Lottie Hazell, PIGLET

Lottie Hazell, PIGLET

Debut author Lottie Hazell joins Zibby to discuss PIGLET, a stylish and razor-sharp examination of women’s complicated relationship with food and the messes life makes for us. Lottie delves into the main thematic elements of her book: appetite, aspiration, and the role of food in the protagonist’s life during her pre-wedding crisis. She also talks about her creative process and food writing (which she masters in this novel!) and then describes her dual pursuits in creative writing and game design. Finally, she shares her best advice for aspiring authors!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lottie. Thanks so much for coming on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books" to discuss Piglet. Congratulations.

Lottie Hazell: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be with you. I'm just envying your library behind you. What a nice space to be in.

Zibby: Thank you. This is my office. I know. Thank you. It's a little slice of heaven. Although, I don't know why I always face this way. Anyway, Piglet, it's everywhere. Are you so excited? I feel like it's in every roundup and every magazine. I feel like I'm seeing it constantly.

Lottie: I'm pleased that it's not just you. It's hard to know when you're the author if it is in as many places as you think it is or whether you're just very much in your own echo chamber. I'm pleased that you're seeing it.

Zibby: I am seeing it, yes.

Lottie: I'm pleased. It's exciting. It feels quite surreal because it's my first book. It feels as if I'm observing it happening to someone else. Theoretically, I'm excited.

Zibby: I know what you mean. Tell listeners, what is Piglet about?

Lottie: I describe Piglet as a story of appetite and aspiration. It follows our titular, Piglet, in the weeks before her wedding. Her fiancé confesses a terrible truth to her in the few days before they're due to get married. The novel follows her as she grapples with this and its threat on the life that she's very carefully curated for her, and for her and her fiancé, Kit. A lot of these emotional tusslings are seen through the lens of food, which Piglet uses to curate her sense of self.

Zibby: Wow, that's a really good explanation. Well done. I feel like this book is one of the best food writing examples. You can hear it. Sensory. Maybe sensory is the word. Hear, smell, touch. I feel like I go to the dinner party, and I've just had the meal. I actually read this months ago when I first got it because I wanted to dive right in. I feel like the books that do the best job, I can just look at the cover, and I'm immediately sitting back at that table or in that conversation. It comes right up again in my brain with all the details. That's how I feel about this.

Lottie: I'm so pleased. The US cover does such a good job at that kind of claustrophobic awareness of the food as well. The burger feels very much in your face. There's not much room for maneuvering when you look at it, which I adore. I think it successfully conveys the claustrophobic, delicious energy of the book.

Zibby: Yes. Claustrophobic, delicious energy, love it. Where did this book come from? You have a PhD in creative writing, so it's not such a shock. When did you start writing this? Why this book? Why these characters? What is the backstory?

Lottie: The very first draft of this book and another version of this book, it's within my PhD. I was looking specifically at contemporary, what I call food-centric fiction. I was interested in disclosure -- surprise, for those that have read it -- and how those two can fit together. I think Piglet is a very natural creative response to those academic preoccupations. The first scene that I wrote for Piglet was the night after Kit, her fiancé, confesses to her. She's making them a carbonara. I was just fascinated by this character's commitment to domestic routine and to continuing to enact the rituals of a life even though something had cracked between her and this other person. That perseverance I found fascinating. It feels like there's a kernel of truth in that that I just wanted to explore further. I didn't know what happened between them or who they were, but I wanted to know, why are we still making dinner? Why are we eating leftovers over the sink? What's happened here? I felt compelled to carry on writing them.

Zibby: Eating is one of those things that you have to do no matter what. You don't necessarily have to cook a delicious carbonara. You don't get to say, well, this makes me think of my ex, so I'm going to stop doing this.

Lottie: I think it's the continuing to cook for someone when something's happened, when you have been, as Piglet has been, betrayed. She continues to outlay and feed, which I find a really interesting -- what's the motivation there? At that point, it surely isn't a tenderness or a feeling of affection or a nurturing. There's something else going on there.

