I keep a tiny book-themed B&B – and I offer my guests fresh fruit salad every morning. Our raspberries are just ripening, and there are only a few home-grown blueberries. I had sliced an apple but felt it needed a bit more interest – so I had a rootle in the depths of the fruit bowl. Out came a passion fruit – and that got me to thinking about characters…Only a writer, or perhaps an illustrator, would think in such an off-kilter way according to my tolerant but bemused other half. Well, that’s how my mind works.
So – the passion fruit. It’s crinkled, collapsed and an uninviting grey-brown. Who would expect such sweet & sour crunchy loveliness inside? And the lovely scent. For me that would be an elderly person feared, or at least not trusted, by the central character. Then we’d go beyond their outside appearance to reveal a complex but likeable personality.
Apples are all very well. They are something we all know and tend to be a bit of a cliché. You have to work hard at them to be interesting – like stock characters in every school-set book you’ve ever read. OK there’s red and green, maybe if you’re lucky, a russet but they do tend to be predictable.
Bananas, I’m afraid are a bit that way too. Maybe a little pattern to mark them out – but fundamentally sweet and bland. Maybe turn to mush under pressure.
This is why you need a variety. Get some diversity in there. How about a kumquat? Small, powerful, and distinct. Or a melon with its hard skin; huge yet yielding and refreshing inside. Perfect companions.
Now a book is different to a fruit salad no matter how hard I push the metaphor. You do actually want to put some off-notes in there, some wrongness. As an author, you might want a gone-off Satsuma: looked forward to, pretty as a Christmas advert – and so disappointing in reality. Same goes for a neglected bunch of grapes – a gang of friends, but one is split and rotten, it passes mould to the rest.
Be wary of putting the wrong things in, though. A tomato may be a fruit botanically speaking – but it’s not destined for my guests unless fried in a Somerset Maugham ( Full English) . Likewise you wouldn’t put a gaucho in an urban fantasy – probably. There can be even more deceptive types – to be used sparingly.
A Seville orange looks pretty much the same as a sweet one – but oh, the mouth-shrivelling bitterness. It’s not every tale that can handle an antagonist like that. You have to have sweetness to offset it. Grand marmalade, mind.
Finally, how much is enough? Too many flavours cancel each other out – too few and it can be same-old, same-old. How do you decide what goes in? All recipes, literal or literary, gratefully received.