Sam van Zweden


Talking craft on First Word and the Garret

While I was promoting Eating with My Mouth Open, I did a fair amount of radio. This was a steep learning curve. In those interviews, I was often asked about issues and ideas, as well as personal experience. Very few of those interviews focused on craft, which is the stuff I find easier to speak about with any level of clarity.

Before the book was published, the lovely Sam George-Allen invited me to be part of a podcast she was creating for emerging writers. Season 1 of First Word focused on creative nonfiction. Sam has made such a fantastic resource for emerging writers, and I highly recommend listening to the whole season.

To be consulted as any kind of authority on nonfiction writing was pretty unreal. You can listen to that podcast by selecting the image below.

First Word podcast

I was also invited to speak with national treasure Astrid Edwards, on The Garret: Writers on writing podcast. This is one of my favourite long-running podcasts, and always a great place to turn and reflect when I’m feeling stuck. I hope my episode is able to provide that to other writers, too.

You can listen to my episode of The Garret by selecting the image below.

The Garret podcast

Publication day!

Yesterday was the official publication day for Eating with My Mouth Open. Stock has been arriving in bookstores for a little while now, and it’s been incredibly exciting seeing pictures of it out in the wild.

On Sunday I went to 234 Collins Street (Dymocks) and found a larger-than-expected stack facing out on the biography shelf. Yesterday I received the most gorgeous flowers from commissioning editor (and angel) Harriet McInerney to mark the occasion. This evening, I’ll be launching the book into the world with family, friends and readers. I can’t wait to have a chat with the brilliant Brodie Lancaster, and to have the launch supported by Readings is such a Melbourne writers’ rite of passage.

I had two Q&As appear online yesterday – with thanks to both Booktopia and Annabel for inviting me:

Eating with My Mouth Open on a store shelf

Cover reveal!

If you were keeping an eye on my social media feeds yesterday, you will have seen the cover for Eating with my Mouth Open.

I’m so, so thrilled to be able to share this beautiful design by Lisa White. She’s put so much hard work into getting it just right, and my publishers at NewSouth have done a wonderful job engaging the right designer and communicating the vision for this book. That they took a risk and said ‘yes’ to this book is still and probably will always be a little miracle to me.

I think the cover is eye-catching. The food collage is bursting out of the head, echoing the story’s enduring preoccupation with food. The statue alludes to the philosophical nature of the book, while its small imperfections knock expectations slightly askew. I love the typography, I love the colours, I love the drop shadow. There’s also a beautiful quote from Australian essayist Rebecca Giggs on the cover, for which I’m very very thankful.

I’m so lucky that this is the cover I’ll get to look at on my work!

Eating with my Mouth Open will be in bookstores from 1 February 2021.

Writing in July 2020

July has turned out to be a pretty big month for writing. I mean, it’s been a big month for everything, really (second wave/second lockdown! I got my Ps! I’ve almost mastered backing up my impossible driveway! Hamilton dropped on Disney Plus! I turned 33! … I could go on). I’ve been writing a bit, somewhere in between the first Melbourne lockdown and the new one. I don’t entirely understand how, but… it’s happened. And now all of a sudden, all of those things are being published!

I wrote for ABC Life about my dog Phoebe, and how impersonating her on Instagram is a good anxiety-reliever.

I wrote a short review of Cath Moore’s wonderful debut YA novel Metal Fish, Falling Snow for Kill Your Darlings.

I wrote for Dining in Place about watching what other people are eating during isolation, and what I’ve been cooking and eating for comfort during this highly weird time of lockdown, shortages, and lots of eating at home.

I’ll be reading the above food essay at an online event this Sunday night (or morning, if you’re in Britain!) (8pm AEST, 11am BST). Dinner Party Press are a collective of bookish food-lovers who enjoy sharing stories, company and drinks. While their events normally happen in person, they’re branching into an online offering during COVID. If you’d like to see me read at this COMFORT FOOD event along with Lara Williams, Oliver Zarandi, Francesca Reece, and Lily Keil, you can register to attend. I’d love to see you there!

I hope you and yours are keeping as well as you can right now. Take care.

Reading in May 2020

May has been the calm before the storm. After what felt like endless weeks of slow time, the clock has suddenly started moving at double-triple-quadruple speed. The object of everyone’s anxiety has shifted from what it means to be alone to what it means to be together, and the world outside of all of our bubbles has been making itself known in the most urgent of ways.

