Category Archives: Book Recipes

Book Recipes: How to Write a Historical Epic

Time for another book recipe! This time we’ll be looking at historical epics. Bring tissues, because three-quarters of the characters are definitely going to die.

 

Ingredients:

  • A thousand different characters
  • Significant landmarks
  • Buckets full of research
  • Weather that matches the events of the plot
  • Duh-RAMA
  • Speeches
  • Enough backstory to fill a lake
  • A significant historical event you can use as a backdrop
  • More research

 

Method:

  1. Research literally everything you can about your historical event. YOU MUST KNOW EVERYTHING.
  2. Introduce your thousand characters in the build-up to the historical event. Pick about twenty of them as your leads, but just bear in mind that only three of them are going to survive to the end of the book.
  3. Deliver some backstory in front of a famous landmark.
  4. Oh no, some plot is happening that sets up the big historical event! Never mind. I’m sure it won’t be important later.
shrug
It’s probably fine. (image: andrewstoeten.com)
  1. Kill off a character. It’s fine, we’ve got loads.
  2. Set up a confrontation between two of your characters in front of a famous landmark. Don’t resolve it yet, we’ve got like twelve thousand pages to go.
  3. Uh-oh, some important history is going on! Looks like we’ve got to pay attention this time, so make sure to slap some of your characters in there.
  4. Do a speech! Readers love speeches.
  5. Two (or more) of your characters have fallen in love! Yaaaaaayyyyy. They can’t be together, because of reasons. Angst about it in the rain, so the readers know that it’s sad.
  6. Hmm, what’s this? Looks like…foreshadowing…
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Have another confrontation between those two characters that hate each other, but in front of a different landmark. Don’t resolve it, just use the opportunity to deliver more backstory instead.
  2. THE HISTORICAL EVENT IS HAPPENING ALL STATIONS GO
  3. Your lovers are separated by all this history lying around. Time for one of them to go and angst about it while the over tries to get all the history out of their clothes.
  4. Let’s see how the characters you put right in the middle of things are getting on. They seem OK so far…
  5. HAHA JK THEY’RE ALL DEAD. The foreshadowing was right…
  6. Fighting! Drama! History all over the floor! It’s very exciting, and factually accurate.
  7. Kill off some more characters, just for kicks.
  8. Time to resolve that confrontation you’ve been building up to! Make sure to make it as dramatic as possible – if you’re not doing it in a storm, you’re doing it wrong.
  9. The dust has settled. History has finished its tantrum and is putting away its toys. Have your characters do some speeches about how significant and important this is.
  10. End on a wedding, to distract your readers from the fact that ninety percent of your characters are dead.

THE END. Serve in a thousand pages.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t get attached to any of your characters.
  • Word count coming up a bit short? That’s where your backstory comes in. It’s not just for one character – it’s for their entire family and goes back centuries. That ought to give you at least another chapter.
  • Every character must have either a corset, a sword, or a historical hat.
  • You can have antagonists, but don’t include an out-and-out villain. The real villain is society.
giphy woah
That’s deep, man. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your historical event carefully. You want to pick something that has a nice decisive fight right at the end and has lots of stuff to fill out your characters’ speeches with. No-one’s going to want to read a novel about humanity gradually discovering the uses of metal.
  • Make sure to pack your novel full of historical facts, no matter how irrelevant. That way, your reader can suffer too – just like when you were doing your research.
  • Start weightlifting. You’re going to need some serious guns to lift the finished book.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Hood pulled up to hide his face, Brother Girolamo slipped silently along the streets of Bologna. Vespers had been rung hours ago; if he was lucky, he would make it back to the abbey before Compline. If not…well. The abbot might notice his absence, but some things were more important.

Tonight, di Luca would confess.

He had to be careful. The city was tense since the theft of the bucket. Soon, there would be war. Holding the edges of his habit out of the mud, he passed by the church of San Domenico and headed for the Asinelli. In the shadows between the great tower and the smaller Garisenda tower, he would be unseen. That was where di Luca would be waiting.

He was right. There, at the base of the vast towers, stood Niccolo di Luca.

Hatred rushed through him. Di Luca was just standing there, one hand on his stupid shiny sword, a big feathered hat covering his stupid floppy hair. Rings glittered on his stupid fingers, his hose were too tight and he’d grown a stupid, stupid pointy beard. The only good thing about him was the sparkly brooch fastening his cloak, and he’d stolen that from Brother Girolamo before he’d taken holy orders. Jerk.

Well, this time he’d gone too far. Brother Girolamo stepped into the shadows, heart beating very fast. He’d thought about this moment for fifteen years. He’d composed his speech in his head all through Matins, and dropped his prayer book because of it. He’d locked himself in the latrines and practiced it out loud, just to make sure. He’d even practiced the right faces when he’d drawn water from the well. Now, he put on his determined-yet-vengeful face and cleared his throat. He had to get the voice right.

“Niccolo di Luca,” he intoned, majestically. He allowed himself a brief smile – he was doing so well – and stepped out of the shadows.

Di Luca flinched and whirled around, already drawing his sword. “Who’s there? Who are you?”

“You mean you don’t recognise me?” said Brother Girolamo, still doing the voice.

“I…I don’t…take off your hood and face me like a man!”

Brother Girolamo did a sinister laugh. He was very proud of it. He’d practiced for hours, and in the end he’d had to get Brother Paolo to help him get it right. He was going to tell Brother Paolo everything when he got back to the abbey.

“Well,” Brother Girolamo said, putting on his determined-yet-vengeful face again, “I suppose it has been fifteen years. Maybe this will help you remember.”

He lowered his hood. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. This was the moment his whole life had been building up to. This was it, this was it

Di Luca blinked at him. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

“Yes! It is – what do you mean, have we met?”

“It’s just that you don’t look very familiar. I don’t owe you money, do I?”

“I’m a monk!”

Di Luca lowered his sword. “Oh, yes! Sorry, it’s a bit dark, couldn’t see your habit. This is something of a bad time, Brother, so perhaps you could just…”

Brother Girolamo put his hands on his hips. “You really don’t recognise me?”

Di Luca squinted at him. “Er…no, not really. Could be the haircut’s throwing me off. Cover up your tonsure for a moment, would you?”

Brother Girolamo put his hands over his bald spot, fuming.

“No, you’re not ringing any bells, I’m afraid.” He smirked. “Heh. Ringing any bells…”

Brother Girolamo stamped his foot. “It’s me! Girolamo Vitelli! You ruined my life fifteen years ago and destroyed my whole family!”

Di Luca stroked his beard, thoughtfully. “Vitelli…that does sound a little familiar…”

“How could you forget what you did to my family?” Brother Girolamo declaimed. “Fifteen years ago, you seduced my sister Maria on the eve of her wedding and ran away with her! Without the help of the powerful signore she was supposed to marry, my family was ruined! We had to sell everything we owned just to pay our debts and I was forced to become a monk! I’ve laboured fifteen years, tracking you down and plotting my revenge, and you don’t even have the courtesy to remember me? You destroyed my whole family!”

Di Luca shrugged. “Hey, I’m a busy man.”

“I never heard from my sister again! What did you do to her, you monster? Did you cast her aside, leaving her friendless and alone in the world? Is she living in a pit of iniquity? Is she dead in a ditch somewhere?”

