THE RICE BOOK
Transworld / Doubleday, London, 1993
US edition: St Martin’s Press, New York, 1994; paperback edition1996
Republished in paperback by Frances Lincoln, London, 1998 and 2003
Dutch edition: RIJST: RIJKDOM IN RECEPTEN, Schuyt & Co / NOVIB, Haarlem, 1994
Line drawings by Soun Vannithone
This is the biggest, longest book I've written so far (nearly 400 pages), and it's probably the one that's been reprinted most, though it has still been translated into only one other language - Dutch.
In the summer of 1990, Roger and I were holidaying in Italy after completing two book proposals and leaving them with our agent. In Siena, we were in what had once been a Renaissance palace, enjoying a siesta beneath a painted ceiling, when the phone rang. It was the agent in London - "Doubleday want both books, Rice and Indonesian Regional, and the advance they'll give you should help with your travelling. When you get back to London, come to my office and we'll sign the contracts." The next year, we were on the road (and in the air) for almost eight months, off and on, visiting more than a dozen of the 110 countries where rice is grown. Reading the diaries of those trips now makes me feel quite exhausted: we were younger then! Most of 1992 was taking up with writing and re-writing, with trips to the US and Australian rice growers thrown in; in 1993 the book appeared, and the next year it won the André Simon Memorial Award as Cookery Book of the Year, against some rather strong competition. The currently-available edition is a paperback from Frances Lincoln, reproduced from the original, page for page, but somewhat reduced in size (and price). We were a little worried about what was being done to our cherished book, but we’re very pleased with the result. We hope now that after harvesting such a crop of splendid reviews the book will establish itself as a steady seller.
At the same time, we can look back nostalgically to the original cover design. Doubleday’s designers came up with all sorts of ideas, without anyone being very happy with the results. Meanwhile, we were asked to suggest something for the end papers, inside the front and back covers. Roger suggested to Soun that he could draw a schematic diagram of how rice irrigation systems work in a countryside like that of Bali, where the water is channelled and parcelled out with infinite care and skill, and the whole operation then becomes, like everything else in Bali, an elaborate bargain between men and gods. Soun and Roger talked earnestly for half an hour about what should be put into the picture. As they sat at the dining table with a pad of paper and scribbled away, I could see Soun’s expression slowly change from one of doubt to great enthusiasm. Several days later he came back with a suspiciously small cardboard folder, from which he took out a sheet of paper, in size about halfway between A4 and A3. It was - is - one of his most exquisitely-crafted drawings, and he was obviously proud of it. I got it photocopied and we took it to our editor at Doubleday. Next day she rang up. “What did you decide?” I asked. “We’re not going to use it for the endpapers,” she said. “You’re not?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “It’s too good to hide,” she said. “We’re using it for the dust-jacket instead.” And in due course it also graced the covers of the first English and US paperback editions of the book. (St Martin’s Press published it in New York in 1996.) When they photographed it, the Doubleday designers cropped the edges of the original and actually had to enlarge what appeared in print. Soun’s own drawing, along with a dozen others that he made for this book and for Indonesian Regional, now hang on our dining-room walls in Wimbledon.
This is the book that probably gave us the most fun, the biggest headaches, the worst rows (with the publisher as well as with each other) and the strongest emotions, mostly good ones, of all the books I've written. Roger and I were totally committed to it, as of course we are to all the books - but Rice is always that bit extra-special.