Sunday, July 18, 2010

And now for something completely different... My Soviet Kitchen

Hello girls and boys,
Sorry I haven't been around much lately - combination of lots of work and various niggles (like two evil burglars nicking my laptop). I'm also having a few thoughts about how to manage the blog in future, following an inspirational session at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference. More on that soon, I hope.
In the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to Amy Spurling, author of My Soviet Kitchen. I was sent a copy of the book - and the accompanying pocket-sized companion guide - by her publishers, Roast Books, and as a current ex-pat myself, I was really absorbed by the combination of fiction and fact about life in the post-USSR world. It's funny and farcical, with a darker twist. Amy's been kind enough to answer a few of my questions below.

You can buy the book direct from Roast Books.

Kate: Tell me about My Soviet Kitchen - from the title I was half-expecting a recipe book, but it’s much more than that!
Amy: Well… it’s a novel. A humorous, somewhat-alcoholic romance set largely in a Moscow old-Soviet kitchen – hence the title! But ‘kitchen’ in Russian (kuxnya) also means ‘cuisine’ – and since food and lifestyle are bound together, it has both.

Where did you get the idea from?
Life. Mine! I spent a decade in the former Soviet Union. And also Bridget Jones. I thought the diaries were hilarious and clever but Helen Fielding only wrote two of them. So I wondered what would happen if a Bridget-Jones type went to the former USSR…
How much of the book is based on your own experiences?

Well the ‘plot arc’ isn’t. But some of the little events and observations are. I.e. I really did go to an Uzbek wedding and a sauna in Tallinn. I really did cook my shoes in the oven and get a taxi-ride in an ambulance (though it was off-duty at the time!).

What about the idea of publishing a separate companion volume?

The former Soviet Union can seem like a whole other planet – I see it as a bit like going into Narnia through the wardrobe. So the Companion guide is the wardrobe, if you like, it’s meant to get you to your destination quicker. It fills you in on the background – both the Weird and the Wonderful customs and cookery.
There’s usually a story behind the publication of a first novel – what’s yours?
When I was 19 I spent a year studying at Moscow University (a gap year). I couldn’t get enough of it – so after a few years out at uni in England I went back to Russia’s capital for another year (studying Russian). And after that, I worked as a journalist in Tashkent (capital of Uzbekistan) and then in Tbilisi (Georgia)…
…And since the former Soviet Union is such a fascinating place and they live rather differently from us in the UK, I was bursting to tell people about it. Also, since Vodka and the Cold are what people mostly associate with the former Soviet Union I wanted to convey a bit more. Russia isn’t always cold and the former Soviet Union isn’t just Russia – there were 15 very different Soviet republics (now independent states), some of them have Asian influences, some are very North European, some more Mediterranean…
As a women’s fiction writer myself, I’m always interested in other writers’ thoughts on genre. Where do you think your book sits?

Hmm, well it has elements of the cookery book and the travelogue and the diary, but we’re calling it Neo chick-lit. I.e. chick lit with a darker side and a vodka twist. Still plenty of humour and some romance, but less shoes and handbags and a bit of entomology thrown in!

hat are you working on next?
Oooh…possibly a cake book. And also something completely different: the true story of a young man who was killed in the former Soviet Union. It will probably be a sort of memoir of me getting acquainted with him after his death.