Writer palate cleansers: “And now for something completely different”

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A palate cleanser is a neutral-flavoured food or drink that removes food residue from the tongue allowing one to more accurately assess a new flavour.” – Wikipedia

Yesterday I was talking to a writer friend who had just finished a huge pet project: a dazzling, epic science fiction piece that took her two years to craft and is packed with world-building brilliance. It’s now landing in agents’ inboxes, with one full manuscript request fired back immediately. While she waits for other replies, she’s been working on a ‘palate cleanser’. A story that doesn’t require the immense mental strain her pet project did.

“It’s crap, basically,” she said, “but it’s crap I enjoy.”

For her, it’s Kingsman fan-fiction (each to their own).

For me, it’s been a medieval action-romance.

The idea popped into my head while I was in Gloucestershire, visiting a wooded valley with a big mansion, filled with half-finished carvings and a ‘haunted’ basement. The elderly house guide kept singling me out, asking me questions, claiming that I wouldn’t know about this or that, as I had a job that required a computer (and a baby face).

“Wouldn’t you prefer being here every day, in the great outdoors?”

“Yes,” I replied. “That’s why I’m here now.”

Amongst all his lecturing and mansplaining, he touched on a few interesting elements. Ones about carving and masonry and history (and ghosts!).

And so, I started writing. It was the characters – ones that appeared fully formed – that drew me in. Not before long, my palate cleanser became a loose first draft. One that has now been put away, for closer inspection later, as I work on the story I actually should be writing.

My question is – to fellow writers and readers – do you ever need a palate cleanser? After writing a love story, have you ever thrown yourself into horror? After reading too many thrillers, have you longed for a cosy feel-good paperback? Do you write Star Trek fan-fiction when you’re done churning out samey press releases? (And if the latter, will you let me read it?)

Image via Tumblr’s Texts from the Tailors 

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