Book Recipes: How to Write Steampunk

Time for another book recipe! This time it’s steampunk, so trade in your smartphone for a fancy bit of clockwork and grab all the goggles you can find. Let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • A big ol’ pile of cogs
  • One sickeningly quirky scientist
  • A spunky heroine
  • Corsets worn on the outside of your clothes
  • A rare and mysterious plot device
  • Goggles
  • A thinly veiled rip-off of the Victorian era
  • A bounder and a cad
  • Airships, probably

 

Method:

  1. Take your thinly veiled rip-off of the Victorian era and glue cogs all over it. Ta-dah! Your scene is set.
  2. Introduce your spunky heroine to the reader when she’s doing something thoroughly disreputable, to prove how spunky she is.
  3. Describe not-Victorian London for a bit.
  4. Introduce your delightfully quirky scientist, preferably with bangs, puffs of smoke or mysterious things bubbling in tubes.
  5. Your scientist needs a rare and mysterious plot device to create his great masterpiece. Your heroine wants a rare and mysterious plot device for reasons. You know what this means…
  6. Time for a hilarious clash of personalities when your scientist and heroine meet. Sure hope they don’t end up working together!
giphy-leoo
That would never happen. (image: tumblr.com)
  1. But uh-oh, what’s this? Could it be…the villain?
  2. Turns out the bounder and/or cad is also looking for the mysterious plot device, but like, evilly. Whatever shall our protagonists with literally nothing in common do?
  3. Team up, that’s what.
  4. Have some shenanigans during a brief interlude where you meet a quirky side character.
  5. Go on a mini-quest to get a thing that will let you find the mysterious plot device. Make sure to point out all the eccentric side characters you meet!
  6. The scientist and the heroine bond over their mutual tragic backstories. D’awwww.
  7. Have another run-in with the bounder and/or cad. Your protagonists think they’ve escaped, but they don’t know we’re on step thirteen and need to start wrapping up the plot here.
  8. Yay, you’ve finally found the mysterious plot device! But wait, what’s this?
  9. It’s the villain! They’ve got one of your protagonists alone and are trying to bribe them into handing over the mysterious plot device.
  10. Mope a bit about whether one protagonist should betray the other. Luckily they can’t use the mysterious plot device yet, because reasons, so the betrayal would have the maximum dramatic effect.
giphy angst
If possible, also go for a mopey walk in the rain. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Just when the protagonist decides they can’t be bribed, who should crash in but the villain! They’ve gone back on their deal and are here to ruin everyone’s day.
  2. Have a super dramatic fight. Banter with swords! Swing from ropes! Get up on the rooftops for some reason!
  3. Your villain has protagonist #1 on the ropes when who should swoop in to save the day but protagonist #2, accompanied by the power of friendship.
  4. Hooray! Your villain has been brought down. Your heroine agrees to forgo her claim to the mysterious plot device In The Name of Science, but in a way that also gets her pots of money and lets her stay pals with the scientist.

THE END. Serve steamed, of course.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t worry too much about exactly when your steampunk adventure is set. It can be an alternate history in the past, or it can be a version of the future, or in a totally fantasy world – the important thing is that it is covered in cogs.
  • Don’t forget the tiny hats!
  • If you have the opportunity to turn one of your characters into an old-fashioned cyborg, FOR GOD’S SAKE TAKE IT, THIS ISN’T AMATEUR HOUR
giphy slap
This is BASIC STUFF GODDAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Make sure at least one of your characters reacts to important news by taking off their glasses and going “My God…”
  • Sprinkle in long and unwieldy names and a smattering of fancy titles. Your characters will then ignore them and insist that everyone calls them by their super-cool and very modern nickname.
  • Always make sure to include a stuffy old guy who will describe things as “most irregular”
  • No need to bother with explaining how the science actually works. Basically, just make it all exactly like modern technology, but encased in teak and covered in brass valves.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“Ah, Lady Lloyd-Latimer. So good of you to join us.”

Lady Persephone Jessamine Lloyd-Latimer – Percy to her friends – tugged her arm out of the enforcer’s grip. She glared across the mahogany desk, into the smirking, aquiline face of Langdon Gresley.

He waved a careless hand at his henchman and Percy caught a brief glimpse of wooden fingertips and brass knuckle-joints. “Leave us,” he drawled.

The henchman lumbered out of the room and closed the door behind him. Percy glanced around the study. Mahogany bookshelves, a reclining leather chair, a view of the airfields of Grimton from the window. Gresley’s personal airship was moored at the edge of his estate. If she went through the window, she could shimmy down the drainpipe and reach it in a matter of minutes…

“No doubt you are wondering why I have brought you here.”

Percy tossed her head imperiously and her tiny top hat fell off. “Nothing good has ever come from a summons of yours, Gresley.”

Gresley got up with a clicking of gears and walked around the desk. Close to, Percy could see that the rumours were true – he had turned his body into a living arsenal. His elbows had been replaced with pointed copper blades. One knee had been replaced with a cannon, the other with a flamethrower. He dug around in his ear with a fingernail and a bullet popped out.

“On the contrary, dear lady,” he said, “I believe that on this occasion, we can both benefit from our mutual association.”

Percy bent down to pick up her tiny hat. On the floor, she noticed a discarded cufflink – emerald, if she was any judge. She pocketed it, just to make herself feel better.

“Benefit?”

“Precisely.”

Gresley went to his drinks cabinet and Percy shoved the cufflink down her corset. She sidled over to one of the shelves, where a silver and glass astrolabe sat there, glittering.

“You are, I believe, acquainted with the alchemist, Leander Sixsmith.”

Percy nearly dropped the astrolabe. She fumbled, but caught it just in time to shove it down her corset. How did Gresley know about Leander?

Gresley handed her a drink, sparing a brief glance at her slightly lumpy-looking corset. Percy shook her magnificent mane of raven curls again, just to draw his attention away, and her tiny hat fell off again. “So what if I am?”

Gresley bent down with a grinding of gears and picked up her tiny hat. “Then you will, of course, know that young Leander is on the verge of a breakthrough in discovering the Cog Particle.”

Percy gave him her most charming smile. “Is that so? Dear me. I’m afraid you’ll have to explain that to me, Gresley. I never had much of a head for science.”

Gresley banged his drink down on the table. Some of the whiskey slopped over the side of the glass and got on his mechanical hand; it started fizzing and sparking. “Do not play the fool with me, Lady Lloyd-Latimer! I know you and Sixsmith are working together!”

Percy spotted a tiny clockwork monkey on a bookshelf, with bright diamond eyes and a tail of gold filigree. She thought, I’ll have you.

“Why, Mr Gresley,” she said, pantomiming shock, “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean!”

Gresley closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Percy’s hand shot out and grabbed the monkey. She shoved it down her corset; it was surprisingly roomy in there.

“What I mean, my lady,” he said through gritted teeth, “is that I know you helped him discover the secrets of the Cog Particle. I know that you are the notorious thief known as The Whisper and I know that you stole the Forbidden Texts from the Great Library at the University. Sixsmith is a dabbling alchemist of no special talent. There is no way he could have discovered the Cog Particle without access to the most arcane knowledge – or without the friendship of a very talented thief.”