Zibby: Yes, very true. I don't have that problem. I don't really cook at all. The idea that I would continue to do something nice for someone who has not been nice, especially in this arena, is hard to imagine. Let me just read a paragraph so people get a sense of how you write about food. Piglet's having her housewarming thing. She's insisting she'll cook. You say, "She picked up salted butter, thick Greek yogurt, and cream. The menu was not modest." This is when she was shopping. "Her basket was already heavy with Charlotte potatoes, fresh herbs, and a Duchy chicken. It was too hot for a roast chicken, but Piglet had once heard Nigella say something about a house only being a home once a chicken was in the oven. And anyway, there would be salads, one chopped and scattered with feta and sumac, another leafy with soft herbs. New potatoes, boiled and dotted with a bright salsa verde. Bread and two types of butter: confit garlic, and parmesan and black pepper. There would be cold wine and open windows, patio doors thrown wide. It would all look and taste exquisite." You just feel like you're there. You can smell the chicken in the oven. It's all just so well done. You should go into menu writing. If you need a side hustle, you should just write menus for great restaurants or something.

Lottie: That sounds like a great job. I would love that job.

Zibby: You would be very good at it. I think it actually is a job. Anyway, you design board games as well. Tell me about your whole life. Take me back. When did you decide to even get a PhD in creative writing? What is the gaming piece of your life and brain? How does everything intersect?

Lottie: Funnily enough, I hadn’t really considered game design and writing as intersecting parts of my world until I had been asked about it on press for the book. In hindsight, that is so ridiculous because obviously, they're connected. They're different modes of storytelling. For me, they exist on quite different planes. Game design feels like a very head pursuit, whereas writing feels much more of a heart domain. They kind of came about at a similar time. I started my PhD in 2019 having gone freelance from the publishing industry in the UK. I had an opportunity to do the PhD, so I was doing it at the same time as my publishing work. Then my husband and I decided that we'd like to try and combine our skills across various different arenas and try and make games together because it's what we always had enjoyed doing. They both fruited at similar moments, which has been really interesting to stretch creatively in different ways. I appreciate different modes and being able to commit to projects in different creative ways. I suppose that's really the story. Before that, I was working in a publishing house. I left that and then started spreading my creative tendrils.

Zibby: What area in publishing? What was your functional area?

Lottie: Nonfiction. Mostly, .

Zibby: There you go. Perfect. Tell me more about the games. Which games? Would we know them?

Lottie: I'm not sure if you'd know them. They're quite niche. One of our most popular titles is a game called Dog Park, which is about walking dogs. We have another one called Forever Home, which is also about rescuing shelter dogs. We're working on a new one, which isn't about dogs. Although, I can see on your couch behind you, a very well-camouflaged .

Zibby: Yes, that's my black lab.

Lottie: Good canine company here. Those are the ones that we've published so far. Like books, it's a slow industry where it's designing a thing and then physically making it and then getting it to people. My husband runs the entire logistics side of the business, which is making, shipping, etc. To umbrella his whole job, etc.

Zibby: I made a board game. I made it, and I used to play it with my kids. It was called Time Out. I had a whole Chutes and Ladders type of thing. You yelled at your brother. Time out. Go back three spots. Then I would have another one. You helped out with dinner. Move forward. It was designed to show them what behaviors I wanted them to do and what I didn't.

Lottie: Good work.

Zibby: It was really fun. Then we had this flood in our basement, and it got destroyed. I forgot all about it. I was like, I don't know what to do from this template I put on a piece of cardboard. How do you get it into stores? It seemed completely impossible to me, so I just put it aside.

Lottie: I think it's a relatively young industry comparatively, niche hobby games. There is so much of it that is still not formalized in how those routes to market actually work. A lot of crowdfunding happens in hobby games rather than traditional, in-store B2C. Sorry, this is very dry.

Zibby: No, I'm interested in this.

Lottie: I'm pleased. Rather than being in store, there's a massive market that exists, especially on Kickstarter and Gamefound and that kind of place, for custom, bespoke, or luxury board games.

Zibby: Interesting. It wouldn't even have to go in a store. Maybe I'll bring it back.

Lottie: If you can remember it. There'll be interest somewhere.

Zibby: Wow. I thought it would be cool. I'm sorry to waste time talking about this. I thought it would be cool if people personalized their own cards, like what they wanted their kids to get time-outs for versus what I want my kids.

Lottie: On crowdfunding, this would be exactly the kind of thing you might offer as an extra or a stretch goal. This is perfect.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Maybe I'll email you after to get the link and in my spare time, bring this back. What do you want people to know about food and food writing and the role of food in literature that they might not know but that you deeply know after all of your research?

