Maggie’s Kitchen is the debut novel of Caroline Beecham and she is out and about on the internet promoting the release with a Blog Tour, and we are lucky enough to be one of her stops.
Sit back and take a look inside Caroline’s life, career and new release Maggie’s Kitchen. Then be sure to check out the other stops on the tour.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up at the English seaside before going to university in London and then working in film and television, initially in the UK, and then also in the US and Canada. I have worked as a writer, producer, or director on a wide range of projects including a lifestyle series on cooking for children, documentaries for major broadcasters, travel series for Discovery and National Geographic, a music series for Channel Ten, and a feature film about finding the end of the Rainbow.
In 2002 I joined SBS on a series called ‘If Only…’ about turning points in people’s lives. I suppose ‘Maggie’s Kitchen’ has been a bit of a turning point for me since it’s given me new opportunities and experiences and created a love of novel-writing.
What made you want to be a novelist?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a novelist. When I started an MA in Creative Writing at UTS in 2005 it was to write non-fiction, but it turned out that half of the course was fiction, so I discovered a new way of storytelling where I could use my imagination but still research real stories about people and places, which is a part of the process that I really enjoy.
Can you tell us a little about the novel, Maggie’s Kitchen?
‘Maggie’s Kitchen’ is a novel inspired by real events from the Second World War. It follows the fortunes of Maggie Johnson as she struggles to open and run a British Restaurant during the blitz.
It was a long-held dream for Maggie to run a restaurant with her fiancé, before he was killed, so when the Ministry of Food asks for cooks to set up British Restaurants the grieving Maggie is reluctant to volunteer. Then she meets twelve-year old runaway Robbie; evacuated to the countryside with his mother and sisters he keeps returning to London, wanting to be there for his dad when he comes home from war.
Armed with only her passion for cooking, best friend Eliza, cousin Rose, and Janek, a Polish refugee longing to join the resistance and rescue the loved ones he left behind, Maggie embarks upon the challenge of finding and opening a restaurant. With Janek’s help they set about conjuring appetising meals from rationed ingredients and Robbie finds ingenious ways to forage food. However, success is short-lived and the real difficulties begin when Mr Boyle threatens to close them for not complying with Ministry rules…
What inspired the story?
I came across archive documents on the establishment of British Restaurant when I was doing research and was really surprised that I hadn’t heard about these restaurants before. At first I thought of making a documentary about them but then the idea of writing fiction seemed to offer more possibilities and the characters took shape quite quickly. I also felt that the interest in the ‘paddock-to-plate’ and ‘nose-to-tail’ philosophies would strike a chord with lots of readers; that’s when I decided it would be a nice idea to also include some of the original recipes—updated of course!
Having worked in my family’s restaurants growing up I knew restaurants would have been so important to communities in the war. With the camaraderie that developed between the staff, and between staff and customers I knew that there would be plenty of drama even without the war!
Maggie’s Kitchen is fictional but contains historical fact and real events; how extensive was the research required and how was it undertaken?
The book took more than four years to write. A lot of research in the early stages came from libraries and the National Archives, the Imperial War Museum and the Times Digital Archive. I was lucky to find official documents like memorandums, circulars and letters that provided details I needed to understand how British Restaurants were set up and how they worked.
Newspapers were also key in highlighting issues at the time. For instance, there were protests by the working classes over hotels having supplies for the rich that they couldn’t access. I read fiction and non-fiction books to get a sense of the era and how they lived; these are listed at the back of the book if anyone is interested.
It is very hard to imagine now what it would have felt like to not be able to do what you want, buy what you need and get enough to eat; I felt the only way to try and imagine this would be to immerse myself in life at the time. It certainly makes you appreciate how we live now but also value the life they had then.
There are some interesting recipes in the book, where did they come from?
All the recipes have been evolved from the official Ministry of Food War Cookery Leaflets that they produced during the war. They gave the public ideas on how and what to cook with the limited foods that were available, as well as time and fuel saving ideas. Many of the recipes are not dissimilar to what we eat now and are really useful recipes if you want to cook your own food from scratch and avoid processed foods. My friends, family and I tested them out – and updated some of them. No one I know really wants to eat powdered egg or offal!
Robbie is an endearing character, why did Maggie not offer to foster him herself?
Robbie reminds Maggie of her younger brother Ernest, who accidentally died when she was supposed to be taking care of him. She is drawn to him, and does manage to keep him close for a long time until he becomes ill – but I had better not give any more away!
Do you think there was anything to the suspicions about Janek, or was it just because he was Polish?
There was a lot of suspicion about foreigners during the Second World War and a lot of the propaganda from the time encourages the population to be ‘on guard’ at all times and posters asked them ‘Friend or Foe?’ That said, the Polish Air Force were the third largest in numbers fighting alongside the British and there were other nationalities who were also allies in the same situation. It is this ambiguity that interested me as it would have been difficult to navigate that dilemma for certain personalities, like Eliza for instance.
I am left with many questions, is there any chance of a sequel which lets us know what comes next for the characters?
Who knows, it is certainly a rich area and I by no means exhausted the research material or my ideas. In fact, my new novel is about something related and I am also developing a TV drama based on the novel, so perhaps the characters will get a new lease of life then too!
Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
My new novel is a mystery set in London during the Second World War and focuses on a love affair between Eleanor Roy and a war artist. It also has a contemporary storyline that helps unlock a mystery from the past.
Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now