They nourish, comfort and console us. They delight us with their flavour, colour and texture. We eat up the words with the mouths of our eyes. Some stories give us a sugar rush. Others have an aftertaste that lingers. Some are dry, others moist. Some are light, others dense. But we always come back for more.
Like the EAT ME cake from Alice in Wonderland, stories can transform us. They take us to other places and times. They put us inside the heads of other people or even creatures. They teach us empathy. This is how they feed us and help us grow.
If stories are like cakes, writers are like cooks.
Some writer-cooks plan their project in meticulous detail. We start with a recipe and carefully measured ingredients: one good opening sentence, one problem, one strong desire, one fascinating foe, one plan, one faithful friend (or pet), a handful of other allies (to taste), one big battle near the end and one Lesson Learned. Sometimes – but not always – we add a mentor, a talisman and a journey. We salt it with humour and we frost it with sensory details.
Other writer-cooks create by pure instinct. They waltz into the kitchen of their imagination, throw some ideas in a mental bowl, stir them up and bake them in the oven of inspiration. And voilà! They have created a masterpiece, seemingly without effort.
In Daunt Books Children's Short Story Competition (a collection of the sixteen winning short stories from their 2015 competition) you will find some delicious stories baked by cooks aged four to fourteen years.
Piper, eight, has created slice of double layer cake with lavender frosting and a flavour of Japan.
Fourteen-year-old Alexandra combines rose petals, orange juice, purple paint and glitter into a deliciously evil concoction.
Joey – only five! – has baked a comforting marmalade scone: warm and fluffy, and perfect for tea.
Caterina’s creation incorporates familiar elements – ‘a spoonful of sugar’, a picnic lunch and sour mash for a War Horse – to make something unique.
Layla, aged eight, wrote my personal favourite, a fairy cake of a fairy tale with equal parts lemony-tart wit and honey-sweet wisdom.
Twelve-year-old Ruby May’s cake has thoughtful layers of white, black and red, with a bittersweet aftertaste.
Chloe, six, has concocted a story that features dangerous cakes and meringues, but ends happily with the baking of cupcakes: one medium and one tiny.
Ten-year-old Sam has crafted a salted caramel brownie so clever it makes you laugh.
Marie, nine, gives us story about a Sherpa as chilly as the Kendal Mint Cakes that climbers often munch.
I see Will’s story as a surreal upside-down version of Baked Alaska, with a moose rather than mousse.
Maia’s confection has twin sponges separated by a buttercream layer of fantasy with candied fruit jewels on top; read it: you’ll see what I mean.
Two of my favourite elements in stories are Journeys and Surprising Heroes, so you can bet I gobbled up Charlie’s scrumptious offering, frosted to look like a five pound note.
Douglas, eight, wrote a wartime Battenberg that was thoughtful and satisfying.
Our youngest cook, Riley, aged just four, baked a charming cupcake of a story with rice-paper animals running around the outside: fish, ostrich, kangaroo, cat and a little bear.
Eliza’s slice of Christmas fruitcake includes seasonal ingredients, but combined in a tasty new way.
To round off our feast of tales, Hannah’s offering seems as straightforward as shortbread until a haunting secret twist is revealed.
|Caroline with some of the winners May 2015|
photo by Laura McVeigh
[This is my foreword to the volume of winning entries for the Daunt Short Story Competition of 2015. The book is available in branches of Daunt Books or you can order them by phone or email. For details of how to enter the 2016 competition, go HERE.]