Mona’s Wise Words
A food writer and Sunday Times columist, Mona lives in Galway with her husband, chef Ron Wise, their children Jack and Rorí, and foster daughters Sam and Lulu. We last spoke to her for our Where I Write section where she told us about ‘the priest’s room’ and her ‘fingerless gloves’!
This time, I caught up with Mona to talk about blogging, writing, social media and all things culinary. When asked what came first, the food or the words, Mona was very clear that it may start with food but leads to a considerable list of tasks thereafter.
“First, the menu planning, then the shopping lists, then the grocery shopping, then the organising and cooking, the recipe tweaking, then the food styling, the photography, the eating of the prepared food, and then the recipe amending again, then the writing, then the photo editing…and at some point there will be a few cups of tea to be had too!”
Certainly, this task list is evident in her daily www.wisewords.ie blog, her regular Facebook and Twitter updates, the weekly piece for the Sunday Times not to mention ongoing work on future books. Her book ‘The Chef & I. A Nourishing Narrative’ came out earlier this year and can be bought online at Kenny’s Book Shop. Mona says, “they offer free shipping worldwide so it will make a lovely Christmas present! OR you can download the eBook online at Amazon.”
Her style is inviting and convivial; it’s very easy for readers to imagine sitting and chatting with her, such is the warmth that emanates from her written tone. And this style clearly works as she recently scooped four awards at the Irish Blog Awards – Best Food/Drink Blog, Best Photography Blog, Best Blog by a Journalist, and the overall prize of Best Blog. Family life features prominently throughout Mona’s blog and weekly column and she cites them as her drive and inspiration: “Having four kids that want to go to Disney – and keep reminding you of that fact – makes a girl get up and ‘go’ every day.”
Poetry in motion
Her daily blog updates are characterised by short poems, sometimes humorous and often poignant they always draw readers in. It was this poetry that spurned her to explore writing further. “I was standing in the social welfare office in Galway shortly after I moved back to Ireland from the US….doodling a little poem while waiting my turn and I loved what I wrote. I went home, and read it out to my Mum and brother and they both thought I had lost the plot entirely. I knew I wanted to write but really felt someone had to teach me ‘how’ to do it right.”
And so Mona embarked on four year undergrad course at her local university (NUIG) to pursue that goal.
A growing community
Social media is a particularly effective medium for writers, and there is a growing community of Irish voices gaining traction this way. Mona has been on Facebook since 2007 and is an avid tweeter, maintaining that “Twitter and Facebook are the best two social platforms to engage readers, new and old, and to stay current with what your friends and fans are up to. It cannot work ‘one way’. You need to read and comment and share interesting titbits of information all the time if you expect others to like and share your work.”
There’s camaraderie amongst Irish bloggers, particularly evident amongst the food bloggers who engage in daily Twitter banter and information exchange. Their mutual support is evident, and was especially apparent during the live Twitter feed coming from the Blog Awards as fellow nominees congratulated her on her win. Mona is hugely grateful for this support and avidly follows other bloggers, especially those in similar situations to her: “I am hugely inspired by women in business. So mostly business bloggers. The ones that talk about work and their challenges of working and raising a family at the same time. I read and comment on A LOT of blogs”
A Taste of Ireland
The Irish food scene is enjoying a revival, with Ireland being actively positioned internationally as a source of fresh, artisan produce. Mona sees this as a positive development: “I am relieved to be honest. I was raised in Galway in the eighties. Everything was farm fresh and local. When I moved back to Galway from America in 2008 I was so sad to see how much everyone thrived on convenience foods and fairly poor quality food in restaurants.”
However whilst she believes the situation has greatly improved over the last four years, especially in Galway, she feels “(we) have a long way to go before we can claim stake to being a food tourism destination.’
The Irish Food Writing Scene
With this increased focus on all things culinary, people are seeking out more information and ways to experiment with how they source and prepare their food. According to Mona, “the food scene itself is changing so much that I think we are starting to see a slow and steady shift in the food writing scene too. There are the greats, like Myrtle and Darina Allen, John and Sally McKenna et al. all members of the Irish Food Writers Guild, and they carry the most weight – they have earned it.”
This reinvigorated focus has led to a proliferation of new cook books, longer food sections in most of the Irish newspapers’ and an emergence of new voices. Mona sees room for everyone on the Irish market: “The one thing we have to all keep in mind is that there is room for everyone and may the best book sell the most copies. There are a few blog-to-book success stories but only a handful of them are blockbuster deals. No need to worry about over crowding at all. Hats off to any of the bloggers that get offered a book deal though. That is no easy feat.”
Food blogging is very popular but does require a number of key skills, and hard work. As Mona puts it “Right now everyone thinks it is cool to have a food blog. But you can’t be good at food writing, cooking, baking, taking photos, food styling, editing photos and last but by no means least, washing dishes. Food blogging is hard!”
Her advice to would-be bloggers is simple: “Develop your own niche. Be unique. Find your voice and write as you speak.”
Wise words indeed.
Mona’s 5 Top Tips for pursuing a career in food writing:
- Stop talking about writing. Just write. Even if it is the worst piece of drivel ever written. It is words on a page and it keeps the fingers moving which is a great brain exercise in itself.
- Stop writing book proposals and sitting around waiting for them to be accepted or rejected. Just write the book.
- Introduce yourself to a new friend or colleague at work by telling them you are a writer. It is not easy to start saying those words. I did not feel comfortable saying it ‘out loud’ till I overheard my husband telling someone his wife was a writer. It is a great feeling. Be proud that you are a writer.
- Blog. Blog. Blog.
- Edit Edit Edit. And if you can’t edit then find someone that can and pay them to edit your work. A good editor is invaluable. (Emma Sherry at www.CapitalLetters.ie is – in my humble opinion – one of the best in the business.)