Percy – who by this point had a crystal goblet, a silver inkwell and all Gresley’s pens shoved down her corset – went very still. She panicked, then decided that being loudly and aristocratically indignant was probably her best way out.

“Mr Gresley,” she said, drawing herself up to her full height, “I have never been so insulted in my life! How could you even dare to –”

He cut across her. “Would you be so good as to pass me a pen?”

Percy stumbled mid-tirade. “What – why would I have a pen? I’m a lady.”

“Just pass me one.”

“I don’t have any. They’re on your desk.”

“Give us a pen.”

“You should check the drawers. I bet they’re in the drawers.”

“Are they.”

“You should check the drawers, though.”

Gresley looked at her for a moment, a fine haze of steam drifting out of the valve on his neck. Then he gave her a brittle smile and turned back to his desk. The moment his back was turned, Percy fished out a pen from the depths of her corset and lobbed it onto the desk. It rolled across the desktop and clattered to a halt.

“See?” she said, edging towards the door and grabbing several priceless books as she went, “it was there the whole time.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)
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Book Recipes: How to Write a Literary Coming of Age Story

Time for another book recipe! This one is on how to write a literary coming of age story so stop laughing, this is very serious and important.

 

Ingredients:

  • One prone-to-monologuing teenage protagonist
  • Cigarettes
  • A big and unfamiliar city
  • One forever-out-of-reach love interest
  • A sense of vague disappointment
  • Crushing terror of all jobs that require you to wear a suit
  • Distant parents
  • A smattering of background characters identified by significant belongings instead of actual personalities
  • A childishly unrealistic dream
  • A quirky yet vaguely depressing setting

 

Method:

  1. Put your teenage protagonist in your quirky yet vaguely depressing setting and let them monologue about life for a bit. It’s very profound.
  2. Be disappointed in your mother.
  3. Have an encounter with your love interest. It doesn’t go well, but it doesn’t go terribly, either – it just leaves you with a vague sense of ennui.
giphy sfd
Quel horreur. La plume de ma tante. Oubliette. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Have some serious thoughts about adulthood. It’s very unsettling.
  2. Screw this! Let’s run away and pursue our childishly unrealistic dream.
  3. Set off on your journey, bringing a collection of entirely useless objects and nothing that would feed or shelter you.
  4. Get to the big and unfamiliar city. It’s big! And unfamiliar!
  5. Be briefly dazzled by the bright lights of the city. Surely this is what growing up is really all about.
  6. Get drawn in by the promise of forbidden adult things – like sex, or drugs, or alcohol…
  7. …but chicken out of experiencing them because it’s just a bit too much.
  8. Smoke a cigarette while looking at a flickering neon sign.
  9. Have wistful thoughts about your unavailable love interest. Distract yourself on a date with someone more available, but less attractive, and feel bad about it.
  10. Mope, profoundly.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Keep trying to fulfil your childish and unrealistic dream. You’re so close now!
  2. Try whiskey for the first time and describe the taste in the most pretentious way possible.
  3. You’re on the brink of fulfilling your childhood dream, yay! But when you get there it’s all wrong.
  4. Decide you don’t want to fulfil your stupid dream, anyway.
  5. Go back home to your quirky yet depressing small town. Nobody really noticed you were gone, but they all know that you’re…different, now.
  6. Bump into love interest again! They’re suddenly a lot more available but it’s too late – you realised, at last, that what you really liked about them was what they represent.
  7. End on a nostalgic yet slightly hopeful monologue that doesn’t really tie anything up.

THE END. Serve while wearing a black turtleneck.

 

Tips:

  • 99.9% of the time, your protagonist is a white seventeen-year-old boy.
  • Your characters will never have normal conversations. They’ll all say things that are profound and literary when written down and jump from one idea to the next, but are completely removed from normal human speech.
  • Keep the plot to a bare minimum. It’s more about the concept.
  • Make sure you choose the right kind of quirky for your setting. A depressing small town is always a good starting point, but make sure it’s focused around a really niche industry, like producing garden gnomes or making Christmas decorations. It’s consumerism, man.
giphy woah
That’s deep. (image: giphy.com)
  • Bonus point if your protagonist is being pushed to join the family business!
  • Choose your writing style from any of the following flavours and commit to it:
    • Extremely colloquial slang
    • Short, no-nonsense sentences
    • Literally every single adjective you can possibly jam in there.
  • Always, always, always pick out the really negative stuff in your descriptions. Your protagonist is far too cerebral to actually enjoy anything.
  • Everything is symbolic. Everything.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

The miniscule town of Ameton Hills receded into the rearview mirror. I leaned against the passenger window of the malodorous truck’s cabin, clutching the rucksack full of my meagre possessions. I had only taken the essentials – three moleskine notebooks, a quill pen and five different bottles of ink (in sable, sapphire, emerald, charcoal and oxblood), a handful of misshapen Halloween candy I’d pilfered from the factory rejects tray, and my lucky underpants. All the unnecessary jargon of my former life had been left behind. I was heading for the big city, and this was all I would need to transform myself into a –

“So where’re you headed?” asked the truck driver.

He was but a simple rustic, clad in dirty overalls, a flannel shirt and a baseball cap – once a bold navy but now sadly faded to mere blue. A rolled-up cigarette was ensconced behind his left ear and, incongruously, a candy necklace was strung about his sunburned shoulders. He chewed the sugary pastel discs as he drove, his eyes fixed on a distant horizon. Not for the first time, I wondered what this simple, straightforward man must think of me, with my uncalloused hands and the faraway look in my eyes. Did he know that I was pursuing a higher calling? Could he sense that I had left Ameton Hills in pursuit of that most noble of conquests, that most cruel of adventures – love?

“Readsboro,” I intoned.

“That’s about the size of it,” said the truck driver, crunching on another circle of candy.

I eased open the passenger window, just a little – the smell of the candy necklace and spit was nauseating. The barren scenery of the Ameton Hills rolled past – empty, bare, and filled with nothingness, just like the town at its centre. Once a year, in the run-up to October, the factory would throw open its doors to the townsfolk with a job for everyone willing and able to put aside their natural disinclination to feed the corporate machine and manufacture plastic Dracula capes and pumpkin face-paints. Then, when it was over, the foreman would show them out with a smile and bar the doors until the need for neatly packaged scares gripped the nation once again. Ameton Hills was a ghost town ten months out of every twelve – except that ghosts would’ve made us money.

I gave myself a little shake. Not us. Them. I wasn’t going to be part of the wholesomely spooky production line. I had my notebooks in my rucksack and a dream sparking and spitting in my soul, electric in its potency, and with the force of my wit and determination and excellent handwriting, I was going to make my fortune and get Clover Delaney to like me.

“All sortsa folks go to Readsboro,” said the truck driver, cracking another disc of candy, “looking for all sortsa things. Y’ever reckon they find ’em?”

I thought of Clover. Right now she’d be sitting in the Delaney mansion, playing the piano with her elegantly manicured fingers, her long blond hair tucked behind a perfectly pierced ear. Tall, blond and model-perfect, she was heir to the Delaney fortune and had smiled at me four times. When I got my book deal, I’d make it five. I wondered if she was thinking of me, too – but then I remembered her equally tall, blond and model-perfect boyfriend, Jason, and decided probably not.