It’s been a good month of reading – three fantastic reads, and lots of hours with my head in books. I’ve turned toward long works more often that short ones – is my attention span returning? Who knows.

Here are some thoughts on the things I read this month.

I don’t read zombie novels. But I am living through a pandemic, and this zombie novel is different. Is it? Maybe I’ve given zombie novels a bad wrap.

Melanie is living at an army base in the middle of nowhere in England, sheltering from ‘hungries’ – zombies, whose spread has taken over the world to such an extent that humans live in small enclaves, behind protective fences and walls. Melanie’s routine is reliable: each morning music plays, her teachers march past the cell where she sleeps, and the day begins. Two soldiers execute their morning routine: one holds a gun on Melanie while the other straps her into a wheelchair, then she’s taken to the classroom, where things are better. In the classroom she learns about populations and spring flowers and Greek mythology. Her favourite is Pandora. Best of all, the teaching is sometimes done by Miss Justineau, who’s beautiful and clever, and when she speaks to Melanie it seems like everything is good and perfect.

Melanie’s an intelligent kid – she notices when kids go missing from the classroom. She picks up staff members’ first names, what they’re reprimanded for, and the inconsistencies in their stories. When Melanie and a band of grown-ups are forced off the base, she unleashes all the secrets and terrible things, just like Pandora.

I don’t have a lot of zombie stories to compare this to, but the logic of the disease in this one makes sense to me. It’s based on a real fungal disease that spreads among ants in a particularly horrific way; taking over their bodies and eventually shooting like a tree from their head to spread spores. Perhaps it’s the hypervigilant awareness of contagion that we’re living with right now that makes me feel that this is such a convincing conceit, but I was 100% sold on it and the precise level of horror it brought.

The morning after finishing this book I see three kids and two teachers at a nearby school playing ‘Mother May I?’ on the playground.

“Mother may I… walk like a zombie?”

“No, you may not!”

YOUR OWN KIND OF GIRL by Clare Bowditch
I listened to this as an audiobook – it’s the first whole book I’ve listened to with a fancy new Audible subscription. This one was a great place to start – fantastic production, Clare’s voice is wonderful for storytelling. It includes sung passages, and Bowditch impersonates her mum’s Dutch accent surprisingly well, and there’s an utterly delightful section right at the end where they talk about appeltaart (Dutch apple tart). The book itself is about body image, creative life, and mental health. I so appreciate someone with this kind of platform talking about these issues, normalising the struggle. This is both accessible and beautiful, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

FATHOMS by Rebecca Giggs
Did you know that whalebone and whale bone are two different things? Or that in the 18th century whale products were akin to modern plastic in their wide-ranging uses? Not just candles, soap, and corsets – the ones I brought easily to mind before reading FATHOMS – but in spectacle frames, umbrellas and fishing rods. This is just one of the deeply fascinating topics covered in Fathoms. The book’s broken up into discrete essays looking at topics including whale as a source of resources in the human world; whales as metaphors; the sonic landscape of the oceans as whales experience them; and Japanese whaling. These essays revolve around a central experience: on a beach in Perth, author Rebecca Giggs watches the spectacle and tragedy of a stranded whale’s death. Each essay in this collection returns in its own way to that central experience, but isn’t tethered or forced to speak to it. This gentle through-line allows for a wide-ranging meditation on the interplay between whales and humans, but also – and importantly – what whales might experience and face in their own right, completely aside from being a metaphor, an example, or a charismatic exception. Packed full of poetry and flawlessly executed research, this wonderfully balanced deep dive (heh) provided such a perfect distraction from… all this.

February baby

When I signed the contract with NewSouth for Eating with my Mouth Open, we agreed on an August 1 release date – this would position the book well for 2020 festivals, and it would be a six-month turnaround of editing, layout, design, marketing, the whole shebang. It was overwhelming and fast – exhilarating.

Since then, the world has dropped into a pandemic, and the publishing landscape looks pretty different. The 2020 festivals have been cancelled or moved online in radically different formats; publishers everywhere are pushing back new releases; people’s reading habits and disposable incomes are both shifting. NewSouth and I have agreed to rethink the timeline given the current climate, and it seems smart to delay the release for a while to give my little book the best chance it can have in the world.

I’m pleased to share that Eating with my Mouth Open looks like it will be a February 2021 baby!

Work on the book continues apace – we’re currently discussing cover art, and have been sending the book to some of my very favourite writers and thinkers, asking for them to say some words about it that we can use for endorsement. The extra time before release also gives me time to write more tie-in essays, and do some work online to share the ideas I explore in EWMMO.

