Q&A with Lisa Joy, Author of Yes, Chef!
Lisa Joy is the author of the deliciously funny and romantic novel Yes, Chef!
She began writing stories in her teenage years, but decided she needed to get her heart broken and live in another country before pursuing a career as a novelist. Born in Sydney, she spent most of her childhood wearing pink tights and leotards at ballet class.
At age 21, deciding she wasn't cut out for the famished life of a ballerina, she left her safe and somewhat predictable existence behind and traveled to London, where she worked as a television producer’s PA, in fashion retail and the restaurant business. Having fallen head over heels in love with London, travelling Europe, eating amazing food and the occasional stint on stage and screen, Lisa stayed put for about 7 years, until finally, family called and she returned to Australia.
Her writing took a dramatic turn for the better after she attended a commercial fiction masterclass with author Fiona McIntosh. She now lives in the picturesque Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne on an organic vegetable farm with her fiancé and four chooks and in addition to writing novels, is PA to a celebrated chef. Fortunately for Lisa, he is nothing like chef Damien Malone from her debut novel Yes, Chef!
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Q: From having to deal with her infamous boss to the kind of friendship she has with the other girls she works with, what made you give the main character, Becca, that type of persona in Yes, Chef!?
A: I wanted to portray the depth of uncertainty and angst I felt during my twenties, before I realised what I wanted to do with my life. Becca grew up hearing she could do anything in life, that she should follow her bliss and pursue her dreams. But what if you don’t know what your passion is? How do you then find satisfaction in the job you are doing and the life you are leading? It was important for me to show Becca struggling with these questions in the beginning of the book so that the reader could experience her personal growth from selfish and cynical to compassionate and optimistic.
Q: Were London and all the other places Yes, Chef! takes readers experienced first hand or researched? If there was anywhere else you could've visited to include in your book, where would it be?
A: I lived in London for seven years and even though I've been back in Australia for more than five years, I still miss it. Setting the book there meant I could feel like I was back in my beloved London, even if it was only in my mind. I have been to the other places the book is set in and had memories and photographs to refer back to when writing those scenes, but it was still necessary to do research for authenticity. I love to travel so there are many other places I would like to write about but I will keep them for future books.
Q: What made you add the bit in about the psychic? If you had a choice whether to have a psychic ability or not, what would you choose?
A: My mother actually went to a psychic once a long time ago and I've always found it strange and fascinating that someone could know things about you even though they have never met you before. I included the bit about the psychic in the book to create a serendipitous moment when Becca realizes certain things the psychic told her mother are falling into place. In a way it helps her to fully recognize her own feelings. I think intuition is a wonderful thing and I will often go with my gut instinct even if I can’t articulate exactly why, but I’m not sure I would want to be able to see the future. I would rather not know if something bad was going to happen.
Q: What did you have to have when writing/typing? In general as a writer?
A: I find going for a walk really helps my mind to relax enough so that I can start seeing the movie of my book and the character’s dialogue play in my head. The walk seems to clear my mind of other thoughts and then, once I have what I need, I can go back to my desk and write it all down before I forget.
Q: What did you do if/when you had writer's block? Was it difficult to write about Grace's situation?
A: I tried to tread very lightly with Grace’s situation. The last thing I wanted to do was trivialize such a heartbreaking moment, so it was challenging to find the right balance and to portray in an authentic manner how these very close friends would behave towards each other in such a sensitive, hopeless and emotionally charged situation.
Q: How did the cover of Yes, Chef! come about?
A: I absolutely love the cover for Yes, Chef! I’d had a few ideas of what I would like the cover to be like and talked them over with my editor but ultimately I left the decision up to the art department at Penguin because they are so talented at what they do and they know how to make a book appeal to its target audience. I had hoped the background would be a shade of red and so I was very pleased with the final version.
Q: Were any of the foods mentioned something you've tried before? Any favorites?
A: I’m pretty sure all the foods mentioned in the book are ones I have tasted before. It’s one of the upsides to researching a foodie book. One of my favourites is the wheat and freekeh grain salad that Effie’s brings back to the office from Altostratus when she is working the late shift with Becca. The salad is healthy, refreshing and delicious. The chef that created that dish was kind enough to allow me to publish the recipe on my website www.lisajoyauthor.com/journal
Q: Was there anyone or anything that inspired you to write?
A: I used to write short stories in high school and I had a teacher who was particularly encouraging but I didn't decide to write seriously until about five years ago when the idea for a series of fantasy novels came to me. For some reason I really struggled to finish the fantasy novel so I booked myself in to a masterclass with author Fiona McIntosh to give my writing a kick up the backside. Fiona is a very inspirational woman and author. It was during her class that I had the idea for Yes, Chef! when Fiona encouraged me to turn my experiences with food and restaurants into a story.
Q: What got you to write a story in this particular genre? Would you consider any other genre?
A: I never imagined myself writing chick lit, but once I had started writing Yes, Chef! there was never any doubt that it would be a romantic comedy. As I said, I was working on a fantasy novel before I started Yes, Chef! so I would definitely consider writing in a different genre one day, perhaps once I've established myself more as an author of commercial women’s fiction and I am writing full time, I might have more time to branch out to other genres.
Q: Would you say that writing a book is basically knowing how to make decisions?
A: Most definitely, but I think a big part of it is also about being disciplined and believing in yourself and your abilities.
Q: What gave you the idea to depict Damien Malone as the most antagonist character is this story?
A: When I started writing Yes, Chef! my first question was: What does my main character want? And then: What is standing in her way? I decided that Becca wanted a more fulfilling career and to become more open to love and that her boss, Damien Malone, would stand in her way.
Q: Would you consider a spin-off or perhaps a companion novel?
A: Part of me would love to re-visit these characters in a spin-off, sequel or companion novel as writing about the friendships between Becca and her workmates was one of the things I enjoyed most when writing the story. On the other hand, I also think it’s great that while the book ends on a happy note, not every little detail is tied up and the reader gets to make up their own mind about what happens to the characters.
Q: If you had the chance to right Yes, Chef! over again, would there be anything you'd like to add, change, take out?
A: As a writer, I think it’s dangerous to think of what could have been. Yes, Chef! is my debut novel and I already feel like I have learnt so much through the editing process, but I would rather focus on making my next book better than spend time thinking about things I can’t change. I’m heading back to Italy next week to research my next book, another foodie adventure-romance, so right now I’m so excited about that, I can’t think of anything else!