Diana Cambridge
Food Writing
Diana Cambridge Cream tea break in Diana’s garden


Food writing workshops with Diana…

If you love food, could you write about it? Here Diana, who was Managing Editor of Greece glossy magazine, editing a huge food and wine supplement every month, offers a few tips. She offers food writing workshops too - but have a look at her practical ideas here first.


 Diana deals only in practical food writing, which she believes is more marketable than high-end restaurant reviews.

Food writing can be the basis for articles, how-to books, or a key factor in novels, plays and short stories, she says. “You could compile a family cookbook – which could also be a family history. That could be an absorbing project at any age.”

How to begin? Let’s say you might aim your work at a local or regional newspaper or magazine. It’s unlikely you’d pick up a commission in this arena before you’re known, so you’ll have to start by submitting on spec.

Choose a theme you’d like to write about – for example breakfasts or cream teas. Or eating out on a special diet.You could make a very good regional feature on either of these. Your article could include:

  • A few paragraphs of historical research on breakfasts or the cream tea – when did that become popular? How have breakfasts changed over the centuries?

  • Contact local landladies who’ve had a  “best breakfast” award or cafes with “ best cream tea” prize and get some quotes form them

  • Include your own recommendations, with cost and menus

  • Find out what’s left, locally, in large firms or factories which offer subsidised canteen food – what can their workers choose for breakfast or tea, how much is it?

  • Check your own collection of  vintage cookery books for more details from the past

  • Investigate what form breakfast and cream tea took during the WW2 and rationing years

  • Check out what's on offer for vegans or anyone with special diet needs. Cafes and restaurants are becoming more health-conscious: and so are readers!


Bath is crammed with traditional tea-shops, church cafes, vegetarian diners, cookery schools and gastro-pubs – all material for your food writing!

By now you have the framework for a lively, fact-filled and original piece.  You can use this outline for any food topic. Other ideas to write up this way might be:
  • Children’s birthday parties
  • Wedding breakfasts
  • Picnics
  • Packed office lunches
  • Lunch/dinner for under a fiver
You can submit your article to the local magazine or paper. You could also review a food venue that’s unexpected – not a smart restaurant, but a sandwich bar, stall, church café, student restaurant or supermarket breakfast bar. Make it one where you’ve enjoyed eating and can honestly recommend the food.

With your article or review, you can suggest that if they like it you might provide a short series of budget friendly places to eat and drink. You don’t have to ask permission of the place you review, but you do need to include all their contact details and prices in a box.

Readers need to know: opening times, phone number and website, typical prices for items like coffee, snacks, main courses, whether there’s disabled access, whether children are welcome, what the background music is like and the atmosphere. Give as much detail as you can.

Most newspapers and magazines are unimaginative with their restaurant reviews – constantly picking place where most people would never go, unless they’re rich, have won the Lottery or are in fact restaurant critics.

What readers actually need are suggestions for good, inexpensive eateries. The problem is that in-house reviewers don’t want to cover these places! They prefer the lavish high-end restaurants and look on these meals as a “perk” rather than thinking about what readers need.

Which is where you as a freelancer can come in! Editors will love you and you could make a niche for yourself. Diana will help you with this.

Another project might be to choose a facet of food you’d really like to research – could be 17th century cooking, Greek island cookery, works canteens in the 50s and 60s, menus from stately homes or Royal residences – the possibilities are endless. It’s just what appeals to you.

Keep good notes and write your project up – you may well have the basis for more than one feature or short story.  For example, your feature on works canteens of the past at local businesses could be fascinating – since these canteens have all but disappeared, replaced by vending machines or nothing at all. What did they serve? What were the prices like?


Food fables

Making food a basis for your short story – or including food within it – is enjoyable for you and the reader. Food is a universal concern! Diana has several friends who admit to “always thinking about food”.

Playing Sardines (Virago) is a collection of wonderful short stories by Michele Roberts. Practically all of them are food-related, with titles like The Cookery Lesson, Les Menus Plaisirs, Lists and A Feast for Catherine. Here are a couple of examples of food writing within her short stories:

She ordered some more cold white wine, and a plate of mixed antipasti: slivers of fennel with olive oil and lemon, some slices of salami and prosciutto, a handful of black olives. She followed this with a bowl of agnolotti stuffed with mushrooms. Then she thought she’d like to try a side dish of artichokes, which she knew were a speciality here.

Sipping her wine and peering at the menu, she couldn’t choose between carciofi alla romana, stewed with tomatoes, or carciofi alla Judea, deep-fried as crisp and golden as sunflowers. The solution was simple: she asked to be served both. She was feasting for two Catherines.
A feast for Catherine by Michele Roberts


Culinary tricks

USE plenty of adjectives, and think of how a dish tastes, smells, looks and feels.

MATCH your meals with wines, and describe them too – not in wine critic’s jargon, but naturally. Is the wine fresh, crisp, lemon scented, fragrant, sharp, mineral tasting, stony, perfumed?

OFTEN describing a small meal – a few luscious prawns, some raspberries thick with clotted cream, wholemeal toast with melting Caerphilly cheese - is as effective as recording a blow-out. More so in fact. The reader can imagine it more easily.

DON’T forget to describe the crockery and table. Flowery jumble sale plates, an embroidered cloth you found in junk shop, cerise pink napkins from a supermarket? It all adds to this tempting visual picture

FLOWERS should be somewhere – maybe a handful of roses in an old jam jar, lilac in a plain white jug, wild flowers in a tumbler. Describe as sensually as you can.


 

Food writing with Diana!

Like to do a food writing workshop with Diana? She offers them at her home in Bath – a city famed for its food, from cosy church cafes to Jamie Oliver’s bistro and Sally Lunn’s tea shop! Just one Saturday morning, from10a.m. to 1p.m. at her lovely airy book-crammed studio in central Bath.


Diana would like you (and will help you) to write up a short food review and feature by the end of your break (or when you’ve gone home, you could send it to her for a critique) – but also to relax!


  Contact Diana at diana@dianacambridge.co.uk for details of her food writing courses.



 
 
Buy direct from Amazon, or at a discount price of £13 99 for the pair direct from Diana Cambridge, signed by the author. No p and p, and books are shipped the same day. Make cheques payable to Diana Cambridge.

Diana Cambridge
1 Coburg Villas
Camden Road
Bath BA1   5JF

diana@dianacambridge.co.uk
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