“What? No!” said Di Luca. “I married her. She’s at home with the kids.”

“…oh. Well. You should’ve told us that –”

“It’s not my fault that you didn’t write to your sister.”

“Yes it is!”

“Oh, come on! How is it my fault?”

Brother Girolamo straightened his habit. He was getting off-topic. Time to focus on the matter at hand: sweet, sweet revenge.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, putting his vengeful face back on. “I know what you did. It was you who let the Modenese soldiers into the city, wasn’t it? It’s because of you they stole our bucket!”

“What? Listen, man, I think you’ve –”

“I’ve got proof,” said Brother Girolamo. “Brother Alessandro saw you. Now we’re going to go to war, and it’s all your fault! Well, you won’t live to enjoy the spoils of your bucket-theft. I’m going to tell the Archbishop of you and you’re going to be in so much trouble…”

There was a brief flicker of panic on Di Luca’s face, a flash of silver, and then a terrible pain in Brother Girolamo’s stomach. Then, everything went dark.

Di Luca wiped the blood off his sword. “Goddammit,” he muttered, “Maria is going to be so mad at me.”

 

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)

Side note: there was actually a war between the city-states of Bologna and Modena in the fourteenth century fought over the theft of a bucket. I honestly could not have asked for more.

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Book Recipes: How to Write a Sports Novel

Time for another book recipe! It’s been brought to my attention that there is some sort of sport thing this weekend and I intend to join in, in the most sitting-down-and-not-getting-off-the-Internet way possible. Grab your favourite sports top and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • A plucky bunch of ragtag misfits. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The loveable prankster
    • Big and dumb
    • Child of another famous athlete
    • Twins
    • The nerd
    • That one really angry kid
    • A girl
  • One grizzled yet not-too-jaded coach
  • A big ol’ trophy
  • A team of professional yet evil players
  • A beloved community thing in peril
  • One sleazy corporate betrayer
  • Sports, I guess

 

Method:

  1. Choose your setting. It can be anywhere, as long as you make one thing perfectly clear: it’s being held together by one (and only one) beloved community thing. Probably sports-related. Sure hope nothing happens to it.
  2. But oh no, here comes the sleazy corporate betrayer! They’re going to buy the community thing and turn it into a mall! (It’s always a mall.) There’s only one way to stop them…
  3. …entering this sports competition and winning the big ol’ trophy!
  4. Assemble your team of ragtag misfits. The one who came up with the idea is the leader.
  5. The team try and play the sport, but they’re bad. Like, really bad. Looks like they need…
  6. …a grizzled yet not-too-jaded coach! Good thing we found one staring wistfully at an old sports thing.
  7. Training time! Don’t forget to listen to an eighties power ballad.

  1. Time for your first match!
  2. You lose. But not permanently – it’s all about the journey. More training!
  3. The grizzly old coach dispenses some life advice. Pay attention, it’ll help you resolve a moral dilemma at the end.
  4. One of the players is having an issue that means he’s having trouble with the sport thing. You know what this means – more training.
  5. Time for another match and this time, you win! You’re through to the next round of the sports competition, oh boy!
  6. The professional yet evil players make their first appearance. They’re this year’s favourites to win, which means they’ll never win.
  7. Time for more matches! The team are winning, all thanks to the power of love working together.
giphy care bears
I mean, that’s not what I had in mind, but I guess that’d work. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Time for the semi-final and it’s a close thing. That one player with the issue freaks out and the team almost don’t make it through.
  2. But oh no, here comes the sleazy corporate betrayer! They offer the leader a massive, MASSIVE bribe to let the evil team win.
  3. Angst about it for a bit. The bribe would save the beloved community thing, but what about the teeeaaaaaam?
  4. Remember the grizzled coach’s life advice right before the final. Give a rousing pre-match speech and decide that you’re playing to win. To heck with the corporate betrayer!
  5. Time for the final! It’s, like, soooo tense. The evil team cheat, that one player with the issue finally gets over it and does some good sport, and nothing is resolved until the final five minutes of the game…
  6. …where you win by just one point! Hooray! The beloved community thing has been saved, the coach is 20% less jaded, and we’ve all learned a lesson about team spirit. Go home for tea and medals with the big ol’ trophy.

THE END. Serve painted in sports team colours, so everyone knows you’re serious about sports.

 

Tips:

  • Your coach can’t be too grizzled and sad because he needs to get over it by the end of the novel. Instead of going for a properly dark backstory, just have him mutter about ‘the worst mistake of my career’.
  • All your characters must be invested in the sports, apart from one comedy side character who just doesn’t get it. This character is either blonde or a nerd.
  • Don’t get too technical with your sports talk. Your reader wants to see the ball get put wherever it goes – no-one’s here for a discussion about windspeed.
  • Always put your rivals in matching clothes, but like, in a sinister way. It’s got to be about 20% more evil than normal sports gear.
121125_ful
EXACTLY. (image: atlantasportandsocialclub.com)
  • Winning the trophy fixes literally everyone’s problems. Can’t afford university fees? Trophy. Need a prosthetic leg? Trophy. Dead parents? Trophy.
  • Always let your characters make big life decisions live on air.
  • If there’s a couple, make them break up about two-thirds of the way through. Then one of them gives a big speech on camera at the big game, and then they get back together while the crowd cheers.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

As he walked home from the Community Sports Centre, Tommy King ran through the match play in his head. It had to be perfect. The big game was on Saturday, and there was still so much to do. The legs training, the arms training, the strategy bits…not to mention he still had to get his mum to wash his kit. But it would all be worth it. Once they’d won that trophy, they’d all be free to –

“Ah, Mr King. Let me offer you a lift.”

A shiny black limousine had pulled up alongside him. The back window was rolled down – tinted glass, he noticed – and a man in dark glasses was smiling at him. Tommy kept walking. He’d sat through the Stranger Danger talk at school and okay, that was seven years ago now, but his old headteacher had really known how to hammer home a point. He’d done the voice and everything.

The man’s smile didn’t even flicker. “Be reasonable, Mr King. It’s going to rain. You’ll ruin your sports shoes. We don’t want anything to happen to them before Saturday, now do we?”

Tommy glanced up. Big, dark clouds were building like a metaphor over the Community Sports Centre. The car door opened.

“Get in.”

He did, and his mouth fell open. The seats were upholstered with the fur of a snow leopard. The door handles were made of diamonds. A light-up bar ran along one side of the car and when he sat down, a robotic voice said ‘Good evening, Mr King’.

“Don’t forget your seatbelt,” said the man, “it’s real silk. Champagne?”

He pressed a button as the car pulled away. A compartment in the wall popped open to reveal a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, and two tall glasses. Tommy instantly became very aware of the smell of his sports kit.

“I’m only going down the road,” he said, “there’s no need for all this.”

The man opened the champagne with a pop. There was a brief explosion of swearing from the driver’s compartment and the car swerved widely.

“On the contrary, Mr King,” he said, pouring out a glass, “I’ve wanted to meet you for some time. We have a lot to discuss, you and I.”

“We do?”

“My card.”