Lottie: That's an interesting question. I suppose it might be better for me to let your listeners know how I feel about food, which is that it is a language for me in and of itself. It feels like an ever-present undercurrent that shapes character. I don't think that I've learned much more about food. Although, saying that, I like to playfully say I method-wrote the book because I cooked all of the recipes that Piglet cooks in the book to try and get a sense of self, of her, and . Besides the practical nature of making caramel, I haven't learned more about food, but I have learned more as a writer. I believe strongly that without food, character is so much less. I think that if I don't know what someone's had for breakfast as a character, I don't really know them, or what they might pick up on a train journey as a snack. I think those details are so illuminating and important to me when I'm trying to work out who someone is and what drives them. That's probably true of life as well. I'm always interested in nosing around at what people are having for dinner or what their coffee order is.

Zibby: I am also really interested in that. When I was in third grade, I took the class list for all the parents, and I called everybody's house and asked all the kids what they had for dinner. Why do I do these things?

Lottie: Oh, so some people actually do it as well. This is excellent. What are you having? Let me take a note.

Zibby: What would you pick up on a train? What snacks would you order?

Lottie: I think it depends what mood I'm in. I think tea. Something with tea. Then I always want something with chocolate because to me, train travel feels like holiday. I feel like I'm on a jolly of some kind, and so I am never very mindful about whether or not I should have several chocolate bars. I might start twitching with the sugar. Probably wasn't a good idea. It's always when I'm traveling. Now I'm doing some press for the UK version. I have to keep reminding myself I'm not on holiday. Stop eating chocolate. I have a pain au chocolat in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. That sounds lovely to me. Something sweet.

Zibby: That sounds lovely to me too. That definitely sounds like a vacation.

Lottie: Isn't it? I can't keep doing this every day. This isn't a sustainable way to live. What about you? Are you a savory or a sweet person?

Zibby: I'm a sweet person, a hundred percent. Yes. Actually, when I was first getting to know my husband he asked me, "What your favorite meal?" He's an amazing cook. He went to culinary school. Now he just cooks for, basically, me, which is really fabulous. He asked me what my favorite meal is, which I guess was a question he used to ask a lot of people. I said it depends on the season. He thought that was the greatest answer ever, but it does, right? What your favorite meal is now versus the middle of summer is a totally different meal.

Lottie: Also, the context in which you eat it. I love, over colder months, anything that can be in a Le Creuset or a pot and in the oven. Amazing. If I serve that outside in the height of summer, no, no, no. Wrong on so many levels. Context matters hugely.

Zibby: I agree. What have you had to eat today?

Lottie: I'm in a hotel today after doing a book club last night. I had a really lovely breakfast this morning. I had some nice sourdough and avocado. I'm by the sea in the UK, so I had smoked salmon. I need to ask whether they bought it because it was like -- I don't know what smoked salmon is like. Lox, perhaps. It was so smoky and delicious. The salmon was almost starting to go a lovely caramelly color. It was not your regular smoked salmon, which was lovely this morning. I had that with a cup of a tea and a croissant after that because I feel -- this is my issue. If I'm away and I'm eating breakfast, I'm going to have maybe two or three breakfasts rather than just the one. I haven't had lunch yet, so we'll see what's after.

Zibby: Amazing. You cooked all the meals in the book. Did you do it while you were writing? What was the timing? Did you write a scene and then go cook it, or did you cook it and then put it in the book? How did that work?

Lottie: I cooked it and then put it in the book. I wanted to get a sense of reality, of what those were like. Some of them I was already very familiar with. The pastas in there and lots of the food that she makes are some of my recipes that I like to go to myself. The croquembouche was a new adventure to me, so I wanted to get a sense of -- head shaking is exactly right. You're doing the right . I wanted to get a sense of realness and truth of what that was like because they're such integral moments for her and the book. I felt like if I can get a sense of reality, I just think that informs the writing. It informs the writing for me.

Zibby: I didn't count. How many meals were in the book? Do you know the number? How many meals did you have to make?

Lottie: I actually don't. I don't know the number. I was happily oblivious and just among the food.

Zibby: I was like, did I miss recipes? You didn't put recipes in, did you?

Lottie: No, I don't think in the American edition there is. At the back of the UK edition, there is a recipe for . I don't think it's in the American . That was my publisher here, their suggestion. I don't know how I feel about recipes in books. I quite like being nondescript and sparse. To actually dictate a recipe feels like quite a big departure from my usual writing style for prose.

