A Year of Wonders
The image of a writer, struggling alone in a cold attic room somewhere, alone with their thoughts, is not always so far from the truth. The work of a blogger is, by the nature of the medium, a much more sociable engagement. While writing may still be a task best suited to periods of uninterrupted quiet, I never feel alone. When I write recipes for this blog, I write with a thousand people in the room, all peering over my shoulder expectantly.
This is my last post for 2010 and as is the way this time of year, I am in a reflective mood. More than most years I have reason to look back on the huge and dramatic turns of events this year, a year where the personal became public. A year that defined my life into two halves, marked simply as Before and After.
To this day I still don’t know what possessed me to google “How to start a blog”, one Wednesday afternoon in March. Perhaps I was bored, in which case a thousand other activities could have sufficed. Perhaps, like the scrapbooking materials in the corner of the bookcase, or the unfinished quilt in the linen cupboard, it was a project that took my fancy, soon to languish, un-used and uncompleted, another waste of effort.
The difference of course is that there was an immediate response to my efforts. With so much encouragement, I kept going, literally, one page, one recipe at a time. It was a measured and disciplined a-little-at-a-time approach to a project that had no real definition or end point. There was no destination in mind, no picture of what it would look like when it was done.
Having contributed to other blogs over the previous four years as an anonymous contributor with odd-sounding avatars, I am well used to the rollicking world of opinions, subjective comments and the downright argumentative nature of some people. I was nervous not about my writing or about my recipes, but about what people think of me. Silly, I know, but that’s how it was. Some people write about themselves for the adoration. I wanted desperately to keep my photo off the pages and not seem foolish. Then, about a month after I started the blog, a friend, a journalist, asked me for an interview. Somewhere in the middle of the question and answer session our chat between girlfriends became serious and she said, presciently, ‘Sandra, you really will have to get used to having your photo taken.’
I didn’t know it at the time, but Josie would become the first in a long line of people who have not just encouraged me but they have gone out of their way to help me. Despite having my name on this blog, I don’t do it all on my own and, if you don’t mind, there are some people who really must be thanked for all their help. Rather than list them alphabetically, I’ll try to list them in order of appearance, because that alone tells a story.
First of all, to a core group of incredible friends who read my status report on a Facebook page one day and started a conversation about feeding their families. To the extraordinary and funny and delightful Merryl, a sincere thankyou for asking for that first recipe, for Braised Chicken and Rice, still one of the most popular recipes on the blog. Other friends should also be named and I suspect they will be horrified to see themselves in print, but here goes; To Alison, Josie, Rachel and Geoff, Janine, Louise, Vicki, Carol, Luci, Sandra Mc, Jacki D, Annie, Ruth, cousins Karen, Naomi and Jan, nieces Ali, Gina and Jen, the other Sandra Mc and Lexa, sincerely thanks and hugs to all.
The group of women (and some men) on the Mamamia pages, whom I now collectively call the MM Lovelies, who read my whingeing remarks about the obstructiveness of Centrelink and cooking on a pathetically small budget, who said, ‘wow you should start a blog, this is such useful information,’ a big thank you. I did that google search because I had nothing better to do, idly wondering what it could be like to write a blog of my own. Now, I think I know and the answer is, “so much bigger than you could ever imagine”.
To Simone Heydon, from Handle PR and Andrew Barnett, IT guru and all round Good Bloke, a sincere thank you for coming forward very early in the piece and helping me out with some very relevant and sensible ideas, for your accessibility and for treating me like the most sensible person in the world (when I ask my share of stupid questions), thank you. I know we will do it all over again next year.
For Yvette, great friend and the only writer I ever knew, for becoming my very first ‘fan’ on the Facebook page and who immediately commented, “And so it begins’. Yes it did. 1900 fans later, the page thrives and I love chatting there more than anywhere else. It feels like you are all in my kitchen. If only one of you would do the washing up once in a while…
To my beautiful friends John and Dave, who kindly lent me a beautiful camera worthy of the pictures I was attempting to take. My daughter takes a lot of the pictures, makes unkind remarks about my efforts (too close, blurry, too far away, what IS that?) but nevertheless she has been a great photography teacher. Thank you all.