The man stuck a business card into the glass of champagne and handed it to Tommy. It was made of embossed glass. He fished it out and read the name: Edgar Slythe. Now, he remembered. Edgar Slythe worked for CompanyCorp, the company that wanted to tear down the Community Sports Centre and build a mall on the spot. Tommy tried to crush the card in his fist, but he just cut his finger instead.

“You’ve made quite the impression, Mr King,” said Slythe, sipping his glass of champagne. “Everyone’s talking about you and your little team. I see you managed to sort out that unfortunate business with the rackets and the clubs.”

Tommy took his bleeding finger out of his mouth. “Anyone who knows anything about the sport knows that you need both.”

“Yes. You’ve shown real promise. But tell me – do you really think you’re ready for the Big Sports League?”

“Of course we are! We’ve been practising. Coach McGroughlin has taught us all about how we’re not supposed to do handballs, how to do a two-handed grip on the club and the racket at the same time, and about how we’re not supposed to hit the ball with our feet, except when we are. We’re as good as any other team!”

Slythe raised his eyebrows. “If you say so. Remind me, how many sports trophies have your little band of misfits won?”

Tommy said nothing. He couldn’t; his finger was in his mouth.

“The other sports team,” continued Slythe, “are up against you in the final. They’ve won last year’s trophy, and the year before, and the year before that, and they’ve all been nominated for the Sportiest Sportsperson Award for the past five years. You’ve got a tall order, beating them.”

Tommy inspected his bleeding finger. There really was quite a lot of blood, and he was starting to feel a bit queasy. He poured a bit of champagne onto the hem of his sports top – Slythe winced – and wrapped his finger in the damp material.

Slythe leaned forward. “Listen. Tommy. We all know how Saturday’s game is going to go. You’ll be eaten alive. Why not spare yourself the humiliation? I’ll make it worth your while.”

“What do you mean?”

“A full scholarship to Sports Academy. When you’ve graduated, you’ll be drafted into the bestest sports team in all the land. And after that, a job with CompanyCorp, as our official sports spokesperson.”

Tommy sat back in his seat. He’d dreamed of going to Sports Academy since he was a kid, but only the very best at sports got to go there. Nobody knew how to put the ball in the place where it was supposed to go like a Sports Academy graduate.

“All you have to do is lose on Saturday.”

Tommy bit his lip. Getting into Sports Academy would set him up for life, even without the job at CompanyCorp. He’d be able to buy himself a limo just as nice as this one, and still have enough money to buy his mum a new house. But throwing the match… What would Coach McGroughlin say? How would he face up to his teammates? There was a stinging feeling in his lip; he’d bitten it so hard he’d drawn blood. He always did that when he was thinking.

“I can see you’ve got a lot to think about,” said Slythe, looking slightly disgusted. “My number’s on the card. Give me a call when you’ve thought about your future.”

The car slowed to a halt. Tommy handed back his glass of champagne and tried to put Slythe’s card in his gym bag. To his credit, Slythe didn’t even flinch at the smell. And when Tommy dropped and broke the card, slicing open his finger again, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another.

“Wrap it up in a hanky or something,” said Slythe.

Tommy reached for a sock.

Slythe went white and shook out his hanky. It was silk, and printed with a copy of the Mona Lisa. “No, no, take mine, I insist.”

 

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 Medical Romance

Time for another book recipe! This time we’ll be looking at medical romances. It’s OK if you faint – there are loads of hot doctors about in these ones.

 

Ingredients:

  • One hot doctor
  • One feisty yet vulnerable female lead
  • A big fancy party
  • The shiniest hospital you can find
  • A cute but sick baby
  • White coats
  • A big dollop of pointless misunderstanding
  • Some medicines or something.

 

Method:

  1. Put your hot doctor in the shiny hospital. It’s important to establish right off the bat that he is the best doctor in the whole of Medicine-Land.
  2. Enter the female lead. It doesn’t matter who she is, just that she’s feisty, but with a secret soft side.
  3. Your leads hate each other right away but oh no, this baby is sick! Now they must put aside their differences FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN.
  4. Hot doctor starts treating the baby. It’s going well, but the female lead huffs about it anyway.
  5. Angst about how much your female lead hates the hot doctor. He’s arrogant! He’s a maverick! But he’s also hot! What a dilemma.
  6. But wait, what’s this? Could it possibly be…sexual tension?
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The female lead decides she definitely isn’t going to date him. Nope, definitely not. Boy, we sure are glad that’s been established as something that definitely isn’t going to –
  2. HAHA THEY’VE KISSED!
  3. More angst from the female lead. They kissed! But he’s arrogant. But he’s also hot! But she’s so secretly vulnerable!
  4. Let your female lead play with the baby for a bit or something. It doesn’t matter what actually happens, because you’re using this scene as a vehicle for…
  5. …more angst! Oh boy, looking at this cute sick baby sure makes our lead want to settle down and get married and that.
  6. Have a bonding moment with the hot doctor and reveal the female lead’s totally tragic backstory. This should explain why she can’t love/date/shag anyone, and especially not you, Dr Cheekbones.
  7. Time for the big fancy party! The whole hospital is going. What? It’s not like they’ve got patients to treat or anything.
  8. Have a special dance for your leads. Maybe they are going to get together after all…
  9. But no! It’s time to stir in the misunderstanding and now EVERYTHING IS RUINED
giphy sadness
RUINED I SAID. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The female lead mopes a bit, but doesn’t actually discuss anything with the hot doctor like an adult. Just run away from any attempts at straightening things out, we’ve still got four steps to go.
  2. OMG GUYS! THE BABY! IT’S SICK!
  3. Rush to the baby’s bedside. Time for some serious medicine. Enter the hot doctor, ready to save the day.
  4. Hooray, the day (and the baby) is saved! Time to sort out that misunderstanding. Now the baby is all better, but who’s going to take care of it now?
  5. JK IT’S THE LEADS NOW THEY HAVE TO GET MARRIED YAAAAAYYYYY

The end. Serve dressed in a white coat and garnished with medical jargon.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t let your hospital get too gross. Readers aren’t here for anything that oozes.
  • It doesn’t actually matter who your female lead is, or what she does. She can be related to the baby, or she can be a nurse in the hospital, as long as she’s got an excuse to be there regularly.
  • The misunderstanding at the end isn’t all that important. Choose from one of the following flavours:
    • No it’s fine, that woman was my sister
    • It wasn’t actually you I was talking about when you overheard me
    • I’m not actually going to move away after all
    • I only kissed that other woman to make sure we weren’t going to get together
  • Keep your hot doctor out of scrubs as much as possible. Have you seen those things? They’re like wearing a paper bag. Ideally you want him in a nice suit with a white coat over the top, stethoscope artfully draped around his neck, or just shirtless.
Ajg6yQ2CIAAl80f.jpg-large
It’s medically sound. (image: pinterest.com)
  • Don’t make your female lead’s backstory too tragic. The classic is that she can’t fall in love because there was a man who done her wrong, but you can always throw a dead relative in the mix as well.
  • Don’t spend too much time on the actual medicine – it can’t get in the way of all the lovely dates!
  • Why not let your adorable sick baby play Cupid? It’s what every fledgling adult romance needs – a sticky child asking them when they’re going to get married.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Bailey McRae sat at the bar, nursing a glass of red wine. It had been a long, long day. She’d spent it running between the children’s ward and the operating theatre, pacing up and down endless corridors and biting her nails. But now, her nephew Jackson was out of surgery, and it looked like he was going to be all right.

