Becoming an Author
What feels like a life time ago now I began to put together my first book. Well at the time it wasn't a book, it was a jotter with my different recipes written down. These were then amended, tweaked, scrapped, tried again, mastered, typed up and put in a ring binder.
This is how Salena's Coffee Cake began
Over the next 5 years between starting a home baking business and then opening my dream tearoom, Mother Murphy's Tearoom, I started to add stories, including adventures and mis-adventures with Beatrix the collie dog, and photos to the recipes. Lo and behold, my writings were taking the shape of a book.
Sadly though, thanks to that you know what of a bug, my official book launch in November 2020 had to be an on-line affair, which was amazing but just not the same as sitting with real people, laughing, chatting, eating cake and telling stories.
Fast forward a few months (well nearly a year!) and I was finally able to have my first real Meet the Author last Friday, 20, August, 2021 at The Port Gallery in Auchinstarry Marina. Can I just say, if you've never been to this little gallery, you don't know what you're missing. It may look like a small place but it feels a bit like a tardis when you go inside. Crammed into every nook and cranny are arts and crafts by so many different local artists. And to think I only found this gallery because the picture framing place I've used in the past was closed due to Covid and I needed somebody to frame my Beatrix Potter cross stitch for Minnie.
What a blast we had! I was taken aback by how many lovely people came to listen to me ramble on about my life, my recipes and my book. Not only that, how many people would go on to buy my book at the event! Ok, so they may have been bribed with cake!
It was just fantastic to spend time chatting away to people again. The first to arrive were Colin and Christine, who first came to the tearoom many moons ago for cake but ended up staying for hours, sharing poems, writing a poem about the tearoom and then holding a poetry evening in the tearoom. It was just that kind of place at Mother Murphy's Tearoom.
So many other people, people I knew and people I didn't know, all there to listen to me talk about my book!
There were so many co-incidences throughout the night and it was really just meant to be on that night in that place. Firstly, the date, 20th August. This was the date the lovely Dot from the Port Gallery suggested for the event. How fitting this was as that would have been my amazing Grandma's birthday. My Grandma Lammie was the inspiration for the tearoom after years of listening to her tales of what she liked and didn't like in different cafes and tearooms she visited with my Grandad.
During the event, the fire alarm at the Boat House opposite The Port Gallery went off (a couple of times to be honest!) and very quickly the marina car park was filled with fire engines and firemen. Don't forget this was a Friday. Would you believe that at the tearoom we had Fireman Friday Sultana Scones as that was the day the local fireman, Mark, would come along for his sultana scone and strong black coffee. If you don't believe me, there is a story and photos in the book about it!
A big thank you too to Duncan from the Campsie Writer's Group for coming along to take photos for me to use.
By the end of the night, there was singing and literally people dancing in the aisles! I'm not sure about everyone else, but by the time I got back home I was exhausted!
For those of you who couldn't attend the evening, I thought I'd share some of the questions I answered on the night.
Helen Cochrane (Ilustrator for my fantastic book cover)
1) What is your favourite recipe to make and your favourite recipe to eat?
This was a difficult one to answer as I just like baking. There are some things that are just so much fun to make (once you've stopped being scared by them), like making Cinder Toffee or Puff Candy. Three ingredients; sugar, golden syrup and bicarbonate of soda. It doesn't look anything special until you add the magic bicarbonate of soda and then it explodes like a volcano! Let this set hard, chop it up and coat it with chocolate, pop it in a gift bag tied up with a bit of ribbon and you'll be the best guest at any party!
I do also love to make Battenberg cake. It's a little fiddly to make but the result is worth it. This was one of the customer favourites in the tearoom.
My favourite recipe to eat? Well that has to be Lemon Meringue Pie. But the pastry has to be crisp, the lemon filling tart and the meringue plentiful! My mouth is watering now thinking about it.
2) If you were stuck on a desert island, what book would you want to have with you?
