Thursday, 3 November 2016

Confessions of a [Rookie] Food-Blogger


Okay, so ‘confessions’ might be a tad misleading. There aren't any sordid stories of wild food-related debauchery; no tantalising tales of matcha-foam parties; and no erotic fantasies involving salacious scoops of Gelupo’s sorbet, a smothering of butterscotch sauce and a coconut-encrusted sugar cone. This article is nowhere near that pulse-racing.

If nothing else, I usually write my blog at 7 o’clock on a weekend morning, and there's nothing less sexy than this hour [..wait a sec while I just dislodge a Cheerio from my 6 year old’s nose, as he and his big brother ecstatically engage themselves in a world-record fart-off.]

Instead, this is an honest reflection on how I got into food-blogging and my early impressions of this strange new world. I'm just a rookie really, still close to those early heady days of excitement, anticipation and confusion. Even now, my heart pounds every time I post; my senses startle whenever the phone buzzes; and I still beat myself each time I've messed up. Yep, starting a blog is a bit like falling in love.

The story actually starts years before, when I suddenly discovered I loved writing. This was quite unexpected: I'd never been strong in English at school ( - a teacher once marked my essay with a big fat red: “Vallance, this is total bollocks..”) However, during my med-school placement abroad, what started as emails back to Blighty somehow developed into an actual book. It was half contemporary Pacific-travelogue, half 18th-Century period-novel, which publishers (perhaps unsurprisingly) denounced as “too niche” and “unmarketable”.

Undeterred, I then set out composing a sci-fi story centering on a quantum time-travelling transgender Jesus-like figure - arguably perhaps also a little, er, niche. Sadly, I found that writing a novel wasn't compatible with working in the NHS - ‘no shit Sherlock’, you might say! - so writing went firmly on the back-burner.

Fast forward to 2014, sitting alone at The Dairy, Clapham. Travelling alone in my student days had meant I've never blinked an eye about eating out alone. In fact I love the stop-time, and the opportunity to just enjoy the food. And of course I love food. And I loved this food. And I remembered I love writing. And if only I could combine the two..

BANG!!!.. And this food-blog was born. So whilst I may be an NHS doctor by day, by night I'm… still an NHS doctor (well, that's the NHS for you!) But at 7am on a weekend, I'm a food-blogger (and occasional Cheerio-extractor).

I get the same buzz as writing a novel, but with an added buzz of thinking about food. I love the process of writing: first frenetically scribbling whatever comes to mind, an organic brainstorm of ideas linked tangentially to a theme. There follows round after round of obsessive redrafting, smoothing the text with sandpaper of increasingly-finer grain, the piece gradually evolving into its final state. My writing remains rather random and tangential at times, but hey, I've accepted that’s now the way of it.

Style-wise, I first aimed for something a bit tongue-in-cheek. But as well as irreverent asides on small plates and Scores-On-The-Doors, I also suddenly found myself talking about religion, identity, fasting and terrorism; and later still, a treatise on childhood memory and an ode to my late grandmother. Hardly laugh-a-minute! Then again, for me, I guess it reflects how food really is more than a combination of carbs, fats and proteins. It's a reflection of ourselves, our families, our communities, our cultures, our economics, our politics, our environment: there's a story behind every dish we eat, and it contains both humour and gravity.

Of course writing a blog ain't just about the writing. There are lots of techie considerations too, for instance which platform to choose. I went for Google Blogger since I wanted to blog, and thought Blogger would do what it says on the tin (natch, how naive!) Hours of swearing at the screen, encountering more gremlins than a blockbusting 1980’s comedy-horror franchise, and I still can't get my widgets to work properly.

It was MY generation that invented home computers for godssakes! My childhood was immersed in video-games such as Football Manager and Manic Miner. Super Mario was effectively my second father! These were games whose codes I hacked into at will for hilarious effect. (Like changing ‘Gary Lineker’ to ‘Hairy Vinegar’ - haha, oh happy days..) We were the original techie kids. So why is Blogger just beyond me? WHY!?

So the blog may well have looked like a dog’s dinner, but that didn't deter me unleashing an almighty fist-pump when I clicked the ‘Publish’ icon for the very first time. And perhaps even some rocking air-guitar. Or, more relevantly, a restrained air-calligraphy. My blog was now out there. I’d finally left my mark on the Internet, accessible across the globe, available for all future generations!..

Okay, perhaps more a select band of immediate family and friends, and random guy calling himself Dave the Rave.

If I wanted it out there, I was gonna have to get my head round that tech-beast called Twitter.  Entering the world of Twitter was a sudden insight into what it might be like to have autism. What are the social rules here? What's the etiquette? How frequently should I tweet? What should I retweet? And what’s up with all those punctuation marks? And what about swearing? I spent ages agonising over a reply where I joked that a tufted duck may be attractive on the outside, but a right bastard on the inside ( - erm, you had to be there!) No response. Nada. Had I crossed a line? Or perhaps the humour was just a bit too, er, absent. Or maybe I was reading too much into things.

And then there's nudging in on Twitter conversations - is that a bit stalker-y? And if I promote my blog, is that a bit self-important? Aagh, I dunno!.. And the rules about following? I assumed that fellow bloggers would generally follow you back, perhaps after a bit of engagement, but found this wasn't always the case. Not that I minded personally, just curious! And why did I get random follows from folks with hardly any clothes on? It was all rather confusing, and I felt like a lost (non-tufted) duckling paddling aimlessly down a mist-strewn stream.

One rookie error may've been my logo. Whereas I thought “1D-4R” nicely encapsulated my blog-name into a visually-appealing acronym, I soon discovered aghast that others had me down as a One Direction groupie (#totalbrandingfail). On the other hand, since my entry into Twitter coincided with the EU Referendum, and given that food-bloggers seemed resolute Remain-ers, I hoped my logo could’ve been interpreted as “1 Dude 4 Remain”.

In fact I was intrigued by the degree of anti-Brexit consensus amongst the food-blogger community, perhaps reflecting a certain like-minded mentality: outward-looking, global, optimistic, professional, open-hearted, and liberal. Like Donald Trump, but the complete opposite.

What I've enjoyed most is getting to know a handful of them. Who'd have thought that occasional 140-character messages going back-and-forth across the virtual world could make you feel that connected with people. I've now twice gone out with Twitter pals. The first time meeting up in the actual flesh felt somewhat like swallowing the red pill and breaking through The Matrix: initially disorientating, but soon chatting away like we'd known each other for a while, which we sorta had. The second time was on a monster dessert-crawl through London: and with all that sugar consumed, may now have to start taking pills of a different kind.

Who knows what the future lies for this blog? What places will I visit? Whom will I encounter? How will it end?.. For now, it’s just something I enjoy. And if you’re still reading, then thank you, thanks for joining me on this journey…



Do you write a blog? How was it for you when you first started? What have you learned since? What's been the best thing? And the worst? And what are your hopes?..  (And if you can offer any fairy-godmother web-designing tips, then please feel free!)


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Breaking Through The Matrix
(at Tiger Kitchen Supper Club, with Connie, Chiara, Jason & Vicky)



Bloggers' Dessert-Crawl Through London
(with Seetal, Raj, Sandra and Mark)









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4 comments

Deb Parsons said...

keep writing! One day i fully expect to see you with your own column!

Shikha (whywasteannualleave) said...

If it helps Aaron, I've been doing this a few years and I still can't get my head round how Twitter actually works, what on earth a widget is - the list goes on and on! And it is a lot like falling in love, the exhilaration of the phone buzzing and also sometimes the heartbreak when some of the posts you put most into generate the least excitement. But when all is said and done, for me, it's a wonderful way to actually write words rather than shorthand, to indulge in combining writing with travel, as you do with food, and it has most definitely made me some great new friends, even if I did used to be terribly nervous before those Tweet ups (as I have in time come to learn that they are described as!) Though I'm more of a 1am blogger than a 7am one - never was a morning person!

Aaron Vallance said...

Great to hear of your reflections too, Shikha. (not sure at what point in my life I turned from a night owl to an early bird!)

Aaron Vallance said...

Aw, thanks so much Deb! I'm just enjoying it - nice distraction from the day job!

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