank Books, 2015).
She is the editor and organiser of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).