Mmm, I think I'd like to take Heidi. I always wanted to be Heidi when I was growing up and just enjoyed loosing myself in the story, imagining I was up in the Swiss mountains sleeping on a bed of hay and drinking goats milk. I have a copy of Heidi at home and to my joy I've also managed to get a copy of Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children. Spoiler alert here. Yes, she does marry Peter.
Laura Forsyth (Waterstones Falkirk)
1) How did you manage to choose the stories in the book and do you have a favourite?
When I first started writing my book, it was just recipes, but then over time, I started to add in stories. Each time I went walking and had a certain cake or bake with me, I'd sit upon the hill with Beatrix the Collie dog and we'd think of stories around the cake. I didn't really need to think about them as they just seemed to take shape themselves.
More stories started to develop as we began to name our cakes after customers and the tales tell of why each cake got it's name, like Dashing Tom's Custard Creams, because Tom always had a custard cream whenever they were in the tearoom.
As for my favourite I think the tale of Grasmere Gingerbread, The Breeze Blew Around the Open-Topped Car. It has everything in it - my love of the Lake District, Grasmere Gingerbread, Myles and his challenge to make this delight gluten and dairy free, and of course, how Mr M fell in love with the lake district too.
Anna Bell – Author of Roots for Growth
1) If you could offer one piece of advice to anyone who wants to write a book, what would it be?
I'm not sure that having my first book published makes me an expert to give advice but I'd say to somebody to just write. Don't think about it become a book, just enjoy the writing. Let it take shape itself. Another author at the event, Claire Miller, agreed fully with this and said just enjoy it and let the characters write the book.
2) Whereabouts is your furthest away reader that you know of?
I'm proud to say that I know of one person in Australia who has bought my book, but I know it's also in France and Finland. Does that make me a world-renouned author?
Sue Hutchings – My 'old' boss, mentor, guide, friend and just the most fabulous person
1) Can the recipes be adapted to use ordinary flour etc and how do I know what to include and what to leave out?
Yes they can be adapted back to being full of gluten and dairy no problem. To make my cakes gluten free I add xanthan gum (which gives structure to gluten free bakes). If you didn't need them to be gluten free you could just use standard plain or self raising flour and omit the xanthan gum. I do use Polenta and rice flour in some recipes but I'd say to keep these in as they give such a lovely taste and texture to the bakes.
For making the goodies dairy free I use stork block (in the gold wrapper not the tub) and I use almond milk. If you didn't need them to be dairy free you could just use butter and milk of your choice (although stork block is great for baking).
2) Where do you get inspirations for your new cakes?
This comes from many places. Sometimes it could be a cake I've eaten when I've been out somewhere that I've enjoyed. Sometimes it's a cake I've eaten out and it's been horrible and I've thought, "I can make something nicer than that". Sometimes it's people asking me for a particular bake. I'm not a fancy baker so I do like to stick to the traditional bakes that people know and love.
3) Is there a way of finding your new recipes?
At the moment new recipes are in my head. And I can tell you that being inside my head is a bit of scary place to be sometimes! I do intend to start adding more recipes to my blog and am thinking of trying to put together some bake along with Debra sessions. Technology skills need to be worked on for that though!
4) How has being a Granny changed you?
Wow! Being a Grandma is something I never thought would happen and I still can't quite believe it. There is the story in the book of when Mother Murphy became Grandma and it tells the difficulties that my daughter Chloe had before little Minnie the Minx came along. And then, just like buses that seem to take for ever to come along and then come along two at a time, along came the amazing Harley.
When you become a mum you think that you could never love anyone more than your children and then along come the grandchildren. It's not that you love them more than your children, but you love them differently. And of course, you can spoil them and hand them back!
I'm incredibly proud of Chloe for the bravery she showed (and shows) and hope that I'm as a good a Grandma as my lovely Grandma was for me.
5) What next?
