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women who inspire: helen mcginn
I’m sure I’ve written many a time about the unexpected friendship bonus that can come with blogging. Starting something new and putting yourself out on a bit of a limb sometimes brings the most unexpected rewards and again, it was this blog that brought me Helen McGinn!
I first heard about her blog, Knackered Mother’s Wine Club (best name for a blog ever IMHO!), when I bought tickets to a Red Magazine evening in London. Helen was on stage with two other female entrepreneurs sharing, among other things, how she came to write her first book.
After hearing her speak I really wanted to go over and say hello but if memory serves, I think shyness overcame me in the end. Later on one Christmas, we bonded over a tweet on the merits of sitting down with just a glass of red and chunk of Stilton. Anyone who appreciates that the Holiday Season is all about Cheesemas is bound to end up a friend!
Fast forward a couple of years and one or two near misses of passing each other at the Lime Wood hotel, we finally ran into each other in person. At the Lime Wood hotel!
We recognised each other as I was walking out, both did that arm flap, scream thing (I do this a lot), and then gave each other a big bear hug and made a promise to have lunch.
Since our first lunch date, we try and meet up at least once a year. She is one of those truly wonderful, positive forces of nature and being in her company always makes my face hurt from grinning so much!
I feel that if you don’t yet know Helen, her blog and her books then you really should!
So pour yourself a large glass of red, grab a large slice of Stilton and pull up a chair…
HELEN, EVER SINCE I FIRST SAW THE TITLE OF YOUR BLOG, I LOVED IT! I THINK IT’S BOTH JOYOUS AND REALISTIC AT THE SAME TIME. TELL US HOW AND WHEN IT ALL GOT STARTED AND WHAT YOU WERE DOING BEFORE YOU GAN YOUR JOURNEY INTO WINE WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE TERRITORY?
Thank you! It all started back in 2009 when, after working as a wine buyer for a supermarket for almost a decade, I left my job after my first child, George, was born.
I was working part time, still in wine, and my phone used to go crazy from about 4pm on a Friday with friends and family calling and texting to ask what to buy as they stood in front of the wall of wine in the supermarket in a panic. So I decided to start a blog, posting a couple of wines each week, so I could point them to that instead.
WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU THINK OF BLOGGING AS A WAY TO CHAT ABOUT WINE AND DID YOU HAVE ANY MAIN GOALS WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED OUT?
A painful bout of mastitis with my third baby led me to Google cures and I came across a blog (they were called mummy blogs back then), where the writer shared her experience.
It struck me that getting advice from someone you can relate to is perhaps more helpful than a textbook. I thought the same might just apply to wine.
I’d call it my light-bulb moment but I was so tired it was more like a slow dawning.
YOU’VE WRITTEN THREE BOOKS, HAVE APPEARED ON TELEVISION AS A RESIDENT WINE EXPERT, WRITTEN MONTHLY FEATURES FOR WAITROSE FOOD MAGAZINE AND HAVE A REGULAR DRINKS COLUMN FOR THE DAILY MAIL’S FEMAIL MAGAZINE. YOU’RE INCREDIBLE HELEN – EVERY TIME WE MEET UP, I ALWAYS LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING WHAT YOU’VE BEEN UP TO!
IS THERE EVER SUCH A THING AS A TYPICAL WORKING WEEK FOR YOU AND IF SO, HOW DOES IT PAN OUT?
Well, there’s always wine! So tasting new wines (and spirits and whatever else I’m asked to write about) is a big part of what I do, whether that’s at the kitchen table, at a press tasting or working as a wine judge at competitions.
And writing – lots of writing – with a weekly column, regular features for the paper, other magazines and the blog. If I’m working on a book, I’ll dedicate a certain number of hours a day to that. And I’ll work on a number of projects at any one time with clients, whether that’s putting together a wine list, hosting events and tastings or collaborating on a social media campaign.
No two weeks are the same, really. And I love that.
SINCE MAKING THE INITIAL LEAP FROM THE WINE BUYING ROLE TO THAT OF FREELANCE WINE WRITER, WHICH ACHIEVEMENTS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF AND WHY?