She drained her glass and ordered another. Someone slid into the seat next to her. Of course they did. The bar was half-empty, and there were plenty of seats to choose from, but she was a redhead sitting alone and this was what always happened. She turned, ready to tell him to go away – and stopped.

It was Max Stirling. Blond, blue-eyed Max Stirling, with the brains of a genius and the body of a swimwear model. Dr Max Stirling, who’d just saved Jackson’s life.

He smirked at her. “I’ll get this.”

She put a hand on his arm before he could wave down the bartender and flinched back. If the average human body was seventy percent water, Dr Stirling was seventy percent muscle.

“It’s fine,” she said, blushing.

He flexed a bit. “I know. Shiraz, right? We can split the bottle.”

Her temper flared. Why did he have to be so perfect? He was so arrogant, thinking he was always right. Why didn’t have the common decency to be ugly, so that she could hate him without going all conflicted and tingly?

Dr Stirling poured out two glasses and pushed one towards her. Bailey took it, trying not to smile. She couldn’t get close to him – to anyone. No-one would understand.

“I ought to thank you for what you did today,” she said. “Jackson couldn’t ask for a better doctor. I mean, he can’t speak yet, but…”

“I get it. I’m just glad you chose me.”

“For Jackson’s doctor,” she said, quickly.

He winked. “Sure. But, seriously, I’m glad you acted when you did. I’ve never seen a case of poorlyitis that bad. Not even in both my PhDs.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’m just glad we got the right medicine in time. I don’t know what Dr Bumble was thinking, giving him that other kind of medicine. That other kind of medicine is no good for people who’ve been in the wars in this particular way, and certainly not for poorlyitis.”

Bailey nodded and sipped her wine. She was having a hard time keeping up with all the jargon.

“Of course,” Dr Stirling continued, “we may still need to do an operation. But don’t worry, I’ll bring plenty of bandages.”

That made her feel better. Dr Stirling smiled at her and ran a hand through his perfect blond hair. It made it go interestingly tousled, and as a bonus, when he lifted his arm she had a really good view of his bicep.

“I never asked,” he said. “How come it’s just you and Jackson?”

“It isn’t. I’m only looking after him for a little while – just until my sister gets back. She’s exploring the Peruvian rainforests, looking for plottonium.”

He raised his eyebrows. “And there’s no…Mr McRae?”

Bailey’s mouth tightened. “No.”

“Really? That can’t be right. A pretty girl like you?”

Bailey snorted and took another sip of her wine. “Yeah, well. I’ve kind of sworn off men since –”

“Since what?”

Bailey took a deep breath. There was no point telling him. He wouldn’t get it. She was prepared to bet her own face that no-one had ever broken up with Dr Max Stirling, ever. He was too pretty for that sort of thing.

“Last date I went on, the guy never showed up.”

There. She’d said it. Her secret was out in the open. She’d told him. She’d come clean about her shameful past, at last, and now he would –

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?”

“Well, it just seems like a bit of a –”

Bailey downed the last of her wine, blushing fiercely. She knew she shouldn’t have told him. “Look, just forget it, all right?”

“But don’t you think it’s a bit –”

She grabbed her bag and pulled on her jacket. “I knew you wouldn’t get it! Look, sometimes things don’t work even when you flex at them. Got that, Mr Perfect?”

She stormed out. Dr Stirling sat at the bar, stunned, and emptied the rest of the bottle of wine into his glass.

“It’s Dr Perfect, actually,” he muttered.

 

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 an Urban Fantasy

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at urban fantasy, so load up on eyeliner and edgy leather jackets. It’s about to get edgy.

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty yet clueless female protagonist
  • One of the hot kind of supernatural creatures
  • A different (but still hot) supernatural creature
  • A token best friend
  • A cape-wearing villain
  • The Object of Power
  • One skyscraper-ey backdrop
  • Background spooky magic
  • A constant cycle of full moons

 

Method:

  1. Put your feisty female protagonist and her token best friend against your suitably urban backdrop. There, you’ve done your setting.
  2. You’ve stumbled across a mythical thingy! Hopefully this won’t be important later.
  3. Symbolic dreams!
  4. Suddenly there’s a lot more hot and brooding men about making vague allusions to The Prophecy. Huh. Tinder got weird.
  5. But no! It’s the plot. Our feisty main character is the proud owner of the Object of Power, and all the supernatural hotties want to get their hands on it.
  6. Have your first brush with death. It’s OK though – you’re immediately rescued by a shirtless vampire or something.
  7. Have sexual tension with one of the leads, then angst.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Time for the main character to finally learn what’s been going on! Sit them down and ’splain them a thing. Make sure this covers The Prophecy, the weird supernatural world they’ve stumbled into, and setup for the conflict in the final third of the book.
  2. Wonder at all the magical stuff the main character can see. Maybe she’s pals with a dragon now! Maybe she’s made out with a wizard! Maybe she’s been to a market staffed entirely by snake-headed women! Pick a thing to illustrate this world’s weirdness and roll with it.
  3. Have sexual tension with a different lead. Think about the other lead, then angst.
  4. Here’s our first mention of our cape-wearing villain! Make sure to drive home to the reader that they are a bad, bad egg.
bad-egg
Like this. (image: gobrightwing.com)
  1. Turns out the main character has powers now. Time for a training montage!
  2. Time for another brush with death. Don’t worry, the main character is still fine.
  3. More sexual tension! We didn’t include all these shirtless werewolves for nothing.
  4. Learn some more about The Prophecy, or The Ancient War, or The Object of Power. Make sure to pay attention. We’re heading into the last quarter of the book, so there’s a 90% chance that any piece of new information will resolve the final conflict.
  5. Remember that best friend from step one? THEY’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED OH NO
  6. The villain demands the main character hand over The Object of Power or they’ll kill their best friend. This is a real and tangible threat because even though the best friend hasn’t been mentioned since step one, WE TOTALLY CARE ABOUT THEM YOU GUYS
  7. Go to meet the villain with The Object of Power. Be polite and let him monologue for a bit before you hand it over.
  8. Use your newfound powers to save your friend, get The Object of Power and save the day! Bonus points if you can get rescued by a shirtless hottie as well.
  9. Set up the next book in the series. And the next. And the next, because this will go on for ever.

