Eating Authors: Sam Hawke

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Sam Hawke

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of the founding members of Codex, an online community of authors created by Luc Reid. I’m not as active there as I used to be, but it’s incredible to see how much the group has grown over the years, and especially to see new members report in when they’ve published their first novels, or to get to know writers who live so far away that I’m unlikely to actually encounter them face to face (with the exception of dizzying and pseudo-random encounters in Helsinki and similar exotic locales).

This week’s EATING AUTHORS guest hits both those criteria. Sam Hawke lives in Canberra, Australia, or so she claims. Details of her life suggest that, at least in that regard, she is an unreliable narrator. She insists she’s lazy, but two novels sold to Tor suggest otherwise. And while her alleged distrust of ducks is certainly plausible, I feel less confident about claims of martial arts skills given some hints of wounds caused by a cheese slicer (though whether these were self-inflicted or purely defensive is unclear).

Her debut novel, City of Lies (the first volume in her Poison War series) came out from Tor Books last summer. Volume two is set for a release in early December.

LMS: Welcome, Sam. So when and where was your most memorable meal?

SH: I went on my first overseas trip, to Thailand, with my then-boyfriend in 2002, equipped with no recommendations but a Lonely Planet guide – based on these quick paragraph descriptions of places we’d decide where to eat, where to go, whether or not to accept that side trip to the temple the tuk-tuk driver swears is the prettiest in town, only can we just stop at this amazing jewelry shop he knows that is having a one day only sale?). I can’t remember what it was about this particular description that so excited me, but across the island we went to find this mysterious restaurant based on a description but no precise street address.

City of Lies

It was… not a smooth journey. Our tuk-tuk broke down part way, in the middle of nowhere; it was sauna-hot and we were hungry and anxious about how much the replacement tuk-tuk was going to charge (we didn’t have mobile phones back then so we were at the mercy of the replacement driver), then the replacement one ran out of petrol and had to refill, so by the time we did eventually make it into town the hangry levels must have been pretty high. A different person – perhaps a more rational person – might have cut their losses and just eaten at the next place we saw, but no! Let no one accuse me of being rational.

We got to the street after another long hot walk but there were no numbers. All we had was the street name and a description of the restaurant’s appearance, in what now seemed like a deliberate attempt to personally sabotage us by the book’s editor. We had, I think, walked past the restaurant no less than 6 times before one of us realized the name was hidden behind some greenery. Hurray! We’d done it! We did not need to fight to the death and eat the loser’s corpse! (I may be exaggerating the extent of my bad temper and stubbornness vector at the moment but then again, maybe not. I really, really like food).

I remember stepping inside and knowing straight away we’d made the right call despite everything. It was one of those places that just ooze charm. It was insulated from the street noise and heat by overgrown plants, and it had eclectic décor in a mix of Thai, Chinese and what seemed to be South American styles (which explained itself when the smiling husband-wife owners introduced themselves). Everything was going to be allllll right.

Hollow Empire

And it really was. I wish I could remember what we ate, exactly, but I don’t, I just I remember that the dishes were labelled like boring bog standard westernized Thai/Chinese dishes – ‘sweet and sour pork’ and ‘lemon chicken’ and such, but when they came out it was like the difference between a sun sweet strawberry picked wonky and ripe from your own garden compared to the enormous, stiff, empty ones in shops. Everything had so much flavor, so much nuance. Every dish was better than the last. But it wasn’t just the food, it was the staff as well. While we were waiting for our first course, the waiter arrived with little samplers of other things on the menu – “The Chef thought you might like to try these while you’re waiting.” Not just at the beginning but between every course. “I know you didn’t order this but I thought you might like a taste.” “Here’s a little palate cleanser sorbet so you can properly enjoy the next one.” It was like being fed by loving relatives rather than complete strangers.

Even after we had paid the bill, already tipped, past the point at which there was any possible financial incentive to keep bringing us things, we were still being given cups of thick sweet tea and hard biscuits and urged to stay longer. The owners moved the tables to the edges and suddenly everyone was impromptu Latin dancing like we were in a movie (not a musical, thankfully, because I think I might have drawn the line at impromptu group songs). We stayed there dancing ’til it closed. Afterward, we walked along the beach and Boyfriend found a mysteriously abandoned – but flawless! – rose lying on the beach to give to me.

The whole thing, looking back on it, was so ridiculously perfect it could have been scripted. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about food (aside from the fact that it’s delicious, obviously), that even if I can’t remember exactly what I ate, all these years later, I remember how it felt and the surprise and delight as our evening turned around. The turning point between ‘terrible afternoon of doom’ and ‘perfect evening of almost embarrassing levels of happiness’ was just that: one good meal.

Thanks, Sam. I’m a big believer in serendipity and paying attention when the universe sends flashing neon signs. That rose on the beach? You never had a chance.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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