Zibby: A good social media thing you could add or something instead of in the book.

Lottie: Marketing-wise, excellent. Yes.

Zibby: Marketing-wise, yeah. Videos. I wonder if you could take someone -- not like you need my ideas here, but if you could do a cooking class and you take people through ten recipes that you made, or ten meals. You could even do it online.

Lottie: That's a lovely idea.

Zibby: That would be so fun. That's a totally book immersion situation.

Lottie: Very experiential. They can come method-read with me.

Zibby: Method-read with you, yes. A cooking book club. Really cool. I love that. What are you working on now, if anything? Not to say you have to be.

Lottie: I find podcasters are so generous. They ask a question. They're like, not that you have to be. Don't be pressured, but . I am working on something new, but I'm in the really nice early phase where it feels like a lot of percolation and trying to coax in inspiration. I have a general idea of what I'd like to write. I'm starting to kind of snatch scenes out of the air and scribble them down on my notes app and getting an idea of characters. I love this phase because everything's possible, and nothing has yet been written into a reality. Well, that needs editing. It's a nice space to be.

Zibby: Is that how you do it? You capture scenes and then piece them all together and use notes?

Lottie: That's how I start. I start with scenes that have interested me or caught my interest or feel like I want to explore them further. I'm quite a dull writer in that then I sit down, and I plot. Then I write. I turn up and then do a really terrible first draft followed by a heavy edit in which hopefully, the book reveals itself as something that's less terrible. The first draft is so humbling, I find. In this phase, I feel kind of mysterious and ethereal in almost a big magic sense. Then it becomes very quickly.

Zibby: You and your husband work together for the board game stuff. Is he involved in your writing at all? Is he an early reader, or is this something you like to keep close to the vest?

Lottie: He's not involved. That is because I am a real hermit when it comes to writing. I don't really like to talk about ideas. Until it gets to the point of sharing a manuscript, I'm not a very good collaborator. I like to internalize a lot and think it through quietly. He's ever so supportive. He asks, but nearly always, the questions are caveated with, "I know you're not going to tell me, but how's it going?"

Zibby: At least you know he's interested. He gets points for that. That's good. Do you have advice for aspiring authors?

Lottie: Read. Read as much as you can. Underline and make note of sentences or phrases or words that have inspired you or have moved you. Especially when I'm trying to make something new, I love reading other people's work. I love watching film or television and absorbing stories. I think that that's such an underrated way to work as a writer, to research and be in the industry that you're trying to be in. I was talking to another writer, and they were talking about how they felt like reading was a treat. It's such an odd thing because it is everything. It's the work. What a nice bit of work to do. Reading, definitely.

Zibby: Do you have some go-to authors that you read everything they write? Is there a genre you particularly love?

Lottie: I don't really have go-to authors, but I feel like I might be developing them soon because I just read and adored Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. You know the joy when you haven't read someone's catalog? It's like, oh, my god, there's more? There's this incredible catalog that I can now explore. The same with Ann Patchett. Tom Lake was the first -- no, that's a lie. Tom Lake was the second Ann Patchett I'd read. I was just like, oh, my god, there are so many more books that you've written. Now I just get to dive into the rest. I think the genre probably is contemporary focused on relationships, not necessarily domestic, but I'm interested in the dynamics between people being the thing that propels the plot. Beyond that, I don't need anything more exciting to keep me interested. That's what excites me, what's going on between people.

Zibby: I love that. You should read Sue Miller. Do you read any of her stuff?

Lottie: No. I'm delighted to have another recommendation.

Zibby: Sue Miller, Monogamy, I feel like it's all about that relationship. That's basically all you need in that book. It's about her feeling about her husband. Amazing. Lottie, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on. Congrats on your book. Are you doing a US tour or only UK?

Lottie: Only UK at the moment. I'll be in the US for work for the board games, so I'm hoping to visit some bookshops and just say hi to some indies whilst I'm over there. Just the UK for now. Happy to be doing podcasts. Thank you ever so much for having me.

Zibby: It's my pleasure. Lovely to meet you. Enjoy your lunch and afternoon snack or whatever. I feel like I need to elevate mine. Thanks so much.

Lottie: Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Lottie Hazell, PIGLET

PIGLET by Lottie Hazell

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