I can’t wait to launch the book in person with you all in February, to hug you tight and celebrate both the book and our being able to be together again.

Stay safe, stay well, look after each other. x

Reading in April 2020

I desperately need to do something for no reason other than itself, and so here we are.

Reading in April 2020 is to read with profound collective trauma as part of the equation: it’s slower, more luxurious (when I can read, I read for an afternoon or a day, sinking deeply in). At the same time, it’s often shorter – I can concentrate only for short periods most of the time, and under particular circumstances. Only after I’ve done something to quiet my mind, only after I’ve been away from a news stream for a few hours, only soon after waking, only when the house feels a little bit still.

My relationship with writing right now is a tricky one – I have more time to write, but less (essential) brain space. So I’m holding it lightly, and doing only what I can.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt the urge to blog. I blogged under the banner of Little Girl with a Big Pen for a good seven years or so, but as my practice has shifted so too have my posting habits. It’s moved to other platforms, or to publication over personal pursuits. But I’ve been reading lately, and I’ve been wanting to record, share, and connect again. So here’s what I was reading in April.

CHERRY BEACH by Laura McPhee-BrowneCherry Beach cover

Ness and Hetty are best friends who are caught in a one-way romance. Hetty has no idea of her best friend Ness’ adoration because she’s adored by everyone, but Ness has felt this way since they were kids. Joined at the hip, Ness and Hetty move from Melbourne to Canada to escape Hetty’s grief over an ex-boyfriend’s suicide. In Canada they grow apart, but continue to have moments of closeness. When Hetty’s personality shifts dramatically, Ness scrambles to pick up the pieces.

This book was so moreish. Short chapters meant that I kept staying up late for ‘just one more’. The writing is poetic, but doesn’t get in the way of itself. Small cameos by Margaret Attwood and someone I can only assume to be John Marsden are cute and rewarding, and other little generationally-specific detail makes it round and realistic. The tenderness of the relationship between Hetty and Ness, and between Ness and the people who move into her new life in Canada, is really moving. It’s in intimate book, full of heartbreak and yearning—one you curl up with over the course of a weekend and down it all in a few delicious sittings.

Off our trolleys – Bee Wilson, in The Guardian

While real scarcity is new to the vast majority of people engaged in panic-buying, the scarcity mindset may feel familiar to many people who have a pre-existing janky relationship with food. A large part of being okay around food—for me—has been about learning to listen to my body and recognise what I’m feeling. A line I’ve learned to use over and over (that I need to attribute to Dr Rick Kausman) when I’m feeling overwhelmed is ‘I can have if I want it – but do I really feel like it?’. If the answer is yes, then great, have it. If it’s no, then I remind myself that whatever it is will be there and available when I do feel like it. Right now, that doesn’t feel true—and it’s a struggle.

In this article, Bee Wilson—queen of impeccibly-researched food writing—has a look at the phenomenon of panic-buying during the Covid-19 global crisis. The situation in the UK (around numbers, deaths, dire outlooks) is different to what we’re experiencing in Australia, but panic buying is still having an impact on what’s available in supermarkets here. For weeks now, eggs have been in short supply, pasta has been scarce, and good luck finding a bag of flour. The illusion of scarcity (whether it’s true or not) makes the population feel like the food supply is drying up. Food security has been on my mind a lot lately—“empty supermarket shelves”, says Wilson “When you are not used to it, this sight does strange things to your insides.”

Pandemic dreams – Oscar Schwartz, part of Paragraphs

I love the deep disquiet that comes through in these paragraphs, and the ease with which Schwartz pulls together disparate ideas about pandemics and dreams. My pandemic dreams seem to be my brain taking the space to get wacky and process the pandemic, but using the very small isolation world I’m living in. There have been lots of MasterChef contestant cameos.

Schwartz’ regular reading lists are part of what’s prompted me to return to sharing mine. They’re intimate and comforting, poetic and open-ended.

Home is a cup of tea – Candace Rose Rardon on Longreads

My favourite things—food writing! Watercolour food illustrations! Nostalgia! This incredible graphic mindfulness meditation is so comforting, at a time when we all need to take that wherever we can get it.

