Sarah-Kate Lynch on Dolci di Love


Author Sarah-Kate Lynch was in Canterbury recently to talk about her new book Dolci di Love. She caught up with Bronwyn Smith to chat about the book, the writer’s life, libraries and earthquakes.

Interview: April 2011

Can I just start by saying that I’ve loved you forever, and follow that somewhat scary statement with this question: do people randomly stop you in the street and say this sort of thing to you? Or have you managed to keep a bit more 'under the radar', as it were?
People do stop me in the street to say this sort of thing and I LOVE IT! So thank you so much for stopping me in the street, so to speak. I think one of the wonderful things about my job is that random strangers do thank me from time to time and it never fails to make my day. Who else has that happen to them? I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that they loved me and that I cheered them up and that they liked to curl up in a corner with me when I worked in an office. I also get lovely emails from readers all around the world which is great because I spend most of my time on my own sitting in front of the computer and it reminds me who I am writing for — people, out in the big, wide world.
Before I arrived in libraries as a career, I spent a lot of time in hospitality, and I passionately believe that food and drink are truly things that join people together, just as much as books do. One of the things I love about your books is that this belief seems to come through in all your stories as well. Has this always been a specific focus for you?
No, that’s sort of just the way things worked out because I worked as a journalist for 20 years and my last paid regular employment was as a food writer which opened me up to the joy of food. I had struggled with my weight my whole life up until then so food had sometimes been a complicated subject but ironically once I started researching the artisan beginnings of cheese and sourdough and champagne, my weight problem disappeared. It turns out all things in moderation was not something the old people said to annoy you. It’s true.
When I’m recommending your books to customers in the library (which I do a lot!), I sometimes use the dreaded 'chick-lit' phrase, although I’m never sure how you’d feel about this (or indeed how I feel about it). I always follow this description up with the words, but with a bit of an edge, or something similar. How do you feel about labels like this? And how do you describe your books to people when the marketing people aren't hovering?
I defy anyone to come up with a relevant modern definition for chick lit because since the days of Bridget Jones’s Diary it has changed so much. What I do know, is that a lot of people don’t read something that is labelled chick lit because they think it will be too light and fluffy, so for that reason I like to avoid the label. I consider chick lit to be books about single women trying to find love and my books are really about older women who have found love and are trying to keep it so they are not chicks. When no one from marketing is around, I tell people I write romantic comedies with food!
When I picture you writing, I can see you dressed all in white, seated at a tiny wrought iron table on a balcony in an exotic foreign clime, looking out over sweeping European fields, and surrounded by vineyards and artisan bakeries and rustic yet sophisticated villages. How close is this to the actual reality of writing a novel? And is writing an easy process for you?
Hilarious. Although I am often in white, as that’s the colour of all my PJs and I often don’t get out of them, but the writing is actually done day after day after day after day at home in my office. I love the research part of the process but I don’t tend to necessarily write a lot when I am away looking out over sweeping European fields as I'm more trying to soak up the atmosphere in the rustic yet sophisticated villages.
For Dolci di Love, I spent a month back in Tuscany thinking I would be writing every day but I was only in the beginning stages of the book and every time I sat down at the computer I panicked at how I was ever going to writing 60,000 words in such a short time. I quickly realised that I can write anywhere, but I can only interview bakers at hilltop town pasticcerias in Tuscany, so I abandoned the writing and just breathed. That’s how the Secret League of Widowed Darners came into being. It’s important to breathe.
I can’t say that writing is easy for me and I’m very envious of people who say it is, although I also don’t believe them. Having the ideas is a dream, doing the research a joy, inventing the characters as natural as blinking, but a 90,000 word book takes MONTHS of sitting down typing and that is pure grind.
Your website notes that On Top of Everything is only available in New Zealand. Is this because we are special? Or are there dark doings in the publishing world that we don’t know anything about?
It’s only available in English in New Zealand. It’s my favourite book for personal reasons but a lot of my regular international publishers didn’t want it. I was dropped by my UK publisher and my American publisher (who I’m still with) thought it too English for the US market. My German publishers didn't want it either but it did very well elsewhere in Europe. Interestingly, it’s failure to ignite did not break my heart the way I thought it did which I think shows my confidence has grown. I know there is nothing wrong with the book, because the people who do read it absolutely love it, and I actually write for readers, not publishers, although they are an integral — for me anyway — part of the process.
If you weren’t Sarah-Kate Lynch, which one other writer would you most like to be?
A. A. Milne. I just love Winnie the Pooh so much.
And in a similar vein, what’s the one best first line you wish you had written?
I wish I had written the line in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery that took my breath away it gave me such a shock and I probably cried for a week but I can’t tell you what it is because it will ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the book.
And finally a couple of library-related questions, and a sneaky earthquake one: Do you have any library-related memories you’d like to share?
Yes, I remember the excitement of being able to move on to the YA books! And I remember a few years later forgetting to put the hand brake on in Mum’s mini and having it re-park itself across the road from the library via somebody else’s Alfa Romeo.
What books are on your bedside table at the moment?
I’m travelling en route to New York for a month so I have Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life and a book called Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin.
And if you wouldn’t mind, is there any message you’d like to pass on to us here in the shaky city?
My heart has been bleeding for all of you there in Christchurch especially as time passes but we are still all thinking of you! I know how traumatising it has been because when I met my friend Kristin — who was in Madras Street at the time of the earthquake — it was a month later and when I asked her how she was she started to cry and couldn’t stop and all I could do was hold her in my arms and hug her and cry too, obviously, because I am good like that. I got a call from her the other day to say she’s starting to feel better, so that was a great relief to me, but I am currently in Dublin and EVERYONE has been asking me how the people are in Christchurch. Even a gorgeous little nine-year-old girl wanted to know how everyone was. The country and the world is thinking of you and my personal feeling is that I will do whatever I can to help rebuild the city and the occupants’ faith in it.