The Prodigal Daugher, Prue Leith

August 24, 2016

The Prodigal Daugher is Book 2 in Prue's 'Food of Love' trilogy. The book comes out on the 15th September. Read what Prue has to say below:

 

 

"Whew! The Prodigal Daughter, my seventh novel, is done and dusted and will be out on the 15th September. It's a story about an eighteen year old girl, Angelica, at a cookery school in Paris in the sixties who falls in love with her unsuitable Italian cousin and her rocky journey from naive enthusiast to top caterer, telly chef and grown-up feisty young woman. 

Readers of the first Food of Love novel (The Prodigal Daughter is the second) will know Angelica's parents' story, and won't be surprised to find that her father Giovanni is beside himself to find his darling daughter throwing herself away on the charismatic but impossible Mario. Please have a look.

I started my writing career as a journalist, mostly writing about food. My first regular column was for the Daily Mail, then, over the years, I moved to the Sunday Express, the Guardian and Mirror. I still like journalism and do occasional pieces for the Spectator or the Oldie, though no longer about food. I didn’t write a novel until I was in my early fifties, mainly because I lacked the courage and also because I was writing cookbooks (the most successful being the Leith’s Cookery Bible, (co-written with Caroline Waldegrave) and running my increasingly successful business. 

I’d fallen for the idea of being a cook in my late teens, as a student in Paris. When I came to live in London at the age of twenty-one I went to cookery school and then set up as a Cook for Hire, travelling about on the tube and cooking posh people’s dinner parties. I once left a basket of live lobsters on the district line, which must have been a surprise for some train official at Cockfosters. Gradually the business grew until I employed 500 people and we fed the passengers on the Orient Express Train, the delegates at conference centres like the Edinburgh International one and the Queen Elizabeth II centre in London, and we catered for many a celeb party. Once Elton John had a Cave Man party with waitresses in leopard skin bikinis and waiters in loincloths. 

I discovered that I loved business, which was a surprise because I’d gone into the kitchen because I didn’t want to work in an office. By the time I sold Leith’s in 1993, that was what I did, sit in an office overseeing the business, which by then included Catering in the Royal parks, Hampton Court Palace, a Michelin Starred restaurant and Leith’s School of Food and wine. No much time to cook, let alone write a novel. 

As I headed for fifty the need to “write that novel” became unquellable. I knew I’d never do it if I continued to write cookbooks and if I had the business to run. So I sold up, and vowed never to write another recipe, a promise I have kept. 

The transition to creative fiction wasn’t seamless. I went on a four day novel-writing course at Arvon, which was wonderful. I came home with three chapters of my first book, and all the confidence in the world. But my agent rejected the book. “The first half is great” she said, “but the novel is broken-backed and the second half is all over the place, over-plotted, too many characters, too long, as though you wanted to put everything you know and everything you think into one book. I can’t send it to a publisher.” 

“But that’s the best I can do,” I wailed. So she sent me to The Literary Consultancy and Julia Bell sorted me out. She chopped out my favourite chapter – “Yes, yes, it’s beautifully written but it doesn’t belong here. It’s about new characters who we don’t care about and it interrupts the momentum of the main story. Take it out and sell it as a short story.” Julia also axed the last four chapters of the book: “That’s the sequel. The story ends on chapter twenty four,” she said. I sent the revised book back to my agent who sent it to Penguin. They published in in 1999, followed by Sisters and The Gardener. 

But they didn’t like the idea for my next book: the story of three single older women who meet in a signing group. A serious food writing widow, a slightly neurotic businesswoman and a man-mad divorcee are all facing the problems of their age: retirement, the empty nest, good looks slowly vanishing, bad knees. Penguin said, “Sixty isn’t Sexy”.
 

So I took it to Quercus and they published Choral Society in 2009. It was my best selling novel. A Serving of Scandal, a story based on a true Westminster scandal, followed. 

Then I wrote my autobiography, Relish which I now regret. You need to be thicker skinned that I to have journalists concentrating exclusively, and wildly distorting, the “juicy bits”. How could I have been so naive? 

I thought I might stop there, and quietly retire. But that infernal and eternal itch to write doesn’t seem to recognise retirement. So here I am with my family saga, the Food of Love Trilogy: Food of Love, The Prodigal Daughter and Lost and Found. 

The good news is that they’ve been optioned for a major TV series by a duo of producers: Stephen Fry’s Sprout TV and Parallel Films. And Yes I know an option means little: the production company has to pitch it to possible co-producers (it will be very expensive, a Downtonessque saga covering three generations of a family in the food business, set in grand houses, farms, café’s, restaurants and hotels in London and Paris). But I can dream, can’t I? Of a Sunday night pm slot, with series following series, and the whole nation watching. And a whole new career for me."

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