THE END. Serve with plenty of moody eyeliner.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure you pick the hot kind of supernatural creature for your romantic leads – the angstier the better. Vampires, werewolves, fallen angels and demons are all solid choices, but trolls, ghouls and zombies are best left in the background.
  • Always include a love triangle.
  • In this one you’ve got the option for your main character to be secretly half-fairy or whatever. If you go down this road you’ve got three things to remember:
  1. This can’t have a bad effect on their appearance – pointy ears or an unusual eye colour is the most unique thing you can go for.
  2. The main character must be utterly and completely clueless about her heritage at all times.
  3. The reveal must be the Most Dramatic Thing
  • Don’t forget about your main character’s piece of significant jewellery! It’s almost always magical, but she’ll have had it all her life so she’s probably used to the glowing.
  • Don’t bother researching into actual supernatural lore. Just make it up! It’ll be fine.
  • Never, ever let your main character work out that supernatural creatures are real before someone else explains it to her, even if it’s super obvious. She can’t already believe in vampires or whatever, everyone knows they aren’t real.
giphy vampire
OR ARE THEY (image: giphy.com)
  • Your supernatural races should all look like human hotties, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to easily tell them apart by sight! Here’s a handy guide to get you started:
    • Vampires: wear black
    • Werewolves: beefy
    • Angels: blond
    • Fallen angels: blond, but also pale and sad
    • Demons: have piercings
  • Always have one ‘bad boy’ love interest who wears a leather jacket.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“I don’t understand! Just tell me what’s going on!”

Byron doesn’t stop. Hand clenched around my arm, he drags me away from the goo-spattered alleyway, his jaw clenched. “You could have got yourself killed! What were you thinking?”

I try and tug my arm out of his grip but I can’t – he’s crazy strong. He leads me into another alleyway, far away from the sticky black goop we left behind. We’re round the back of a nightclub in the bad part of town, sirens blaring and a nearly-full moon blotted out by flickering streetlights and grimy concrete towers. He drags me behind a dumpster – no-one can see us from the street now – and it occurs to me that this may have been a bad idea.

Still, I want answers.

I’ve got this old necklace I’ve had since I was a baby. It’s nothing special – just a perfectly spherical blood-red gem on a chain as thin as cobwebs. I’ve always worn it. But ten minutes ago it started glowing, and then the guy that my best friend Mary was dancing with grew a lizard head, and then I chased him out into the alleyway and he exploded into this amorphous blob of goop when I touched him. If Byron hadn’t been there I would’ve been covered in the stuff, but he just waved this knife around and the goop-blob kind of dissolved.

Byron runs a hand through his dark, floppy hair. His cheekbones glisten in the moonlight. “Echo Bellereve,” he mutters, “why is it that every time we meet I have to perform an exorcism?”

“It’s not my fault that – exorcism?”

“Yes! What did you think I was doing?”

His face is white with anger – but now I think about it he’s always been kind of pale. Maybe it’s just because he’s always dressed in black. I swear I’ve never seen him without his leather jacket. I don’t know what he’s going to do when it starts getting to summer – but now I think about that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in the daytime either. Huh. Weird.

“Do those pointy ears of yours actually work, Echo? Have you been listening to a word I’ve said? You don’t –”

I pull my auburn curls around my face, covering my ears. OK, so they are kind of pointy, but he doesn’t have to be a jerk about it. “Don’t make fun of my ears!”

“So you heard that, did you? Well, listen up. You don’t belong here. Go back to your safe little world and don’t bother me any more. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

God, he’s practically growling at me. I hate that he still looks good doing it. He’s got to have some flaws – but no. Perfect cheekbones, dark eyes, a jaw like granite. I guess his teeth are kind of pointy but I don’t think that really counts.

I glare at him. “I’m not leaving my friend behind! Now, are you going to tell me what happened back there, or –”

“You don’t know? You don’t – Echo, you could have died! It’s a miracle you weren’t –”

He stops. His pale face gets paler.

“You’re bleeding,” he says.

OK, his teeth really are pointy. Also, I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before but his eyes are kind of red. And glowing. Is he wearing contacts?

I touch my cheek and my fingertips come away bloody. “Oh yeah. But look, what was…”

He’s suddenly much, much closer now. Every eyelash stands out sharp against his cheeks. His eyes are really red now – like, properly vermillion, not just garnet – and suddenly I’m annoyed. He’s just doing this to scare me and he’s not even answering any of my questions.

“Stop being a jerk,” I snap, and shove him away. He doesn’t move. I’ve basically just slapped him in the chest and now I feel like an idiot. I did at least get to touch his pecs though, so there’s that.

He doesn’t say anything. Just stares, and now his canine teeth are like, super-sharp.

“I said, take your damn contacts out and stop being a –”

Someone slams into him.

I shriek. Byron goes flying into the wall. He hisses, eyes still glowing, and then someone – a huge someone, built like a goddamn mountain – slaps him right across the face.

“Echo!” says a familiar voice. “Are you hurt?”

It’s Rex Volkov, from school. Rex Volkov, who’s six and a half feet tall and so broad-shouldered he has to turn sideways to fit through the classroom doors. He comes running over to me, mahogany eyes wide with concern.

“Oh, Jesus,” he says, and there’s a certain amount of hissing and frantic scrabbling from Byron, “you’re bleeding. Did he bite you?”

I frown. “Um, no. Why would he do that?”

Rex stares at me. “Are you serious?”

Byron springs up again. His eyes are glowing red, his canine teeth are sharp and pointed, and he’s hissing at Rex. Rex doesn’t even turn around. He just punches Byron in the side of the head and he goes crashing down.

“He’s a vampire,” Rex says.

“Oh, very funny, Rex. There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“Jesus wept.” More hissing. “Look at him! Look at his teeth! His eyes started glowing at the sight of blood!”

“They’re just contacts! And…and prosthetic teeth, probably. You can get those, right?”

“Prosthetic…never mind. Look, you need to get out of here. He’s going to try and eat you now he’s scented blood. There’s a church a couple of streets away. If you run, I can hold him off long enough for you to –”

Byron scrabbles at his leg. Rex picks him up and throws him into the dumpster.

“Real mature, Rex. Real mature. Next you’ll be telling me you’re a werewolf!”

Rex goes very quiet.

“And that I’m a half-fairy, half-angel mythical being who’s like, princess of everything!”

Rex starts shuffling his feet.

“Yeah. I didn’t think so either. Now you’ve had your little joke, so why don’t you let Byron out of the dumpster and get him to tell me what’s going –”

Byron bursts out of the dumpster. His eyes are blazing red, his teeth have turned to fangs, and two large, leathery bat wings are poking through his jacket. Hissing, he rounds on me. Rex shoves me out of the way, rips off his shirt – and damn, by the way – and then promptly turns into a wolf.

And that’s when I passed out.

 

 

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 Spy Novel

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at spy novels. Choose your code names and watch out for explosions!

 

Ingredients:

  • One dashing and debonair spy
  • Laaaaadies
  • An assortment of exotic locations
  • A dastardly villain
  • Gadgets
  • One superior officer, only to be ignored
  • A TRAITOR
  • So many ‘splosions.

