Victoria Brownlee is an Australian writer. She’s spent the best part of the last decade eating her way around the world, including a two-year stint in China where she was the Food & Drink Editor at ‘Time Out Shanghai’. In 2016, she traded dumplings for cheese, and is now settled in Paris, France. Her first novel, ‘Fromage à Trois’ (Amberjack) / ‘Escape to the Paris Cheese Shop’ (Quercus) was published in 2018, with the sequel to be released in summer 2019.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed stories and books. My first attempt at being ‘an author’ was at the ripe old age of five, and resulted in a fairly crude, self-illustrated depiction of a bedtime story my dad used to tell me called ‘The Hollow Log’.
How did you start writing about food?
To me, writing about food seemed like a natural progression from eating plenty of food. In the beginning, I wanted to share meals I’d eaten, or recipes I’d found, so I started a blog. From there, I became the Food & Drink Editor for the monthly magazine Time Out Shanghai, and began writing about food full time. Now, incorporating food into my fiction writing has allowed me to explore and approach this passion from a new perspective.
Do you find it easy to go back and forth between from nonfiction to fiction?
With fiction, I prefer immersing myself fully in writing and editing, so I’ll try and work on drafts for larger chunks of time where possible. With nonfiction, I’m normally working to deadline so I tend to put fiction on hold until it’s done. The good thing about working across genres is being able to take a break from one and focus on the other if you get stuck.
How do you prevent your self-critic from taking over?
If only I could get my self-critic to shut up! There’s always a voice in the back of my head telling me that my work isn’t good enough, or poignant enough. For years this actually stopped me from finishing a lot of fiction writing. Once I stopped trying to write for others and began to write something that I found both fun and engaging, I was finally able to finish a draft. Now, while I’m writing, and particularly while I’m submitting, I try to keep in mind that there will be people who will hate my work, and that’s completely normal and OK.
What are some difficulties you have faced coming from Australia to settle in Paris via China? What are some of the major cultural differences that struck you?
I’m no stranger to packing up my life and moving overseas, having first done so when I was 16. Each move has had its own challenges – learning languages, getting used to different ways of life, and navigating new job markets – but I’m actually surprised how similar daily life can look once you get established, especially in major cities (and even more so in those with active expat communities). Perhaps the best discovery from my travels has been that the love of food is universal. In China, people often greet you asking, ‘Have you eaten yet?’ and eating well in Melbourne and Paris is as easy as demolishing Grissini in Italy.