Phil: As you will know, team NolanParker likes cake. We also like literary festivals. Thus, when checking out Warwick Words brochure, one of the sessions that leapt out at me was Frances Quinn talking about winning the Great British Bake Off and her latest cookbook.
I prefer eating cakes to baking but my sister is very keen so I fired an e-mail over to her mentioning the event. Half an hour later she replied that tickets had been booked and I was going along as well.
Literary events are funny things nowadays. They start with lofty ideals filling sessions with earnest people who don’t own a jacket without elbow patches and like nothing better than discussing the sort of book that makes your head hurt to read.
Gradually numbers go up and the sessions are being run by writers people have heard of. At first this will be half of Radio 4 but eventually you’re seeing proper celebrities appearing. Now the elbow patch crowd don’t get a look it. Sessions sell out in minutes, all to people who care little for writing but love to meet people whose books they have read. Questions at the end are more Fearne Cotton than Jeremy Paxman.
Surely writing a cookbook isn’t really literature is it? If I’m honest, it’s not that much different from the job I do showing people how to build models, just with less glue and more chocolate.
And you know what, there wasn’t much talk about writing. What there was though was lots of talk about presentation. And for me, that was very, very interesting indeed.
On stage while we waited, (me, 6 other men and 144 women including the Southam Baking circle), there was a big screen. I’ve seen this before and it usually means clips from the telly.
Wrong. No clips but lots of slides and a few videos showing how ideas come about and how they are developed. There were pictures of cakes of course but these were accompanied by stories, not recipes, explaining where the inspiration came from.
Sketches. Photos. Ideas.
And it was well done. Frances Quinn can work Powerpoint. Even though she was standing behind a screen and seeing everything in reverse, we saw slides and videos and it was slick. This might not sound impressive but I’ve sat through far too many presentations where the person at the front is acting as though they’ve never seen a computer or a mouse before and we lumber through the slides in a random order because the concept of back and forward is too challenging. Worse, when it’s time to show anything else, a pathetic, “It’s all a bit technical for me” issues forth while the audience wonder why they paid to see this.
The thrust of the talk was that execution of ideas is often simple.
Having the good idea in the first place is the hard part, but a whole lot easier if you keep your eyes and mind open.
A couple of examples: Cakes cooked in paper coffee cups to look like coffee. Really neat and simple but had you thought of it? Modern sculpture cakes based around millionaire shortbread to celebrate the millionth visitor to a gallery. Even I could work out how that was done but as I say, the execution is easy(ish), the idea is the thing.
This ties back in to thoughts we’ve been having about our book. Some recent feedback said our style was enthusiastic albeit a little undisciplined but that the basic idea was sound. We can tweak the former but if the basic idea is rubbish, it doesn’t matter how well you write it, you are on to a loser. Our idea is as good as we think it is.
My sister came away with a signed cookbook. I left with a load of thoughts about how I can present my work in the future and the promise of cake to test soon.
A pretty good evening. You might not be able to buy inspiration, but this was pretty close.
Regular readers might be concerned that Candice missed out on all this cake talk. Well, she’s still on holiday. More to the point, she didn’t get the chance to point out that here we have yet another succesful author who runs for “fun”. It’s not fair. Where are all the slothful writers?