“Sometimes you have to leave things behind to find them,” I opined, staring at the smudge in the rearview mirror that was Ameton Hills.

“Wait, what?”

I paid the driver no mind and started rummaging through my rucksack. I pulled out a moleskine, my quill and a bottle of ink – oxblood was for philosophical statements – and set it on the dashboard. With the utmost care, I opened my moleskine, unscrewed the bottle of oxblood ink and wrote down my musings as neatly as I could.

“Life is cyclical,” I explained, “or perhaps circular. Either way we spin remorselessly on, bobbing like corks in the current. The seasons turn and so do we.”

“Son, you ain’t making a lick of sense,” said the truck driver.

I ignored him and wrote down the bit about corks.

“Life is like a river. Most of the time we’re caught in its current,” I mused, “and we, like fallen leaves, must drift aimlessly along with it. But sometimes you can leap out of the current, like the mighty haddock, and – ”

The truck driver snorted with laughter. “Haddock’s a saltwater fish, boy. You see an ocean round here? It’s salmon you’re thinking of.”

“ – the mighty salmon, then, and change the course of your own destiny. Only a few have the strength to leap downstream and take control of – ”

“Upstream.”

“ – to leap upstream, thank you, and take control of this crazy ramschackle ship called Life.”

The truck driver smirked at me. “There’s a ship on this river now, huh?”

I slammed my moleskine closed, accidentally spilling some of my oxblood ink. “Look, it’s a metaphor, all right?”

“I’d hardly call that mess a metaphor,” said the truck driver, chomping on another piece of candy. “Listen, son, if you want to use a literary device you’ve got to apply it properly. It ain’t no good harping on about rivers and circles and fish if you don’t know how any of those things work. How can you apply a parallel to the abstract if you can’t even understand the parallel which’d give you understanding?”

I stared at him.

“Wait, what?”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Psychological Thriller

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on how to write a psychological thriller and the most important thing you need to know is that you can’t trust ANYONE.

 

Ingredients:

  • One relatable female protagonist with an edgy flaw
  • A setting your characters can’t easily escape from
  • A selection of suspects/potential victims from the following list:
    • Frenemy
    • Jealous ex
    • Suspiciously clingy
    • Seemingly perfect overachiever
    • Bad boy
    • Domineering boss
  • Power shortages
  • A good dollop of non-specific mistrust
  • Terrible decisions
  • MURRRDERRRRR

 

Method:

  1. Your relatable female protagonist has been invited to a setting with no easily-discernible escape route. Oh boy!
  2. Meet your cast of friends/suspects/victims. Have a lovely time getting to know them all before they start to die.
  3. Introduce your protagonist’s edgy flaw that means that a) you can’t believe everything she says or b) she can’t go to the police in case anything happens. BUT THAT’S NO BIG DEAL BECAUSE NOTHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN, RIGHT GUYS?
giphy nah
Seems unlikely. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Your protagonist receives a vaguely threatening message from an anonymous creepo. It’s probably nothing.
  2. Establish some tensions within the group. Sure do hope those tensions don’t boil over into –
  3. Huh, that’s weird. All the lights have gone out for some reason.
  4. Oh no, one of your suspects/potential victims has disappeared! What could possibly have happened to them.
  5. Have a little search party just to 100% clarify for the reader that victim number one hasn’t just popped off to the shops or something.
  6. Uh-oh, protagonist has received another scary message! I’m sure it’s fine.
  7. Just in case it wasn’t absolutely clear that there’s a creepo about, start leaving threatening stuff about the place for the protagonists and her mates to find. You know, anonymous notes, animal skulls, dolls with scribbled-out eyes – that kind of thing.
  8. Try and escape. This is just for form’s sake, we all know they aren’t going to get anywhere.
  9. Share a tender moment with one of the suspects/victims. It’s nice to think that people can bond in the midst of all this –
  10. MURRRDERRRRRR.
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Things are starting to get pretty tense! Receive another anonymous message that leads the protagonist to discover the body of Victim No. 2.
  2. The group splits off into factions, Lord of the Flies style, because the Internet is down and there’s nothing else to do.
  3. Aaaaand someone else is dead. Woops.
  4. Someone discovers that the protagonist has been receiving anonymous messages and accuses them of being the murderer! Everyone is convinced, because it’s step seventeen and we need a climactic ending.
  5. Our protagonist runs off to try and avoid getting self-defence murdered and runs into the real murderer – Victim No. 1, whose body was never found!
  6. They explain that it was all a plot orchestrated to kill the protagonist for reasons, helpfully going through all the steps in their plan in an extremely thorough monologue.
  7. Fight and defeat the murderer! Fortunately for you, their detailed monologue was overheard by literally everyone else and our protagonist gets off scot-free.

THE END. Serve to someone you really trust. They’d never betray you.

 

Tips:

  • Phones should only work as and when it’s convenient for the plot. Last-minute recording device to tape the murderer’s monologue? Absolutely. But calling the police when someone actually goes missing? Pssshhh, don’t be silly.
  • Don’t forget the tragic backstory!
  • Give your protagonist a job that either a) gives her license to be extremely nosy or b) gives her a lot of free time to pursue plot-related stuff. Doctors don’t have time to solve mysteries, they’re too busy.
  • A good way to make everyone look suspicious is to splash the word ‘seemingly’ everywhere you can reach.
suspicious-gif-18
Or is it… (image: gifimage.net)
  • Your setting should be remote, but also have a certain amount of glamour to it. It’ll make the pre-murder scenes more fun to read about and it’ll look nice on the book cover.
  • You must accept that all of your characters’ decisions – especially your protagonist’s – are going to make absolutely no sense.
  • Make sure your protagonist’s flaw is the right kind of edgy. You’re allowed to be PG-13 in this one, so it’d be OK to go with something relating to drugs or sex, but don’t take it too far or it’ll turn into a misery memoir.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Jane staggered into the living room, tights laddered, hair and glitter plastered to the side of her face, still carrying her heels in one hand. She was not sure what time it was, exactly, but it was definitely too early. She kicked aside a couple of empty tequila bottles and collapsed onto the sofa, accidentally puncturing Bella’s blow-up doll with one of her heels. It was only the first night of Bella’s hen do, but she did not intend to waste any time.

The living room – so pristine and elegant last night – was a mess. The floor was littered with empty bottles, cigarette butts, crisps that had been trodden into the hardwood floors and assorted bits of equipment for ‘grown-up smoking’, as she had never been able to stop calling it. Everything was covered in a fine layer of glitter – including the window. Jane had to squint to see the savagely beautiful mountain scenery, and there was no hope of catching a glimpse of the island’s one and only beach. The luxury mountain cabin on a private island was certainly a beautiful place for a hen do, but right now all that meant to Jane was that a literal ocean was between her and the nearest kebab van.

Still, she thought, at least she was the first one up. She was probably responsible for most of the glitter, and it couldn’t hurt to try and scrape some of it off before –

“Oh. There you are.”

Ah. The second one up, then.

Lily stood in the doorway, dressed in tasteful running gear and with her sleek blonde hair in a ponytail. She wrinkled her perfect nose at the sight of Jane, sitting in the midst of the debris.

“Have you seen Bella?” she asked, rolling her shoulders back and forth. “We were supposed to go for a run this morning.”

