‘Write about what you know,’ people would tell me when I first started writing. The problem is, I didn’t know about anything…or so I thought! I knew I loved food, but I wasn’t a chef, or even one of those foodie types with fancy knifes and a cupboard full unrecognisable ingredients. I just loved to feed my friends and family. I loved the way food brought us around the table together. But what could I really write about?
Then, my husband was asked to go and work on the west coast of Ireland. We went over on a research trip and I had never seen so much rain. But whilst I was there we went to a seafood restaurant. It looked like a fisherman’s cottage at the end of the pier. When we stepped in, it was like walking into someone’s front room. The fire was roaring and there were candles on the tables and on the windowsills. We sat by the window and just for a while, it stopped raining. The moon threw out a silver shadow across Galway Bay and as I sat and ate oysters from the same waters I thought, this is sexy. This is what this place is all about. I began to realise that where ever you go, when you discover the food of the place, it takes you by the hand and introduces you to its people, history and culture. It was there I wrote my first book, The Oyster Catcher, set amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay.
I was then researching my second book in Southern Italy, in Puglia, where my brother owned a small place. We were in one of our favourite restaurants, a family run tavern in the middle of a rural olive grove. After dinner, the owner joined us and brought a bottle of homemade limoncello, pouring us each a glass. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian. But somehow, we had this conversation. He asked me what kind of books I wrote. I told him I wrote about food and love. He explained that, for him, life was all about the food they grew on their land, and he held out an arm; to cook in the kitchen; to put on the table, la tavola, and he banged his hand down on the scrubbed wooden table; for the ones he loved! Then he placed his hand on his heart. ‘That’s it!’ I replied. That’s what I write. Stories about the food that’s grown on the land, cooked in the kitchen and put on the table for the ones we love. I write about la tavola, because it’s there that I share my love. We have our arguments, share our problems celebrate and show our love, at la tavola. Given that I’m from partIrish and part-Italian heritage, I think there must be something in the genes! It is the heart of my home and that’s what I know about.
Since Italy, I have written about wine making in south west France in Late Summer in the Vineyard, honey making and herbs in Crete in The Honey Farm in the Hill and I have just finished my new book set in Spain, Sunset over the Cherry Orchard. The more books I finish, the more places I want to explore through their food and the more tables, wherever they might be, I want to write about.
Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, THE OYSTER CATCHER, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.