Thursday, 26 June 2014

Interview with author Sarah Vaughan



The first novel by British author Sarah Vaughan will soon be landing in the shops and I couldn't be more excited for everyone to read this wonderful book. The Art of Baking Blind is a delectable story of baking and is filled with a great mixture of strong female characters (find my full review here).

In this interview, Sarah talks about her debut, the women central within the story, her writing process and she even reveals what she's working on now.

What did an average writing day look like when you were working on The Art of Baking Blind? Did you write full-time? And did you have any special rituals to get your creative juices flowing?

Both my children are now at primary school and so I try to write from 9.30am to 3pm, but when I started The Art of Baking Blind my youngest was on half days so I had to cram a lot into the mornings and then work in the evenings.

In the run-up to publication, I’m working longer hours than my usual steady rate – as I know I’ll do in the run-up to deadline. Having young children means I can’t lock myself away for hours on end – but that’s no bad thing: I don’t think I can do more than four or five hours of really sustained, fresh new writing a day.

My day starts with a brisk walk or cycle to school and back. I’ve learned that I need that bit of fresh air and exercise to stretch my back and set me up for the day. I don’t have any other rituals except for making a huge pint of tea, or a cappuccino from my coffee machine. I do need some caffeine to get those creative juices flowing.

I tend to check my emails and social media before starting – a bit like checking in at an office – but try to stop faffing by 9.30am. I usually re-read the previous day’s work before diving in.

There is an abundance of delectable baked goods within the novel, did you spent many hours baking them yourself to conjure up such vivid smells and flavours with your descriptions of the edible delights?

How did you guess? I didn’t bake all the goodies in the novel – I never made Chelsea buns, for instance – but I did make most of them. It was "research", ahem. How else could I write about making choux pastry, for instance, without trying it out?

The germ of the idea for the book came from baking with my children and at one stage I was baking – as opposed to cooking – four times a week. I wrote The Art of Baking Blind in the kitchen on a very basic laptop with the screen perched on a pile of cookery books: Nigella, Dan Lepard, the Bake Off books, even Mrs Beaton. Every now and again, I’d compare recipes, so somehow this seemed appropriate.

I loved all the women in the story - from baking legend Kathleen to the contestants - how did you create such a diverse cast of mainly female characters, and was there anyone in particular you felt drawn to?

I think I wanted to explore what it is to be a woman, if that doesn’t sound pretentious, in an era in which we still put tremendous pressure on ourselves. Like any first novel, there are elements of my personality in some of the characters: I’m a perfectionist like Vicki, for instance, and, much as I adore my children, I found it hard adjusting to being at home after having a high-powered job on the Guardian.

Similarly, although I’ve never ever had an eating disorder, from the one occasion I’ve gone on a diet – before my wedding – I could see how you might become obsessed with the calorific value of food. I imagine most women will identify with that. But I am most emphatically not any of these women – thank goodness! - and the awful things that happen to some of them are purely the result of my imagination.

I felt huge sympathy for Jenny but, if I have a favourite, it’s Kathleen Eaden. I saw her as a woman constrained by her time who wanted to break free of the expectations imposed on her; and I so felt for her in her struggle to have children.

The Search for the New Mrs Eaden reminded me of television show The Great British Bake Off, how much of your story was inspired by the reality contest and how did you decide on each of the stages of the competition?

There are very obvious parallels and the GBBO was one of the inspirations for the novel. I caught the very tail end of the 2011 series, in the autumn of that year, and it made me question why these contestants felt so compelled to bake that they were willing to compete on television.

A couple of weeks after the final, The Telegraph and Mail revealed that the husband of the winner was serving a prison sentence for his part in a money-laundering scam. As a journalist, I’m intrigued by people’s "backstories": the events that shape them. We all have them, and beneath the most apparently-ordinary appearances, a whole different reality may be going on – as clearly happened in this case. I began to think about why else someone might bake.

Regarding the stages of the competition, again I was influenced by the GBBO – and, magpie-like, filched this – though I didn’t realise this at the time. I think I’d just read so many recipes that the progression made sense. Bakers start off with relatively easy cakes before progressing to bread and pastry.

I hope you're working on another novel already, because I am definitely hooked. If you are, is there anything you can reveal about it yet? 


Thank you. Yes my second novel should be handed into my publisher at the end of this year. It’s not about baking but about nurture, identity, refuge, love, motherhood and atonement - and the strong emotions provoked by a certain place.

It’s set on a farm in north Cornwall and involves a contemporary story and a time-slip one – set seventy years earlier, in World War Two, when Cornwall was seen as a "place of greater safety" for evacuees.

My great grandfather was a farmer in Cornwall and a photo of him leading his horse and plough sits on my desk as I write this. I want to draw on those roots and yet depict his harsh world in an unsentimental way.

I’m deep into the first draft at the moment and very excited about it.

The Art of Baking Blind is published on 3rd July 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton.

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