I devoured this story quickly with my mouth drooling over the thoughts of a giant chocolate cake! A delightful story with an intriguing mystery at its core, excellent characters and funny moments to enjoy! Read on to learn about Ruth Quayle’s inspiration for Peril at the Bake Off. I look forward to more mysteries with Joe, Pip and Tom- not to mention Granny and her neighbours!
The Great Bookish Bake Off
It was never my intention to put baking at the centre of a children’s detective book but cake can be rather demanding once it gets in your head and the thought of a multi-layered chocolate fudge cake is hard to ignore. Especially when your book isn’t working.
A few years ago I had started writing the first book in a new Muddlemoor Mysteries series (although at that stage it didn’t have a title). The book was about a boy called Joe Robinson who goes to stay with his Granny during the school holidays. I was pleased with my main characters – Joe and his cousins, Tom and Pip – and I loved the idea of them suspecting Granny’s ‘innocent’ neighbours of committing crimes but despite this fun premise I couldn’t make the plot work.
The problem was that I had decided to base the entire story around Granny’s ‘magic’ lipstick and no matter how many lipstick-themed plot twists I tried to wrench in, the story just wouldn’t come together. I was stuck. Deep down I knew that I needed to rethink the plot but by now I had written quite a lot of the book and the prospect of starting from scratch was horrible.
Luckily it was September and The Great British Bake Off was on TV. One Tuesday evening (at peak plot despair) I sat down to watch an episode with my three children and immediately felt better because watching Bake Off never fails to cheer you up (if you don’t believe me, try it!).
For the next few weeks, after I’d put a big red line through the lipstick story, our house became cake mad. The children constantly wanted to put on our own family Bake Offs and although this meant innumerable spillages and mountains of washing up, I didn’t mind too much because the whole thing gave me the crumb of an idea.
It slowly dawned on me that cake – or, more specifically, baking – was just what I needed to make my pesky plot work. Competitive neighbours, stolen recipes, secret showstoppers – this had WAY more potential than a lipstick with superpowers. And what better way to end a book than with a Bake Off finale? Suddenly my detective story had a pleasing narrative arc – a good rise if you like.
As the children baked, I scribbled. The pages of my notebook were splattered with Victoria sponge mix but they also contained exciting plot ideas and this time I knew that the book was going to work. Writing became fun again. I was off.
I ended up ignoring the washing up and the sticky icing sugar. I probably ignored my children a bit too if I’m honest. Cakes got burnt and there was a lot of squabbling. But I didn’t care because I was on a roll. Finally I was enjoying writing again (I even invented a spy cat!) and before I knew it the book was finished.
This is often how it is for me. I might spend ages trying to mould and knead and roll out the wrong ideas into the right shape but it is only when I fling out the old ingredients and start afresh that things come together. When they do, the writing usually happens really quickly.
I called the book Peril at the Bake Off and when I look at its cheerful yellow cover and the hilarious illustrations by Marta Kissi, I can’t help remembering the frustration of not being able to make my original plot work as well as the various cakes that salvaged it. Writing, like life, is full of ups and downs but when things are tricky there is something that ALWAYS helps – a slice (or two) of cake.