I'd like to think that I will one day have another Magical Tearoom, perhaps in a Castle overlooking the mountains and sea. Meanwhile I'm writing another book. Well, Beatrix is telling the stories and I'm doing the typing as her paws get in the way of the keys on the keyboard. But who knows. The world has been a bit of a mad place this last year or so. Story teller, baker, writer, crocheter? A TV show or magazine column would be amazing (hint, hint if anyone in high places is reading this)
6) Could you post a picture of parchment lined tin?
You can buy parchment liners in all different shapes and sizes. They're a quick and easy way to line your baking tins. If you use parchment paper rather than greaseproof paper, you don't need to grease the paper, although I lightly grease the tin before adding the parchment liner to hold it in place as you put the filling in. If you can't get the liners, you can just make your own by cutting parchment paper to fit. It doesn't need to be neat, you just need to make sure the bottom and sides of the tin are covered. But if you don't have any, so long as you really well grease your tin, it should still come of your tin once baked.
7) I don’t have a proper mixer but I have a thing with a blade and I use this for making a lemon drizzle. Could I use if for other cakes and if, so are there any cakes I can’t use it for? Can I make pastry with it?
I'm guessing that the thing with a blade is a food processor. You can make most things in a food processor, but I do feel at times this can beat the mix too much, which can lead to a more dense cake. I don't think I'd make, for example, a Victoria sponge in one as you want a light cake. They don't hold very much either so for larger cakes, it's a bit messy using a food processor.
Let's not forget though that cakes were invented long before all these kitchen gadgets were. When I was doing my 'O' level domestic science I was taught to make a cake using the creaming method with just a wooden spoon and to whip fresh cream or eggs for a meringue with a fork. And yes, our teacher used to get us to check we had whipped it enough by tipping the bowl upside down over our heads! Karen will vouch for this I'm sure.
I like to make pastry by hand but yes, I do also make pastry in a food processor or a food mixer. I find gluten free pastry is fine in the processor as you will never develop the gluten in it by over beating, but you can sometimes make gluten pastry a bit heavy by over mixing.
Really though, no matter how you make your cakes and bakes, they will still taste much better than the shop bought variety.
8) What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
This is an easy one. It has to be lasagne. But second day lasagne when the cheese is crispy around the edge. No sloppy, runny cheese for me!
9) Do you use big eggs or a special size?
I know some people are bit fussy about their eggs and even weigh them, but I just use medium free range eggs and it always seems to work for me.
10) Which is best, joyous wild swimming or trudging up mountains?
That's a difficult one. I love swimming and I love walking. But my real love is cycling. Many years ago whilst still at junior school I was a competitive swimmer but being from a poor Yorkshire family with no car, it was difficult for me to attend as many training sessions as the other swimmers so I was always at a bit of a disadvantage.
Once I started grammar school I found that I loved athletics, especially the hurdles and javelin and was encouraged to join an athletics club. Again, not having a car, I found it difficult to get to the training as there were no buses on a Sunday. So I started to cycle from Northowram in Halifax to the athletics track at Cleckheaton (probably about 10 miles there and then 10 miles back) but soon realised I was enjoying the cycling more than the athletics so joined a cycling club.
Walking the high fells is amazing though and I certainly enjoy the solace that the mountains provide and of course, I can take Beatrix up the hills with me.
I've just discovered the joy of wild swimming thanks to my son Benjamin and had my first dip in Grasmere in the Lake District. I can tell you that looking at the mountains as you swim is much better than the walls of the swimming pool.
Did that answer the question? Probably not. I think they all have their pull to me but if I could only do one sport it would have to be cycling.
Nicky Lynch – The Posh Lady
1) How many tines have you attempted a recipe before you successfully and happily got the best result?
It's varied with the different cakes and bakes. Sometimes I'd bake a cake and I knew straight away that it was good. Other times, I knew straight away that it was vile and I would never make it again, like the vegan cream cheese frosting I made for my carrot cake. Apologies to the vegans here but the frosting smelt horrible, didn't look too clever and just slid off the cake so never even reached the tearoom for the verdict of the customers.
