I was sitting together recently with a couple of chefs from the megayachts hanging around Antigua at the moment, and one of them happened to pick up a copy of The Magnificent Mango (pictured above) that was sitting on my kitchen counter (already looking well used!). “This is such a great book ” he said. “It’s hard to find good cookbooks of the region, but this one really nails it”. Wow, great compliment from a chef with a shining culinary background!
I met the author Caroline for a glass of wine at Seabreeze in English Harbour and we laughed about the nature of our similar international pasts before our arrivals in Antigua and our shared love of the written word.
She has fast become a heroine of mine. She told me quite frankly about her first novel written while she was pregnant with her first son. There was the usual rebuffs from literary agents but her discipline and perseverance soon had a book deal signed off. Since then there is no stopping her as she has moved from fiction to children’s books and successful cookery editions. Her elegance and poise is evident throughout everything that she does and her writing has a wonderful lightness that draws you in from the first words.
In this interview she gives us an insight into her inspiration behind her latest book and her love affair with Antigua, together with advice for new authors.
Caroline Fabre has written 8 books, from novels to children’s books and recipe collections. Her most recent publication is ‘The Magnificent Mango’, a wonderfully colourful compilation on everything mango and a fantastic souvenir of Antigua. The photographs by Max Freling are bright and colourful and show many of the faces of Antigua accompanied by Caroline’s friendly words.
Here is the inspiration behind this fabulous work, let’s meet Caroline Fabre!
– You have recently published ‘The Magnificent Mango’ which is available for sale here in Antigua. It is a beautiful cookbook with lots of exciting recipes inspired by the mango fruit, as well as a terrific souvenir of Antigua as it is filled with gorgeous pictures of the people of Antigua and of the island. What prompted you to choose this subject?
I have always loved mangoes – I grew up in Kenya where they were very often on the breakfast menu, but my brother and I would hoard them, then take them whole to the beach where we would devour them, before diving into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to wash our sticky hands and faces! I have since discovered that my favourite fruit is also the world’s favourite fruit!
– There are so many stunning recipes and ideas in the book. Are you a passionate cook and did it take you a long time to put together all of the ideas?
Yes, I am passionate about cooking and found that the recipes somehow wrote themselves, since mangoes seem to be compatible with so many dishes. I also took a few of my favourite recipes from my previous cookery book, Fabre Family Favourites and added mangoes – for instance Mango and Coconut Cheescake. But mostly I experimented with the kind of food I love, enhancing it with pureed, sliced or dried mangoes which I picked from my own Julie mango tree. All in all, the book took two and a half years to complete.
– The photographs in the book make a stunning marriage with the words. Who did you choose to work with on this project and why?
I embarked on a long search for a photographer, only to find the perfect person was living almost next door. Max Freling is a brilliant photographer and chef who runs The Hideout. He brought the project alive as well as leading it in all sorts of exciting directions by capturing nature and wonderful portraits of local characters along the way. He was also hugely helpful when it came to presenting the dishes. I couldn’t believe my luck – photographer, chef, and source of inspiration all rolled into one!
– One of my favourite parts of the book is the mango journal at the end, a little insight into your mind during the ups and downs of putting together this mango story. Do you always keep a journal?
I used to be religious about keeping a journal – I think I was a bit more disciplined when I was younger, but I haven’t written my thoughts for a while. I loved writing the mango diaries so maybe I will start charting my life again in a daily journal.
– Throughout the book there are recipes shared by different people. Part of this creative journey must have brought you in contact with a lot of new friends on the island ….
Yes, the book was an exciting journey into the heart of Antigua, and I met some amazingly talented people along the way.
The Magnificent Mango would never have come to fruition (excuse the pun) had it not been for Nancy Nicholson who brought the locals to me, found many of the stunning locations, and provided her stunning pottery for the dishes. Her artistic flair was invaluable to the project and we spent hours and hours discussing it, and choosing the images – in a word she brought the magic to the project.
Then there was Simon Saunders, a dear friend who designed book (we also worked together on the previous cookery book). He made a special trip to Antigua to soak in the atmosphere, and was thus able to provide the flair and vision when it came to the layout.
I approached some of my ‘foodie’ friends (some of us go to Ally Camacho’s Kooking class which has also been a huge source of inspiration). Ally allowed me to use some of her fabulous, tried and tested recipes – e.g, her chutney which is legendary.
In many ways that was the making of the book. But there were also many other friends and family who gave me their advice and time and contributed their much loved recipes – in the end I had to cut down on the recipes there were so many!
– ‘The Magnificent Mango’ is not your first book, not by a long shot! Could you tell me about some of the other books that you have written?
The Magnificent Mango is my eighth book. I have also written four works of fiction, two children’s books, and one other cookery book. All my books are available in Lord Jim’s Locker which Rosie now runs, in Falmouth Harbour. The Magnificent Mango, however, is also available in English Harbour at Rhythm of Blue gallery, Le Cap Horn restaurant, The Hideout restaurant & Hotspot, then in St John’s at Best of Books, Sea Island Trading & Island Gourmet Boutique (also available at the airport).
– Has writing always been a passion of yours?
