Abigail Anklam is a writer and illustrator who writes books for young readers.
Growing up, she loved reading about fantastic adventures in incredible places and longed to have adventures of her own, just like Lucy in Narnia, Mowgli in the Jungle, or White Fang in the Arctic. So it’s no wonder that she left her Virginia home to find adventure in faraway places, like Arkansas, Italy, Arizona, & China.
During her adventures, Abigail has filled many roles. She has been a student, an actor, a zookeeper, an artist, a teacher, a bookseller, an archer, and more! She loves to learn new skills, visit new places, and try new things. Along the way, she’s experienced different ways of life, met all kinds of wonderful people, and learned about all sorts of fascinating animals. Many of those experiences and interests have found their way into her writing and art.
Right now, Abigail is working on her first children’s novel. It’s a mystery story that involves a bear, an animal trainer, and an escape from the circus. To read a sample of Abigail’s published work, click here. You’ll find an excerpt from According to Their Kinds, a collection of short animal-related stories (for adults).
If ever there was a television show founded on pure joy, it’s The Great British Bake Off. Professional writer and home baker Abby Anklam joins us on the JoyProject podcast to talk about how she started watching Bake Off and her favorite parts of the show that make it a delight to watch. Abby also shares the bakes she tried at home that were inspired by the show and the bakes she plans to try after everything she’s learned as an avid watcher and fan. We also chat about her job as a writer and illustrator of children’s books.
Topics discussed in this episode:
- What makes The Great British Bake Off such a joy to watch
- How Bake Off is different (and better!) than U.S.-based competition shows
- What fans of Bake Off learn from the show and apply to their own baking
- Those adorable illustrations of the bakes that have become a hallmark of the show
- Abby’s work as a writer and illustrator of children’s books
- The Story community where I met Abby
- Junior Bake Off – the newest show in the Bake Off franchise now on Netflix in the U.S.
- A quote about joy from Jaiya John sent to me by my wonderful friend, artist Rachael Harms Mahlandt
Links to resources:
- Abby’s website – https://abigailanklam.com
- Abby on Twitter – @abigrayce
- Abby on Instagram – @abigrayce
- The Great British Bake Off – https://thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/
- Author Jaiya John – https://jaiyajohn.com/
- Artist Rachael Harms Mahlandt – https://www.instagram.com/yourfriendrachael/
- Story community – https://storygatherings.com/
- Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
- Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
- Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista
- Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
- Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
- Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com
Transcript – Duration: 19:23
Christa Avampato 00:00
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the JoyProject. Thank you so much for being with us. I’m Christa Avampato, your host and today I am joined by the wonderful Abby Anklam. Abby, welcome to the podcast. Welcome to JoyProject.
Abby Anklam 00:12
Hi, Christa. Thanks for inviting me on.
Christa Avampato 00:14
Yes, I’m so excited. And we connected through the STORY community, which is a conference that usually takes place in Nashville in the before times. I think it’s going to take place again this year in September in Nashville, and really wonderful, just filled with storytellers and writers and creatives of all kinds. So I’m so glad that we were able to connect on there. Where are you joining us from today, Abby?
Abby Anklam 00:37
I am in Mechanicsville, Virginia, just outside of Richmond.
Christa Avampato 00:40
I went to graduate school in Charlottesville. So I know that area well. The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
Abby Anklam 00:47
Yep, and we’ve got some nice spring weather here too. So it’s a pretty time of year.
Christa Avampato 00:51
Excellent. I love it. And Abby, what do you do in Mechanicsville?
Abby Anklam 00:54
I am a writer. The main thing that I do, my biggest client, is a children’s book reading program in Canada. And so they hire me to write and edit books for them for early readers. So readers just getting started who are learning sight words and letter sounds and that kind of thing.
Christa Avampato 01:11
I’m a young adult author, and I’ve loved children’s books really all my life. Even as an adult, I still love reading children’s books. So I love that you do that reading program. It’s so important, I think to get books into kids’ hands as soon as possible. So I love that you’re part of that program.
Abby Anklam 01:26
And then to make them fun and silly and engaging, too, is the company’s goal. So it really is a fun thing to do.
