Part One: As we continue to read White Truffles in Winter the author, N.M Kelby chats to us about writing, the lost art of conversation and how to make perfect Sauerkraut.
“Honestly…you’re on Twitter, but how many times do you actually buy something that you read about on Twitter or Facebook?” Nicole Kelby asks us, smiling warmly. We are sitting, three of us in three different time zones chatting via Google Hangout. Her question was lead by our enquiry about how social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have altered the way she promotes her work. We know she is keen to interact with her fans but she is also very aware that they may not always want to hear from her. What they really want is a new book.
She enquires, “But what’s my job? [To] chit chat? Or write that next novel? …” She thinks write, and although she is a delight to chit chat with, the positive response that her novels receive are not going to make us disagree with her.
Born to a French/Belgian mother and a Polish father, Kelby was introduced to books and taught the importance of reading at a young age. She admits to and laughs fondly at the memory of creating libraries of picture books for her dolls so they could check out the books themselves and says that she couldn’t imagine being anything but a writer.
Writing is about effective communication, a subject Kelby is passionate about but one she feels were are losing. “We don’t communicate. We Face Time, but we don’t really communicate… My husband and I were talking about who we would like to have over for Christmas this year… Well, who could carry on a good conversation? Who’s interesting? Who has manners enough? I love someone who’s opinionated and a big pain but well-mannered… They can be wildly opinionated and crazy, but they can’t come after another guest. It’s just funny; people have really lost that ability to talk to each other. [But] you go to the movie theatre and people are talking. Here in America it drives me nuts, you go see a film – we don’t go to films very often – because people will be just talking, like you and I are talking, and it’s like: ‘shut up!’”
Being a writer is a process and one that doesn’t just involve spending the day sitting at your desk churning out the next new novel or article. “It really is like a crazy amount of actual business, where you have to talk to your assistant about stuff, or you have to get things answered, or people want things like photographs or this or that, which is lovely but it’s very time consuming. I can spend until about ten o’clock in the morning just responding to readers who write me, book clubs who want to do things– it’s just really amazing how much physical work there is that has nothing to do with writing”.
After the business has been taken care of the afternoon is spent writing before taking some time to do some language study. When talking about what language she speaks she is quite nonchalant: I’m always learning languages, new languages, and so I’ll try to study Rosetta Stone, and try to work on my Italian. Right now my Polish publisher is going to tour me in Warsaw in January…So I’m learning a little Polish: phrases like ‘I am frigid’ and ‘where’s the vodka’, and ‘what was I thinking?’
We all laugh, all the important phrases then.
“But the bulk of the day is really spent working on books”, she says as she leans over and picks up the first hundred pages of her new novel. “So what I’ll do is go through it and read it aloud, and I look at the pages very carefully and I read every word. Because if you think of it, you don’t read every word when you read, you just don’t. When you’re editing, you have to read every word. So when I do that, it really makes me understand the work and I try to think of it as another reader…I pick up what I messed up or what I need to illuminate, then I start to find that I’ll push into the next chapter…So there you are; a hundred pages.” We wonder if we are among the first to see these pages.
Not long ago Kelby joined the ranks as a blogger. Her blog At Escoffiers Table is a delightful mix of poetic language and mouth-watering delicious cookery. When asked what makes people cook something at home, take a picture and post it on the internet for the world to see she doesn’t have to think about her response, “…the internet gives everyone a chance to be a star for a moment. It say’s, here my life is good…yes that was a beautiful meal…it somehow validates your experience”.
Even with such a busy schedule, a book to tour and a new one to write, she still finds the time to admire and digest the work of others.
“What is here on my desk?” she says reaching to find a Gerald Stern book of poetry. “It is a beautiful book [and] I’ve been loving this, um, of all things” she laughs, holding up A Clockwork Orange. “…I’ve got to tell you, the sheer inventiveness of the language in here, I mean Kubrick made a film out of this that we all think about, but Burgess’ actual book is phenomenal…what else do I have? There are a few books hanging around here” She disappears off for a second to hunt or more books. “…that was just funny to read A Clockwork Orange on a New York Subway. I hope no one on the subway knows what I’m reading. That’s the nicest thing about Kindle – nobody can see what you’re reading, so if you’re reading Fifty Shades of Grey, they don’t know! They’re like, what are you reading? Chaucer!”
She goes on to say about Fifty Shades of Gray: I haven’t read it… I’ve not heard anybody say, ‘That’s a new Nin, you know… They don’t say that at all, they just go, ‘It’s trashy!’
But how about a book club?
“No. You know, I barely have time to breathe, really. It’s funny here. We just finished our harvest, so my husband and I [do] lots of things like sauerkraut. And just before I came to talk to you, I put two pecks of apples into crisps to freeze, it’s just kind of like the stuff of your life, and then when I sit down at my desk I fall into the rabbit’s hole of books. I don’t really have a book club because I don’t ever really get out”.
“We do a lot of krauting” she says, telling us in detail how to create the perfect sauerkraut. “We do jams and everything, beets. It’s just two of us, but it’s just so nice to grow your own stuff, know where your stuff comes from. And that’s very much like the Escoffier book, he was just very much farm to table of course… we grow pumpkins every year now, so we get sixty odd pumpkins, and we use some of them for savoury, and we make pumpkin bread, and jams, and we eat that through the winter…It makes you feel very accomplished”.
With a long running broadcasting career, several best-selling novels, and 100 pages of the next already written, accomplished is exactly how Nicole Kelby should feel.
We will be in conversation with Nicole Kelby again later in the month to talk more about her latest novel, White Truffles in Winter. If you haven’t yet joined the delicious debate, it isn’t too late to join, check out our participation guidelines for more information.
The interview has been edited for readability.