“Probably still hungover,” said Jane, lurching to her feet and stubbing her toe on a tequila bottle. “Want me to wake her?”

“No point now,” said Lily, rotating her arms like a windmill, “I’ve already been down the mountain, twice around the bay, and then to the docks and back. And in seven minutes, too – I’m really feeling all that chardonnay from last night. Did you know the boat’s not coming until Tuesday, by the way?”

“What?”

“Honestly, Janey,” came a voice from the doorway, “what are you like? Do try to keep up.”

Mimi, Jane’s best friend since childhood, had slouched into the room, closely followed by Bella’s friend Stella.

“Morning,” said Jane, tipping the deflated blow-up doll off the sofa.

Afternoon, you mean,” said Mimi, throwing herself into a chair. “Poor old Janey! You do look awful. You ought to take it easy, you know.”

Stella flitted around the living room, piling up empty bottles. “Is Bella up yet? We can’t let her see the state of this place! Her uncle’s boss’s friend let her use it as a personal favour, and if we don’t keep it clean she’ll get into terrible trouble!”

Jane staggered off into the kitchen to find some bin bags, and ended up throwing up in the sink. Stella squealed.

“You vomited! That’s disgusting! I can’t believe you would…you would befoul Bella’s uncle’s boss’s friend’s home like this –”

Lily rolled her eyes and did squats against the kitchen counter. “Oh, leave her be, Estelle. Bella won’t mind. All she needs is something to eat. Here, Jane, I’ll make you a kale and quinoa smoothie. Sebastian makes them for me all the time, they’re a real pick-me-up.”

Jane, who had seen pictures of Lily’s fiancé, suspected that anything would feel like a pick-me-up when it was served by someone who looked like Sebastian. She threw up again and started rinsing the glitter out of the sink.

“You don’t want a smoothie, do you, Janey?” said Mimi. “You want a big, fat, greasy burger, slathered in oily cheese, dripping with –”

Jane threw up again.

“Stop it!” squeaked Stella, “stop messing up Bella’s uncle’s friend’s –”

“Give it a rest!” snapped Lily, who was now doing pull-ups from a light fitting. “Why do you care so much about all this, anyway?”

Stella’s eyes filled with tears. “I…I just think B-Bella’s really sp-special…”

Lily dropped down from the light fitting and started doing star jumps. “All right, all right. There’s no need to get upset. Why don’t you make Bella a cup of tea and the girls and I will start straightening the place up a bit.”

Stella sniffed, nodded, and stuck the kettle on. Lily started picking up empty bottles and putting them into a binbag, touching her toes every time she bent down, Mimi started wiping up the glitter, and Jane sat outside with the deflated blow-up doll. The fresh air was making her feel a bit better.

She went to put the blow-up doll and Lily’s bag of empty bottles in the bin when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. Painted above the bins in blood-red letters were the words ‘HELLO JANEY’. A naked china doll with all its hair cut off sat on top of one of the bins, a wide smile drawn on its sad face in permanent marker.

Jane stared at it for a moment – the doll seemed oddly familiar – and then threw up, spectacularly. She was entirely too hungover to deal with this nonsense now. She’d go inside, have a cup of tea and maybe a few crackers, and think about this when she’d got all the glitter out of her hair.

A shriek came from inside the house. Jane ran back inside, clapping a hand over her mouth, just in case.

Stella was standing in the door to Bella’s bedroom. It was empty.

“Guys!” she yelled, tears streaming down her face, “Bella’s missing!”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Children’s Adventure Story

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on children’s adventure stories so pull your socks up and get ready to go exploring. Gosh!

 

Ingredients:

  • A ragtag band of plucky kids. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The swot
    • The girly girl
    • The coward
    • The tomboy
    • The fighty one
    • ‘I’m the oldest, so I’m the leader’
  • A very vague piece of local history about treasure
  • One disinterested parent or guardian
  • A loyal animal sidekick
  • One dastardly villain, complete with bumbling henchmen
  • School holidays
  • A total lack of adult supervision
  • Good fresh air

 

Method:

  1. Your plucky protagonist has been packed off to Aunt Negligent’s house for the summer holidays.
  2. Assemble your group of equally plucky children and animal sidekick. Run along and play in the fresh country air, isn’t it bracing?
  3. Frolic outside for a bit and uncover your piece of vague treasure-related local history. Gosh!
  4. But what’s this? You have come across the dastardly villain and you just know he’s up to no good.
giphy nosferatu
But he seemed so normal! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Don’t bother the adults with this information, sweetie, the grown-ups are talking.
  2. Go exploring. Bring snacks.
  3. You’ve found something which relates to your vague local treasure story, golly! The old story just might be true after all…
  4. Have some side-shenanigans with a kid you don’t like, because we’ve got to get a whole novel out of this and we’re only on step eight.
  5. Uh-oh, the dastardly villain is hanging around again! He says some vaguely sinister things but your loyal animal sidekick frightens him off.
  6. Steal some food for a midnight feast!
  7. Play outside some more.
giphy skipping
YAAAAAAAAYYYYY (image: tumblr.com)
  1. But wait! You’ve found something which proves that the treasure is real and coincidentally tells you where to find it! Cripes!
  2. In a sudden shock move, your designated responsible adult tells you that you must stay inside, for reasons. How will you find the treasure now?
  3. Via a secret passageway, of course!
  4. Discover the treasure. Hurrah! Now you can afford to go to university!
  5. Oh no! The dastardly villain has captured the most useless member of your group! Whatever will you do?
  6. Hand over the treasure, dejectedly, as the villain gloats for a bit.
  7. But wait! The animal sidekick has gone for help, and/or untied you and your friends somehow! Good old pet of your choice.
  8. Finally, the police arrive and arrest the dastardly villain. They ruffle your hair, call you a scamp, and let you keep the treasure if you promise to be good.
  9. Go home for a slap-up feast.

THE END. Serve with lashings of ginger beer.

 

Tips:

  • Your designated parent or guardian should only ever behave like a responsible adult when it is convenient to the plot. The rest of the time, they are there to make dinner, provide clean clothes and disbelieve everything your plucky protagonist says.
  • It’s always sunny, unless your characters need to stay inside for plot reasons.
  • If an adult doesn’t immediately drop everything they’re doing to answer your protagonist’s questions, they are quite clearly a villain and cannot be trusted.
  • Keep the danger level at ‘mild peril’ and all injuries to bruises and minor scrapes.
  • There’s no need to go into detail about your villain’s motivations. Just give him a sinister accent and leave it at that.
giphy dastardly
Or a sinister moustache. (image: giphy.com)
  • Make liberal use of the words ‘jolly’, ‘gosh’, ‘ripper’, ‘cripes’, and ‘golly’.
  • Choose your animal sidekick carefully. They must be cute, intelligent enough to carry messages when you get captured, and scary enough to drive off the villain. Dogs are a reliable choice, as are birds and some monkeys, but a slug will fail on all three counts.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“Well,” said Pip, checking the map again, “it looks like this should be the place.”

All four children crowded round the old map. It was difficult to read, because it was really very old, and had some funny brown staining in the top-right corner. They had followed the map all afternoon, stopping only for one quick scones-and-lemonade break, paying special attention to the twists and turns of the trail. But the path had led them to the remains of old Creepstone Manor, which had been there for years, and nothing exciting had ever happened there.

