I love baking. I don’t do anything fancy, but what I can do I’ve always done well. My cakes always rise, and if my stepfather’s birthday cake looked more like a ukulele than the guitar it was meant to be, well, nobody minded and it tasted fine.
I’m the go-to person in the family for cakes, buns and biscuits; so when the local country show announced its Bake-Off competition, I didn’t hesitate. Anne, my friend, was entering her famous shortbread. I couldn't be left out.
A chocolate sponge, I decided: easy, reliable but delicious. I have been known to read while baking, but I didn’t want to disgrace myself in front of my local community, so I was very careful indeed. I even weighed my eggs.
The two chocolate sponges came out of the oven looking and smelling lovely. All I had to do was let them cool and then get stuck in with the buttercream and sprinkles. The best bit.
Then it happened – when lifting one layer on to the other, I dropped it. Broke it in two. If this had been a child’s birthday cake it would have been cobbled together, extra cream slapped on top, and nobody would have known or cared, except me. Not , of course, that such a thing had ever happened when it was only a child's birthday cake. But I couldn’t send a glued-together cake to the Bake-Off; I’d never live it down with all those proper WI-types.
|the chocolate cake in the bin|
It was after ten at night, and the Bake-Off was at noon next day. There was nothing for it; I would have to get up early and bake another cake.
|my poor ex-baking bowl|
I got everything ready. If anything, I was even more careful than last night. The marg was in the mixing bowl; I reached above it to get the jar of flour from the cupboard – and somehow I dropped it. The jar didn’t smash but the bowl did, sending shards of ceramic and marg all over the kitchen.
By now some people would have given up. They would have decided that the universe did not want them to make a cake that day. I nearly did. But it was a matter of pride now; Anne had phoned to say her shortbread was delicious. I couldn’t turn up with nothing. I couldn’t bear the thought of starting again, but maybe it would be third time lucky. Except I couldn’t make what I had planned to make. There wasn’t enough marg left for a third cake, and my only mixing bowl was in bits. I’d have to just rustle up a few buns improvising with a ceramic fruit bowl as mixing bowl. Nothing could go wrong with a few wee buns, could it?
Well, nothing did. Apart from the power cut while they were in the oven. Luckily it was brief and didn’t affect them. They came out looking fine. I decorated them, shoved them on to a pretty plate with some strawberry blossom and lavender, and off we went to the show.
They didn’t win but they didn’t disgrace me either, and they did get full marks for presentation.
What’s that got to do with writing? Maybe not much, except that the week it happened was the week my agent told me she wanted fairly big changes to the novel I had thought (twice) was finished. I couldn’t bear the thought of looking at it again, changing the header from Draft 5 to Draft 6. The changes she wanted were taking it further away from its original intention.
|it's still in the oven|
But she was right. It's going to be a better book. It’s still, so to speak, in the oven, so I don’t really know how it’s turned out yet. Neither do I know if it will win anything or even get published. And it’s now as unlike the book I first planned over a year ago as my strawberry buns were from the original chocolate cake. It’s been smashed to pieces a few times, spattered over the kitchen, and cursed and wept over more than once.
|They weren't what I planned, but they turned out fine.|