A debut novel by new author and world traveller, Hanna Tunnicliffe, The Color of Tea captivated my heart and senses with its bittersweet story of love, loss, and the power of women’s friendships.
Set in Macau, an island off the coast of China, The Color of Tea tread the path of books like Chocolat and engages the reader’s senses with heady visions of food and the emotional connections inherent in its consumption. Focusing on colourfully exotic French Macaroons the main character Grace learns to bake, the story’s development is guided by the flavours and colours of the rainbow hued cookies she invents in the back kitchen of her tea shop.
British-born Grace, haunted by the death of her mother, moves to Macau with her Australian husband Pete. Their lives torn apart by personal troubles, Grace sinks into a deep depression, but is eventually rescued by her epiphany that she should open a french-style cafe. As her dream is realized, a cast of women enter her life and effect the changes that become her (and Pete’s) salvation.
The Color of Tea will make your heart ache and smile at the same time. This is a story for women who have friendships that have shaped and enriched their lives. Warning: During and after reading, readers will crave french macarons.
I had the opportunity to interview Hannah Tunnicliffe and ask her a few questions about her book, her writing, and of course, her love of macaroons.
1. What made you decide to locate your novel in Macau? Your characters are from three other countries, so what made this one the right place?
Well, basically it is one crazy-wonderful place. I lived there for just over three years and it is so rich and fascinating, perfect for the setting of a novel. In the time I was there (and when the novel is set) it was experiencing a huge change in its economy, physical landscape and culture with the development of the casino industry; probably one of the most significant periods of the tiny country’s history. It is full to the brim with intriguing characters for any plot; locals and expatriates all blended together, cocktail style, to make a colorful, dynamic society.
2. You explored some difficult themes in The Colour of Tea. Were they developed from personal experience?
Yes and no; although the book is in no way autobiographical I did draw from my experiences as an expat, a friend, a daughter, a wife and now, a Mom. I have a real affection for the protagonist, Grace, and can really relate to her experiences trying to find purpose, family, love and hope. She’s doing her best – sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding but mainly I love her for the effort!
3. How do you write? Outline or wing it?
Lol! About 15% outlining and 85% winging it! I write as the inspiration strikes and as characters, who have been marinating in my mind, want to be written; rather than sequentially, following an outline. I do have a general outline in my head but I don’t follow it so strictly that I don’t end up being surprised and diverted by the way the characters naturally develop. Sometimes this way of writing is fun, sometimes it is a pain of the neck, but it’s the way it works for me so I go with it.
4. What was your inspiration for the cafe? Are you a baker or a lover of baked goods?
Oh, I wish I were a baker; it would save me so much money! I am sucker for baked goods. Cookies, cupcakes, brownies, muffins…anything sweet with a cakey texture is especially seductive. The baking style in Macau is so different from what I was used to that I found myself craving the baked goods of home (‘craving’ is probably an understatement…). A trip to Hong Kong introduced me to my first macaron and then, well, I was hooked. Also, in a ‘former life’, I was a waitress for a great little café in my college town of Hamilton, New Zealand. I drew on the experiences of working there to create Lillian’s, the café in the book.
5. Can you tell us more about the valuable female relationships in your book?
I think female friendships are so important to all women, but especially meaningful to women living away from family. It’s funny how we seem to find mother-figures and sister-figures wherever we go! We all need a community of women to support us and lift us up when we need it, don’t you think? The women who gather at Lillian’s are all seeking something a little different but find comfort and sisterhood in each other; they create their own kind of family.
6. Similar in genre to Chocolat or The Five Quarters of the Orange, your novel uses the imagery of food to move the plot along. How did you arrive upon this tool? And didn’t you get hungry while writing? (I know I googled local Macaron shops while reading..)
It’s funny you should mention those books, I love Joanne Harris’ writing, Chocolat is one of my favourites. The simple answer to your question is – I love food! Yes, I did get hungry as I wrote the book and also developed a slightly unhealthy addiction to macarons. Soon after finishing it I was lucky enough to be able to go to Paris and try some of the famous Parisian macarons myself. To me food addresses all the senses: taste, smell, sight, touch and it is both a comfort and a joy. I guess nourishment and food are one of our first experiences of love. Like a lot of women, Grace turns to food when she is lost and sad, and in turn she finds comfort, purpose and hope.
Recommend Factor: 6/10 (only because it’s a women’s book)
Unputdownable Factor: 9/10 (I read it in two sittings)
Words to describe this book: heartbreaking, lusty, sensual, devastating, uplifting, delicious