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From the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Tori Haschka tells stories about food and family. Her new novel - Grace Under Pressure - follows harried food writer Grace Harkness and her friends, who form a commune as a way of coping with the madness of contemporary motherhood. We asked Tori about drawing on real life, food and friendship and how it all fits into her new book.

Why would Grace Harkness be considered #blessed, and what is the reality of the situation?
TH: From the outside – and from the glossy filters of social media particularly, Grace Harkness has it all; multiple cookbooks under her belt, a photogenic pair of children and a house in the shining beach-side suburb of Freshwater. Yet under the surface, Grace is unravelling, with a traveling spouse, the strain of stitching together a career in a gig economy where ‘maternity leave’ is a creative fiction and mothering without the traditional structures of a village for support. Maternal burnout is on the rise collectively; Grace is just one shape of it. Add a third unplanned pregnancy to the mix (oops) and Grace and the women in her life are going to have to get creative to find the way out of their collective strife.

 

How much of the inspiration for Grace Under Pressure comes from lived experience?
TH: Authors certainly write some of what they know. The best description I’ve read about how people create characters is that 30% comes from you, 40% from people you know or have seen and 40% from your imagination. Grace and the three other narrators of the book; Christine, Petra and Shelly all have shades of me. I do live in the Northern Beaches – and think it’s one of the most beautiful places around – which also makes some of the ugliness that happens behind closed doors feel more jarring. I know what it’s like to try to spoon feed salmon and broccoli to a toddler with a bucket on your lap, heaving from sickness while gestating their sibling. I know that post natal anxiety can often manifest as rage –this is a motherhood troll many of us don’t talk about – but probably should. I’ve driven myself a little mad trying to navigate eco friendly/allergy friendly/instagrammable kids birthday parties and wish I could go back and whisper in the ear of that harried mum ‘do less’. What I know the most is that female friendship, particularly in the hard, grafting years of early parenthood is one of the greatest gifts there is.

 

Tori Haschka
Tori Haschka
 

What is a mummune?
TH: A Mummune is an innovative solution to the housing crisis that many separated women with children find themselves in. It brings women and their children together to live in one house - a mums’-commune. There are real ones, and then there are the ones you and your friends sometimes fantasise about after a particularly rotten week. The kernel of ‘Grace’ came to me after months of hearing women I knew whisper the same sentiment to each other; ‘what if we lived in a village of women?’

 

How important are strong friendships to keeping one sane in the modern world?
TH: To me they are as essential as air and water. Friendships are what allow us to be the best of ourselves and have enough vulnerability to show the worst. One of my favourite lines in the book is when Grace says ‘kindness is a muscle – and it felt good to use it.’ Grace’s friends see her for who she really is and provide a buttress of support. And they do that willingly because of all the times she has done it for them. Motherhood in particular can be a very isolating time (never more so than since 2020), so finding others who you can share the highs and lows with, is one vital way of easing the load. I’m currently writing this after a significant back injury that had me hospitalised for a week – and I would have been absolutely lost without my female friends swinging in to help keep our family running with meal deliveries, offers of childcare and help at home.

 

We love how the chapters in Grace Under Pressure are named after recipes- where did you get that idea from?
TH: My background is as a food writer, so food is such a comforting form of imagery for me. I remember a good day based on what I ate and a hard one from if the tea I drank was cold. Food preparation is also such an under-rated, relentless part of child-rearing. I wanted to chapter headings to help set the scene for what would follow. Some of the food is soaked in some of the cult of ‘wellness’; chia seeds and kale and spelt scrolls. Some of the chapters’ recipes track the size of Grace’s pregnancy – as her third child unfurls from the size of a poppyseed in the chicken pie in the first, to a pumpkin in the curry of the last. And some of it taps into Australian food nostalgia; with pity bolognaise and fairy bread. There is also a selection of some of Grace’s recipes in the end notes of the book – and plenty more in my archives online. I hope that some readers will be able to take the time to make some of the date and cocoa cake, pour a cup of tea and read the book in blissful silence – while their mug of tea is still hot.


Grace Under Pressure by Tori Haschka is available in store and online from 3 March 2021.

Grace Under Pressure
Tori Haschka
$29.99
  

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