We’re really excited to read Caramel Hearts by ER Murray, having heard excellent things about it, so it’s fabulous to have her guest posting today as part of her blog tour. (Don’t miss the rest – check out the full list of sites at the bottom of this post!)
Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray – Let Them Eat Cake!
Structuring Caramel Hearts around cake recipes wasn’t a conscious decision, though I did want food to feature. I love books and I love food and I view them both as essential components for a harmonious life; so it’s no wonder they fuse so well on the page! It was a random visit to the National Library of Ireland that really sparked this element of the story and I had no idea how integral the recipes would become.
Caramel Hearts was written during a strange and emotional time. It was before I had a publishing deal and it was a reaction to the series of rejections I’d had for my first book attempt, The Book of Learning. This book is now published and was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children, but at that time I’d resigned myself to the fact that maybe it was simply the book that got me my agent, and nothing more. I knew in my heart that it was time to write something new. I was determined to become a published author, so I swallowed my pride and started a new book right away.
And here’s confession time; even though my book is filled with cake recipes, I don’t actually like cake. Eating it, I mean; I love the look and the smells. I also love baking. People’s faces light up when you bring them a fresh, homemade cake, and it’s wonderful being able to do something small to brighten someone’s day. Seeing the joy a simple mix of butter, sugar and flour can bring is a real pleasure. But I only feel that joy in the giving, not the eating. Give me a raw chilli or a perfectly salted kalamata olive any day!
But this book is not about me – even though it has some autobiographical elements. Caramel Hearts is about Liv Bloom, a teenage girl dealing with her mum’s alcoholism, trying to find her way in the world. And what Liv is searching for is some stability, some understanding, some praise and some comfort. And so, as I delved deeper into her desires and fears, I realised that what she needed was cake.
This might sound trivial or odd, but the recipes in Caramel Hearts function on two levels. They give Liv an insight into her mum’s character, a mum she hardly remembers from before the drink took over, and they also give her a focus; the chance to be good at something. Each recipe increases in difficulty as Liv finds her way, but each is also woven into the story. The recipes are almost a character in their own right.
Researching the recipes was fun and I chose ones that would have been popular at the time Liv’s mum would have written the cookbook, but also ones that suited the events in the story. I adapted and cooked each recipe to make sure it worked, and tested them out on various people with a sweet tooth. If the cake didn’t get the response that I needed for that part of the story, it didn’t make the cut.
The recipes have a life of their own. They structure the narrative, but also mirror the emotions involved. I had to delve into some of my own memories to get the character behaviours just right – and although this wasn’t particularly pleasant, I wanted realism. I wanted the story to resonate with anyone affected by addiction. But I also wanted hope …
Having grown up in a family affected by addiction, I know that hope is the only real weapon you have. You cannot change other people’s behaviours, only your own reaction to them. As a result, some parts of Caramel Hearts are quite dark; but I hope the recipes help to balance the darkness with the light, for both Liv and you, the reader.
As a treat, here’s a picture of one of the recipes from the book… A Baked Alaska!
About E.R. Murray
E.R. Murray writes novels for children and young adults as well as short fiction. Caramel Hearts (Alma Books) is her first book for young adults. Her middle grade debut The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 (Mercier Press) was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children, and The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 will be published in September 2016. Elizabeth lives in West Cork, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of adventures with her dog, Franklyn.