A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When I was a kid, avidly devouring every Enid Blyton book I could get my hands on, of course I always imagined myself as part of the story. I desperately wanted to be one of the Secret Seven or the Five Find-Outers or to be pals with the twins at St Clare’s. And it wasn’t just the adventures that appealed to me.
The children in Enid Blyton’s books were always eating. You must have noticed! It wasn’t just the Famous Five and their well-parodied ‘lashings of ginger beer’. The hero of the Find-Outers series, whose rather un-PC nickname was Fatty, always had plenty of cash to treat the others at a tea shop to the sorts of goodies that I never got at home. Home-made bread and macaroons, for example. And they all ate ‘elevenses’ (I’d have been told to wait for lunch) and they had ‘midnight feasts’ (my mother would have had a fit). The boarding school kids were sent hampers groaning with fruit cakes and tinned sardines and other things that probably sounded nicer than they really were.
It wasn’t just Enid Blyton who made lots of space for eating in her stories. Imagine having toast with Mr Tumnus or Turkish Delight with the White Witch, popovers with the Little Women (what were they? I only knew it broke the girls’ hearts to give them away) or tea with Badger, Ratty and Mole.
And that’s not even to start on the more fantastical foods of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or the magical spreads at Hogwarts.
There are all sorts of reasons why food features so heavily in children’s literature. Whole theses have been written on the subject. Often you can use the food in a story to unpick all sorts of other aspects to the work. Blyton and Lewis were writing in the 1950s, so the feasts of their imagination must have held an extra appeal to their early readers: post-war rationing did not end until 1954. Food is used to denote things like class and stability. And academics will insist on finding Freudian interpretations of children’s relationship with food, but let’s not go there before dinner.
It’s fair to say, though, that when a child character is left hungry, it’s often not just for food. In The Serpent House (Curious Fox, June 2014) we first meet my character Annie in her aunt’s cabbage-smelling kitchen, bereaved and traumatised, scraping potatoes and making a mess of it. When her brother walks in with what looks like a rescue plan, he hands her an orange, warm from his pocket, which lights up her day.
And when Annie goes to work for the alluring but ruthless Lady Hexer, all the exotic food she gets is part of the reason why she is seduced into taking on her employer’s dangerous quest.
So in fiction, food or the lack of it is almost never used by accident – remember, food is a route into our hearts.
How do you use food in writing? What are your favourite fictional feasts?
Bea Davenport is the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea worked in newspapers and broadcasting for a long time, including seventeen years at BBC North in Newcastle, where she worked on TV, radio and online.
She left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, is to be published by Curious Fox in June 2014. The Serpent House is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House is Bea’s first novel for children, although her debut adult crime/suspense novel was published by Legend Press in June 2013, and it will be followed by another crime novel with Legend Press in 2014.
She lives in Berwick-upon Tweed on the Northumberland-Scottish border with her partner, children and two naughty cats.