Will write for food: a cheese lover’s guide to writing a novel – Victoria Brownlee

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By Victoria Brownlee

From a young age, I’d always enjoyed writing. Whether it was notes to friends, love letters, emails, food blogs, essays or Christmas cards, I knew how to fill a page.♥

And, like so many others, I dreamed of one day filling enough pages to write a novel. But it was such a daunting prospect. I was hung up on the idea that I needed a suitably big idea – something poignant and literary that I couldn’t quite determine – resulting in more than a few false starts.

One day, a friend revealed to me that she was writing a Viking romance novel. My first reaction was to ask her ‘Why Vikings?’ and her response was perfect: they’re fun. She simply loved Vikings. The process of researching and creating her characters was reward in itself. She’d been tinkering with the story for years. She wrote for enjoyment and convinced me to try the same.

A few months later, inspiration struck. I was on holiday in Paris, indulging in all things French, and I thought, why not write about this? And a narrative began to form around the idea of an Australian girl ditching her boring life in Melbourne and moving to Paris to eat cheese. The thought of eating fromage in the name of research was enough to convince me I was on to something.

So I started by writing an opening scene, and then a few more scenes. And what I discovered was that, when telling a story I found entertaining, the words flowed onto the page. And although many of the words were terrible and have been replaced multiple times over, getting those words onto the page and getting to know my characters was the first hurdle.

But writing a novel takes time. And I went on tangents. I moved to China and wrote about food for magazines. I put my creative writing on hold while my schedule involved eating, drinking, writing and editing on repeat. Monthly deadlines kept me focused, but every now and then, I’d think longingly of my novel. It was almost as though my characters kept nagging me to come back and finish telling their story. They may have gotten dusty, but they didn’t age.

Eventually I moved back to France with the idea of finishing my book – because where better to finish a novel set in Paris than in PARIS! I got serious about my draft. I gave myself a deadline, I was strict about writing and I eventually put aside my fear of judgement and asked some friends to read my manuscript.

And then I edited, and edited some more, and some more, until I felt ready to look for an agent. And then after another edit, I got a publisher, and then I edited even more. I leaned heavily on the skills I’d acquired writing across all forms – print, online, academic writing, even journaling – and I funnelled them into finishing my novel. I drew inspiration from my work and life and told the type of story I’d be happy to read. And, in the end, it just happened to be one that involved a lot of cheese.


Victoria Brownlee is an Australian-born food writer. She’s spent the best part of the last decade eating her way around the world, including a two-year stint in China where she was the Food & Drink Editor at Time Out Shanghai. In 2016, she traded dumplings for cheese, and is now settled in Paris with her husband and daughter. Escape to the Paris Cheese Shop is out now.

victoriabrownlee.com

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