TRY THIS AT HOME by Frank TurnerTrythisathome cover

I’m a big Frank Turner fan. I have a tattoo after some of his lyrics. His album Be More Kind dragged me through the hell that was winter of 2018. I was looking forward to his April show in Melbourne, before Covid-19 shut it down. I admire Frank’s work ethic so much—a touring muso who’s played over 2000 shows, and released an album most years since 2005. ‘Try this at home’ was the song that got me hooked on Frank Turner (belting it out on the stage of the Arthouse back in the day), so when I saw that he’d written a book with this title I jumped on it. The book is a look at Turner’s back catalogue, explaining the songwriting process track by track. It helped that I have a passing knowledge of music, but the book isn’t so music-theory heavy that you wouldn’t be able to get around it if you weren’t fluent, either. I was struck, while reading this, by how much Turner has grown, and how open he is to the idea of regret around his work. A few songs he talked about being sad he hadn’t expressed better, or feeling disappointed that he hadn’t waited for a better arrangement to land before recording. Very open to self-doubt, but not so much that it’s frustrating. A good read for a fan.

RALLYING by Quinn Eades Rallying_cover_1024x1024


Rallying is an accessible and gutpunching collection of poems about parenthood, bodies, togetherness and separation. I love Eades’ ability to communicate clearly in poetic forms, but also to absolutely blow the roof off convention when it’s needed. This tender, sweet, painfully honest collection is one of the best poetry collections I’ve ever read. I’ll be revisiting.




A couple more

Let’s get up to speed

Decorative image

Hello! It’s been… too long. I’m sorry. So very much has happened. Let’s get up to speed.

What’ve you been up to?

It’s been a busy time. I’ve been cross stitching, and walking the dog, and learning to drive. In more writing-related news though:

  • Back in October, I went to Ubud (Bali, Indonesia), where I spent a lot of time in a pool and read a lot of books, and also attended the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. It’s a magical festival in an absolutely bonkers setting—there’s jungle everywhere, and monkeys looking to loot your belongings, and teeny tiny lizards that make a lot of noise, and bigger and scarier lizards that are determined to poop on you from your ceiling if they can get there. It’s humid and the people are so kind and curious. It’s cheap, and the food is very good. I was lucky to see some faves at the festival including Lindy West, Kate Richards, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Fiona Wright. New faves include Raymond Antrobus, Lemn Sissay and Lindsay Wong. I came back with a lot of books. I’ve compiled my tweets and ‘grams from the festival, so you can catch up if you want.
  • While in Ubud I was lucky to sit at the edge of the jungle with Lindy West, eating some kind of magical coconut pancake and chatting about Zelda and Stardew Valley for a while. Then it got serious and we discussed her latest book, The Witches are Coming. West is actually as much of a dreamboat as she seems to be from her writing. I wrote this interview up into a profile for the Saturday Paper.


You probably know by now that I’ve been working on a manuscript for a very long time. It started as my Honours work at RMIT in 2014, and grew from there. After almost a year of rejections and dead-ends, things have finally started to fall into place.

  • In December it was announced that my manuscript, titled Eating with my Mouth Open, won the 2019 KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award.
  • The manuscript has been acquired by NewSouth Publishing, a nonfiction-specialising publisher based in New South Wales. It will be available in book stores in August 2020—that’s just six months away!

The publication process is in full swing, and it’s full of surprises and new things to learn. I’m posting regular updates on Twitter, Instagram, and I’ll be blogging more regularly in the lead-up to publication.

KYDUMA shortlisting

Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award 2019 banner

I’m so excited to share that I’ve been shortlisted for the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award (KYDUMA). This award is built to support emerging writers in the development of a manuscript. At the start of July I was lucky to be longlisted alongside seven others. I was so proud to have made that list, and I’m blown away to have now made the shortlist, too, and I’m in fantastic company.

This shortlisting means that I receive a KYD/Varuna Copyright Agency Fellowship. In September, I’ll be be heading out to Katoomba along with the three other shortlisters. At Varuna, we’ll have dedicated time (a week!) and space to workshop our manuscripts, with help from Bec Starford from KYD.

My manuscript, Eating with my Mouth Open, is something I’ve been working on in some form or another since 2014. It started as my Honours thesis, which looked at how the lyric essay could shed light on the relationship between food and memory. Beyond Honours, the idea grew to look at memory more deeply, but also mental health, and the difficulties of embodiment. It puts these things in their cultural context. It explores shame and celebration in equal parts.

Getting to Varuna on a fellowship has been a long-term goal of mine. Finding a home for this work is another. It’s nice to know that these things are now dovetailing, and that the achievement of one can hopefully aid the achievement of the other.

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