Given last week’s post, I’m guessing most of you have figured out that I love food. If I’m not cooking it, I’m eating it, and if I’m not eating it, I’m thinking about it, and if I’m not thinking about it…no, scratch that, I’m pretty much always thinking about food.
I love to dream up what I’m going to make for dinner tonight or have for breakfast tomorrow, and there’s nothing I love more than standing in my kitchen, covered in flour, with a whisk in one hand and a bowl in the other. One of my favorite ways to procrastinate (and believe me, I have many) is to surf through food blogs like Smitten Kitchen and Orangette.
So when I started brainstorming ideas for a novel, I knew I wanted food to play a major role in the story. But I also wanted the story to feel fresh. As an unpublished author, I knew my manuscript would get lost in the slush pile if my story felt generic or stale. More than that, I suspected I would live and breath this story for years, and if the story didn’t feel fresh to me, I’d probably go crazy by the hundredth revision.
With that in mind, I sat down in front of my computer and started writing, and what came out was…terrible. Like, total crap. The story I’d begun was bland and contrived. Sure, the plot involved food, but I’d never had that “Eureka!” moment, the spark I needed to light the writing fire. A voice in the back of my head kept telling me, “This isn’t it. This isn’t the story. Keep thinking — you’ll find it.”
And I did. I was living in London at the time, and one morning I read a story in one of the British papers about a local woman known as “MsMarmitelover” who hosted an underground supper club called The Underground Restaurant. She basically turned her living room into an unlicensed restaurant, and people would come from all over and pay to eat her food. Initially, my interest was driven more as a potential customer than as a writer — which, given that I always have food on the brain, isn’t exactly surprising.
Here’s a clip of her running her supper club. She’s a hoot, right? Love her. (Don’t love Marmite, though. Sorry.)
Anyway, later that night, as I drifted off to sleep, MsMarmitelover’s name and story swirled through my head, and I started thinking more about underground supper clubs in general. How could someone pull off an unlicensed restaurant like that? Wouldn’t it be stressful? And, given that the operation isn’t approved or inspected by the Health Department, isn’t it illegal? What would happen if one of these amateur chefs got caught?
Just before I nodded off to sleep, I bolted straight up in bed — BINGO. I had my story. I scurried out of bed and into the living room in our flat, nearly tripping over myself in the dark, and felt around for my writing notebook. I flicked on a lamp, flipped to a black page, and, in barely legible handwriting, scrawled “girl who starts underground supper club” into my notebook.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Er…if by history you mean tons of research, cut chapters, new scenes, new characters, and many, many revisions. But that spark — that “Eureka!” moment — got me started, and it kept the fire burning every step of the way. Well, that and a whole lot of butter and sugar. ‘Cause hey — a girl’s gotta eat.