Jonty snatched the map out of Pip’s hand. “Creepstone Manor isn’t even marked on here. You’ve read it wrong, Pip.”

Pip drew herself up to her full height. “I most certainly have not!”

“You have. We’ve already looked for the treasure here and we didn’t find anything!”

“Well, excuse me if you didn’t look properly the first time…”

The argument was cut short by a low, soft growl. It came from Tarquin, Pip’s beloved Sabre-Toothed Tiger. Tarquin had been a present from Uncle Victor, who was a very clever man who worked in a laboratory. Pip didn’t quite know how Uncle Victor had found Tarquin, but she didn’t let that worry her.

Gladys cast a worried look at the sky. It was starting to grow cloudy and none of them had brought their mackintoshes. “Perhaps we should go back,” she said. “You know what Mr Slythe said, it’s not safe out here after dark.”

Pip threw an arm around Tarquin. “You know Mr Slythe only said that to stop us getting to Captain Vaguebeard’s treasure first. Besides, Tarquin won’t let anything hurt us. Will you, boy?”

“Grar,” said Tarquin.

Charlie took the map from Jonty, adjusting his glasses. “I say,” he said, “when was old Vaguebeard supposed to have buried his treasure?”

Pip sighed. They had all heard the story before. Captain Vaguebeard, scourge of some of the seas, had come to their sleepy coastal village and buried mountains of treasure three hundred years ago. The treasure had never been found, largely owing to the very imprecise directions he gave to his first mate.

“You know that, Charlie,” said Pip, “it’s three hundred years ago. You made us look it up this morning.”

“Well,” said Charlie, pointing at a piece of rubble, “it looks like Creepstone Manor was built two hundred years ago. And if you look at the forest –” He pointed. “ – and the cliffs – ” He pointed again. “ – then it looks like we might be in the right place after all.”

“Good show, old man!” said Jonty, clapping Charlie on the shoulder. Gladys grinned and Pip let out a whoop of victory. Tarquin sat and watched Charlie’s pointing finger, licking his enormous chops.

“Well then,” said Pip, “let’s jolly well find some treasure!”

The children looked all over the ruins of Creepstone Manor. Gladys picked her way through the old kitchen, trying not to get her dress dirty. Jonty climbed on top of the tallest pile of rubbish and stared around impressively. Charlie peered at hunks of rock and started pacing around the site, counting to himself. Pip followed Tarquin, who was snuffling his way through the ruins. He had an excellent sense of smell. He also had very good night vision. His only drawback as a pet was his occasional tendency to maul people – that and the fact that he always got into her tuck box.

Tarquin stopped, sniffing intently. “Mrowl,” he went.

“Chaps!” yelled Pip, “Tarquin’s found something!”

They all piled over to Tarquin, who was pawing at something on the ground. Pip soon saw what he had found – the outline of an enormous trapdoor.

“Cripes, this is heavy! Help me shift some of this rubble,” Pip said, straining at the lump of rock. They all worked together and very soon, they had moved several chunks of masonry away from the rickety old trapdoor. They heaved it open and peered inside.

“Gosh,” breathed Charlie, “this must be older than Creepstone Manor! Look, the passage leads into some kind of cave. It must have been here before the manor was built…”

“Maybe old Vaguebeard put his treasure down there!” said Pip, excitedly.

Obviously not,” said Jonty, “and if he did it probably wouldn’t even be here. I bet you that passage goes right down to the cliffs – all the treasure would’ve been washed out to sea.”

Tarquin started growling again and Jonty went quiet. Pip stroked Tarquin’s fur and decided to write another thank-you letter to Uncle Victor.

“It’s awfully dark,” said Gladys. “Do we really have to go down there?”

“Of course we do,” said Pip, “it’ll lead us to the treasure.”

“But we don’t know how far the drop goes,” said Gladys. “There might be sharp rocks at the bottom, or seawater, and we might break something. And how will we get back up again? There’s no ladder, or rope, and there’s no-one nearby who might hear us calling for help and –”

“Don’t talk rot,” Pip said. “We’ve got Tarquin.”

“Yes, but Tarquin hasn’t got a stepladder…”

Pip ignored her. It would be an adventure. “Come on everyone. We’re going in.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write Dark Academia

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on how to write dark academia, which is a fancy term for nerd murder. Put on your most pretentious scarf and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One insecure yet prone-to-monologuing protagonist
  • A really solid aesthetic
  • One twinkly-eyed academic
  • An elite group of attractive yet pretentious students
  • A really, really nice university campus
  • Old books
  • A bunch of well-meaning background characters there to misunderstand the protagonists
  • So much booze
  • MURRRDERRR

 

Method:

  1. Start with a sinister prologue where your main character monologues about a murder that they may or may not have committed as a student.
  2. Aaaaaaaand flashback!
giphy dr who
OOO-WEEEEE-OOOOOOOHHH (image: giphy.com)
  1. Your insecure yet prone-to-monologuing protagonist has just arrived at a fancy university. Try and make some friends with the well-meaning background characters but don’t worry, it won’t stick.
  2. Monologue about how no-one understands you.
  3. Introduce your attractive yet pretentious students! They’re all studying the same thing, taught by a twinkly-eyed academic who almost always drinks tea.
  4. Join the cool kids’ class!
  5. Attend the twinkly-eyed professor’s lectures. Describe them as transcendent, while sober.
  6. Fall in love with one of the pretentiously attractive students, but don’t do anything about it. Who wants to go on a date when you can yearn?
  7. Get so drunk with the pretentious students. It’s not like a normal college party, this one is special.
  8. Uh-oh, there’s tensions within the group! Sure hope nothing goes wrong that would provide some material for a sinister prologue…
  9. Remind your protagonist how boring interacting with normal people is. Good thing we’ve got those pretentious friends to rely on! Nothing could ever go…
  10. HAHA PSYCH SOMEONE’S DEAD
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUHHHH. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The pretentious students decide to make it look like an accident, possibly because they are still drunk. Never ever entertain the possibility that you might actually get caught.
  2. Attend a lecture because WHAT NOTHING’S WRONG PSSHHH WHY DO YOU ASK
  3. Come up with some vague artistic/literary reason for covering up a murder, or possibly committing more.
  4. An authority figure starts sniffing around. Of course, you might get arrested, but talk about how this has affected tensions within the group instead.
  5. Uh-oh, looks like the least pretentious student is cracking up…
  6. Your tutor has realised what’s going on and they are, understandably, disgusted! No academic justification for your bad deeds for you, monologuing protagonist.
  7. Have a final confrontation with your pretentious friends! Fight! Kiss! Swear! Drink! The important thing is that it ends with another pretentious student dying and the irrevocable break-up of your friendship group, which is obviously more important than murder number two.
  8. Reflect on your youthful idiocy in the epilogue, now that the monologuing protagonist is older and wiser, and mope in a nostalgic yet sinister way.

THE END. Serve drenched in all the alcohol you can find.