Yes I love writing and finding a narrative voice to express myself – in a world of change and uncertainty it is nice to be in control of somebody else’s destiny and find for them a happy ending. Or not – depending on your mood! All my books have a hopeful ending, at least I think so – I think hope is important – after all it was the last thing to come out of Pandora’s Box!
– Many writers believe that they have an ‘idea fairy’ that gives them creative inspiration. Is this true for you, or where do you find the ideas for your books?
I think most of my ideas come from my own life experiences and real life stories from others. I do believe in writing about what you know, and always of course from the heart. Ideas can come at any given time – mine used to come during a long distance run, or just when I was about to fall asleep. They can also come to you in dreams, but very often they turn to ashes in the morning – and what seemed to have been a brilliant idea suddenly appears to be ludicrous. You normally know by the third chapter that the story is not evolving or the characters are not taking on a life of their own. That is a difficult, demoralizing moment, but you have to learn to let it go.
– Do you have a set daily routine when you are writing a book?
I like to write in the morning – after working out on the beach or swimming in the pool. That is when I feel my sharpest! I am definitely not good at burning the midnight oil.
– Self doubt seems to be a common step on the path to writing a book. It must be a wonderful feeling to finally have the printed copy in your hands….
Yes, I think most writers are plagued by self doubt. It is a big leap of faith to expect a reader to believe your fictitious story – and a writer’s job is to make sure the characters are credible. In the case of The Magnificent Mango, I had very few doubts – after all, most people love mangoes, recipes, and I figured they would enjoy discovering more about a fruit that is so prevalent on the island. For me it was a kind of love affair – my favourite fruit, the island, inspiring recipes – what could go wrong!
– When you are not writing your own work, what kinds of books do you enjoy reading and which authors inspire you?
I belong to a book club and we have read some incredibly insightful books – I love Irish writers, particularly Sebastian Barry. My favourite book – which was suggested by our book club was This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson – a story about Fitzroy and his voyages on the Beagle. I love books about adventure and the human condition. I stay away from Science Fiction and violence, whether it is a book or a film. A book in my mind should entertain, and enlighten and there is enough darkness out there without having to read about it.
– To any aspiring writers out there, what would be the one piece of advice that you would give them?
I think I have probably said this already but to any aspiring writers – try to write about something you know – and always write from the heart for as St Exupery says, ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly . . .’ But also if you want to write, just sit down and do it – and keep on working at it – it is a discipline like anything else, I guess. It can be a lonely business but if you believe in your story and feel it moving in the right direction, it can be the perfect companion!
– What other interests / hobbies do you enjoy?
My hobbies. Well obviously cooking and discovering new ingredients. Also experimenting – I am currently making beauty products which were inspired by the book – and love pottering in the kitchen melting Shea and mango butters adding oils to produce a smooth body butter. I also make a sugar scrub from mangoes, a hand cream and lip balm – and sell them at Rhythm of Blue. It has become my new hobby. I have always loved reading, swimming, and snorkelling and traveling to far flung places. I used to be passionate about long distance running and ran marathons in London, Dublin, Paris, Bordeaux and Kenya – but I don’t run much now and prefer working out on the beach at Ellis’s Bootcamp. Or hiking along Antigua’s stunning coast.
– Antigua hasn’t always been your home. How did you discover this island and what do you love about it here?
The locals, sailing, classic yachts, snorkelling, the perfect climate, stunning beaches, extraordinary hospitality from the community, all this and more brought us to Antigua. I always hoped to live in the Tropics after an idyllic childhood in Kenya. My oldest son is a sailor, boat builder, and designer and my other son who is equally adventurous studied business in America, so we decided to move to this part of the world 6 years ago – We had been looking for a home for a while, but Antigua seemed the perfect place. For me it was love at first sight, and still is – I knew the moment we stepped off the plane that we had found the perfect home.
– Do you have a favourite ‘liming spot’ in Antigua, a place or places that you love to hang out?
I love so many parts of the island but don’t really hang out in any particular place – I enjoy going for hikes at the weekend, and discovering new places. My favourite hang out place has to be our home – looking out over Willoughby with my husband Philippe and watching the colour of the sea deepen as the day goes on.
– When I first arrived in Antigua, it struck me that such a small island has such diverse landscapes. Do you have a favourite view on the island?
Ohhh the view from Shirley Heights, waking up to the sun rising over Willoughby Bay, (sorry to be repetitive), Nelson’s Dockyard, the view at the top of the St Georges trail, I could go on and on! My favourite beach is Half Moon Bay but I am very fond of Pigeon Beach which is so lively on a Sunday. I celebrate every birthday by taking a bottle of prosecco and driving up to Blockhouse (Shirley Heights) and meeting a gang of friends to celebrate what my youngest terms ‘just another trip around the sun .. . ..; and this island to me is the place of magnificent sunsets
– What is next for Caroline Fabre?
What is next – well I have a few ideas, but nothing set in stone – I suspect that once again, it will be something with a Caribbean flavour – I don’t think I will ever tire of the taste of life here on this island in the sun …. . . . .
The Magnificent Mango is available for sale in Antigua from the following stores:
In English Harbour – Rhythm of Blue gallery, Lord Jim’s Locker, Le Cap Horn restaurant, The Hideout restaurant & Hotspot.
In St John’s – Best of Books, Sea Island Trading, Island Gourmet Boutique (also available at the airport).