Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Powerful Pickle Problem

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

The Powerful Pickle Problem Post 7

The Powerful Pickle Problem (1987) came about when I, a wife and mother of two small children, decided to emulate my own mother who was an expert at making tomato relish and tomato sauce. Just for variation, I decided to make pickles. Vegetables were fresh and plentiful, and I knew the basics of sauce-making. What could go wrong? I soon found out. If not watched like a proverbial hawk, the pickles burned to the bottom of the saucepan. With one lot distinctly burned-tasting, I took more care with the second batch, testing it anxiously, hovering and stirring. That lot didn't burn, so I bottled it up in triumph. The first jar was good, if a bit on the crunchy side, but soon disaster set in when the whole batch went mouldy. It had not been cooked for long enough. I gave up making pickles, and went back to what I was good at--writing books.

All the same, I did still long for those beautiful jewel-bright jars of stained-glass-hued pickles from my imagination, so unable to produce them myself, I wrote a book about someone who could.

Dad and Mum were born in 1921 and 1926 respectively, and it was from them I acquired my love of home made food. Cold meat and pickles was still a common lunch dish in the 1960s, but apparently it was even more common when they were children. Therefore, and for a few other reasons, I decided to set my book in the 1930s. 

I based Anne, my main character, on Mum as a child, and her grandparents, Polly and Grandad Pickle, on my recreation of Mum's grandparents, Polly and Tom who died in the 1940s. Anne and her brother were staying with their grandparents in the time not long before the second world war. Research was easy. I sat Mum and Dad and some of their contemporaries down and encouraged them to talk about their childhoods. What emerged was a surprisingly cheerful picture. Dad used to go blackberry picking with his mother during the depression. She'd sell the berries to the local jam factory. Nana did this to help to feed her family, but Dad didn't know that at the time. As far as he was concerned, blackberry picking was fun.

Mum's grandmother was short of clothing, so she made herself an apron out of flour bags. Apparently she like bright colours, so she trimmed the apron with scraps from her Sunday dress. Mum didn't know her grandmother was trying to make ends meet. She just thought how clever she was to make something pretty. And so it went on. Yes, it was the depression, but in their corner of the world people had sheep, cows, pigs and big vegetable gardens. And, of course, they had pickles!

Copper Creek, the town I invented for my book's setting, was based on the town near where Mum lived in the 1920s and 30s. Mum said there were just two cars in the town, and the kids used to rush out to watch them pass by. Most people used horse and dray. Walnuts grew well where Mum lived, and so they grow well at Copper Creek. Walnuts, by the way, play a key part in the plot. The Powerful Pickle Problem is not just about making pickles; there is a big problem. Eccentric Grandad Pickle, pickler extraordinary, has always refused to write down his prized recipe for Powerful Pickles. Therefore, when he has an accident and forgets the recipe it seems Powerful Pickles might be lost to the world.  It's up to the children to solve the problem.

The Powerful Pickle Problem is a sunny warm kind of book, and I had a lot of fun writing it. My parents enjoyed their unusually active role in supplying the research. When it was published, it was generally well-received. Just a few people thought it much too cheerful for a depression-era book, but they were not people who had lived through those times. They had done their research in serious scholarly books that dwelt on statistics and deprivation. I still think my approach, in interviewing people who were children in that time and place, was a perfectly viable approach.

The Powerful Pickle Problem is now thirty years old. I'm no longer that young wife and mother, Mum and Dad are gone, as are most of the children from that far-off time. No one could write this book today. There's almost nobody left who remembers.

For earlier posts, check the menu to the right.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading