So, I won an award. It’s the first thing I’ve won since I won a flurry of prizes at school speech day when I was about 12 and I 100% didn’t expect to win it. When I started this blog just over five years ago, winning an award wasn’t really on the agenda. It certainly didn’t seem very likely. I was just hoping someone other than my mum or my husband (under duress) would read it.
I started it for a few reasons. Firstly, I love writing. I don’t profess to be great at it. I’d love to have the wordsmithery of some writers and fellow bloggers, the kind that captures your imagination and transports you somewhere, makes you laugh out loud or provokes you to ponder something all day. I don’t know if I ever will achieve that level of mastery when it comes to the written word, but they say everything comes with practice.
Secondly, I love food. It makes me smile. I like thinking about it, looking at it, tasting it, planning it, and talking about it. I sometimes like cooking it, but I’m even worse at that than I am at writing. So when I was thinking about subject matter for my little online project, it was a natural fit.
And thirdly, I was going through a bit of a tough time for various reasons and I wanted to create something that was mine. Somewhere where I was not just the writer (which I also do for a day job) but the editor, the ideas person, the owner. It would be my corner of the internet, my little Wonderland where I could do exactly what I wanted.
Fast forward to 2018 and that’s what I did. It’s changed, evolved and grown and I’ve written about everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to food-filled experiences, moans about bad service, the idea of banning children in restaurants, my own food issues and more. It’s not perfect, it’s changing all the time, occasionally I don’t put as much into it as I should, sometimes I run out of enthusiasm, but it’s mine.
This week, much to my surprise, this little slice of WordPress Wonderland won the Best Food/Drink Blogger category in the Midlands Food Drink & Hospitality Awards (MFDH). I was up against four other bloggers who are all very good in their own right. I read all their work, I follow them, I get inspired by places they go and often follow in their footsteps. I didn’t expect to win, but I did.
The thing about awards, much like opinions on restaurants, is that they’re subjective. The MFDH Awards involve a public vote but also a panel of judges. Ultimately, it’s they who decided who won, as they did for those restaurants, bars, chefs, sommeliers and other hard-working members of the food and drink industry. And for whatever their reasons, they decided to give it to me this year. I don’t think it’s necessarily because I’m better than the other finalists, but I guess the judges decided I wasn’t worse. Either way, they recognised the work I’ve put into this blog, they recognised the votes you guys gave, and they gave me a lovely certificate, a trophy and a title I can bandy around until next year’s worthy winner is announced.
I don’t pretend it’s the Pulitzer. It doesn’t suddenly make me the next Grace Dent or Marina O’Loughlin. But it recognises the work I’ve put in to my own corner of the internet. It’s great and it made me very happy.
It also taught me a few things. Here they are:-
Hard work really does pay off (and you can do anything you set your mind to)
Trite, I know. And don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a sob story about how hard blogging is. You eat out, you take pictures, you write about it, you plaster it all over social media. If you like that kind of thing, it’s great fun. But it is time-consuming. Writing takes time (especially when you rewrite it five times in the hope you’ll suddenly become the next AA Gill). So does editing pictures (I also need to get better at this).
When you’ve sat at a computer all day sometimes the last thing you want to do is spend the evening writing about something, but you feel you should because you haven’t posted for over a week and feel like you’re a failure. But when you have done all that, when you look at your blog (or anything you have created for that matter) and not only like it – but other people do too – it reminds you that it’s all worth it.
It also goes to show that if you decide to do something, quite often you can do it. So if you’re thinking, ‘oh maybe I could do that’ about anything at all, not just blogging, then go and bloody do it. You might just be quite good at it.
It’s ok to do things your own way
I’ve spent years worrying that my blog isn’t always like other people’s. I’m not alone in that and it’s not something unique to blogging. Some people relish standing out from the crowd but for most of us humans, not fitting in can be a bit scary. But I’ve learned that my blog is never going to be like anyone else’s, because it’s mine. And that’s not such a bad thing.
Social media can be a scary place – and you need a thick skin
The beauty of social media is that everyone has a voice. You can complain to a train company, get the attention of a politician, shout to the nation if you want. It gives people a megaphone to broadcast their thoughts and feelings across the ether.
But that same beauty can have an ugly side. As a journalist, I’ve spent my career being taught to fact-check, to ‘stand things up’ before writing them. Yes, I know there’s a debate over fake news, but we can all agree that stuff that’s untrue shouldn’t really be published to the world and his dog.
The problem is, those kind of rules don’t really apply to social media. People can pretty much say what they want, about who they want, true or untrue, ‘stood up’ or not ‘stood up’, and there’s not much you can do about it. People can say stuff that’s unjustified, unfair and untrue. Through the course of these awards, I’ve seen this firsthand and it’s not a nice experience. But what I have learned is that really, it’s just words, and sometimes you just need to grow a thick skin and move on.
People can be incredibly kind
From the moment I was shortlisted in the MFDH Awards, the majority of people have been kind. They’ve voted, they’ve said nice things, they’ve been supportive when everything got a bit messy and competitive and they’ve been wonderfully lovely in congratulating me on my (surprise) win.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than from three of the other finalists in my category. If stereotypes were true, we’d have scratched each other’s eyes out in our desperate quest to win and refused to speak to each other at Monday’s glitzy awards. Instead, Laura from Bite Your Brum, George at Caramel Latte Kiss and Kerry from Brum and Beyond (pictured above) – all great blogs that you absolutely should read if you like food – have shown a refreshing, inspiring and, quite frankly, astonishing level of kindness towards me and to each other in some pretty difficult circumstances.
I’d only met them a handful of times in person before Monday – one of them only ONCE – yet they not only made me feel welcome, but cheered me on and gave me pretty much the warmest, most genuine, heartfelt congratulations that you could get – and they’re apparently my rivals. It’s stuff like this that reminds you for the most part, people are good, kind and decent. In a scary world – both online and offline – that’s important.
It’s always good to keep a bit of perspective
In the food and drink community in the Midlands, these awards were a fairly big deal. They recognised people from Glynn Purnell to Masterchef semifinalist Leo Kattou, and many, many more.
But as the drama came to a head on Monday night, I found out that someone I care about and respect deeply had gone through the most unimaginable loss. The following day, as the fallout from MFDH continued to rattle around social media, my dog suffered an injury that will now see her needing surgery (if you have a dog, you get that this is a pretty big deal). And the day after that (today), I spent the day with some guys who I help run a charitable organisation that does life-changing things for people in the worst of situations. People who have been told they only have months to live. People with life-limiting conditions. People whose children they may never see grow up.
So while winning this award is great – and it really is, it’s a privilege to have been recognised and I’ll always be grateful, happy and proud for having won it – it’s good to keep a bit of perspective.
All that aside, I want to thank everyone reading this, everyone who has read any of my posts, told anyone about my blog, or been a part of it, for helping me out. A blog is nothing without readers, sharers, critics, detractors, supporters and everyone else who gets involved. Thank you!
Most of the pictures in this post were taken by the fab Jas Sansi and he’s kindly let me use them. I just don’t know how to turn the watermark off. Check out Jas’s website here or you can find his Flickr album here.