A Conversation with Lily Prior
How would you summarize La Cucina?
A delicious tale of risotto and rumpy-pumpy.
Describe your travels in Italy and how they related to the inspiration
for and creation of this book.
I knew from the very beginning that Sicily would be the setting for La
Cucin a larger-than-life backdrop for my larger-than-life heroine, Rosa Fiore.
This magical island has all the ingredients I needed: Mediterranean sun, light,
color and culture: intense heat inspiring intense passions; a culinary tradition
that exalts the concentrated flavors of the island's food; an air of mystery and
melancholy; the fascination of the mafia; the dark, deserted alleyways of
downtown Palermo; the danger and disappearances; the crumbling palazzi, the
quirky characters; curiosities like the miles of expensive autostrada on stilts
that lead precisely nowhere, and of course, the volcano; I like volcanoes.
What ideas came first in the process of writing this novel? Did you
conceive of the setting, the plot, or a particular character first?
What came first were the very clear ideas of the central characters, Rosa
and l'Inglese. Their shared passion for food was what led to their extraordinary
love affair, so the novel was always going to be a culinary saga.
Throughout the novel Rosa and others are cooking sumptuous dishes and
meals. Do you yourself cook?
Yes, I love cooking. Like Rosa, I love to make bread, rustic soups, pasta
dishes and sumptuous deserts, but I should point out (for those who have written
in with complaints) I personally have never slaughtered farm animals.
Do you have a favorite scene in La Cucina?
Oh lots! I love Rosa's erotic fantasies, the early skirmishes between
Rosa and l'Inglese, and the farcical love scene when they struggle to remove one
La Cucina is divided into four sections, each based on one of the
seasons. What was your motivation for doing this?
The seasons are significant because each reflects a stage in Rosa's life.
The novel opens with the winter, and what is probably the darkest time in Rosa's
life. Then the spring comes, when her sap is rising, and she is preparing to
blossom like the cherry trees that line the city streets. There follows that
exuberant summer of love she shares with l'Inglese. And finally comes the fall,
when she has reached a stage of emotional maturity, an acceptance of her life
La Cucina is being made into a feature film. Are you involved in
the process of translating it to the screen?
I hope to be. I am hugely excited at the prospect of the movie, and
entertain myself with casting the various characters. I'd love to hear readers'
ideas on this.
What would you like people to come away with after having read La
I hope when people read La Cucina, they will smell the bread
baking, the fragrant basil just plucked from the window box, the coffee brewing
on the stove. I hope their taste buds will be awakened by the irresistible
garlic and melting cheese concoction, formaggio all' Argentiera, which Rosa
prepares in the middle of the night, and which rouses her neighbors from their
sleep, its succulence pervading their dreams. I hope readers will feel the
intensity of the sun on their skin, hear the cries of the vendors under their
red awnings in the market place, blink in the dazzling intensity of the white
light on emerging out of doors in the midday sun, and I hope they will feel the
cold kisses of oysters on their bare flesh.
But beyond appealing to the senses, I hope readers will enjoy the characters,
feel heartened by Rosa's resilience, and shed a tear at the end. I would like to
think readers will agree with Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat) who said of La
Cucina: "Like an excellent meal, it leaves the reader feeling warm,
satisfied, and in greater harmony with herself and the human race."
What is Nectar, your second novel, about?
It is the magical story of a woman with a scent without a heart.
What authors do you admire?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and many other marvelous South American authors.
Vladimir Nabokov, and his god in the details.