You “Knead” to Try Anyway

Recently, my nephew got me hooked on The Great British Baking Show, which I watch through Netflix. Have you seen it? This show has been on for years, and I just learned about it. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it involves amateur British bakers competing in three baking challenges each week.

Their efforts, at least in season 1, were judged by Mary Berry, who writes cookbooks, and Paul Hollywood, a well-known chef. I wasn’t familiar with either person. They both frighten me. Paul has a piercing stare. Mary Berry makes me think of the “prunes and prisms” comment of Mrs. General in Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.

The judges and hosts (Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc) of The Great British Baking Show

Each week, one person is voted off. Standard reality TV stuff. Twelve started the show. I’ve watched several episodes of season 1, so I’ve seen several people voted off.   

If you decide to watch the show, I would advise you to have some baked goods on hand. Otherwise you’ll be extremely hungry.

What I love about the show is the fact that the bakers are told to bake something within a time limit, but aren’t given any other instructions. Like one week, they were told to make a Swiss roll. Another week, they had to make a “self-saucing pudding.” I would have stood there, staring stupidly at the hosts. But the bakers rose to each challenge using their creativity.

One week, one of the bakers threw a slight temper tantrum after a mishap with his dessert. Instead of showing the judges what he had, he tossed his dessert in the garbage, rather than present something flawed. The others watched, horrified, as he stalked away.

Actually, I can see why he did that. The judges never hesitate to tell the bakers what’s wrong with their creations. “This is a mess.” “This tastes burnt.” “You should have left it in five more minutes.” But because the bakers love to bake (and love to be on the show), they willingly put themselves out there.

I can’t help thinking of the process of writing. A writer sits down to write without being given any instructions. Oh, there are tips here and there on world building and creating memorable characters. But a tip can’t really guarantee that a book, a screenplay, or a poem will turn out well. After completing the work, he or she then might show the work to a beta reader or an agent or an editor and run the risk of scathing criticism. But a writer puts himself/herself out there, hoping someone will love his/her creation.

Have you ever thought about writing something totally outside of your comfort zone—like many of the challenges the bakers faced on The Great British Baking Show? You might fail or you might succeed. But does failure mean you shouldn’t try, even if you’re not sure about what you’re doing?

Like the baker who threw away his presentation, I’ve thrown away whole novels, because I thought their flaws were too great to fix. But with one novel at least, I’d like to start over with new characters. I still like the basic idea of the novel.

Watching The Great British Baking Show reminds me of the value of taking risks and trying something new, instead of always playing it safe. Even if I don’t exactly know how to do something, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try it.

How about you? Facing a challenge? What will you do?

Kitty thinks she could have been a contender on The Great British Baking Show. For obvious reasons.


Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Judges and hosts photo from pbs.org. Cake images from badartbistro.com. Pie image from clipartbest.com. Swiss roll from youtube.com. Composition book from dreamstime.com.

A Writer’s Process (11a)

Remember your days as a freshman in high school or college? There you were at a new school, trying to make a good impression. Graduate school was no different for me. I felt like a “freshman,” starting my program. Thankfully, a great group of people started and finished with me. Laurie Morrison is one of them. Laurie is a fellow blogger and an author of young adult fiction. She’s here today and tomorrow to talk about her young adult novel, Rebound, and young adult fiction in general. Woot!

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

El Space: Welcome, Laurie. As per my custom, I must ask you to reveal four quick facts about yourself.
dv512008Laurie: I teach middle school English. Although I’ve always loved to read fiction, I didn’t attempt to write it until after my first year of working with middle schoolers. I’ve lived in eight different apartments since I graduated from college ten years ago, but I don’t want to leave the current place anytime soon—just ask my fiancé, who knows to avoid saying the word moving. I get freaked out standing too close to the edge of a balcony but was okay going into a shark cage last summer.

El Space: I would have freaked out about the shark cage. Anyway, moving on, please provide a synopsis of Rebound.
brownie9Laurie: Sixteen-year-old Lissy loves baking and hates taking chances . . . until she finds out that her boyfriend was getting back together with his ex while she was home making his favorite brownies.

Humiliated, she takes off to spend the summer at the beach with her estranged, entrepreneurial dad and his replacement family. She reinvents herself as New Lissy—a strong girl whose heart nobody will ever break again—and scores a job as a pastry chef at a struggling restaurant.

The grumbling head chef doesn’t think she can handle the job, and neither does her dad. She’s not sure what to make of Jonah, the moody boy whose grandmother owns the restaurant, and she has no desire to bond with her perky, home-wrecking stepmom or her swimming-star stepsister. But no matter. If she can block them all out and save the restaurant with her dessert specials and advertising plans, she’ll prove that she’s no longer just a people-pleasing pushover.

But when Lissy finds out what it feels like to put herself before others and what her dad is willing to do to get ahead, she begins to wonder: are there different ways of being strong? Does she have to ditch her nurturing nature to become an empowered woman?

El Space: I love a moody boy story, especially one with dessert. Sweet! What inspired you to write Rebound?
301022Laurie: I started Rebound because I was stuck on the novel I’d been working on during my first two semesters at VCFA. There was a lot that I liked about that old novel, but it didn’t have a strong enough plot. And as I tried to make the plot stronger, I was losing my hold on the parts of the story I liked the most.

Just when I was feeling especially discouraged, I read this wonderful guest post on Cynsations by E. Lockhart. In it, E. Lockhart explains that her Ruby Oliver books, which I adore, came out of a “deep leftover sadness” about the end of her first love. She writes, “The ache in my chest told me there was enough there that I could make up all kinds of goofy characters and plot details, but the center of the story would be true.”

516182I decided to pay attention to an ache in my own heart and start a new project that would explore that feeling. I figured that if the “center of the story” was true, then I wouldn’t lose my hold on it as I drafted and revised. This was a little over two years ago, and I was soon going to turn 30 and move from New York to Philadelphia. I very much wanted to be in a relationship, but my last few relationship attempts had not gone well. I felt embarrassed about those last few relationship attempts, because I wanted something to work so much that I had tried to ignore things I shouldn’t have ignored and had put too much time and effort into things that just weren’t right. I worried that I wasn’t behaving like a strong, together woman. I decided I wanted to start with that feeling of deep embarrassment after a romantic relationship went wrong, and that’s where Rebound began.

El Space: And I must say that opening scene in Rebound packs an emotional punch. What character did you find easiest to develop? Hardest?
Laurie: The easiest character for me to write was Lissy’s eleven-year-old stepsister, Annabelle. As soon as Annabelle popped into my mind, I could picture her vividly, and I could see her through two different lenses: I saw her as Lissy would see her and from my own, more objective perspective. I knew that Lissy would be jealous of Annabelle and think she was just the daughter her dad always wanted. She wouldn’t notice Annabelle’s insecurities and wouldn’t realize that Annabelle might actually look up to her.

Lissy’s dad, on the other hand, was much trickier. Initially, I thought he would want to have a real relationship with Lissy but bumble along in trying to get closer to her. But in my first full draft, the second half of the novel was lacking tension, so I worked to make him more of an antagonist instead. It took awhile for me to figure out how to make him a nuanced, realistic antagonist.

Sorry. Gotta stop here. Tune in tomorrow when Laurie tells us more about nuanced, realistic antagonists. In the meantime, feel free to ask Laurie questions about her book or process. I assure you, she won’t bite. 🙂 While you’re at it, tell us your favorite dessert. (I have two: apple pie and brownies.)

Book covers from Goodreads. Brownies photo from thewifeofadairyman.blogspot.com. Shark cage from duckduckgrayduck.com.