When asked about Volkswagens — the subject of a trilogy of his novels — writer Geoff Nicholson says “Well, I just kind of like 'em is all.”
Nicholson mainly writes novels, but he's got a blog about walking, an addendum to his book about it called “The Lost Art of Walking.” He also keeps a food blog, Psycho Gourmet. It is updated rather infrequently, which is a shame because it's a rare specimen of superb writing in blog form — really almost too beautiful to be labeled blog posts, more akin to vignettes. Luckily, Nicholson says he just finished a few projects and “it's definitely time to get back on the horse and do some more psycho-gourmet-ing.”
On his blog, you'll find the author's “ruminations on food, and its relationship with sex, decadence, obsession and the madness of the mouth.”
Squid Ink: When and why did you decide to start blogging about food?
Geoff Nicholson: Well, like most writers I feel I should “get my name out there more.” My publisher of course feels this even more than I do. It's not so much because I want to be “famous” per se, but because the better known you are the more likely people are to pay attention, read your work, buy your book etc.
And I looked at a few of these “random jottings from a tortured mind” kind of blogs (please tell me there isn't really a blog with that title) and they seemed just hopeless. There had to be a thematic connection between the posts, and I do have a number of more or less interesting obsessions — and food is certainly one of the main ones. So why not a food blog? I started about 18 months ago.
And of course we all have the Julie and Julia fantasy, some insightful editor/publisher/filmmaker will see how great it is and I shall conquer all.
SI: How does writing fiction differ from writing blog posts? Is it hard to transition from one to the other?
GN: Well, for better or worse (I think better) I'm one of those writers who does have a recognizable voice; skeptical, subversive, quite warm, quite witty, but occasionally quite dark. And it's really the only one I've got, so that's the voice I use whether I'm writing a novel, or an essay for the New York Times or a blog entry. So the transition isn't so hard in itself. But of course a 3,000 word chapter is easy to read in a novel — pretty hard work online. So in the blog I tend to writer shorter, more broken up paragraphs — I haven't decided if this is good or bad.
SI: On Psycho Gourmet, You write a lot about food-related memories, or the disappointing lack thereof. As you mention in your post about the party at Taschen's house, all of this documentation of the meals we eat means we have less responsibility to remember. Do you think food photography makes us lazy? What is lost when we have photos of every aspect of a meal, instead of only a menu and our memory?
GN: Gastronomica just published a piece of mine, about my mother's weird eating habits (she only really liked white food). And I dug through all the family photos hoping to find some picture of the Nicholson family eating. Nothing there apart from my parents cutting their wedding cake, and one of me eating white ice cream. Now, of course since everybody photographs everything all the time it seems nobody can eat a sandwich without memorializing it somehow.
On the other hand, I do have a very clear memory of the best sandwich I ever ate — at the Sidewalk Café in Sheffield — grated cheese with pickled onion, eaten with my first ever girlfriend the morning after we'd spent our first ever night together — actually perfectly chastely — in her parent's house, and obviously the memory is about a great deal more than just the sandwich — but I do wish I had a picture of it.
SI: You have a revolving-restaurant fetish, although few have lived up to your expectations. If you were going to open a revolving restaurant, where would it be and what would it serve?
GN: Well “fetish” is a tricky word — I just like 'em is all. In the realms of complete fantasy I'd open one high atop a tower in the middle of Death Valley — endless desert to the horizon on all sides.
The food places in Death Valley serve the most awful slop — a decent hamburger joint would be a fantastic improvement; but if it was the all-Geoff-Nicholson-all-the-time-menu, half a dozen oysters, braised pheasant with roast potatoes, a good cheese board. I can always live without dessert.
SI: What was you favorite thing to eat as a child?
GN: It was cheese — and probably still is. Never found one I really didn't like — but the cheese of my childhood was crumbly white English Cheshire — partly my mother's “white food” influence — but I've shaken off most of the rest of my her influences when it comes to food.
SI: In your post about “Picnic at Mougins,” you discuss the notion of a meal in which the company is the focus, over the food. Do you often eat out with friends? Do you ever eat out alone?
GN: I certainly don't eat out as much as I used to when I lived in New York and London — and really it's the drinking and driving problem. Going out in London, at least in my set, meant drinking at least a bottle of wine per person with dinner. In New York it wasn't a night out unless you started with a couple of martinis.
In L.A. I, and everybody I know, is scared to death of driving drunk, or at least of being caught. So dining out tends to be a rather well-behaved business, which means it's less fun, so I do it less often. Is this a terrible confession?
I can eat lunch out alone, but not dinner.
SI: Do you read other food blogs? Who are some of your favorite bloggers? Food writers?
GN: Among bloggers I loved the guy who tried to eat in an L.A. restaurant of a different ethnic group every day — I've just searched for it and can't find it. (SI: That's Noah Galuten's year-long eating project, Man Bites World)
But I see someone's doing the same in Washington D.C.
Among food writers I loved the late Alan Davidson and waited eagerly for his Companion to Food — but then was a bit disappointed — he was a genuine obsessive and scholar and I felt it should have run to 20 volumes — I still re-read his collection A Kipper With My Tea from time to time.
I used to love an English food writer called Jonathan Meades — but he's gone on to bigger things. I guess the burn out rate is high for food writers. And I'm sure it goes without saying — but I'd better say it — Jonathan Gold.
SI: Oh, and about the Volkswagens…
GN: I confess to having written three novels about them. As may be obvious from the blog if nowhere else I'm obsessed with obsession I'm not really a true obsessive myself but I'm fascinated by people who really are and many have been obsessed with VW Beetle — basically from Hitler to — well you name it, but certainly Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. And, of course, this makes a great structure for a novel.