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, twenty 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.
However, 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.
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 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 was one of the most enjoyable and interesting I have worked on. Researching and writing Back in Time for Dinner was a joy from start to finish (if a very, very intense one!), which 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.
It supported the BBC 2 series which followed 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 all completed, I can get back to my other enthusiasms. I’m happily writing a monthly seasonal eating column for Waitrose Weekend newspaper, continuing my long standing relationship with the great team at Waitrose. And writing recipes, which is what I love doing most.
A big fan of local food and producers, I am also chairing the committee of the Penshurst Farmers’ Market (voted one of the top 10 farmers markets in the country by The Times in 2010).
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. In 2016 I set out on a new adventure. I started a two year teacher training course with the completely wonderful Simon Low at The Yoga Academy. 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. I should qualify as a teacher at the end of 2018 and am fascinated to see where the experience takes me. Maybe a yoga and cookery book for busy people, who knows?
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!