Food for thought 4

Food for thought
Wine being poured
Food for thought (Pic Mathilda Langevin on Unsplash)

Food for thought: Well, not food at all but drink. Because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of drinking that happens in novels.

I really like associating my characters with a type of drink and often the brand too. It adds to characterisation. In the series with Fish and Vicki, Fish goes for IPAs, particularly the Jack Black Butcher Block, while Vicki is more a white wine gal.

As I have a soft spot for IPAs I decided to start the latest Fish and Vicki – The Rabbit Hole – with an IPA ale-making convention and a murder. Why not? It gets a reader’s attention.

Food for thought: Angela Makholwa

One of the things you can do with booze is let the reader know what sort of characters inhabit your story. In Makholwa’s The Black Widow Society there’s some really classy drinking that goes down. But then it would, after all, these are well-to-do women who gather to off their troublesome husbands.

When the three leading lights of the BWS meet for a chat only a short way into the novel, they settle down with a glass of eighteen-year-old whisky. We’re not told what it is but we know these are people with a serious sense of appreciation. Later, one of them tipples on Lagavulin, a single malt which is top-notch stuff.

Whisky adds a flavour to the story: character’s clear their heads with a glass of their favourite malt, steady their nerves with a stiff dram, or order whisky in bars so that they have time to think. Whisky is this novel’s go-to drink when it comes to building tension.

But whisky isn’t the only drink on tap. There is also champagne, definitely not sparkling wine, but the real thing: Veuve Clicquot. And there is red wine from the upper end of the market – Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon.

Drink is a serious issue in Makholwa’s novel and it is never your ordinary plonk.

Food for thought: Qarnita Loxton

In her third novel, Being Shelley, Loxton has two characters get sloshed at Tiger’s Milk restaurant in Muizenberg. It’s Friday night, the place is amping up. Shelley is by now at least two sheets to the wind.

“Kari, Lily and Di raised their glasses to mine wearily (it wasn’t the first time I’d made this toast tonight) and I cheers’d against their wine glasses too hard, sploshing some of my beer onto the table.

Made me laugh.

Kari also.

‘Flowers,’ she said, and mopped some of the beer with serviettes left on the table from dinner. ‘What I can’t believe is that you’re not lying under the table yet – all that wine earlier and how many of those beers already.’ Kari laughed more, her eyes a little glassy, her cheeks a little red. I wasn’t the only one feeling herself some Friday night freedom.”

Both Shelley and Kari have to be helped back to the rental the woman have taken for the weekend. It’s a great scene and says much about the individual characters and the compassion within the group.

Food for thought: Ken Bruen

There is a lot of drinking that happens in Ken Bruen’s crime novels and things usually turns out for the worse when booze is involved. There is a scene in A White Arrest, however, where the character uses drink to obliterate a memory.

“It’s understandable. The guy’s an assassin and he has just offed a woman by putting two rounds in her chest. He goes home and has “a party for one. It’s not difficult to prepare such an event. You buy enough booze for six and don’t invite anyone. He’d laid out on this coffee table:

4 Bottles of Wild Turkey

2 Six-packs of Bud.

1 Cheese Dip and

The gun.

The gun isn’t always a prerequisite, it depends who’s after you.


Verve with ‘Lucky Man’ over and over.

To complete the festivities, he’d put down four lines of coke.

Ready to party.”

It just goes to show that hitmen do have a conscience that rises to torture them after they’ve performed a dastardly deed.

Food for thought: in general

If the thought of the butterbeer in the Harry Potter novels turns your stomach (as it does mine), then you could get out of it with the Consul in Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. The Consul is forever consuming mescal, whisky (Johnny Walker is mentioned), flat beer, and tequila:

“‘Do you really like it?’ M. Laruelle asked him, and the Consul, sucking a lemon, felt the fire of the tequila run down his spine like lightning striking a tree which thereupon, miraculously, blossoms.”

There are times – frequent times – when Lowry’s prose seems drunk and doesn’t make much sense at all.

Unlike Shakespeare’s merry tippler Falstaff who makes sense even when he’s drunk. He’s frequently to be found in the Boar’s Head Inn but once, alone in a wood, gives a drunken soliloquy in praise of sherry. His tribute, as he staggers about, touches on the many attributes of sherry, noting that it is excellent “in the warming of the blood […] and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme.” (Henry IV: Part Two)

Getting to the parts extreme is the intention when it comes to booze in fiction. There’s a grand tradition of drunks and drinking in the novel which can bring with it as much humour as dramatic and ghastly consequences. Either way, with a good drink scene you’re going to keep your readers glued to the page.

You can read more here about the biggest drunks in literature, or click here for a list of novels compiled by Jay McInerney where wine is the major feature.

Writing tips

In using booze in your story you can add details to the social settings in your novel, enhance a character’s presence, give an insight into the character’s emotional make-up, or increase the tension in a scene. Types of drinks and drinking are added extras that will give a lift to your prose and the scenes in your novel.

Get more out of your writing.

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