Christa Avampato 01:34
That’s such a wonderful mission. I love to hear that Abby and I love that you’re doing that work. And I want to kick off our conversation today about joy. By asking you the question that I asked a lot of people when they come on this podcast and say Abby, tell me something that brings you joy.
Abby Anklam 01:49
There are a lot of things. But one thing in particular is the simple pleasure of the Great British Baking Show. Or as they call it in the UK, the Great British Bake Off. I watched it on Netflix in the States. So we get a different name for it. It is just a delightful thing for me. I don’t watch a lot of reality TV, especially contests. i The American ones are like, kind of aggressive and angry, and not very much fun for me. So the first time I watched the Great British Baking Show, I was like this is so nice and pleasant. It’s like if Hobbits had reality TV, it would be the Great British Baking Show.
Christa Avampato 02:31
I completely agree with you. I was actually a very late adopter of Bake Off for that exact reason that you just said. As much as I love cooking and baking and experimenting in the kitchen, I did find that a lot of the shows that I watched were very aggressive and they were mean to each other. And I didn’t really I didn’t like that vibe, there. There is something very, very different about the judging with bake off and kind of how they support each other and the community that they bring in. And I binged that whole series during, during the height of the pandemic. And it just brought me so much joy. I loved it so much.
Do you have favorite contestants or favorite seasons or favorite things about the Bake Off?
Abby Anklam 03:43
Yeah, so I learned about the Bake Off from a fellow writer. I was in a fiction workshop. And she wrote a story based around a baking contests like at a fair, and she was inspired because she had been watching the Bake Off and loved it so much. And she just really wanted to write about people baking. Her story was so pleasant, like, it’s just it was just nice. And I was like, I want to watch the show too. So I tried it out. And I watched the first season. At the time I was living in Baltimore with a few roommates. And we all watched it together. And it just brought us all joy and made us want to bake things. So we did we started baking, it follows the same group of people feel like you’re friends with the contestants. And that’s one thing I like about it. I like that you feel like you’re getting to know the people who are contestants and you’re rooting for all of them. Like it doesn’t matter who wins you’re going to be so happy for them when they do so. And same thing for all the other contestants. It seems like they’re genuinely supportive of each other. And I like that.
Christa Avampato 04:48
Yes, I would like to believe that the people who cast bake off and go through what I can’t even imagine how many applications they get per season now it must be 10s of 1000s I feel like, I really hope that that is a criteria that they put in there. Like if they sense sort of a mean streak or mean by maybe maybe those people, like get edited out of the group.
I do feel like every season, that love and community is there. And it is so lovely and wonderful to see, especially in times when the world is very dark and very difficult. And you go into that tent. And it is just like this giant, warm hug. And I also do feel that same way when a contestant goes home, you miss them, I also have that feeling at the end of every season. That’s it, it just it can’t, it can’t get any better. And then invariably, I watched the next season and this last season that was just on was my favorite of all time. And now I follow most of the bakers on Instagram. I feel like the show gets better and better. And the bakers get better and better. And it’s really incredible that they haven’t changed up the format, really, from that first season.
Abby Anklam 06:31
A little bit of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood where it’s just stayed the same. A good happy place to be.
Christa Avampato 06:38
Yes, that is so true. It’s like the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of baking. you really do see them improve? Over the 10 weeks, like you get to some of these showstoppers at the end. Did they even think that they had that? When you look back at like the first episode, or when they were applying, it’s really just to watch their competence grow and their creativity grow. And who knows what’s gonna make the edit or what’s going to be cut through under a time pressure. Some of them they only have certain ingredients to work with. And I really feel for them when some of them feel like they didn’t do their best or they let themselves down. And really, they feel like family or friends.
Abby Anklam 07:19
And sometimes their struggles are, you know, they’re real, like they’re in the hot tent on a summer day working with chocolate and they have two hours and they’re like, it keeps melting. What am I going to do? That is part of the charm.
My favorite parts of the episode would be the show stopper. Because those I think are the most grand, they have time ahead of time to prepare and practice. So a lot of times it’s really the occasion when they can show off the most. A lot of times they are not the most beautiful, most delicious looking creations. So I I really liked that.
