Friday, February 24, 2012


This week, I've been doing some baking. I bought a new dress, I went to lunch in a restaurant and met a friend for some drinks. Tonight, I'm spending the night with some other friends.

It's been a very nice week, but according to the description above, it's been a little mundane. Try this one instead, equally true:

This week, I've been growing a cake called Herman in a plastic bowl in the corner of my kitchen. Several times a day, you have to lift the bowl's lid and beat Herman's bubbles down.

On Saturday my husband inadvertently knocked a glass of wine all over my desk and to make up for it, the next morning he gave me all the cash he keeps for emergencies and told me to buy myself a new dress. So I did; it has butterflies on it and it makes me feel great.

I wore it to lunch on Monday, at a restaurant where the women's loos are like the Hall of Mirrors in a funfair. When you wash your hands, you are confronted with the full-length sight of yourself from every angle. The loos are, in fact, so confusing that the restaurant has had to put a little arrow saying THIS WAY OUT on the only unreflective surface, which is the floor. Of course, the arrow is also reflected, so it does make for a disorienting and wonderful experience.

Afterwards, I met Biddy for a drink to celebrate her submitting her manuscript. She actually had two submissions with her at that very moment, and when she got up to go to the bar, I had to guard them with my life.

And tonight, I'm going to stay overnight with my friends who live in a house with a 25-foot shark protruding from its roof.

Sort of a different week, isn't it?

As a writer, you realise that details make things come alive. If you're writing about real life, you have to choose the best details—notice I chose Herman, the mirrors and the shark rather than all the time I spent cleaning my house this week, or trying to park my car, or on the phone with the bank.

In fiction, you get to choose the details. It's one of my favourite parts, and sometimes the part that takes the longest: getting the details exactly right. The necklace that makes my heroine remember, the unravelling carpet in the dining room, the bowl of rocks on the windowsill.

In real life, you can go to a house with a shark in its roof for one night and never go back, but in fiction, if these things capture the reader's imagination they also have to mean something. The shark needs to play an important role in the plot, or alternatively it has to impart a sense of fear, or it has to be part of a larger, quirky, fantastic world. You can't throw details into fiction because they're true; they need to be truer than true, they need to be significant.

Now I need to go make up some details. And bake Herman.

Come back Sunday for Anna's post...


  1. Great post, Julie, so true! And hope Herman doesn't escape before you get round to baking him! Sounds like a very interesting sort of cake :)

  2. Great post!! Helpful as was the wine on Monday. And you guarded those submissions so diligently :-)

  3. Wonderful! Though, I would find it hard to eat Herman because, after all, he does have a name now and...oh, well.

  4. Terrific post, Julie. Thank you. I too had the chance to welcome a Herman into my life but sadly, because of his tendency to, erm, rise, he doesn't suit my yeast intolerance :)

  5. I'm going to give the food I cook names too. I'm calling my cheese on toast, Brer Brynn. It's Welsh rarebit.