 

Tips:

  • Your protagonists should spend 85% of the novel drunk, high, or hungover, but make sure they judge everybody else for doing the same. They’re too classy to be trashy – it’s decadent when they do it.
  • Pick an aesthetic and commit to it. I’m talking colour schemes, uniforms, specific kinds of weather, maybe even themed food. Cram it all in there!
  • Always make sure that your campus is suitably posh, and that your protagonist is not.
  • It’s safer to pick a humanities subject for the cool kids’ class. It’s pretty tricky to get pretentious about numbers.
Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 08.43.00
Best leave that to the Numberwang Institute. (screenshot: youtube.com)
  • Always include some stuff in foreign languages that is not translated for the readers’ benefit.
  • Make sure to spend at least a chapter just talking about sexual frustration.
  • Always, always, always include a needlessly opulent fancy party – preferably a masked ball – which your protagonists will judge but then go to anyway. Because c’mon. Of course you’d go.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

It was when we were all sprawling on the grass in the Cloisters that the idea of murder first came up.

We had strewn ourselves across the grass, draping our legs over each other and passing around a bottle of Veuve Cliquot that Bastien had purloined from his stepmother. I was propped up on an elbow and trying to read Derrida, in the vague hope that it would make more sense when I was drunk. Theo had slung a possessive arm around Ophelia’s shoulders as her head drooped against his chest. Aubrey had propped her feet up on the picnic basket, an inch of slim ankle peeking out from between her brogues and the cuffs of her suit trousers. Bastien was opening another bottle and swearing; Perry was asleep.

I looked up from my book and took in the stone walls of Pumdringham Academy, the rolling lawns, the view down to the lake through the colonnade, and tried to seem as if it were not all new to me. The past few weeks had been a dream of dappled sunlight, leather-bound books and afternoons gone in a haze of brandy and champagne. It was a far cry from home. At Pumdringham I was Edmund: the scholar, the poet, the dreamer. At home, I was Ed, and my brother Jimmy would make farting noises whenever I tried to talk to him about syntax.

Bastien finally got the cork out of the next bottle and cheered. It fizzed over Perry and he woke up, spluttering.

“Good God,” he groaned, pushing his floppy hair out of his eyes, “how am I hungover already?”

“Come, gentlemen, and drink down all unkindness…”

“What?”

“You’re misquoting,” said Aubrey, lighting a cigarette.

“D’you want another glass or not?”

Aubrey flicked her cigarette ash at him and stuck out her tongue. Ophelia took the bottle from Bastien and poured out another glass for her and Theo.

“Has anyone done the reading for Madame yet?” she asked, tucking a long curl of hair behind her ear.

Perry fell back on the grass and groaned. I wasn’t surprised. Sévérine de Compte au Lagneaulais – simply known to us as Madame – was our lecturer. She only dressed in black, kept rare butterflies and regularly set us punishing amounts of background reading for our French literature class. This week’s attempt to make sophisticates of we uncultured swine was Derrida, Sartre and Foucault, for Camus’ L’Etranger.

Bastien let out a snort of laughter. “La belle dame sans merci,” he said.

I nodded, to show that I definitely got the reference, but I didn’t want to show off about it.

Theo leaned back on his elbows. “I don’t see why we have to do all this extra reading,” he drawled, “nothing can compare to the real experience. When I was living in Montmartre…”

Bastien groaned. Aubrey rolled her eyes and winked at me. I blushed, and wondered if she could tell she was starting to look a bit blurry for me. I blinked, hard, as Theo steamed ahead with one of his stories about his ‘transformative experience’ buying baguettes and sneering at tourists on the bus to Disneyland Paris. Aubrey snapped back into focus, but by then she was looking at Theo and frowning.

“But if living through something is the only true test of the human experience, then what’s the point of literature?” she asked, pointing her cigarette at him. Even when she was arguing she was pretty. I wondered, briefly, if she would be impressed if I got her name tattooed on my chest, or whether she would think it was gauche. Maybe if I told her I did it as a satirical swipe at the gradual consumerisation of romance, she might make out with me in a corner of the library…

“There is no point to literature,” Theo scoffed, “nothing has a point. Meaning has no meaning unless it’s overturned, which is why it’s so important that we sit out here getting drunk at eleven am on a Wednesday.”

“Typical! That’s a typical misuse of the nihilist philosophy to justify decadence, and a wilful misunderstanding of the –”

I briefly tried to remember what nihilism was. Things were definitely getting fuzzy for me, and all I could say for certain was that it involved a lot of dressing in black, getting drunk and having a lot of casual sex, but in a transgressive kind of way. Actually, it sounded quite appealing.

“If you’d ever been to Montmartre, Aubs, you might actually –”

“But there are some experiences which only literature can illuminate for the decent human being! Surely you aren’t suggesting that to properly understand L’Etranger, the reader should go out and kill someone, are you?”

“See, there you go again with your crass limitations of so-called ‘morality’, but what even are these? Who decided what is moral and what is not? Camus didn’t –”

Bastien took a swig of champagne straight from the bottle and pointed at the pair of them. “Look,” he slurred, “unless killing someone is actually going to help me write my essay on French existentialism, you can both shut up. Now Aubs, darling, can I be a scab and scrounge one of your ciggies?”

Aubrey handed over a small leather pouch. “They’re not cigarettes.”

Bastien brightened up. “Even better.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Historical Murder Mystery

I’m back and what better way to celebrate the new year than by going back to an old one. Make sure you’ve had your jabs, we’re going time travelling!

 

Ingredients:

  • One suspiciously ahead-of-their-time detective
  • A team of loyal assistants who can be shuffled into the following categories:
    • Dependable muscle
    • Slightly shady rogue
    • Science one
  • A noble patron who is kind of the boss but can’t say ‘turn in your badge’ because badges haven’t been invented yet
  • Urchins
  • A sinister yet attractive lady
  • Someone who will describe things as ‘most irregular’
  • About a dozen people who are there to show how backwards history can be
  • A couple of well-known historical figures for our detective to chat to
  • One historical backdrop, complete with smells
  • MURRRDERRRR

 

Method:

  1. Unroll your historical backdrop behind our detective. Allow the reader to experience the sights and many, many smells of The Past.
  2. But oh no, what’s this? A crime?
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Our noble patron tells the detective to solve the murder. We don’t know why they’re in charge of murder-solving, but they are, and they have a special office for it.
  2. Our detective assembles his trusty crew. Time to investigate!
  3. Go to the crime scene and look around, but y’know, historically. This basically means you will have to bribe everyone to tell you stuff and that the crime scene will be in an absolute state.
  4. A sinister yet attractive lady turns up. She almost certainly has a Secret, but it’s okay because secrets are hot.
  5. Introduce your detective to some historical figures. One of them will have an original character attached to them in some way but they definitely won’t become important at around step eighteen, why do you ask?
  6. Find a Clue and celebrate in the manner most appropriate to the time period.
  7. Our detective has seen a suspicious character. Better follow them past a bunch of super-famous historical landmarks.
  8. The Clue has led our detective to another important place! Go there and investigate.
  9. Have a chat with another historical figure to pass the time. The sinister yet attractive lady is there, so make sure you look cool.
  10. Oh look, another Clue! But this one links with the first Clue in a way that’s really weird, what could it meeeaaannnn?
  11. Receive a talking-to from the patron. Drop hints that the king is displeased.
2554
Hopefully it’s not this one. (image: theguardian.com)
  1. Examine the Clues. Get the science friend to basically recreate a procedure from modern forensics and at last, a break in the case!
  2. But wait! The sinister yet attractive lady has been attacked by ruffians! We must save her, as this completely proves her innocence and was definitely not staged.
  3. Start feeling all tender and squishy. Perhaps our detective could give up this detective business that he’s only just invented and settle –
  4. HAHA IT WAS A TRAP YOU’VE BEEN BETRAYED
  5. Turns out the sinister yet attractive lady has been in cahoots with the original character from step seven all along. It was them who DONE THE MURDER. Now the detective has been locked up or something while they carry out the final stage of their plan. How will you ever cope with the betrayal?
  6. Escape and foil their dastardly plan, that’s how.
  7. Gather everyone including your patron into one room so you can explain how you solved the murder. Receive a tip from your patron, mope a little about what might have been, but then go back home with your detective pals for some period-accurate snacks.