 

Method:

  1. Your debonair spy receives his mission from his superior officer. This is the only time this character will ever be listened to.
  2. A plot is afoot! Infodump the details onto the main character. It doesn’t matter what they are – the only thing you really have to bring out is just how evil the villain is.
  3. Pick up your gadgets. Try not to look bored.
  4. Go to your first exotic location! Don’t worry about all the extensive research into place and culture that real spies have to do – just show up in your flash car, it’ll be fine.
  5. Meet your first beautiful woman. She must fall into one of three categories:
    1. Suspicious, but in a way that’s really hot
    2. Innocent, but ultimately doomed
    3. Foreign
  6. Do some spy stuff for a bit. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re sneaking.
giphy hiding
Quick! Hide! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Receive a sinister message from the villain. If you chose the innocent-yet-doomed woman for step five, it’s time to kill her off.
  2. Go to another exotic location! Don’t worry about blowing your cover, we’re only on step eight.
  3. Oh look, it’s another beautiful woman! Let’s see if she’ll survive all twenty steps.
  4. Infiltrate, steal or smash something belonging to the villain. It’s all very exciting.
  5. Blow something up.
  6. It’s time to meet the villain! You can’t kill them because we’re only on step twelve, so have a tense conversation where you never directly address what’s going on instead.
  7. Form an uneasy yet sexy alliance with the highly suspicious hottie. It definitely won’t backfire.
  8. You’ve uncovered a code! Hooray! Celebrate with another explosion.
  9. Fight some baddies for a bit.
  10. Use your code to get into the villain’s secret lair. You’re so close to foiling their evil plans…
  11. …but oh no, you’ve been betrayed! The highly suspicious hottie has double-crossed you, as literally nobody ever thought she would.

  1. While you’re captured, the villain very kindly explains their evil plan, with diagrams. They then leave immediately, because they’ve got to take their fluffy white cat to the vet before they take over the world.
  2. Break free of your restraints, go to another exotic location and foil the evil plan! Fortunately this is very easy, as the villain’s plan is always foilable by cutting the right wire or pushing a big red button.
  3. Hooray! The day has been saved. Retreat to the nearest tropical island with all the surviving and non-traitorous hotties, and then fly back home for tea and medals.

THE END. Serve shaken, not stirred.

 

Tips:

  • There are no unattractive women allowed. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about memorising false names and elaborate cover stories when you’re infiltrating places. Just make it up! It’ll probably be fine.
  • If you include a beautiful foreign woman as one of your gorgeous lady friends, don’t bother actually researching her culture and background to give a better understanding of her character. Just stick a few of her lines in another language and give her an accent.
  • Always walk away from an explosion, never run.
giphy explosion
Otherwise you’ll end up looking like this. (image: giphy.com)
  • Don’t worry about cleaning up after the messes you’ve made, or blowing the cover of any other agents in the field. That’s your superior officer’s job. They’ll yell at you a bit, but it’s all fine.
  • Drive flash cars, fly private jets and pilot speedboats. These are the only acceptable ways for you to travel, apart from running along in the Mission: Impossible pose. Never, ever use public transport.
  • Give yourself a cool name. No-one likes a spy called Gerald.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“Mr Diamond.”

Leaning on the black marble bar, Jack Diamond turned. One of the General’s men was standing in front of him – a big, tattooed guy with a shaven head and a suit that strained across his biceps. He wore dark glasses, even though they were indoors, and he was sweating in the heat.

The man inclined his head. “My employer would like you to join him. This way, please.”

Diamond picked up his whiskey – Lagavulin, two fingers, with a maraschino cherry on the side – and followed the man through the casino. Past the craps table, past the roulette wheel, past the sheer glass balcony that looked out over palm trees and a long-dormant volcano. They passed through a crowd of suits and evening dresses until the General’s bodyguard led Diamond to a private room. He knocked on the mahogany door and showed him in.

There, at the head of the table, was General Victor Sly, dressed all in white to match his hair. Diamond knew him from the files, of course. The scar pulling down his left eye socket was enough; the glittering black opal that replaced his left eye made him impossible to miss.

He smiled. “Ah, Mr Diamond. So good of you to join us. Sit, please.”

Diamond sat down. Katya was with him, sitting at the General’s right hand as she’d said she would be. She wore the fur hat she’d had in Rome; she’d stuck a brooch in it to match her evening dress. Blonde and beautiful, she gave no sign she recognised him. It was part of the plan, but Diamond still felt a little stung. After all, they’d held hands.

“I do so like to meet my investors,” the General said, “it makes such a difference. I thought we might play a little game and get to know each other.”

Diamond raised his glass. “When in Rome,” he said, and drank. It was a mistake. He’d picked the whiskey because it had been on the top shelf of the bar and he could put it on expenses if he kept the receipt. If he’d known it was going to be this strong, he would have asked the bartender to mix in some lemonade. He tried not to cough in front of Katya.

“Yes,” said the General, “have you been to Rome, Mr Diamond?”

Someone poured him another drink. Diamond fished out the cherry and ate it, wishing he’d had dinner before he came to the casino. “No. Definitely not.”

“Really? How unusual. I was under the impression you had met with some of my investors there.”

Diamond took a gulp of his whiskey and signalled for another cherry, thinking fast. He’d been supposed to meet his contact in Rome to pick up the map of the General’s secret facility, but the man had been murdered before he could make the drop. Diamond had had to blow up the Trevi fountain just to make himself feel better.

“Oh, that Rome,” he said, after another mouthful of whiskey. “I thought you meant Rome, Georgia. Not Italy. Where I haven’t been.”

“I…what?” The General frowned. “Why would I…”

Diamond drained his glass and wondered if there was anywhere he could get some chips. “I haven’t been there,” he said again.

“Right…” said the General. He shook his head and smiled again. “You know my associate, of course,” he said, nodding to Katya.

“No,” said Diamond. “Definitely not.”

Nyet,” said Katya, glaring at him, “Mr Diamond and I have corresponded vith regards to his investments, but ve have never formally met.”

“Ah. Then allow me to introduce my business associate, Yetakerina Mikhailovna Lyegova.”

Katya held out her hand. Diamond kissed it, and felt all giddy. “Charmed.”

She sat back down and wiped the back of her hand on her skirt. Obviously, Diamond thought, she was doing it to maintain her cover. He ordered another drink.

“Well,” said the General, “now that we are all acquainted, let us begin our game.”

He signalled to one of his men, who stepped forwards and began shuffling a pack of cards. He laid down five cards in front of each of them and put the rest in the centre of the table. Diamond took another sip of his whiskey, and giggled at the funny slurping noise. Then he stopped, because Katya was watching.

He looked at his cards, lifting the edges the merest fraction off the table. “Threes?” he asked.

The General smiled enigmatically, and Diamond took a card from the pile.

“Sevens,” the General said. Diamond shook his head, and the General took another card.

“Jacks,” said Diamond. The General raised an eyebrow, and slid a card across the table.

“Secret access codes,” he said.

Diamond froze. Under the table, his hand strayed to his revolver, strapped against his thigh. He was feeling a bit wobbly, and really, reallywished he’d stopped for a kebab.

His finger curled around the trigger.

“No,” Diamond said. “Go Fish.”

 

 

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 YA Coming of Age Story

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at coming of age stories. Get ready to go back to high school – don’t you really miss puberty?

