Of food and clothes

My instinct when I first try to describe a woman’s outfit is to say she is wearing a blouse. For some reason, that is the piece of clothing that automatically comes to mind. I’m not sure why, I don’t think I’ve ever actually worn a blouse. Does anyone wear blouses anymore? I’m not sure I’ve even described a man’s outfit but they would probably be wearing a blazer if I did.

There are many parts of A Perilous Margin which make me cringe to think back on, but one of the least consequential, easiest to fix and therefore most annoying is a description of food at a dinner party. It is terrible. A weird combination of dishes which no one, especially an artistic, reasonably well-off, middle-aged couple, would serve to friends.

If only characters would just eat pizza for every meal.

Food and clothes are the bane of writing for me. They impact on every day of our lives and yet I have no words for them. I have no idea what people wear, what types of material clothes are made of, what different styles are called. Clothes create an immediate impression when we meet someone, and when introducing a character they can provide a cheat-sheet as to what that person is like. And yet, when every woman I write ends up wearing blouses it seems like they are either middle-aged or a complete dag.

The thing with food is I do have some understanding of it. I hate pretentious food and try not to open recipe books if I can help it, but I have a decent, basic understanding of what foods people eat and what those foods taste/look/smell like. And yet, while I am more than capable of noting all the times when characters are drinking tea, it is what they have had for lunch that I struggle with, even though that might give a clearer idea of their personality.

Maybe it is because, while I interact with food and clothes on a daily basis, the choices around them are not my favourite things to think about. Deciding what to wear in the morning is frustrating. I eat cornflakes for breakfast just so I don’t have to think about what to put on toast. I happily eat mushroom pasta every night. I think this ambivalence to two things which many people take a lot of pleasure from seeps into all my characters. They will be blouse-wearing, tea-drinking dags on the first, second and probably third edit, until I decide to put some time into thinking about a part of their life that I refuse to think about in my own. It may call for some research, *shudder*.

By Alison Theresa

Writer in progress. Australian in Birmingham. MA student at University of Birmingham. I write words and sometimes people publish them. I am working on my fourth (and fifth) novels.

6 replies on “Of food and clothes”

I’m with you on the clothes. Last summer I bought two skirts and three t shirts that all went together so I didn’t have to think about it, and it was awesome. The food though!! I read cookbooks like they are novels! I love descriptions of food in books, not only does it tell you lots about a character but also where they are from eg all the gross sounding stuff in Scandinavian books! Also what is wrong with Street food?! I would have thought as a keen traveller you are all over crepes in France, noodles in Asia, etc 😀 any time you want help on this stuff you could look at online forums for advice given to others, eg what would a frazzled mum of three make for dinner, what would a young twenty something eat after the gym, what would anyone wear to a black tie event?

Liked by 1 person

Oh actual, proper street food is fine! It’s normal cafes who claim to be selling street-food that I can’t stand, as though calling it that somehow makes it more authentic. That’s a good idea re online forums, a bit of research I suppose is a must sometimes!


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