Camille Laguire has a series of posts on her blog about characters at breakfast. Apparently it’s a follow-on from a Guardian piece. Anyhoo, Camille suggests that what a character has for breakfast tells us a lot – especially if that character has to have something different from normal, and their reaction to that.
There’s a whole lot of sense in this. There’s also a lot to play with, as a writer. Here’s my take.
For the household of 36a Centaur Street, breakfast is a peremptory affair. They share lodgings, three of them, with a tiny kitchen off the parlour. The setting is a fictional dieselpunk 1910, so while they have a cellar full of gadgets not one of them is a chest freezer…
Petticoat Katie & Sledgehammer Girl and Darius Fitzgerald, the third member of the household, rely on the kitchen equipment you’d find in a small kitchen of the time: maybe a cold box, where they’ll keep the butter, milk, eggs and cheese, and bacon or sausages, for a day or so. They don’t have space for a pantry.
Cooking equipment isn’t much more advanced – they have a gas ring, maybe two, and a kettle that goes on top, for tea or coffee.
The time period has a lot to answer for. There isn’t much pasta in the standard English kitchen in 1910, although probably more rice than you’d think, with the Empire including India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. One of the housemates has a slightly overseas background too, but that doesn’t extend to breakfast.
There’s a lot of toasted bread products going on. Lack of storage – lack of practice in buying for bulk – means yesterday’s fresh bread is stale and only good for toasting.
Plus, there are toasted teacakes.
Oh, the toasted teacake. Cinnamony like a hot cross bun, bunny like a Sally Lunn, sliced in two and toasted and slathered with butter and jam/honey/marmalade. Known to tempt even us desayuno-skippers.
So my characters eat a lot of toasted teacakes for breakfast.
The alternative is Marmite on toasted bread, which is where a lot of people are divided. Petticoat Katie might survive on peppermint creams all day but not without a good solid breakfast. And in The Nessie Collector, both Petticoat Katie and Sledgehammer Girl encounter Scots porridge on a train, to which they add raspberry jam (sacrilege!).
Mainly, however, I don’t put them into a breakfast situation.
I wonder why? One of my friends gets out of bed naturally at six in the morning because she’s hungry and can’t sleep. I can’t say I’ve ever got out of bed because I was hungry, unless I’d managed a long lie until lunchtime. Maybe I don’t picture my characters at breakfast because it’s not action-y enough. Perhaps I ought to.
In The Last Rhinemaiden there isn’t much time for breakfast either. The junior hero, Alf Winchester, skips breakfast to catch an early train and the two female leads skip breakfast because they’re penniless. The real food only arrives at lunchtime, by which time they are gagging for it. Alf, especially, accustomed to a hearty schoolboy breakfast, and encountering events beyond his normal experience, has had enough of hunger and is so vulnerable to the offer of lunch by the anti-hero (and not enough of you have read the book to make that a spoiler) he can’t wait.
Given that the whole story takes place during a single 24-hour period, there isn’t much time for anything other than a light supper at the Cuckoo Club before the action kicks in.
The only main character who manages breakfast is Louis Beauregard, and we don’t dwell on what he eats, only what he reads in the newspaper. On reflection, I rather suspect Louis would have devilled kidneys for breakfast, and we know it’s served with tea. The kidneys might come with a single egg, scrambled, or mushrooms – but not both – and a slice of fried bread or toast, again. But I never thought to put that much detail in the book. It wasn’t as important as what he reads in the morning news.
Notice the absence of coffee?
And no processed cereals in either of these stories. You need to store those somewhere safe from weevils and mice.
And what of muesli? How many characters have I created that eat muesli for breakfast? None.
So far. Heheheh.