 

Ingredients:

  • One monologue-prone teenage protagonist
  • Parents who don’t understand
  • A hot teen issue of your choice
  • High school
  • One love interest, two if you’re greedy
  • Peer pressure
  • A faithful best friend, to be ignored at every opportunity
  • A really bland setting
  • The word ‘like’

 

Method

  1. Take your teenage protagonist and clueless parents and slap them all in a house. Make sure it’s really boring, so the reader really gets why the protagonist wants a car or something.
  2. Get out of bed, it’s time for school. No, you can’t have five more – get up, I said!
  3. Time to meet our delightfully quirky high school friends. Choose your clique carefully. Everybody hates cheerleaders, so you’re best avoiding them, but remember no-one likes an unwashed nerd either.
  4. Go to class or something. Whatever. I don’t care.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Omigod guys, it’s the high school crush! They’re coming this way, everybody be cool, and make sure to talk about how the main character’s got a zit they don’t want noticed in the internal monologue.
  2. Our protagonist gets to hang out with their crush for some reason, yay! But uh-oh, they were supposed to see their best friend at the same time. How do you choose between –
  3. CRUSH CRUSH CRUSH.
  4. The main character has hung out with their crush and it’s all been reasonably fine. The hot teen issue came up though. Hope that’s not going to be a thing later on.
  5. Monologue about stuff. It’s that or homework.
  6. The main character has an opportunity to hang out with their crush! Isn’t this just the best. But uh-oh, what’s that coming up ahead? It looks like…
  7. PEER PRESSURE.
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUUNNNN (image: giphy.com)
  1. OK, the hot teen issue is becoming a bit of a problem now. Sure are a lot of opinions about this thing. Monologue about them.
  2. Ignore your best friend again, you’ve got a crush to drool over.
  3. You’ve been invited to one of the cool kids’ parties! You know, one of those absolutely mythical parties involving jet-skis and cocaine and that thing belonging to their parents that had better not get smashed.
  4. Argue with the parents about it.
  5. Disobey the parents and go to the party anyway! Your crush is there and it’s all great until –
  6. The hot teen issue happens! But you know, in a really bad way.
  7. The police get called and you’re in trouble now. In fact, you’re grounded until the age of thirty-four.
  8. Mope a bit, but then realise that this hot teen issue stuff is important and you’re allowed to have your own opinion about it. Do something thoughtful to show how mature you are now.
  9. Make up with your best friend. Make out with your crush, or don’t, depending on how much of an idiot they’re being. And look at this – you’re un-grounded, and just in time for prom! Maybe those parents do understand after all.

THE END. Serve sprinkled with ‘like’ so everyone knows you’re definitely a teenager.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure to get the teenage slang just right. It’s important, yo.
giphy kids
Fleek. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your teen issue carefully. If you’re going for something like sex or drugs, then keep it toned-down. Funny tingly feelings are fine, but full-blown orgies are off the table.
  • Keep to the acceptable pantheon of curse words. You want a few in there to show you’re edgy, but you drop any f-bombs and you’re grounded, mister.
  • Just because you’re writing a teenage character doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your authorial metaphors. Go ahead and lay out the fanciest literary imagery you can think of – and then add ‘like’, ‘whatever’ or ‘or something’ to the end of the sentence. They’re teenagers, it’s what they do.
  • Make sure your main character spends 40% of the book shrivelling up with embarrassment. It’s comedy!
  • If your main character is a boy, their best friend is always a skinny nerd. If they’re a girl, the best friend is always fat. It’s the rule.
  • Love triangles are optional here. If you do decide to include one, at least one of the people involved must be a Bad Boy™.
  • Always, always write in first person.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“I dunno, Cass,” says Martha, leaning against the locker next to mine, “I think it’s pretty risky.”

I roll my eyes and grab my Trig folder. Martha Floffmann has been my best friend since forever, but she can be a bit of a square sometimes. But she’s my best friend, so I don’t mind too much.

“It’ll be fine,” I say, as we head to our next class. “Everyone does it eventually. It’s not like it’s a big deal.”

She blushes and pushes her glasses a little higher. “Yeah, but…now?”

“Well, maybe not right this minute, but y’know, soon.”

“Are you really ready for something like that? I know I’m not.”

We stop outside the classroom. “Well I mean, I guess I am. Who’s ever really ready for something like that? But I mean, y’know, if I felt really strongly about it and the right person was, y’know, in the running, then –”

“Hey! It’s Cassidy, isn’t it?”

My whole body goes tingly. My heart literally stops and my entire body starts blushing. I know that voice. When I turn around, he’ll be standing there.

I’m not ready for this. I look terrible – my hair’s a mess, there’s a Nutella stain on my shirt and my dog threw up on my trainers this morning. Maybe he won’t notice the smell. Or the fact that my face is basically one giant zit.

Well, here goes.

I turn around and see him: Trent Calliber. Captain of the football team, tall, with dark blonde hair and green eyes and a face sculpted by literal angels. He looks like a cross between Michelangelo’s David and a swimsuit model and I’m just dead. It actually hurts to look at his face, he’s so pretty.

He smiles and goddammit, I can feel my heart dancing a merengue.

“What are you girls talking about?”

Martha butts in. “Lowering the voting age to –”

“Nothing,” I interrupt, “just, y’know, girl things. For girls. Your hair is…hair today. I mean, it’s nice. For hair. Um.”

This always happens whenever I talk to him. My brain just passes out and my mouth is all welp, here’s freedom, at last. It’s so embarrassing.

Trent’s frowning. Oh God, I’ve done something wrong. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst thing I’ve ever seen and goddammit, why does he have to be so pretty?

“Lowering the voting age?” he asks. “You don’t actually care about that stuff, do you?”

Martha’s opening her mouth but it’s too late – I’m laughing, too loud, and now everyone is staring at me. Oh God, I can see the Nutella stain out of the corner of my eye. I know it’s there.

“No, no, of course not! Voting’s like, for dorks, or whatever. God. Ew. I mean, so last year!”

He smiles. “Great. For a second I thought you were like, a square or something.”

“Me? No way! I’m…triangular?”

He laughs. Oh God. Is it possible to get pregnant from this?

“You’re funny. Hey, listen. I’m throwing a rager Friday night. You should swing by sometime.”

Omigod. Oh my God. Trent Calliber has just asked me out. Trent fudging Calliber. OK Cassidy, play it cool, play it cool. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for.

“I mean, I guess I could,” I say, tossing my hair. Bonus – now it covers up the Nutella stain! “I mean, if I’m not too busy.”

“Oh, Cass,” says Martha, “Friday’s when we’re going to that –”

“So where is your place?” I say, nudging her out of the way. “And what time should I get there? And do I need to bring anything? Is there a dress code? What about –”

He laughs again. I really am going to have to ask the nurse about this pregnancy thing. “Relax, babe,” he says, and my entire body is going did you hear that he called me babe!, so relaxing is kind of off the menu now. “Just be there.”

“Sure.”

He walks away. Martha frowns up at me, but she’s my best friend, so I don’t mind.

“I thought you said you were coming to my thing. I’ve bought the tickets.”

Trent is still walking away – slowly, thank God. My body is so tingly I literally cannot think about anything else and I’ve lost all motor function in my arms. Guess that’s why I’ve dropped my Trig folder.

“Did you hear?” I whisper, “he called me babe.”

 

 

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
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Book Recipes: How to Write a Country House Mystery

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at the country house murder mystery. Let’s hope we live through all twenty steps.

 

Ingredients:

  • A big old spooky house
  • An assorted group of debonair guests. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The Ingénue
    • A crusty old man
    • A prim and proper widow
    • A bounder and a cad
    • The Femme Fatale
    • Loveable newlyweds
    • The idle rich
  • A sinister butler
  • Storms
  • So much alcohol
  • Unreliable phone lines/roads/Wi-Fi
  • Dark yet slightly sexy secrets
  • MURRRDERRRR.

