2 minutes with Jane Lawson (OK, maybe 5 minutes…)
Occupation: Cookbook author, Publishing Consultant, Kyoto Culinary Tour Guide
Lives: Sydney, NSW
So every January you head off to Japan to run tours, where did your interest for the culture and cuisine of Kyoto come from?
To be honest I knew nothing about Japan, and had no real interest in the place until I started learning Japanese in high school at around 12 or 13 - it was part of the curriculum the first year and from the very first lesson it was like a light had been switched on. Of course they taught us a how to read and write the language but it was the amazing cultural and food lessons that really drew me in! Thanks Mrs Shimada!
I first visited Japan with my mum when I was 15 and was instantly hooked! But back then Japanese food was still quite ‘foreign' and we weren’t particularly adventurous in the first few trips… That all changed when Iwent on to work for Jalpak - the travel subsidiary of Japan Airlines - when I was around 18 and back in those days staff travel discounts were pretty damn wonderful. I started travelling to Japan once or twice a year, lived in Tokyo for a bit when I was 20/21 and then moved to Kyoto for a few years back in 2010 where I wrote my book Zenbu Zen- Finding food Culture and Balance in Kyoto. Having travelled regularly to Japan for over 30 years by the time I moved to Kyoto - I thought I already knew quite a bit about Japanese food culture ( because I am a glutton for information as well as the edibles) - but boy was I in for an awakening. There is just SOOO much to know- we are talking about an ancient and complex culture here so I’m sadly never going to know it all but I’m certainly going to soak in as much as I can for as long as I can! And love being able to share that with people through my writing and tours.
Tell us how you got into publishing and writing cookbooks?
I thought you just wanted 2 minutes…? Ha! So, I was ‘working as a waitress at a cocktail bar…’, actually I was cooking professionally from a very young age and after years in the kitchen my dodgy spine decided it didn’t want to play anymore so I moved into publishing as a food editor for Murdoch Books. A friend was working as a managing editor at the time and she recommended I apply for the role - I had no clue what a food editor was at that point! So I threw my hat into the ring! I continued to work for them for about 12 years - moving into the role of Food Director and then Food Publisher - until I ran away to Japan to write Zenbu Zen. In my ‘spare time’ I wrote some books… don’t ask me how that happened but it did! It certainly helps to have worked on all sides of the fence when it comes to putting a cookbook together.
What's the biggest challenge in writing a cookbook?
These days it would have to be getting a title across the line - the market is flooded with food books! But that aside... TIME! People never realise how much time and effort it takes to put a book together. Never.
What's your favourite childhood recipe from your most recent book Milkbar Memories?
That is like asking me to name my favourite child. Seriously. I put so much love into the development of every single recipe in every book that it is almost impossible to choose a favourite. But I would be telling fibs if I didn’t say I wasn’t stoked to now be able to make my own caramel buds and musk sticks! and liquorice! On the savoury side - the chicken burger is a cracker, so are the pies, sausage rolls and potato scallops…sorry - potato cakes for you Melbourne folk… I had better stop there because I’ll end up naming every item in the book! And you did just ask for one….
What's your top tip for any of our Fully Booked community wanting to write their own cookbook and land a publishing deal?
Be very clear and detailed when it comes to your concept. Make sure you are able to really ‘see it’ -from content to cover, from chapter to images - to who you think will buy it and why before you even think about approaching a publisher.
You can follow Jane on Instagram @janelawsonfood and @zenbu_tours