To Carol Duncan, self-described La Journalista from ABC1233 Newcastle, who contacted me for an interview and who said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine”, thank you. I was. It helped that it was you asking the questions. In fact, the ABC have been uniformly terrific, with interviews held from outback Queensland to Perth. I always loved my ABC, now I know why.
A special mention must go to Brad Storey from ABC92.5 Central Coast who casually said on my way out of the studio after an interview with Scott Levi, ‘So, do you have a literary agent? ‘. It marked the beginning of a series extraordinary events over the next life-changing week, starting with that interview and then, just two days later, watching, (with hands partially covering my face) the Today Tonight story go to air. The response was monumental but never more so than when the phone rang at nine the next morning. It was Julie Gibbs, head of Lantern Penguin. She expressed interest. I burst into tears.
So: A huge thank you to the team from Today Tonight. You could have done anything with the footage you had, but in the end it was, despite my scepticism, a balanced story. I was worried about what people would think of me and I shouldn’t have. The repercussions from that story are still being felt, like floating on a series of ripples in a pool. It carries me ever forward and for that I am in your debt.
To the astonishing team of people who together and individually guided me through that monumental week also have to be thanked. From my friend Shannon who sat me down over a coffee, recounting her own experiences with working for a self-made millionaire businessman and said, ‘if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s to think Big’, to the wonderful Mia Freedman, whom I emailed in a state of panic and who responded with both calming words and practical advice, to Darryl Winder from In Context Solutions who asked sensible business related questions at a time my brain was turning to mush – all were exactly the right people at the right time. They lead me to Tara Wynne from Curtis Brown literary agency, lovely lady, rock-solid ally and brilliant negotiator. Thank you all.
To the team at Penguin, Julie Gibbs, the most stylish lady on the planet, Ingrid Ohlsson and Rachel Carter, editor extraordinaire, a sincere thank you for the welcome you gave me. I sincerely believe I have won the equivalent of Writing Lotto. I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings but I know it will be huge and that’s largely because of you.
And finally, my heartfelt thanks must go to the readers who provide daily feedback, who ask questions, point out my typos and errors and keep me on my toes. It’s not just the budgetary constraints I think of when I sit down to compose a recipe, I think about you all. The thousand people in the room with me. Will you like it. Is it easy to make? Is it practical when you’ve got such busy lives? Will you be able to buy the ingredients in your one-supermarket town?
If I have a composite picture of you, you are in your late 20s to early 30s with a young family, keen to try new things, not always confident of your own abilities in the kitchen, determined to do more with the hand you’ve been dealt. From time to time I imagine you live in Dubbo. Recipes have to pass the Dubbo test to get posted. Several recipes have gone through epic re-writing to meet the exacting standards a regional city with more expensive produce and limited shopping options might bring.
Somewhere out there, in internet-land there are people who have come forward, out of the ether and become so much more tangible. They’ve become firm friends, despite the fact I haven’t met all of them yet. They are Natalie, Mandi, Kris, Karyn, Danya, Leonie, the very gorgeous Denyse, Lana, Kerri, Annie R, Chris, Jen, Tressna, Bella, Michael and Deborah. Special thanks must go to the generous and brilliant Iain who has shared so much of his knowledge and expertise and who also knows his quail and to Kim, drifter, drover, bushie and wonderful cook. Thank you all for your guidance and support.
I know I’ve forgotten people, as I said, there really has been a cast of thousands, so I apologise if I have left people out. I know there will be one or two who will feel slighted – alright, perhaps four – so to them I say it’s best we get this end of year party started and resolve things over a drink.
And finally, because it’s my blog and I’m feeling sentimental, I will say that before he passed, one of my Dad’s final comments to me was about this blog. Computer illiterate, I nonetheless tried to explain to him how I’d had 10,000 hits on the blog. It was one of his last lucid comments to me, but he looked at me, bright-eyed and proud and said, “Well Done.” I miss you every day Dad, but I feel you around me, shining a light, and for that boundless love, my cup runneth over.
I’ll be back on Monday 17th January 2011 and we will meet back in the kitchen bright and early. Until then, hug your loved ones, share your food with people you love and don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s only Life, in all it’s glory and wonder.