 

Method:

  1. All your characters have been invited to a big country house, for plot reasons. They make small talk like they aren’t going to die.
  2. There’s a big storm! Better gather everyone in one room. It’s not important. I’m sure it’ll be fine – oh, all the lights have gone out.
  3. AND THERE’S A MURDER.
  4. Some of your guests try and leave, but they can’t! Those unreliable phone lines are down, or the road is flooded, or maybe someone has just Lemonade-ed over all the cars.

  1. Gather your guests in one big room, along with any servants you might have lying about the place. One of them is a MURDERER.
  2. Decide that the best thing to do is wait until morning in one big group. That way no-one will –
  3. JUST KIDDING GUYS LET’S SPLIT UP!
  4. Pick a character who will survive until at least step 18 and follow them around for a bit. This one is almost certainly not the murderer, but you never know.
  5. Pick your first suspect. You’re going to want to choose someone who is ridiculously suspicious because –
  6. Oh, no, looks like they’re dead. Never mind.
  7. Okay, obviously it wasn’t suspect number one. Who else could it be? Have your main POV character ponder this for a bit while they wander spooky corridors.
  8. Have another big meeting with the remaining characters. Someone is acting suspicious…
suspicious-gif-18
Hmmm… (image: gifimage.net)
  1. Settle on suspect number two. This should be less obvious than suspect number one, but still not something you’d really have to reach for. Someone who your main character has seen sneaking off down a corridor, or having a –
  2. Oh, no, they’re dead too. My bad.
  3. Some more murders happen and everyone is very distressed. First to go is anyone who decides to leave and get help, so your best bet is to keep your main character hidden behind the sofa.
  4. You have found A Clue. Oh boy! This sure takes your mind off all those murders.
  5. We’ve narrowed it down to our third and final suspect. All the clues point to them. There’s no-one else it could be. Gird your loins and get ready to confront the –
  6. Oh, they’re dead as well. Huh. So the real murderer must be…
  7. IT WAS THE BUTLER DID IT ALL ALONG MY GOSH
  8. The butler explains his evil plan for the readers’ convenience and advances on the main character. But just when he’s about to do another murder, we reach the end of our twenty-step guide and he’s arrested.

THE END. Serve with tea and flickering lights.
 

Tips:

  • This one comes with an alternate ending! If you’re feeling especially bleak, just have your butler kill everybody and waltz off into the sunset with all their stuff. Make sure he still explains his plan though, that part’s important.
  • Detectives are optional. Feel free to invite one along, but just be aware that in steps 1 and 2 they’re going to have to earn their keep by deducing where people went on their holidays.
  • Make sure to choose the right kind of dark secrets. They can’t be too dark or you’ll put the guests off their champagne. The best ones are sexy and melodramatic.
  • Always include at least one hysterical woman, and one man who thinks the first murder is an elaborate prank.
  • No-one ever, ever suspects the butler.
giphy spanish inquisition
You all knew I was going to make this joke. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your setting carefully. The past is your best bet, because Wi-Fi and working phone lines can really ruin a good murder mystery. Nobody likes a detective who relies on Google.
  • Don’t make your creepy house too creepy or the genres will get muddled. Also, don’t make it gross. Nobody wants to bleed to death on a grubby floor.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“I expect you’re all wondering why I called you here.”

The guests were in the drawing room, settling into chairs with coffee. The butler, Stabbington, moved discreetly round the room, topping up glasses of port. Alice Sinclair placed a hand over her glass and sat up straight. It was awfully fun to be asked to join the adults.

Her host, Sir Jeffrey Spishous-Mann, had got to his feet. The room fell silent. Apart from the howling wind the house was quiet. Crumbleigh Place was on top of a mountain, swathed in snow, and was only accessible after a three-day journey through a dark and creeping forest. Alice thought it was jolly exciting. The house reminded her of a Gothic novel, or one of those perfectly thrilling horror pictures she and the girls had snuck out to see at Bletherleys. If Bunty could have seen her now, she would have thought her terribly sophisticated.

Stabbington took a discreet step forward and murmured in his master’s ear. Sir Jeffrey frowned. “What? Now?”

“I’m afraid it cannot wait, sir.”

“Very good.” He turned back to his guests. “Do serve yourselves, gentlemen, ladies. Stabbington will be in the kitchen sharpening his knives. Where was I?”

An old man who’d been introduced to Alice as Major Edmund Blakely-Smythe spluttered in his chair. “Eh? What?”

His aged sister leaned over and patted his knee. “Sir Jeffrey was just about to tell us something, Edmund.”

“What? Speak up! Get him to speak up, Agnes.”

Sir Jeffrey cleared his throat again. “As I was saying. I expect you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here…”

There was a sudden bang. Alice flinched. Her neighbour – a tall young man wearing an ascot and a predatory expression – laid a hand on her arm.

“No need to be afraid,” he murmured, offering her his hand, “I shall protect you. Jonty Framlingham-Piggott, at your service.”

Alice shook it, blushing. She wished she was wearing lipstick. “Alice Sinclair. Absolutely super to meet you.”

He took a drag on his cigarette. “Isn’t it just. Cigarette, Miss Sinclair?”

“Oh, I –”

Stabbington came back into the room, smoothing his hair back into place and brushing snow off his shoulders. “I do apologise, sir. The cleaning gun went off.”

Major Blakeley-Smythe squinted at him. “Eh? What’d the butler chap say?”

“He says the cleaning gun went off, Edmund,” Agnes yelled into his ear.

“Damn shame,” the Major said. “Happened in India once. Chap never did get it back. Last saw the damn thing swimming in the Ganges.”

Sir Jeffrey took a deep breath. “Anyway. Now that you’re all here, I shall reveal to you…”

Jonty leaned forward and whispered in Alice’s ear. “Frightfully dull, isn’t it? Let’s slip away for a moment. I’ve picked up a few things on my travels I’d be delighted to show you.”

Alice blushed. Matron hadn’t said anything about this. “Souvenirs, do you mean?”

He flicked the ash off his cigarette and smirked. “Of course, dear girl.”

Sir Jeffrey was counting to ten. “As I was saying…”

Stabbington bustled over to the drinks cabinet. He knelt down, fussing with a little packet of powder, and saw Alice looking. “I beg your pardon, Miss.”

“Is that…rat poison?”

Stabbington shoved the powder into his pocket. “Yes. For the rats.”

“In the drinks cabinet?”

“…Yes.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose they can be very clever little fellows.”

Stabbington straightened up, and Alice saw a flash of brass by every one of his knuckles. He had an awful lot of rings, for a butler. “Very clever indeed, Miss. Do excuse me.”

He left the room. Sir Jeffrey set down his glass. “As I was saying…”

“Eh? What?”

“He’s about to tell us something, Edmund…”

Sir Jeffrey stood on his chair and yelled “I’m very rich and I’m about to die!”

There was a long silence. Snow whirled against the glass; wind howled down the chimney. The guests all stared at their host, who climbed down from his chair.

“Good,” he said. “Now that I have your attention –”

All the lights went out. Then, there was a scream.

 

 

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)