Other bakes, like Grasmere Gingerbread have been amended numerous times and I'm sure that I've not completely finished this yet. Not everyone has tasted the original Grasmere Gingerbread (a cross between a biscuit and a cake) from Grasmere in the Lake District so don't really know what I'm trying to re-create. But I do. Sarah Nelson's is a secret family recipe but I'm almost there (and of course mine is gluten and dairy free).
Muriel – Campsie Writers Group
1) How long did it take you to write the book?
Probably the whole process from start to finish was something like five years.
2) Why did you write it?
I think I've already answered this in a way. Writing the recipes down began as a way of making sure that the finished bakes would be almost the same each time we made them, whether it was me or Mr M who baked them. It was also a way of making sure that I knew exactly what ingredients were in the bakes to be able to advise customers of any allergens. From then, the stories just started to be added to the recipes.
2) What changes have happened in your life since publishing?
For a long time after publishing nothing thanks to the lockdown across the country. However, I've now joined groups like the Campsie Writers' Group and Women in Business and met a whole new set of people that I might never have had the opportunity to meet if I were still in the tearoom.
It's taken me a while to fully appreciate that I have actually written a book and that people are enjoying reading, whether it be for the recipes or the stories (or both) and I'm only just feeling that it's acceptable to call myself an author. I do think that it's given me a little more confidence in myself and hopefully more events like this will be organised in the coming months.
3) Where to from here? When you travel in your campervan could you do a travelogue encompassing local food recipes?
Now that's a piece of news I've not share with everyone yet. Yes, this week, we are picking up our very first campervan. Not a new one and not a very large one (I'll be doing the driving!). Looking in the bookshops for tales of people in their campervans, I have found the shelves to be bare so who knows. Maybe I will write a travelogue, Debra, Mr M and Beatrix travel the country in Evie (I've already named my campervan!). Watch this space.
Salena Riley – Crafty Sal, Amazing Friend (but whose friendship membership has hung on a shaky nail a couple of times!)
1) We all have our favourite cakes that you have created, mine being coffee cake. But what’s your favourite. If you can’t manage one, what are your top 3?
In the book, our coffee cake is named after Salena as she fell in love with this the first time she came to the tearoom. I was never a big fan of coffee cake, but I have to admit that even I like my version of coffee cake now!
Over the years I have eaten so many cakes and my go to cake (apart from Lemon Meringue Pie) would be chocolate fudge cake. Nowadays thought I'm more likely to go for a fruit cake or fruit slice. Oh but then there is Bakewell tart. And then there is carrot cake. I guess I just love cake and biscuits.
2) Are there any cakes you’ve not yet mastered that we can expect to find in your next book?
In the tearoom because we didn't have a refrigerated cake display, I was never really able to make cheese cakes (if the customers can't see them as they are tucked away in a fridge, the customers won't buy them!). I'd like to make a selection of cheese cakes but these would have to be gluten free and not dairy free, unless I can master using the vegan cream cheese.
Now of course, my book is available to buy direct from us, online in various places included Amazon and even an e-book. My latest claim to fame though is that I now have real, proper copies of my book in book stops including the lovely Sam Read Bookseller in the village of Grasmere just around the corner from the Grasmere Gingerbread shop.
Just look at that line up of books!
But wait. There's more. Have you seen the film Miss Potter? There is a scene in the film where Beatrix Potter is out with her publisher, Norman Warne, and accompanied by her chaperone as they walk through the town. There is a book shop with Beatrix's new book in the window. I remember watching that film and hoping that one day I would be able to re-create that scene for myself. Well, today it happened. Yes, my book, written by my own fair hands, is sitting pride of place in the window of Waterstones Book store in Falkirk. Today, I re-created that scene for myself.
A proud, proud moment for me I can tell you
If you've reached the end of this long blog, thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I hope you've enjoyed it. Please feel free to leave a comment for me.