> Skip to content

Article  •  25 October 2016

 

Capturing the flavour

Fiona McIntosh’s enviable research trip behind her book The Chocolate Tin.

Research for The Chocolate Tin took me from Paris to Brussels, Switzerland to Bruges and finally – incidentally – to the city of York in England. I had been searching for the story, knowing it would find me if I kept moving through the chocolate houses of Europe. I remained open to ideas, had my radars finely tuned and was scanning for nuggets that could become gold. York was not for the book though; I was there to write a travel piece, but it was in this city that had been invaded by Romans, Vikings, Normans, Germans, even Danes, that I realised I was in the sentimental home of English chocolate. Of course! All those names I remembered from childhood – Cadbury’s, Rowntree’s, Fry’s, Mackintosh’s, Terry’s – and the chocolate bars, sweets and toffees we ate as children mostly hailed from the north.

It was in the York Chocolate Museum that I first set my gaze upon a chocolate tin, sent to the trenches in 1915. I found it poignant that the chocolate remained intact, and I helplessly wondered about the man who never got to eat his precious treats.

I left without my story, but over the course of the long flight home the memory of that tin began to percolate. By the time I arrived in Adelaide, I knew the setting for this novel had to be York, that the book had to focus around Rowntree’s (and the intriguing history of its Quaker family), and especially that the story began with that chocolate tin.

Within a few weeks of that return, I hopped on another flight back to York, this time to meet Dr Alex Hutchinson, curator and archivist for Nestlé, now owner of Rowntree’s. She’s one of those incredible people who doesn’t forget anything she’s read, heard, watched or listened to. I found her brilliance not only dazzling but addictive, and we spent four wonderful days together forging a great friendship but also hammering out a thin storyline. I say ‘thin’ because I don’t write to a plan, but we needed to link together some locations. We found two great family houses in York that would serve as major locations, as well as sundry meeting places that were popular in 1919 when my story takes place. It was Alex who suggested Boothby Hospital, which in 1919 was a lunatic asylum. It’s an intriguing location, and once I’d walked through its haunting corridors, I knew I’d have to use it. She also took me around Friends Hospital, and of course she gave me a personal tour of the chocolate factory, with a particular emphasis on its history. I was allowed to read through the Tour Guide’s Book from 1919, to get my character’s patois correct, and working off archived material I was able to create the swimming pool scene accurate to the era. We walked around the Knavesmire – where the opening chapter begins – stood on the bridge overlooking the siding where Harry first sees Alex, and visited the graves of various Rowntrees until I felt I understood this world of turn-of-the-century chocolate making. We systematically walked the streets of York until I could almost hear Alex’s and Harry’s footsteps, and we ate in the York Gentlemen’s Club of yesteryear that features in the story – it’s now a pizza establishment. We walked the old city walls and through the cathedral, and visited all the iconic spots, from Guy Fawkes’s birth house to the place where the courageous Margaret Clitherow, sainted, gave her life for her faith.

While I’m mindful of not allowing my novels to feel like history documentaries, I was pleased to incorporate so much of what I learned on those days spent with Alex as I gained important texture for the book’s setting. During that time of story building and learning I was sampling a lot of English chocolate (all in the name of research, of course) and developing a close friendship that has reunited across oceans. Because Alex is such a history tragic – we both got thrown out of the British Library for talking too much! – we’re already planning meetings to discuss future projects.


The Chocolate Tin Fiona McIntosh

The highly anticipated, sensuous new blockbuster by the beloved, bestselling author of The Perfumer's Secret.

Buy now
Buy now

More features

See all
Book clubs
The Chocolate Tin book club notes

Change things up with a chocolate themed book club selection.

Recipe
Hot chocolate sauce

Try this indulgent recipe from The Chocolate Tin author Fiona McIntosh.

Article
Good Books about Tough Topics

Figuring out how to talk to children about difficult emotions can sometimes feel impossible. Books can offer a good gateway to starting these conversations. Here are some books that might help you to navigate those tricky topics.

Article
The eight Plant Proof principles

Set yourself up for good health with a whole-food plant-based diet.

Article
Cook for mum this Mother’s Day!

We know it can be tricky to find the perfect recipe to make mum for Mother’s Day so we’ve put together this list of fantastic recipe ideas from some of our favourite cookbooks. Whether you’re looking for a cosy soup or a sweet treat, or something in between, we’ve got you covered!

Article
The Unsolved Mysteries that Inspired House of Hollow

Author Krystal Sutherland shares her favourite stories.

Article
Michelle Obama: note to self

The First Lady of the United States pens a letter to her younger self.

Article
Locked Down: Real Reader Reviews

We wanted to know what young Kiwi readers thought about Jesse O's book Locked Down (hint: they loved it!). Read on to see their reviews.

Article
Locked Down: A note from the author

When Jesse O wrote Locked Down (then titled Staying Home) back in 2011, she never imagined that almost a decade later, the events of her novel would prove spookily accurate . . .

Article
The road trip that inspired Showtym Adventures 8!

Syd, the Muster Pony tells the story of the Wilson sisters' most epic adventure yet, and it's inspired by a real-life road trip Kelly and her sisters took in 2001! (warning: this article might induce a desperate longing to go adventuring around the country, read on at your own risk)

Article
Suzi McAlpine on the inspiration behind Beyond Burnout

Find out the inspiration behind Beyond Burnout, as well as what you'll learn from reading it!

Article
YA fiction we can't wait to read in 2021!

From contemporary rom-coms, to literary debuts, to the creepiest modern gothic fairytale you could imagine (seriously . . . it is AWESOME!), we've got some stellar YA lined up for you this year. Read on for recommendations for your TBR pile!

Looking for more articles?

See all articles