Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Masterchef - Putting The Novel In The Mix


A show which is religiously series linked on my Sky TY planner, is BBC's Masterchef. Ever since Gregg Wallace and John Torode took over from Lloyd Grossman, I've been addicted to this fabulous culinary show which enables amateur cooks to demonstrate their best recipes and ingenuity. While watching the nervous contestants slice duck, knead bread and stir sauces, the sweat lashing off them as they dart around in the kitchen attempting to create that sumptuous masterpiece, I realised, laptop on knee, that their finished product is not unlike the author's novel. And the process too which results in the completed dish is similar to the procedure the writer follows as he or she attempts to create that novel.

The author needs to have the right ingredients, the book has to be enjoyable for the palate and it has to be free from mistakes - oops I've burnt the pancakes, messed up the POV, and the cream has curdled - help me! While it's often too late to salvage a Masterchef dish that has gone wrong under exam-like conditions, the novelist has the advantage of time to perfect the book.

Here are some thoughts on creating a lovely dish - or a novel, if you are a writer...

1. Use the right ingredients. Don't put black bean sauce in pasta and give it to John and Gregg to taste, and don't throw Bisto all over a Dauphinoise potato dish. Don't salt and pepper it to hell and back. The author can quite easily overdo the adjectives and get a little heavy-handed with the herbs and spices, making it go all flowery needlessly. Furthermore, make sure that the POV is right. Don't confuse the reader who is digesting your book. Don't have too many flavours going on - don't have the action taking place with a hundred characters. After all, you wouldn't heap thyme, garlic, ginger, sage, nutmeg, corriander, tarragon and curry powder into your starter.


2. The novel is a finely tuned dish which the chef has mastered over time. I (being a rubbish cook) wouldn't expect to make a perfectly cooked béarnaise sauce overnight (or in my case, a veggie Quorn roast with all the trimmings). Instead, and I'm sure all Masterchef participants will agree, that they have honed and practised their craft for many years. Likewise the novelist can't expect to start writing his or her first book and suddenly be the next JK Rowling with a New York Times number one seller. It all takes practice and rejections, screaming, tearing hair out and sobbing for hours in the bath with chocolate.

3. Present the food in the correct manner. If you shovel the pasta into the bowl and have it falling over the side like trailing ivy cascading down a dilapidated house, then you're not going to win your customer over. And John and Gregg will be pointing that out. But, you probably wouldn't have presented this car crash to them in the first place, would you? The novelist should never send a badly written covering letter penned in red ink, along with his or her sloppy submission, stapled together and covered in stickies and Tippex. No. The novelist should present it in a professional manner.

4. Have the right amount of food on the plate - there's no point in piling on potatoes, chips, waffles and mash and loading it with baked beans, salt, pepper and vinegar. For the writer, there's the urge to send in more than the first three chapters - perhaps chapters four, five and nine, because 'that's when the story really gets going.' Don't! Stop right now before you get to the post box!

And when Gregg and John say: 'Mmm, yes, I can taste all the flavour here' or 'I'd love to dive right in there', you're hoping they might ask for a full and give your book the Masterchef seal of approval. And once that novel is on the shelf, you have to believe in it and not constantly worry over whether your reader will have a bitter aftertaste. Remember, it won't be to everyone's liking, and there will be newspaper critics who will pick holes in your book. But it's on the shelf and it's selling.

20 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

That's a fab post, Gillian - and that photo has got me running to the fridge!

I love Masterchef - and i love your analogy too, it's all so true. We can't expect to become masters without investing a great deal of time and effort.

Gillian McDade said...

Glad you enjoyed it Sam - there are so many similarities - but I can't imagine having to knock up a short story in the Masterchef studio in one hour!!

Susannah Rickards said...

Gillian I do love a good analogy and there's none better than this. I often think writing and cooking are similar, from assembling the ingredients before you start to the alchemical transformation of the finished product.

Great post and I hope your Masterchefs pop by to comment too!

S

Gillian McDade said...

They are incredibly similar Susannah, but I have a fear of cooking as it always goes horribly wrong.

sarah said...

Thanks, Gillian...I enjoyed this too. So true - you don't serve your guests a cold stew, you have to get it right and wait until it's hot and - as I read on another blog somewhere recently, your ms has to be HOT HOT HOT to get noticed.

Now, where's my cooker repair man got too? That temperature guage needs checking!

CarolineG said...

Great post - I've often thought about parallels with this programme too, oddly enough,but more about the contestants. Every time one gets a scathing comment from the two guys, I imagine it's me up there with my novel!

I must ask though - what the heck is in that picture? Looks like a cake with olives on the top, which would surely be the very work of the devil...

Gillian McDade said...

LOL Sarah!!

sarah fox said...

oops - got to, not 'too'.

Sarah Fox said...

Caroline - I had a good look at those olives too... I couldn't quite think what it was!

Gillian, over to you...

Gillian McDade said...

Caroline - I think a minor scolding/lesson from John and Gregg would be nothing near as painful as a rejection of the full! :)

PS - that pic is meant to be tongue in cheek - I think it's supposed to be a Greek salad (?) It looks revolting though - and that's from me - an olive lover!

Karen said...

That definitely caught my attention as a Masterchef devotee :o) Good analogy.

At the moment I've a feeling that my novel is like the cakes I bake - some of the chapters are good while others are burnt to a crisp!

Gillian McDade said...

LOl, Karen :)

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Love the analogy Gill and the sobbing in the bath with chocolate! Been there!

Great post.

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for the comment, Fionnuala!

Lennie Nash said...

Great blog Gillian! Really enjoyed it. Cooking and scribbling do have a lot in common.

Let's just hope Egg Wallace doesn't go into the writing trade though!

All the best,

Lennie

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks Lennie!

Caroline R said...

Great post, Gillian - I love the analogy even though I've never seen Masterchef.

I was wondering about the pic too - it looks like an olive meringue pie!

Gillian McDade said...

LOL Caroline! You'll find Masterchef on UK Food. But be warned - it's highly addictive!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great analogy, Gillian! I hate cookery programmes, though - apart from "Come Dine With Me"!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

So true, Gillian!
Hmm, I'm a lousy cook. Doesn't bode well for the writing, then...
I s'pose we could take the analogy further and imagine an agent, having to 'taste' hundreds of dishes/subs a week. Are agents, on the whole, immensely overweight?!?