THE END. Serve with torn edges and stained with a used teabag.

 

Tips:

  • Choose your time period carefully. You want a nice big window between the invention of cities and the invention of a modern police force.
  • Make sure your background is really, really gross. Bonus points for every passing character with syphilis.
  • Spend at least the first fifty pages just pootling round, showing your readers the sights. They definitely won’t get bored!
giphy table
GET TO THE MURDER DAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Have at least one character addressed as ‘my liege’.
  • Not sure how to solve a mystery without modern methods? That’s fine! Just make your character use modern methods, but y’know, historically. Have all the other characters describe their methods as ‘unconventional’ and all your bases are covered.
  • Anyone who coughs is a goner.
  • Pay particular attention to language. Don’t say ‘hello’, say ‘good morrow’. Don’t wear ‘trousers’, wear ‘breeches’ or ‘hose’. Swear all you like, it’s authentic, but never, ever do it in front of a lady. You animal.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

William Fleetwood strode through the workroom doors and threw his handkerchief down on the alchemist’s table. It landed with a clatter. “There,” he said. “Best I could do, I’m afraid.”

Mortimer Banks put on his magnifying spectacles and opened the handkerchief up with a pair of tweezers. Wrapped up in the lace-edged cotton were about a dozen nuggets of misshapen metal. Mortimer poked one, experimentally.

“And they’ve not been contaminated?”

Fleetwood sat down heavily and got out his pipe. “It’s a clean hanky, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Mortimer took off his spectacles and gave him a look. “You know perfectly well that is not what I meant.”

Fleetwood took a puff on his pipe and tried to keep his temper. He took off his long, curly wig, scratched his head and propped his feet up on the tea-chest. “They’re as clean as they can be, considering where I found them.”

Mortimer went pale at the memory. The misshapen metal had been found stuffed into the mouth of Colonel Victor Timothy Gonnairgh – or rather, into the mouth of his corpse. Fleetwood thought Mortimer was being unnecessarily squeamish. After all, he’d given them a wipe.

“I hope you at least wore gloves,” muttered Mortimer, turning back to the metal. “There are the prints of many fingers here…show me your hands.”

Fleetwood held out his hand. Mortimer peered at them and made a disparaging noise.

“Yes,” he said, “I can clearly see the prints of your fingers, but there are others…if only there were some sort of base in which to store all this data. With some sort of searchable engine, the task would take but a moment…”

“Have you such an engine?”

“Regrettably not. Perhaps if my first laboratory had not been burned by that ogre Cromwell and his men – ” They both paused to spit extravagantly. “ – then I might have been equal to the task. Alas, I shall have to make do with what Lord Fitzffortescue affords me.”

“Cheer up, old man,” said Fleetwood, puffing on his pipe again.

“Hmm.”

Mortimer turned back to his bench and started boiling something in a beaker. He started dropping the lumps of metal into the beaker one by one, and then taking them back out again. “Did the maidservant say anything useful?”

“Not a jot,” said Fleetwood. “Dreadfully upset, wonderful employer, the usual. I happened to mention Cromwell –” They spat. “ – and she turned quite pale, but I couldn’t get anything out of her. Nothing that would satisfy Lord Fitzffortescue, anyway.”

Fleetwood’s patron, Lord Fitzffortescue, was a demanding man who took orders only from the king, having helped him back to power after the fall of Cromwell (Fleetwood spat again, just to be sure). He had charged Fleetwood with solving Gonnairgh’s murder, quickly, quietly, and with minimal bribes.

“Of course she didn’t,” said Mortimer, “not if you blundered in there like you always do. You know, sometimes I think that approach might work well if you had a partner with you – someone who might be able to play some kind of ‘good’ role, while you assume the ‘bad’…”

“A partner, Master Fleetwood?” came a low, female voice.

Fleetwood scrambled to his feet, dropped his pipe and rammed his wig on his head. He turned around and saw Lady Evelyn Hyde smiling in the doorway. With her gown of gold brocade and her shiny auburn hair, she looked very out of place in the cramped, spit-splattered laboratory.

“Lady Hyde! How may I –”

Do call me Evelyn. I hear you’ve been attending to the late Colonel Gonnairgh.”

Fleetwood tried to look regretful and sombre, but also still tall and manly. “It is my sad duty.”

“You must be very brave to look upon such dreadful things.”

“Yes, well.”

Lady Evelyn smiled at him and came closer, brushing past Mortimer’s workbench. “I must say, I would feel very safe if I knew that you were my protector.”

Fleetwood coughed on purpose to make his voice sound deeper. “Would you?”

“Oh yes…”

Just then, Mortimer sprang to his feet, shouting. His beaker was fizzing frantically and giving off a strange, noxious gas. He pointed at Lady Evelyn. “She put something in my beaker!”

She stepped back. “How do you – I mean, what do you mean?”

Mortimer jabbed a finger at the beaker. “You’ve added acid to this! Look, the metal’s all dissolving!”

Lady Evelyn fluttered her eyelashes. “Dear Master Banks, I am sure that I, a mere woman, would never even carry such – what did you call it? Ah-sid?”

Fleetwood sprang to her defence. “See? Of course she didn’t do that, Mortimer, she’s a lady. Why would she even have any acid?”

Lady Evelyn frowned prettily. “Is it a kind of ribbon? I do so love ribbons.”

“She did!” Mortimer wailed, “I know she did!”

“Perhaps it is best if I leave you to your deductions,” said Lady Evelyn, swiftly pocketing a handful of papers. “You simply must tell me what you find out, dear Master Fleetwood. I should be very glad to hear it.”

She left. Fleetwood watched her go with a dreamy smile on his face while Mortimer muttered at his bench. When he started paying attention again he noticed that he was short fifty guineas and three pewter mugs.

