Monday, 11 September 2017

How Writing a Novel is like Baking a Cake: Misha Herwin

Chocolate cake and cat teacosy

When I’m not writing, or reading, or walking, or being with friends and family, I like to bake. Recently I was trying out new recipes for muffins and scones. At the same time, I was finishing a final, final edit of my new novel “The Shadows on the Grass,” and it has occurred to me that there are definite similarities between baking and writing. 


To write a novel you need a story and just, as a novel is targeted for a specific group, so is cake. Will it be for a children’s party, brunch, an intimate tea for two? Must it be vegan, dairy, or wheat free? Can it sit for hours in the oven, or must it be whisked up quickly for unexpected guests? Will it entail elaborate icing, or be packed into a lunch box?


A novel will not only have a narrative, there will also be a theme. Just as cake might be chocolate, or lemon drizzle, a rich Dundee, or a light as air sponge, the book might be about grief, or love, or what happens when society, as we know it comes to an end. 


Once story and theme are established, then comes the planning, or to continue with the cake analogy, the recipe.
There are books on how to construct a fail-safe best seller. Words of wisdom about structure and key scenes. It is, apparently, possible using a template to write a book in a fortnight. I’ve never tried, but I do have to plan my novels fairly rigorously. Not only do I have the overriding story arc, but I also write down what happens in each chapter.
This is not sacrosanct. As the work progresses things change, as indeed a recipe is modified over time. My scones now have twice the amount of sultanas than the recipe says because that is how we like them.

Scone with jam and cream 
Once you have the recipe, then mix the ingredients. Or to put it another way, sit down and write. Mixing, before the invention of electric whisks and mixers was hard work. Even with the help of kitchen gadgets things are not always straightforward. Especially when it comes to my bête-noir, ganache. My sister and I once spent a whole evening, this is no exaggeration, beating melted chocolate and double cream, over a bowl of ice cubes, in a desperate effort to get the icing to set.
Next comes the baking. This can be nerve wracking. So much can go wrong, especially at a first attempt. Oven temperatures can vary and what should take an hour can go on and on and on, with endless jabbing of wobbly cake with a skewer.
Rhubarb and custard cake that took hours to cook. 
Books bake too. They either come together successfully, or they have to be tweaked, or even sometimes discarded and started all over again. Even when all goes smoothly, the final outcome is never totally guaranteed. Cakes fail to rise, books fail to take off. What the writer thinks is their best work, is not appreciated by their readers.
Or, like the best of cakes, they can be enjoyed by everyone who tries them.

3 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

I love this analogy, and you are so right. Why has this never been said before. Thanks for sharing

Katherine Roberts said...

At first glance, I thought that was a real cat waiting to pounce... love the cakes!

Jane said...

And now I'm drooling...