I’m Mark Diacono, a writer, walker, cook, gardener, and photographer. I live in the south west of England. I’ve written over a dozen books, winning Food Book of the Year twice, and Garden Book of the Year twice.
My book SOUR was shortlisted for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award in 2020. Late as it may be, I found something I’m good at.
Why The Imperfect Umbrella?
While there will be plenty of both here, I write about much more than food and gardening. You may have read some of the award-winning blog I began in 2002, which held much of my non-book writing, and if you have one of my books you’ll know a rice pudding recipe might include a story about my favourite childhood bicycle handlebars, or that time I was chased through the streets of Istanbul for reasons unclear.
I know it is usual to constrain the words here under a narrow umbrella of a title, an idea easily described in a few words, but I know I may write about subjects as seemingly unrelated as mulberries, that I knew - before I was told - that my father was dead, of the time I locked eyes with Eli Wallach, of the best £13 I’ve ever spent, and of waking up on the tube opposite the bandleader of the Buena Vista Social Club as I was on my way to buy their album; hence The Imperfect Umbrella.
Food, landscape, walking, music, sustainability, the nature of existence and biscuits are all likely to be threads. Experience tells me that I am likely to do the best writing if I allow there to be natural threads rather than place myself under an umbrella I’m constantly looking out from under. I hope you agree.
Before creating the groundbreaking Otter Farm and writing books, life felt quite different. As a kid utterly bemused by how we treated the planet, I resolved not to drive or fly, and eventually - after a lengthy spell of dedicated idleness - I accidentally did a degree and Masters (on which more, perhaps, in due course), advised government about - amongst other things - managing the landscape on a regional and national scale, the inception of local food networks, and other sustainability initiatives. It seemed a right angled turn to create an organic smallholding and nursery as what I was doing - planting trees, designing forest gardens, tending the vineyard - felt so day-to-day different, but the view from here shows me that they were two scoops from the same trifle. Some, all or none of this may infuse what follows.
The writing process
This is also a place I’m exploring the process of writing. Having written over a dozen books and won a few awards, I am frequently asked how do I approach a publisher, do I need an agent, can you mentor me, is there a standard way to I write a proposal, how does that germ of an idea become a book, and so on. I will share all I know. I hope you will ask questions; I may run workshops, writing intensives, and more. I imagine there will be snapshots of whatever book I am working on, you might virtually join a photoshoot; you might even make a connection for a book that I hadn’t.
I am going through the process - live, in real time - of trying to get a book idea away; from scribbling that first sentence that crystallises a fleeting thought into an idea, to getting it under a publisher’s nose, and hopefully onto the shelves. I’ll do this as it happens - creative cul-de-sacs, research, drafting a proposal, the failures, rejections: the lot.
Writing is a beautifully solitary pursuit. I am deeply happy when alone, yet very sociable a little of the time. As much as I enjoy writing in solitude, I love discussing and sharing ideas, and offering my experience to other writers while benefitting from theirs. I’d love this to become a place of conversation as much as reading. One of the things that helps the words fall more easily onto the page is hearing from a bookshop in Seattle, a fermenter in Seoul, a forest gardener in Hobart or a house-husband in Stroud that my book, recipe, Instagram post or interview in some way affected their day: a well as everything else, by subscribing you’ll be showing me there is more of a point in letting one sentence follow another.
I hope to be a welcome distraction in your inbox.
Here is different too: you are not part of an algorithm, there are no ads. This is all about me, you and the words.
When you subscribe, you have free access to most of my words - I’ll write at least weekly - and you’ll become a really valued part of this writing community. I will also post a regular compendium of what is flowing into my eyes, ears, nose and mouth as it will be affecting what pours out of these fingers, and it may be that some of it brings you pleasure.
Firstly, most of the writing here will always be free.
Aside from that, I make some things available to paying subscribers that I hope will be useful; for example, going through the process of a book (hopefully) coming to life, live, in real time. You can follow from that first lightbulb moment of an idea to - via research, writing a draft proposal, getting it to a publisher, the compromises, the changes, the creative leaps - it reaching readers’ eyes. This will - I hope - be a pleasurable read for everyone, but also professional development, a creative insight into how you might go about it. It is also quite sensitive - an idea for a book, at an early stage; the interaction with significant others (agent, editor, publisher sales etc); the emotional ups and downs that accompany the progression, or otherwise, of an idea - so knowing that we have a trusted community where we can interact openly (rather than anyone being able to anonymously scroll) is crucial. I also think this is exactly the sort of experience that might be useful to others that rarely is shared outside costly courses (we all need to make a living), so making it available at a low cost to more people hopefully allows me to do it and you to not only benefit from it but also be part of it. I have no idea how this might work - which is one of its excitements - but I hope/believe that you will be one of the elements that influences how that idea develops, and perhaps even whether it becomes a book.
Secondly, I want to create something that is sustainable, where my best writing has a home and where I can share the experiences of having written so many books, columns and articles. More support allows for more content, and that will always mean more free content too. So if you can support me, this, please think of doing so. You can also gift this subscription - if there’s agreement on one thing among Substack readers I’ve spoken to, it’s that a subscription makes an easy, thoughtful present that keeps on giving.
Lastly, I think it’s important to recognise that paying for enjoyable content should extend beyond print media. I welcome the opportunity for a direct connection between my enjoyment of the writing and the support of writer that Substack provides; I, you, are able to make those words happen, and I like that. I hope you do too.
So please do sign up in whichever way suits you best: it means you miss nothing, and every new edition of the newsletter goes directly to your inbox.
You’ll be a valued part of a community of people who share your interests, who have insights and experiences that might enrich your life. I’m not quite sure where the road ahead leads, but I’m excited.
Let’s see where it takes us.