Everyone likes Nick's cakes, even his incredibly annoying next-door neighbour Ruby. But can he come up with a recipe that's good enough to get him to the finals of the Great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off? Ruby's determined that he will. And then there's his Special Secret Ingredient ...
Zac and Ruby and I stood and watched, awed, at the lit-up interior of the oven, as the muffins rose, and rose, and rose, into perfect, smooth rounded tops.
"Cool!" Zac said.
The muffins slid out of the trays just as the book said they would. They were light and crisp on the outside, just as the book said they should be, and streaked inside with melted chocolate.
"Why did you say they were so hard to make?" I asked, and Ruby, for once, had nothing to say. For a few minutes, anyway.
Dad came wandering in from the garage, sniffing. "What's that wonderful smell?" he asked. "So light!" he said as he bit into one. "You must have a way with muffins."
The muffins smelt so warm and so good that it was impossible not to sit down and eat one straight-away. Zac ate three before anyone realised.
"Uh-oh. He won't eat his dinner after this," Dad said.
"He never eats his dinner anyway," I pointed out.
"And he's happy," said Ruby. "Look at him."
"He might be happy," I said. "He's certainly chocolaty."
"Maybe your true talent lies in baking after all," Ruby said. "You know? I mean, a lot of people can cook, but not everyone can bake. There's a difference."
"There is? A difference between cooking and baking?"
"Sure," said Ruby. "Cakes, and muffins, and sponges, and pavlovas. All that traditional stuff that nobody does any more. You can either do it or you can't. We all know you're a lousy cook. But maybe you can bake."
The story behind the book
When I started to write this book, I had two ideas floating round in my head.
The first idea was about entering a competition. Have you ever done that? It might have been for sport, writing, drawing or making something. It might even have been for cooking! Entering a competition is exciting but it can be scary, too. Is everyone else going to be better than you? Have you really got any chance of winning a prize?
The second idea was about someone like Nicholas, who thinks he's not much good at anything. Everyone has something they are good at – even if it takes a while to work out what it is. I liked following Nicholas while he worked out what his special gift was.
I also had a character in my head. Ruby can be incredibly infuriating, but I still like her. I hope you do, too.
• Cook something! It doesn't have to be a chocolate cake. Try one of Nick's dinner menus: boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, macaroni cheese, baked potatoes, corn fritters, spaghetti or pancakes.
• Carry out one of Nick's experiments. (I know they work, because I tried them all out myself.)
• Find some old junk and make a recycled sculpture out of it, like Nick's dad does. Send me an email and tell me what you've made.
• Make a list of the most disgusting food you can think of for a Fear Factor competition.
"A funny, fast-moving and delectable read for ages 10 plus about overcoming your fears. Health Warning: this novel should be consumed while munching a bar of Dairy Milk!"
The Children's Bookshop, Kilbirnie
"A great school story, very realistic in its depictions of classroom rivalries, as well as a warm-hearted look at a solo Dad and life in an artistic – and often financially stressed – family." Reading Time, February 2007
"A cast of totally believable characters in a story that is hard to put down."
Around the bookshops, May 2007