Written by: Su Carroll
Last year I had a “significant” birthday (the one between 50 and 70) and, like many ladies of a certain age, took stock of life, the universe and everything. Life had changed a lot, especially after redundancy at the age of 58. Ouch!
But I was, as the psychologists say, in a “good place”. Still married after 40 years, two healthy grown-up children and the wonderful blue-eyed, blonde-haired delight that is Arthur, my grandson who is nearly two.
I didn’t have a bucket list to fall back on. Why wait? If you want to do something, do it. Personally speaking, I have no desire to jump out of a plane, wrestle alligators or climb any mountains but I did want to mark this birthday in a special way.
It was actually Arthur who provided the inspiration. Searching for a suitable cake recipe for his first birthday, I chose one I’d seen on the cover of Sainsbury’s magazine. Bizarrely I hadn’t bothered with the 238 cookbooks arranged over two bookcases in my dining room. Not to mention the scrapbooks and folders stuffed with cuttings from magazines and newspapers.
I’d fallen into a culinary rut – spag bol, chilli, chicken whatever and fish curry (albeit with fresh, homemade pastes). An idea was born. Cook something I’d never made before from one of my books every day. Not all the books – that would take 34 weeks – but for a month. Then I could write a blog about it.
It was enormous fun. Not just in the kitchen (and thanks to good weather in June, the garden); it also proved to be an entertaining enterprise on my laptop. I took pictures of book covers and recipes – even some preparation shots including my disastrous, stuck together pasta. Food, for many people has memories and connections. For me, the books are evocative too. There’s the Good Housekeeping Cookbook inherited from my late mum, Christmas presents and birthday gifts with lovely dedications and books which, thanks to my journalistic life, involved interviewing top chefs too – Rick Stein, Nathan Outlaw, Michael Caines.
It wasn’t just about the food. Entries include memories of childhood and my mum, an essay about my dad for Father’s Day, discourses on marriage, work, children and grief. It was funny for the most part but I have to admit to sharing some sad things too.
It was surprisingly easy to write and wonderful to do. I recommend it as a project.
Looking around today, lots of people have blogs. Many are about lifestyle (fashion, food, design) and celebrity and there are plenty of politics blogs online too.
I like the more personal, small scale blogs. Helen, an old friend from work was inspired to share her thoughts about parenting when, the mum of a toddler, she found herself pregnant with twins. The blog title – twins, tantrums and cold coffee says it all. It’s really readable and charming and there’s a sense that, yes, we’ve all been there (but maybe with not so many babies under three at one time).
Helen may find herself in the position of Sarah Turner, an Exeter mum fed up with the “sun always shines” parenting blogs who decided to tell it how it is in The Unmumsy Mum. A column in Devon Life magazine resulted in two books which found themselves on the Sunday Times bestsellers lists.
Blogs have their place in the business world too. They are a great way of conveying information in a less formal, more entertaining way. It’s the chance to give a company a “personality” and, if you do it right, can be an effective tool.
So with my extensive knowledge (ok, month-long blogging experiment), here are my top tips.
1 Top tips! Quite an easy way to draw people into your blog. Some bullet points, five best whatevers or as easy as A, B, C lists will highlight likely content. The trick is to keep the visitor to your blog reading on.
2 Find a voice. The blog for a solicitor or chartered accountant needs to sound different to one for a holiday park or family friendly hotel. Make the writing appropriate to the subject, but keep it light and simple. If it’s a personal blog, make it personal. Write as you speak (except with good spelling and grammar throughout).
3 Have fun. If something tickles your fancy, share it. Remember that a business blog doesn’t have to all be about work. If a long discussion over the water cooler celebrates Jim in IT’s ability to balance a laptop on his chin, share it. With pictures (and Jim’s permission). Go viral!
4 Picture this – you can get away with snapshots and less formal photos to brighten up a blog. Remember, I’m a woman who spent a month photographing her dinner.
5 Know when to stop. Content needs to be to the right length for what it is. A comment on the weather should be just that, not an essay. And on that note, goodbye. Here’s one I (and other people) made earlier…
My own efforts on A Cookbook Every Day can be seen here.