One of the parts of the show that brings me joy are the little illustrations before we ever see what they do. There’s a illustration of what it should look like in the end. And I’ve just always thought like, man, somebody’s job out there is to draw those nice little cakes and cookies and pies. How fun would that be?
Sounds perfect. I can’t think of anything more pleasant than that. The first season that’s on Netflix. I’ve watched that one twice. There’s somebody who makes a bread sculpture and it’s this big lion face. So that won that week. I just wish I could have been there like it would have smelled so good and everything looks so beautiful. That week was a standout one, I think,
Christa Avampato 08:37
Are you a baker and were you a baker before you started watching Bake Off?
Abby Anklam 08:42
I have baked things. I don’t think I bake enough to consider myself a baker. But I’m comfortable enough in the kitchen that I can make something without being stressed out about it.
One thing that the show does do for me is it really inspires me to bake. Like maybe I haven’t made anything in a while. But if I turn that show on. Suddenly I’m like, man, I’ve never made a swiss roll. That looks like fun. I need to try it, you know.
So at one point, when I was in the midst of just watching the my first season of the Bake Off, I went home to my parents house for about a week for a visit. And I told them that I wanted to bake things. And I was looking at my mom’s cookbooks and picking out things and she said, Well, if you really want to bake things, I am going to support you. So you just tell me what ingredients you need. And I’ll get them.
So I think that week, I made like a layer cake with a chocolate glaze and I made a swiss roll cake. And all these times like I’ve never made one before but I’ve watched the show so I’m like okay, if I’m, if I make this with the paper underneath and I can use the paper to roll it up. I can make chocolate designs on a wax paper and chill it and then I’ll have them already.
I feel like I learned a lot from watching the show, and was able to do things that I would not have tried if I hadn’t watched other people be successful and see the step by step. So it’s been Yeah, it’s been fun. I’ve definitely become a better Baker because of the show. How about you? Have you been inspired by it to make things?
Christa Avampato 10:20
I was a bread Baker for years and years, even before the pandemic. So when people were like, starting to bake bread, I’m like, Oh, wait, this isn’t common for people to just like, make their own bread. I was a big fan of or I have been a big fan of Les. He’s no-knead bread from the Sullivan Street bakery, which sort of became all the rage and you make it in a Dutch oven. It’s 4 ingredients, very easy. So I’ve been baking my own bread for a long time. But it was very, sort of stayed with that. I was not really adventuring into flavors or designs or anything like that.
In my mind, I aspire to be a better baker than I am. I’m a pretty decent cook. Baking for some reason is a little bit harder. For me, decorating is a little bit harder for me. I love love, love sweets. And my fear is that if I have lots of them in my home, I will just eat them all the time. I will literally just eat cake all day long. Because I love cake. So I’ve sort of resisted some of that.
But something that you said was so interesting as it does inspire you to bake. And through the challenges you do learn these new techniques, like you said, of like, you know, piping out chocolate on wax paper and chilling it so that you have like pretty designs to put on your cake or your pie or your cookies. And Paul Hollywood and Prue will often like throwing things like, oh, you know, this had a little bit too much moisture. And if you had done this, this, and this, it would have come out better.
And I feel like there are all of those little like Easter eggs, you know, in each of the in each of the episodes like all these little hidden hints that I’m hoping like one of these days they compile into a book or something because I feel like it would be it would be so helpful.
I follow some of these contestants on Instagram and they’re still trying things, you know, and sometimes they don’t work. And sometimes they work out better than others. And I think it has given me permission to kind of play around with baking. I’ve definitely made some stuff that’s turned out not great. And I’m just like, oh, this does not taste good. That is just part of the learning process.
I’m always just so amazed to that they can keep a lot of these recipes in their mind. I have no clue what goes into a Swiss meringue. I’m somebody who really does cook from recipes. There are very few things that I cook or bake that I just make from memory or just try but I feel like I do kind of need that guidance. So I’m always so impressed. Like the fact that you tried to make a Swiss roll. I think that’s great!
