Denise Irvine: Thank you, Nigella

And I hope you pick a better bloke next time

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 11:42 08/12/2013
Nigella lawson
Reuters

UNDER PRESSURE: Nigella Lawson leaves Isleworth Crown Court in London after another harrowing day of testimony.

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OPINION: When I was a teenager, my mother never let me put up posters of my heroes in my bedroom. Something to do with drawing-pins making marks in the new wallpaper, and the British pop stars and Hollywood princesses I loved being being potentially bad influences.

Nowadays, I still have my heroes, they're no longer pop stars and princesses, and I don't need posters. I have their books instead. Nigella Lawson feeds my kitchen cravings, Alice Munro my bent for literature that takes me to places outside my daily life.

Both my heroes have been in the news lately, for very different reasons. Lawson, Britain's famous culinary diva, has been having a torrid time with her ex-husband, and ex-employees.

Munro, the Canadian short-story writer, was named a couple of months ago as the new winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. It was an enormous accolade for Munro, a woman who appears to be as private as Lawson is public.

I've been hanging on every word written about them both, and I'm offering my own salute in their respective times of triumph and trouble.

First, the triumph of Munro, my all-time favourite author. The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prizes, says it picked Munro for literature because she is the "master of the contemporary short story" and a "fantastic portrayer of human beings." She's won other grand awards too, among them the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her body of work.

Munro's dozen or so volumes of short stories are largely set around the rural southwestern Ontario region of Canada where she was raised and still lives. I encountered her writing by chance in the early 1970s, it was Lives of Girls and Women, a collection of interlinked stories.

When I finished it, I remember thinking, this is the best book I've ever read. I'd read many good books before, and there have been many since, but I've have never experienced that same feeling.

Lives of Girls and Women opened the door to a particular style of storytelling by women, about women. About real life. Munro's writing is effortless, evocative, funny, disturbing, utterly brilliant. It is frequently small-town machinations at their best, and worst, in the hands of a writer with acute observation and a wicked streak of black humour.

I own all but one of her books, The Moons of Jupiter, which I borrowed from a friend years ago. I keep meaning to buy my own copy, Munro's writing will keep me company for the rest of my life.

My fear now is that at 82, she may not produce another collection. She hinted at this in interviews after the Nobel announcement. It has also been reported that she may be too frail to attend the prizegiving ceremony in Sweden on December 10.

With Alice Munro, you take whatever she can give, and she has given me (and countless others) a literary feast without equal in her genre.

Nigella Lawson has similarly served a feast for her admirers. I started cooking her food in 2001 when the Waikato Times secured the rights to publish recipes from her acclaimed cookbook How to Eat. This work is not illustrated with lush photographs of each dish, and we needed colour illustrations for the food pages that we ran the recipes on. So I undertook to cook the recipes at home for our photographers to style and shoot.

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That's how I learned how smart Lawson is, working with just a handful of good flavours, fresh ingredients, simple instructions, each recipe accompanied by a pithy story. Everything worked, nothing was unnecessarily embellished. A bit like Munro's offerings, in an entirely different form.

No wonder How to Eat won prizes, too. It continues to be the most used cookbook in our household. Lawson's Greek lamb stew, her lemony linguine, lime-spiked guacamole, and one-pan chicken, to name a few things, are among our household staples. One of our sons liked this book so much he eventually bought his own copy.

Lawson's been feted as a television chef, a fine food writer, a clever, witty, glamorous woman who has known more than her share of family tragedy but continues to produce good work, and engender goodwill. Unlike Munro, she is much photographed and filmed; the distinctive/seductive Lawson look is widely known.

There was huge sympathy for her a few months ago when her then husband Charles Saatchi grabbed her by the throat during lunch at a London restaurant. These images are haunting; no-one intervened. They quickly divorced. In the latest round, two Italian sisters formerly employed by Lawson and Saatchi are now in court accused of embezzling money from them.

In a cruel email read during the case last week, Saatchi insinuated that Lawson was a habitual drug user. He subsequently recanted in court and said he missed her terribly, admitted he did not know if Lawson had ever taken drugs during their 10-year marriage.

Lawson has admitted to using cocaine during two periods of her life, and had smoked the odd joint, but said she had never been a drug addict or an habitual user. She said she had a life problem, not a drug problem; she had now freed herself from a brilliant but brutal man.

From the media brouhaha - and commentators lining up to put the boot in - you'd think Lawson herself was on trial here. She's not, but her life is clearly more of a trial than her admirers ever knew.

So I'm wishing both my heroes well at this time. When I think about Munro, I give thanks, offer congratulations on the Nobel Prize, and silently add, Just one more book. Please.

I give thanks to Lawson, too, for many fine meals. I hope she gets her house back in order, and picks a better bloke next time.

- Waikato

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