Twelve-year-old Scarlett is the star and victim of her mum’s popular blog – the butt of school jokes, she’s eager to stay firmly out of the spotlight. But one evening, she finds a gorgeous kitchen in the house next door, left empty by an elderly neighbour in hospital. As Scarlett bakes, she starts to transform her life, discovering new friends and forming the Secret Cooking Club. But can she fix her family, seal her friendships and find the mysterious secret ingredient?
‘Ready, steady… write!’
– The Secret Cooking Club from idea to publication
Guest Post by Laurel Remington
When I watch the Great British Bake-off, I love and hate the moment when they announce who’s made Star Baker, and who’s going home. In that endless pause when the music ramps up and the camera pans from face to worried face, I can feel my life flash before my eyes. Because in my own way, I’ve been there.
I’m one of those people who has never won the lottery, always draws the wrong colour ticket at the school raffle, and can’t pick a winning number in the tombola. In other words, I’ve never really won anything. But still, I enter, because you never know . . . And in 2014, I’d written a children’s novel, so I decided to enter it in a contest.
Like many people, I’ve had a lot of ideas for stories and characters over the years, but never had the time to give writing a try. About ten years ago, I was between jobs, and jotted down some ideas for a women’s fiction novel. I quickly realized that writing takes a lot more than just an idea. I enrolled in an evening course in order to learn ‘the craft’ of writing, but most importantly I met a group of other writers – even now we still meet up to discuss and critique each other’s work. It took me three years to finish my first novel, which, I must admit, was pretty rubbish. But it was a great learning experience – and I’d succeeded in writing a novel.
When my first daughter was born, I wanted to try writing for children. I wrote a novel for 8-12s and entered it in a few competitions. It didn’t win, but I did manage to get an agent. Unfortunately, that book never got published. The next few years were a long dark night of the soul – I wrote a few other novels that didn’t go anywhere. As much as those rejections are part of being a writer, they still hurt.
I started The Secret Cooking Club on my birthday in 2014. I was pregnant at the time and had bad morning sickness, which made writing about food pretty unpleasant at first! But otherwise I loved writing the story. I did about 500 words a day until it was finished, revised it, and sent it off to the Times/Chicken House Competition. When I got the call that I’d been long-listed, it was the most amazing moment! I’d been working hard for many years without success, and finally, I was getting somewhere.
Making the final five felt almost surreal. The shortlistees were all invited to a lunch at the beautiful and historic Saville Club in London where we met the judges – all distinguished authors, journalists, and booksellers. Finally, it was time for the watershed moment.
‘And the winner is . . .’
When my name was read out, I broke down in tears. It was the moment that made everything that came before – the rejections, the self-doubt, the endless pages that will never see the light of day – worth it!
That winning moment was the end of one road and the start of another. Getting the novel ready for publication was a lengthy process. Knowing that there would be no ‘delete’ key on the finished book, I had to go back and edit every sentence numerous times until I was happy with the final version. When that process was finished, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the book printers and see the book come off the production line. The book printing and binding process is truly an amazing feat of automation. Thousands of copies were bound in well under an hour. Holding the finished book in my hand – literally still ‘hot off the press’ – was another special moment.
I sometimes meet other parents with great ideas for stories, who ask me how I find the time to write. The answer is: ‘I don’t know’! I wish I could magically stretch time to fit everything in, but I can’t. It helps that I started ‘learning to write’ before I had children. That said, now that I do have them, I get a lot of inspiration in ways I never did before. The best advice I can give is to start small – carry a notebook and start writing down your ideas as you have them – in the grocery store, at the school gate, before bed. Snippets of conversations are particularly good, because these can easily develop into a ‘scene’. A novel is just a series of scenes organized in a structure with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you look at it this way, it doesn’t seem so daunting to make a start, even if you’re already busy with a zillion other things. So if you have an idea, give it a go – write down the first sentence, the first page . . . you never know where it might take you!
I’m a writer of children’s and teen fiction. I’m also a mum of three girls. I work as a lawyer for a renewable energy company that builds wind farms. I was born in California, and now live in Milford, Surrey (UK).
The Secret Cooking Club was inspired by my three daughters who love to cook (and eat!) anything sweet. I like to bake with them (though, to be honest, I’m not a very good cook – and when I’m busy writing or editing a novel, we eat a lot of pasta and beans on toast!).
The Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)