Being a food writer
Breaking Bread with Food Writer Elly McCausland
Elly McCausland began her food blog and seven years on and 369 recipes down, she’s writing for major newspapers and has won numerous awards. But how did she go from casual foodie to recipe-writer?
There’s a strong link between food and McCausland’s English studies: the blog’s name, ‘Nutmegs, Seven’, is taken from a line in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and her blog posts are peppered with references to literature.
She still manages to post regularly, despite currently working on a postdoctoral project in Denmark. The recipes are prefaced with knowledgeable and insightful histories and memories, setting the piece up in a big way, even for the simplest of dishes.
How would you describe the relationship between your English studies and your food writing?
In academia I take a historicist approach: how do literary texts reflect the socio-cultural conditions in which they were produced? And I see food as a very changeable, up-to-the-moment way of investigating wider socio-political cultural issues.
Some of my blogs are simply ‘here’s a recipe, this is nice!’ but I generally try to think of it in a more detailed way: how food can be a way into looking at environmentalism, politics, emotion.
I love to write and I like to think about things in a little more detail. I suppose I see food a little bit like a text in that I find myself analysing food the same way I’d analyse a literary text: the ingredients and the words, then situating them within a wider context.
Food and cookery books are becoming a big part of the publishing industry. Do you think the rise of the foodies has contributed to your blog’s success?
10-15 years ago blogging wasn’t really a thing, but now anyone who can write and owns a computer is able to put something on the internet. You don’t need a literary agent to publish online or have your voice heard.
Being part of that community is the wonderful thing about blogging. Without it, I wouldn’t have the kind of platform or be given the same opportunities. I think it can make it harder to get your voice heard, but equally this democratising of food is great. It’s a great way of conversing with people and bringing them together.
Do you have any advice for those following the same path as you?
Have a clear voice. Most of the successful food bloggers and writers have a strong personality that comes through in their writing. Nigel Slater and Diana Henry have distinct voices and attitudes that come across so I think you have to know who you are and what you want to say first. If you don’t have anything to really say then that’s going to become obvious to the readers. A voice and an angle: what, why, and the reason it’s important.
Are you doing it to gain a wider audience? Are you doing it for yourself? If so, don’t be surprised if you’re not getting much publicity. For me it was a hobby, siphoning off all the excess words and thoughts I had at the end of a day of studying literature. It was only afterwards I realised I wanted to take my hobby further. [BD(-S1] [RR2] [BD(-S3]
How did you find balancing university work with blogging?
In many ways it was helpful. Writing is something I’ve always loved to do, and it was relaxing. When you’re writing academically you don’t just sit and pour out what you’re thinking, you have to research. Every word has to count and be part of a wider argument.
The blog for me was my creative writing. It’s never been a problem to balance the two – my degree and my job come first – but I’ve always enjoyed cooking and writing so much that it was a way of ‘decompressing’ at the end of the working day and putting that energy into something.
With the rise of job applicants with degrees, do you think hobbies and interests are beginning to play a more important role in getting a job after graduating?
Having a range of hobbies and interests keeps you sane through whatever you do. My experience of doing my first degree and then my PhD is that those with broad interests and hobbies outside their work were always happier and, I think, more successful.
If you put everything you have into your work then you become even more dependent upon it and frustrated when things aren’t going to plan. Having outside interests can mean you’re more efficient: you have to divide your time between things, with limited time for each.
I think it’s always important to have other interests – on paper it will show to employers you have other skills, but it will also show you’re a more dynamic person who will go out there and do things with passion.
Looking to the future, what do you want to be doing with the blog?
I’m hoping at some point to write a cookbook. I have a literary agent and we’re currently in the process of putting together a proposal, it just depends on the market and whether or not my idea is commercial enough. Also, that my style isn’t too academic.
Finally, do you have any advice for students with English-related degrees?
Don’t worry over having a ‘master plan’ or a specific career path. Think in the short-term: what jobs can you apply for in the next couple of months and that will lead you to interesting places?
A year ago if you had asked me to apply for a job in a different country and move over there I’d be terrified, but you break it down to sizeable pieces. Take things a step at a time.
Hugo Douglas-Deane is a communications professional currently working in local government. He graduated from the University of East Anglia in 2017, having focused on creative-critical and interdisciplinary essays, using photography, audio and psychogeography. In his spare time he's a regularly gigging musician.