Thursday, 8 September 2016

Bake Off, Write Off by Keren David

So, I'm watching The Great British Bake Off and I'm wondering if there are metaphors or messages there that can apply to writing.

And of course there are. Loads of them.  Bake Off is about a mixed bunch of people getting creative and making things. Sometimes everything goes to plan, and sometimes our stories are vastly over-ambitious, over-egged and fail to rise. Sometimes our plots are half-baked. And anyone can be guilty of piling too much decorative detail onto an insubstantial spongey base. 

Cake made by my sister. Very yummy. 
There are three parts to Bake Off. There's task of the week, where they all have to produce something similar, yet different. And children's literature can feel a little bit like that sometimes, particularly when you hear about someone writing what sounds like the exact same book as you. Same setting, same themes, same...oh well, throw it in the bin, might as well not bother. No! No! That's not the message,  Take comfort from Bake Off, and remember that what matters is doing your own thing well - and no man's gingersnap is the same as his neighbour's.

Then there's the technical challenge. The fiendish section where contestants have bits of a recipe and have to guess the rest. Experience helps here, and instinct. Also luck. All these are important in writing, too. But my lesson from the technical challenge is that you don't always need a strict recipe to create something. You can make it up! Defy Paul and Mary! Sure, you won't win, but who cares about winning? What is winning anyway? Freedom! Spontaneity! Dumplings! Doughnuts!

And then there's the showstopper. The grand, ambitious, high concept project. The one where the bakers express themselves in the medium of  -  say - flapjack. The one where they think big and dig deep, use shapes and spices to show their diversity and personality. We writers too need showstoppers, especially at the beginning of our career, the middle of our career and when we are trying to stave off the end of our career, which is all the time. Five minutes left, bakers! Five minutes! At every blasted point of our careers we need to produce massive, bulging, over-thought, personalised show-stoppers. And then promote them on social media. And then no one eats them. It's tragic really. 

But the main message of Bake Off is that co operation matters as much as competition, that even the soggiest of bottoms might have some merit, and that you should never tip your creation in the bin. Have fun, try not to cry, and trust your inner Paul Hollywood. Oh, you don't want an inner Paul? If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Not really. Stay in the kitchen! Turn up the heat! It's only a sodding meringue, woman, no need to lose it! 

And as for writers' incomes -  there's no dough for anyone, except some people get all the cherries and all the the icing and all the cake too, jam today, no jam tomorrow, it's all pie in the sky. Let them eat cake, I say, also have your cake and eat it, if you have it in the first place which is a bit dubious. 

Sometimes you have to let go a bit. Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Change your image. If Ed Balls can don sequins and fake tan, then you could write a sex scene or channel a talking animal. It is Bake Off that he's in this year, isn't it? 

Anyway, the message is clear. Writing is a competition which you shouldn't take too seriously. Follow the recipe or make it all up. Go to the jungle, eat worms, cook them up and serve to Paul Hollywood. Witchety grubs = critics. Free scones for librarians!.  Mix it up, pop it in the oven, do a salsa and you've got a bestseller.

I'm going to have a little lie down now. And a Jaffa Cake. 


Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Keren! As a fellow-fan of Bake-Off, it all makes a lot of sense to me. Back to the chocolate bread, then...

Susan Price said...

So true, so true. And pass me one of those jaffa cakes.