Cooking the Books is back! Today my co-host Fran Wilde and I sit down with author Jeannette Ng and her book Under the Pendulum Sun, a claustrophobic tale of Faelands, Victorian missionaries and a house where nothing is as it seems…
We talked classics and rewriting them–check this out here as well as the extra material at the Booksmugglers cooking extension!
In addition to Jeanette’s brownie recipe below, she also answered two reader questions from twitter – those of Joseph Brassey and Tade Thompson.
This month’s Cooking the Books Podcast, #039: A Taste of Light: Cooking the Books with Jeannette Ng contains:
- creepy food
- the unseen
- a disconcerting bowl of blood
- sun physics
- frozen grapes
- alternate allegories
- how one approaches condiments
- forbidden foods
- nursery rhyme research
- a shoutout to Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series and the Split Worlds Ball.
- And much more.
Visit additional Cooking the Books content over on the The Booksmugglers!
(thanks as always to our friend Paul Weimer, who helps out with the kitchen cleaning–this time it was many many smears of chocolate!)
Cooking the Books Podcast, #039: A Taste of Light: Cooking the Books with Jeannette Ng
Answers to questions from twitter:
Joseph Brassey: “Jeannette has previously mentioned the idea of getting outside of feeling beholden to conventional wisdoms of writing, realizing that specific methods are designed for specific ands and might not apply to what you’re trying to do in a given book. Can she unpack this a bit?”
So, a lot of general writing advice presupposes that one wants to write an airport novel, something thrilling, relatively easy to digest and brisk to read. The aversion to exposition and filter words are rooted in that. And if one wants to write in that style, the advice can be incredibly useful, but if one is attempting something a bit more folkloric, it can be incredibly unhelpful as it pulls you in a different direction.
A lot of sff writing advice is rooted in the preferences of John W Campbell, who is both an awful person and also spearheaded the golden age of science fiction with his very specific tastes. Many things we take for granted in the genre aren’t mandates from above, they are relics from their creation. The definition of “hard scifi” revolving mostly around physics and chemistry, for example, is rooted in Campbell’s preferences. He just didn’t think much of biology, geography or even the social sciences, thus he didn’t consider them important when recreating a science fiction that was scientific.
And to me, knowing all of this helps me challenge the norms of genre writing, because these conventions are not written in stone and passed down to us from time immemorial. It makes the defiance feel smaller. It also helps to read the myriad exceptions to these rules, many of which are themselves are revered classics. Though even more are forgotten and erased.
But of course the question remains what best serves the story one is trying to tell and that is always the trickiest to answer. It may indeed fit well into the beats of a plot-heavy thriller riddled with cliffhangers. It may be best told as a deep dive into the mindset of a single character or sprawled across multiple voices. Everyone has their preferences both as a reader and as a writer (some people hate reading present tense, for example, others find first person uncomfortable), but those preferences are just that.
Tade Thompson: “Durian! What’s the best way to consume it?”
I confess not to be the biggest fan of the fruit raw. It was a deeply divisive fruit in my household when I was younger and my mother would always bring up how she had triumphantly converted my father, a longtime hater of the fruit, to the cause. How he had went from buying a fruit he doesn’t eat for her out of love to hoarding it all for himself.
Being my stubborn self, I refused to be swayed. Reminiscences aside, I’m quite partial to it in cake of various sorts. Especially the pancake rolls that Honeymoon Dessert in Hong Kong do with them, all bundled with squirty cream.
Recipe preamble: This recipe is built around the idea that I want as little leftover ingredients as possible as I used to cook it in a shared kitchen at boarding school. I usually double it and thus use all of a 500g bag of sugar and half a dozen eggs. Sadly butter comes in 250g pats, which was a perpetual source of frustration to me and the reason why I started making cookies.
200g dark chocolate (or rather, one packet of Tesco plain chocolate)
200g white or milk chocolate (one packet Tesco milk chocolate)
250g granulated sugar
a few drops vanilla extract
100g all-purpose flour
Melt 200g of dark chocolate and 200g of butter in non stick saucepan, using the lowest setting of the electric hob. Stir to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Take off the heat and allow butter/chocolate mixture to cool. Smash up the remaining chocolate into chunks with gleeful violence and/or catch two minutes of tv in the common room.
Some people transfer the butter/chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl, but I am profoundly lazy and thus don’t. Add sugar to butter/chocolate and mix with wooden spoon.
Add eggs and mix into the mixture one at a time.
Fold in the flour in a sort of figure-of-eight motion.
Pour into buttered tin, stud the chocolate chunks into the brownie mixture and bake at 180C for 25-30mins until crispy on the outside and toothpick comes out clean.
Jeannette Ng is originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Durham, UK. Her MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies fed into an interest in medieval and missionary theology, which in turn spawned her love for writing gothic fantasy with a theological twist. She runs live roleplay games and is active within the costuming community, running a popular blog. Jeannette has been nominated for the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer for her novel Under the Pendulum Sun.
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