In conversation with

Megan Abbott

Writer at The Curious Pear, Artist

meg abbott writer

Introduction

Introduction

Megan Abbott is one half of The Curious Pear, a photography and writing duo made up of Meg (on the words) and best friend Issy Croker (on the camera). What first started as a passion project – “Issy and I were just trying to find a way to be together every day” – has become a creative partnership which has seen the best friends travel the world in search of good people and even better food. They’ve eaten all of barbecue in Texas, all of the sushi in Japan and all of the custard tarts in Portugal, while documenting their adventures for the publications including SUITCASE Magazine, Food52 and Life & Thyme.

In between writing projects with Issy, Meg is an artist who creates spontaneous line drawings in brush ink and watercolour (find her work at Faces I Don’t Know). We found out about the wealth of stories that inspire her…

Question and Answer

What stories did you read growing up?

My mum skipped the appropriate parenting manual and used to read me Roald Dahl’s adult books – really twisted stories like Lamb to the Slaughter, where a woman kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb…or ‘Royal Jelly’, where a baby turns into a bee. I used to love them, and we found them weirdly funny. They’re still some of my favourite stories – his imagination is just amazing. Other than that I was a bit of a wannabe adult, so I read lots of Jane Green and Sophie Kinsella novels and learned some essential life lessons from those…

roald dahl
"My mum skipped the appropriate parenting manual and used to read me Roald Dahl’s adult books – really twisted stories like Lamb to the Slaughter"

Do you remember the first piece of food writing that spoke to you?

Nigel Slater wrote a piece in one of his books about lemons, and it was the most emotional piece of writing I’d ever read about food. It was the first time I’d engaged with writing that took food to another level, and made it more about life than recipes. He, Diana Henry and Rachel Roddy are the three writers that strike me the most in that way. You can have their books by your bed and read them like novels, with the food as characters.

Can you explain how The Curious Pear came to be?

Initially, Issy and I were just trying to find a way to be together every day. We’d been best friends for ten years and knew that we just worked really well as a duo – the odd horribly bad decision aside. We’d both worked at magazines during uni, and food was something we both felt so strongly about. We knew that by combining our three passions – writing, photography and each other – we’d be more likely to stand a chance of getting some stories published in magazines.

art postcards

What magazines and brands have you worked for together?

We’re the food editors at SUITCASE, and write regularly for magazines like Root + Bone, Food52 and Life & Thyme. We’ve also done stories for Elle Décor, easyjet Magazine and Olive, and worked with AirBnb and Food & Wine on some really lovely online campaigns.

life and thyme
"We write regularly for magazines like Root + Bone, Food52 and Life & Thyme"

What do you think makes a good piece of food writing?

Bringing personality to a piece of writing is so important. I think a lot of food writers write what they think they should, or try and be overly critical. I love knowing what a plate of food tastes like, but I also want to know about the sounds and smells in the restaurant, or what the chef really feels about the cooking. There’s always another layer to every dish, where it comes from and what it’s made up of. That’s the kind of thing I like reading about. And it shouldn’t be too serious; food writing can so easily become pretentious.

“I love knowing what a plate of food tastes like, but I also want to know about the sounds and smells in the restaurant, or what the chef really feels about the cooking.”

What are some of the biggest challenges when writing about food?

I have to try very hard not to get too over the top about it – it’s easy when you live in London to assume everyone knows/cares about certain people or places. It’s a bit of a bubble and you have to keep reminding yourself not to be…well, a bit of a knob.

Which other writers do you admire?

There are so many. I absolutely love everything Marina O’Loughlin writes. She manages to be so romantic and poetic about food whilst still being hilariously dry and witty. She once described a pile of sautéed leeks as ‘pale green chiffon’ and I fell in love with her instantly. Michael Pollan writes such important books about the politics and culture of food, and just describes eating in different parts of the world in such an eloquent, connected way. And I never miss a Grace Dent article – I really feel like she and I could get through a few bottles of wine together.

Is there one particular piece of food writing that you turn to for inspiration/ guidance?

Rachel Roddy’s books, especially My Kitchen in Rome, are the first things I turn to when it feels like my brain is nothing but a bundle of cotton wool. She has the most beautiful way with words. It’s like you’re sitting at her kitchen table with a coffee just listening to her talk. And her story about packing one small bag, turning up to the airport and picking Sicily at random from the departures board is absolute gold.

edible atlas mina holland

Which are your favourite cookbooks?

Anything with loads of pasta recipes – so the new Trullo Cookbook has taken a battering recently. Or Anna del Conte On Pasta, or Mina Holland’s The Edible Atlas, which, other than being the most beautiful book about food, has a recipe for the perfect pasta sauce that I use at least once a week.

Which piece of your own are you especially proud of?

I always love re-reading our piece on Texas. We did a road trip from Austin (now our favourite city) and ended up in Bandera, the ‘cowboy capital of the world’. It was just all so incredibly American and big and loud. We absolutely loved the people, and there were so many unexpectedly beautiful places, like Enchanted Rock Natural Park or the stunning wine country. And it all ended at a sawdust-covered saloon dancing with cowboys, which was probably the best night of my life…

What’s the last article that you read where you thought, “I wish I wrote that”?

I recently read an archived article by Deborah Levy on Mallorca for the New York Times. I’ve been going there since I was little, and just love reading about it from a writer’s perspective. It’s such a funny story – she has a different reaction to paradise than you’d expect. I loved how it wasn’t just another article talking about sea, sand and tapas bars.

What are two books you have read recently that you have really loved?

I don’t think a single person that I’ve seen/met in the last couple of months has escaped me cornering them about The Goldfinch. It has to be one of the best books of the decade – it’s so rich and detailed but manages to be so exciting and pacey at the same time. Finishing that book was like a painful breakup. Before that, I read Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and loved every word. I really like it when characters in a book are horribly flawed, and the writer makes you love them despite that. And I’m always re-reading anything by David Nicholls – I have to actually put his books down when I’m in public because they make me laugh so much. Issy and I have this joke that we want to lock him in our flat and force him to write another one…

"I really like it when characters in a book are horribly flawed, and the writer makes you love them despite that"
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