Here I am – a not-so-busy as a mum anymore but empty nesting means life has other plans….
Here’s something about Mary…
Lucky me – I’ve always worked with, and loved, food. Having cooked at home all through my teens, after school I headed off for a year’s diploma course at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, then open for just a year. From there I went on to work at the Good Housekeeping Institute as a junior writer on GH Magazine. Four years spent travelling in the Far and Middle East expanded my culinary horizons, after which I came home to return to the wonderful world of magazines.
I’ve been fortunate to work for top notch publications – amongst them Woman and Home (as Deputy Food Editor), BBC Good Food (for whom I launched Vegetarian Good Food as editor), and The M&S Magazine, which I edited for two years. During this (very busy!) period I had two daughters and wrote three cookery books, appeared on the sofa with Richard and Judy, and cooked at the NEC with chefs such as Paul Gayler, Rick Stein and Brian Turner.
Finding single parenthood and full-time working incompatible, I struck out on my own as a freelancer and became a consultant editor on Waitrose publications. (I still work with Waitrose now, fifteen years on, as a regular contributor to their publications.) During this period I also trained magazine journalists in skills ranging from feature writing to managing clients and processes, working for highly regarded training company, ETC (Editorial Training Consultants) with clients from the BBC to Future Publishing and Yellow Pages.
Several years ago, with 50 fast approaching, I decided that I was spending too much time in a suit telling people what to do instead of doing it myself. I loved mentoring and teaching but found I increasingly missed the doing, especially writing about (and cooking!) food. So, in early 2009, I started writing features for The Wealden Times Magazine here in Kent and Sussex, and producing recipe cards for Waitrose. All of which reminded me of what I had always really loved the most – cooking for, and eating with, my family. But as a busy working mum since my daughters were babies, time and budget had always been an ongoing challenge when it came to feeding the family. So, using all that experience gained over the years, I wrote The Busy Mum’s Cookbook (Simon & Schuster), which came out in August 2011, followed in January 2013 by its vegetarian sequel.
Last year, 2014, found me working harder than ever. And taking on two big book projects, one after the other. But luckily both have been a privilege to work on, and by coincidence they come out just a week apart in March 2015. The first seemed like my dream project as I launched into the research for it back in 2013. This coming year (2105) is the hundredth anniversary of the setting up of The Women’s Institute. And I was commissioned to write their centenary cookbook, The WI Cookery Book: The First 100 Years due out on March 5th. It’s not just any cookery book either but a social commentary told through the medium of 100 emblematic recipes that each sheds a fascinating light on the period, providing a fresh way of examining the role of women at the time. I so enjoyed becoming totally immersed in the WI archive as I researched back through magazines, books, letters and documents, and now rather miss the idiosyncratic world of the WI as I return to normality. A change of publishers half way through the project led to a rather bumpy ride for me as the author but the talented team at Ebury have worked hard to produce a book to be proud of, and it retains much of what I had hoped to pass on to readers of the fascinating background to what is the largest women’s organisation in the country. It also happens to be a really good cookery book too with plenty of wonderful recipes!
Writing the centenary book has also led me to another very special experience – appearing as a guest judge on the latest series of one of my favourite TV food shows, Great British Menu 2015, due to air on BBC2 in July 2015. Commemorating 100 years of the Women’s Institute, chefs from around the country took on the task of cooking banquet-style dishes that paid tribute to the home cooking for which the WI is famous. Filming took place earlier this year and was both fascinating and exhilarating, and as a long term fan of the programme, I now admire and respect the chefs who took on the challenge of producing 21st-century dishes to honour what the BBC calls “the custodians of first-class home cooking”, even more than previously. And I got to eat some spectacular dishes in the process.
Project number two proved to be even more intense but for me as a writer, it’s been one of the most enjoyable and interesting I have worked on. Researching and writing Back in Time for Dinner (out on March 12th) has been a joy from start to finish (if a very, very intense one!) – and in the process has allowed me to revisit my lifetime enjoyment of and interest in food from childhood on to a career as a food writer and working mother during the second half of the last century.
Supporting a new BBC 2 series of the same name, produced by Wall to Wall, who also make Who Do You Think You Are? for the BBC amongst other programmes, the series (which is currently due to air in March) follows one modern 21st century family from east London (and their kitchen!), as, thanks to the magic of television, they travel across half a century of family dining from 1950 to 2000, guided through by Giles Coren and food historian Polly Russell. In the process they discover how family life and eating have changed almost beyond recognition over that period. I myself had fun being a guest at a 1970’s dinner party filmed for the 70s episode (admittedly I would have been only 13 in the year the party took place!) but oh, the orange flowery wallpaper, lava lamp and dodgy white wine brought back memories, and mostly good ones!
Now with books put to bed and the lengthy renovation work on my 15th century cottage now coming to an end, I can get back to my other enthusiasms. A big fan of local food and producers, I am also on the committee of the Penshurst Farmers’ Market (voted one of the top 10 farmers markets in the country by The Times in 2010), and have the pleasure of being a regular judge for the Taste of Kent awards. Away from food after a career focusing on its pleasures, I’ve taken a step to learn a new skill at this stage of life. Yoga has been a comfort and pleasure, in fact it’s kept me sane though all the challenges that life has thrown at me over the last 20 years and six months ago I set out on a new adventure. I have started a two year teacher training course with the completely wonderful Simon Low and Eija Tervonen at The Yoga Academy. And I’m loving every minute of it, although my brain seems to be struggling with retaining all those terms for anatomy and the sanskrit names for poses…
So with daughters all grown-up and life settling down after several challenging years of family ups and downs, I have time to explore life a bit more. And if I’m lucky, write all about it too….in this blog when I find the time!