“What I wouldn’t give for some surveillance in this place,” Mortimer muttered, “perhaps in some kind of circuitry that could be closed to the public…”

Fleetwood laughed. “Oh, Mortimer,” he said, “what will you think of next?”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Christmas Romance

Time for another book recipe! Let’s get in the festive mood and write a Christmas romance. Put on a Christmas jumper and mull everything you own and we’ll get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty career-gal heroine
  • One smouldering hero
  • An adorably small hometown
  • Buckets of schmaltz
  • Pointless low-stakes drama
  • A big-city nemesis
  • Santa hats
  • Supportive relatives who say meaningful things in the background
  • One pointless Christmas tradition designed to get people to couple up
  • Snow

 

Method:

  1. Our feisty career-gal heroine has to go home to her adorable hometown for the holidays. Not to worry, she’ll be right back in the New Year and nothing will have changed, at all.
  2. Arrive in the adorable hometown. Look at it, it’s so cute! Everyone’s wearing Christmas jumpers and baking apple pies. D’aawwww.
  3. Angst about how life in the big city is better.
  4. Introduce your smouldering hero. He’s from Hometown, he always has his sleeves rolled up and he’s always seen leaning against a truck.
  5. Have some forced comedy about how city people are rubbish at everything, ever. Bonus points if you can work in some melodramatic squealing.
  6. Ugh, the hero and the heroine have to work together, for Christmas reasons. It’ll be lame, they don’t have anything in common.
  7. But wait, what’s this? Looks like…romantic tension…
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUHHH (image: giphy.com)
  1. Go for a walk in the snow and think about life and stuff.
  2. The heroine has decided she’s definitely not going to make out with Smoulders McGee. Nope. No way. She’s going to go back to the big city and forget all about –
  3. Make out with Smoulders McGee.
  4. The heroine gets a call from the big-city nemesis. Now she’s conflicted! Mope, you’ll feel better.
  5. Talk about your feelings with a supportive relative. They mention that, for Christmas reasons, whoever you make out with on Christmas Eve will be your forever-husband, or something, but let’s not pay attention to that until step twenty.
  6. The hero and heroine bond over Christmas things and start feeling all squishy.
  7. But uh-oh, who’s this? It’s the big-city nemesis, here to ruin everything!
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Seen here in their file photo. (image: giphy.com)
  1. With their big-city powers, the nemesis engineers some sort of terrible Christmas misunderstanding! Oh no! Whatever will happen now?
  2. The heroine goes back to the big city, mopily, because love is dead and so is Christmas.
  3. But now she’s in the big city, everything seems rubbish. There’s not even any pie. She decides to go back home, for non man-related reasons, natch.
  4. But who should be waiting for her at the airport but good ol’ Smoulders, here to clear up that misunderstanding!
  5. Have a conversation like adults and work out the nemesis did the thing. Have some sort of hilarious Christmas-themed revenge.
  6. Go back home to Hometown with Smoulders, just in time for Christmas. Make out, fulfil the family tradition, get married, have babies etc.

THE END. Serve so sweet that you can feel the saccharine coating your teeth.

 

Tips:

  • Your big-city nemesis can be basically anyone in a suit. Evil fiancé? That’s fine. Evil boss? That’s also fine. Slenderman? I’ll allow it, he’s dressed for the office.
  • It is vitally important to the plot that you have at least three scenes in front of a roaring fire.
  • Everyone must wear a cosy Christmas jumper at all times.
  • Your family Christmas tradition doesn’t have to make sense or to be an actual Christmas tradition. Just wedge in whatever suits the plot.
  • If you have an opportunity to get your hero and heroine snowed in at a remote cabin in the woods where they have to spend the night, then take it, by God! What is this, Amateur Hour?
giphy slap
This is BASIC STUFF GODDAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Bonus points if you include a cute child who helps our couple get together! That’s what Christmas is really all about.
  • It’s always important to remember that country = good, town = bad. Also, in the city snow gets manky really quickly, so therefore the entire place MUST BE GROSS.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

Piper Sterling pulled her hair into a ponytail and sighed. “Do you really need me to action this, Mom? You know I’ve got to prepare that presentation for Mr Dartleyman.”

Piper’s mother gave her a warm smile. “Of course I need you, honey. No-one else makes Christmas cookies like you. I remember when you were a little girl, you used to put on your grandmother’s apron and say to me, ‘Follow your dreams, Mommy, especially when they lead to cookies!’ Oh, it was the cutest thing! Do you know, when you –”

Piper rolled her eyes and put on her grandmother’s lucky apron over her suit. There was no stopping her mother when she was telling one of her stories. She acquired flour, eggs, sugar and butter by closing the deal with the fridge and let her mother talk about the lucky apron some more. Family legend had it that if an unmarried woman wore the apron on Christmas Eve she’d meet her true love and share a Christmas kiss. Piper didn’t believe it. Who’d want to kiss someone wearing something so unflattering?

“ – but you’ve always been such a good girl,” her mother was saying. “Anyway, I’m heading out for just a minute, but Brick’ll be along in a moment so you won’t be by yourself. Mommy loves you, sweetie.”

“Mom, I’m twenty-eight, I don’t need a – Brick?”

“Bye sweetie!”

Her mother closed the door. Piper shrugged, and looked around for an assistant who could turn on the oven and start preparing her baking tray, but her mother didn’t even have an intern. That was typical of her hometown. There was only one sushi place, nowhere could produce a decent kale smoothie and every time she tried to order her signature double-turmeric yak-butter vegan mocha latte, the barista would smile and say ‘Oh, honey, you always did have a sense of humour!’ The sooner she got back to the city, the better.

Let her mother send her friends round for a visit; she wasn’t going to be here all that long. They probably just wanted to gawp at her shoulder pads and killer heels and listen to her talk about mergers. A few more days – just until Christmas was over – and then she’d be back in Cityville in her penthouse apartment. If she went home early, she’d have enough time to really polish her presentation, and then Mr Dartleyman would have to give her that promotion…

“Mrs Sterling? I brought the – oh. Hey.”

Piper looked up, hands covered in dough, and felt the world shrink itself down to the kitchen.

Standing in the doorway was one of the best-looking men she had ever seen in her literal entire life. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with brown hair and eyes and blindingly white teeth. His checked shirt was rolled up at the sleeves, revealing a pair of forearms that should’ve come with a ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Content’ warning. And here she was, wearing a ratty old apron patterned with dancing reindeer. And there was flour on her nose. She edged out from underneath the mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

“You must be Piper,” said the stranger, ruffling the snow out of his hair. “I’m Brick Campbell. Your mom said there was some wood needed chopping?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Piper said, trying to wipe off the flour. It didn’t budge and she started to panic. Flour on her suit jacket could lead to some serious decruitment. “I can do it.”

Brick raised his eyebrows. “No offence, but you don’t exactly look the type.”

“Well I am.”

“Really? They got much call for swinging axes in the big city?”

“…sure. All the time. In fact, I’m the head of chainsaw consultancy at Company Enterprise Holdings Inc.”

He leaned on the kitchen table and grinned at her. Another bunch of mistletoe was hanging over his face. “Is that so?”

Piper squeezed the dough and pretended it was his face. It didn’t work, he was too pretty. “Look,” she snapped, “I might seem like a big-city hotshot but I know where the pointy end of the axe needs to go. Into the wood.”

“Well…yeah, but –”

“Am I wrong?”

“That’s not really the – ”

Piper groaned and flicked the last of the dough off her hands. She was very careful not to pass under any more mistletoe as she went to the fridge and acquired some chocolate chips, dynamically. But when she turned back Brick was there, smiling at her, underneath a ceiling that was green with the damn stuff.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” he said. “Let me help you with that.”

He took the chocolate chips from her hands, their fingers touched and the world went pink and fuzzy. Oh no, Piper thought. Business school hadn’t said anything about this.

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)