I don’t know how many of you out there like cooking, but I’ve always loved it. My Mum was an OK cook, but she hated doing it and often said she was just waiting for the day they developed pills you could take instead of the bother of having to cook and eat and wash-up. (This may have been not unrelated to the fact that she was mostly responsible for all these things, although, to be fair, my sister and I started doing more of it as we grew up, and my Dad wasn’t bad at knocking up a curry.)
I started in a small way with packets from the supermarket. All I had to do was add milk and an egg and stick in in the oven and – abracadabra – delicious small cakes or buns.
I graduated to making meals for the family under strict instructions – exactly this much potato, exactly that much butter, do this, this and this in exactly this order. And – hurrah – veggie shepherd’s pie!
Gradually, as I got older, I began to realise you could experiment – use new ingredients, mix things together differently, make things up. But I pretty soon learned that you can’t go completely wild. If you want a cake that ends up tasting like cake, you have to have roughly the right proportions of fat, sugar and flour. If you want a warming soup that doesn’t just end up in the bin, you can’t put too much pepper in it (I did this – it was inedible).
That combination of using your creativity but understanding what works is very much what you need to write books. And just as with cooking, I have to ‘taste’ my productions as I go along, to check I’m getting the mix right.
I’m in the middle of a new book at the moment, and every few days I sit down and read what I’ve got so far, before I go on to the next bit. A few days ago I got the feeling that something was just not quite right. As if it hadn’t got enough salt, or I’d added too much chili powder… I mused a bit, tasted some more, went for a long walk to think about it, and then realised. The villains were too vague, not nasty enough as characters. It’s like trying to make a cake with not enough baking powder….
So I went back and added some bits where the bad guys were vile and annoying and frankly made any right-minded reader want to dunk them in a vat of soup with too much pepper in it. And lo and behold, the recipe’s on track again.
And now I’m off to make stuffed squash with leeks and cheese. Yum.
C.J. Busby’s latest book, The Amber Crown, was published by Templar in March 2015.
Find out more at www.cjbusby.co.uk