Author Q&A: Lara Williams

Supper Club
(Hamish Hamilton, £12.99) 

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Roberta and her friend Stevie are sick of being hungry, so they create Supper Club – like Fight Club but with the objective of eating unapologetically in a bid to take up more physical space in the world. The Manchester debut author provides a handbook for women wanting to reinvent their approach to food while giving the middle finger to a society that’s reinvented its way of telling women to tame their bodies.  

Why is eating with abandon a radical act?
I think the messaging women receive about eating, and by extension our appetites, desires, needs, wants, bodies, is deeply problematic. I feel we’re now at a point where it is no longer acceptable to directly tell women our bodies need taming, and so it is done so in this weird coded language of wellness and health, yet the message remains the same. Now there is a move towards mindful eating, which feels like quite a tall order if you’ve been parsing decades of subtextual messaging telling you your appetite is abject and wrong. And so I think ignoring that and leaning into what you want, leaning into it beyond what you want and more, feels quite an exciting idea.

Did you host any supper clubs in the name of research? Do you hope that readers will start their own branches?
Sadly I did not host any of my own supper clubs.

Emma Glass’s Peach, Serai Walker’s Dietland and Nora Ephron’s Heartburn have explored similar ideas to Supper Club. Were these books, or any others, points of reference or inspiration for you?
I read both Peach and Dietland after finishing writing Supper Club, the latter quite consciously after finishing writing the novel as I didn’t want to subconsciously reproduce any of those ideas, and so while they certainly explore similar themes, they didn’t really influence the book. I was definitely thinking of Heartburn, however, particularly in exploring the more methodical aspects of food: following a recipe, the physical motions of cooking. I also like how Nora Ephron writes about cooking as a soothing experience. While I don’t have actual recipes in the book, there are sections which quite closely follow the process of a recipe, and that’s what I wanted to explore: the more embodied, slowed down experience of cooking.

Is it a challenge to write about food given that eating is such a sensory experience?
I think descriptions about food tend towards the voluptuous, and phonetically a lot of the language associated with food is quite evocative: lots of hard consonants and long vowel sounds, lots of alliterative words. Reading about food is obviously a very different experience from eating food, and I’m not convinced reading about food always makes you hungry or necessarily want to eat the food that you’re reading about, so much as it elicits this more broad feeling of sensuality.

Tell us about your relationship with food and how you selected the foods you describe in depth in Supper Club?
I wanted to punctuate certain moments in Roberta’s life with descriptions of particular foods, and there is a definite link between the food writing and Roberta’s state-of-mind at a given point. For example, there is a description of Thai red curry, which is quite a simplified and anglicised version of that recipe. It comes at a point in which she is hurrying towards a sense of settling down and apparent normality with her boyfriend, and feeling a little alienated from Stevie (her best friend and co-creator of Supper Club), and the Supper Club itself. It felt quite a domestic and slightly self-satisfied recipe, also the sort of thing you might make to perform being a grown-up, which is definitely relevant to her consciousness at that point in time.

Society’s obsession with women’s bodies means our relationship with food has been complicated for a long time. More recently there’s been a push towards fitness, veganism, gluten free, whole foods, super foods, and other things that feign to be about something other than body image but ultimately lead to the same level of food obsession that calorie counting does. Why have we become so disconnected from what we eat and how do we fix it?
I’m not sure how we fix it! Perhaps by being cognisant that it is a lot of the same ideas remanufactured with different language? I feel like when I read the word wellness now I can almost see the other implicit words hovering underneath it. Health has become such an abstracted term I’m not even sure what it means anymore.

The book also explores campus rape, mental health, self-harm and complicated female friendships. Is modern life a battlefield for young women?
I’m not sure I would characterise modern life as a battlefield for young women because that feels like an argument for just checking out of it, a way of reinforcing certain spaces are not for us.

What’s your favourite food to eat while writing?
I don’t really ever eat while writing.

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