Abby Anklam 13:47
Oh, and you know, with nobody judging you on whether it cracks or not. Yeah, it’s easy when no one’s watching you make it.
Christa Avampato 13:52
Is there anything that you are looking forward to baking that you haven’t tried?
Abby Anklam 14:03
Oh, one thing that I didn’t bake I was going to try to make back in that week when I was at my parents’ house baking for them. One thing that I made was beef stew in puff pastry bowls, and I had planned to make the puff pastry bowls. And my mom when she was out getting things bought the puff pastry she was like, believe me you don’t want to make your own puff pastry. But in the back of my mind, still I’m like but I wanted to try it.
That looks like one of the hardest things to me to make because they have this big slab of butter and they roll it into the dough and fold it and roll it again and fold it and roll it again if the dough if the butter gets too warm, like it just ruins it, so it looks super tricky. I have listened to my mother and just bought puff pastry dough and the other things that I made with it. So that one I haven’t been quite brave enough to try it. But so so that’s one thing, perhaps unsavory things too, like I’ve never made a pot pie, for example, which I love to eat them. So some day.
Christa Avampato 15:14
Savory bakes are so challenging. And I’m always so interested to see them bring in their cultural background, ethnic background, religious background, family recipes, bringing their whole selves to their recipes. I love that that is an option. And that that’s a possibility and that it’s celebrated and encouraged. The cast over time have also gotten more and more diverse, which I really love. They come from all of these different backgrounds and even different parts of the UK which have their own special things about them. I just I love that they bring all of that to the show. It’s just celebrating people doing things that they love doing and that bring them joy. So I feel like that’s a perfect topic for this podcast and a joy and a love that I absolutely share with you.
So, Abby, thank you so, so much for joining us. Every time I think of the Bake Off and anytime I watch a Bake Off episode, I’m gonna think of you. And I will wish you many, many good endeavors especially in making puff pastry. I think that you should give it a shot.
Abby Anklam 17:01
We’ll see. And thanks for having me, Christa. I love the concept of the JoyProject and that you’re making it happen and sharing joy with people. I think that’s great. So I’m happy to be a part of it.
Christa Avampato 17:13
Thank you so much, Abby, I hope that you’ll come back and talk to us about a lot of your other joys maybe next time we’ll talk about children’s books and illustrations and stories and writing.
Abby Anklam 17:22
I would love that. Absolutely. That would be fun.
Christa Avampato 17:25
I really could talk about Bake Off all day long. The next season of Bake Off is back on British television on September 13th. Hopefully we will soon get the new season on Netflix in the States. In the meantime, I started watching Junior Bake Off, which recently arrived on Netflix and features bakers ages 9-15. These kids are much better bakers than I am and a joy to watch.
Speaking of all things British, I’ll be hopping the pond this month on my first international trip since 2019 to start a graduate school program at University of Cambridge. I wonder if I’ll bump into Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, Matt Lucas, or any of the incredible baking contestants while I’m having my fill of delicious British baked goods. Because of my travels, the next episode of JoyProject will be released on Tuesday, October 4th. Since it will be a month since I chat with you again, I wanted to leave you with a quote about joy that my friend wonderful friend, artist Rachael Harms-Mahlandt, sent to me that I just love. It’s from Jaiya John. “Your joy is not a perfect flower unbruised by life. It is a choice you make over and again in spite of. A sacred gift to yourself woven of stubborn jubilation. A determination to see the slightest glint of beauty on the path and to cry gratitude as if it were the greatest miracle of your life. For in that moment, it is.”
Thanks for spending part of your day with me and JoyProject. A big thank you to Abby for sharing her joy of Bake Off with all of us.
You can find me on Twitter at @christanyc, on Instagram at @christarosenyc, and through the website for this podcast christaavampato.com/joyproject where you can also find links to everything we talk about on the podcast as well as show transcripts for each episode.
It will officially be Fall by the time I chat with you again. I hope you’re finding joy in some way every day. Take care of yourself and take care of those in your corner of the world. Have a joy-filled month and I’ll chat with you on October 4th.