When I made the leap from employed to freelance, I told myself to jump, not look down and keep talking, tasting and writing about wine my own way. I had to keep faith that it would all be okay.
Getting the email from an editor asking me to write the book of the blog changed my life. Even now I can’t quite believe I wrote a book.
ON THE FLIP SIDE, WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND THE MOST CHALLENGING AND WOULD YOU HAVE DONE ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE?
If I had to do it all over again I think I would be braver in realising that you can do lots of things all at once – write, consult, collaborate – as long as you realise your own value and enjoy what you do.
IT’S POSSIBLY LIKE ASKING YOU TO PICK A FAVOURITE CHILD BUT IF YOU COULD ONLY EVER DRINK ONE WINE FROM NOW ON, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Champagne, definitely. The first thing I drank after having George was a glass of 1988 Krug. We’d been given a bottle when we got married and had saved it for a special occasion. It was, of course, absolutely delicious.
A GIRL AFTER MY OWN HEART! AND SEEING AS THAT QUESTION WAS A BIT MEAN, TELL US YOUR TOP THREE WINES WE SHOULD TRY THIS SEASON AND WHERE WE CAN GET OUR HANDS ON THEM…
Tesco Finest GSM 2016 is an unbelievable red for the money, made by d’Arenberg, a great producer in Australia’s McLaren Vale region exclusively for Tesco. It’s £8 a bottle and tastes as good as wines I’ve had for twice the price.
The Crémant from the same producer is also brilliant.
WHAT WORDS OF WISDOM WOULD YOU OFFER TO ANYONE WHO WAS CONTEMPLATING A CAREER CHANGE OR LOOKING INTO STARTING THEIR OWN CREATIVE BUSINESS?
I’d say just do it. Honestly, my only regret is not doing it sooner.
And above all, do what you love.
IN TERMS OF WORKING FOR YOURSELF AND POTENTIALLY BEING BASED AT HOME QUITE A LOT, CAN YOU SHARE ONE OR TWO PRODUCTIVITY TIPS THAT WORK WELL FOR YOU?
If I’m writing, I often leave my phone in another room. And a quick half hour walk with the dogs really clears the head.
YOU’VE RECENTLY PUBLISHED YOUR THIRD BOOK,HOMEMADE COCKTAILS – CONGRATULATIONS! CAN YOU LET US IN ON WHAT’S NEXT… BECAUSE I’M COMING TO REALISE THERE’S ALWAYS A NEXT!
OK, so I’ve only just started saying this out loud but I’m halfway through my first fiction book. And now I have said it out loud, I have to finish it!
There’s another drinks book in the pipeline, too.
ON THE SUBJECT OF PUBLISHING BOOKS, I’M IN AWE OF ANYONE WHO HAS THE DISCIPLINE TO WRITE A BOOK. HOW AND WHERE DO YOU BEGIN? AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, HOW DO YOU STAY MOTIVATED AND DETERMINED TO GET IT FINISHED?
I had a fantastic editor for my first book and she really taught me the value of working out a structure for your book. Once you have that, everything else can then fall into place.
When I’m working on a book I’ll write for a certain amount of time every day. And a looming deadline helps in terms of motivation!
BY THE WAY, IN HOMEMADE COCKTAILS, YOU COMPLETELY HAD ME AT THE OPENING LINE OF “COCKTAILS ARE ONE OF LIFE’S LITTLEST LUXURIES…” AMEN TO THAT! WHAT ELSE DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE IN THAT CATEGORY?
My weekly swim and a slice of cheese on a cracker (not at the same time, obviously).
IN THE CRAZY MIX OF THE ONLINE CREATIVE WORLD AND FAMILY LIFE THAT CAN SOMETIMES MAKE US FEEL OVERWHELMED, HOW DO YOU FIND MOMENTS OF CALM AND SANITY?
See above! When I swim, my head clears and then I can think about whatever it is I’m writing at the time. Most of my novel has been ‘written’ whilst doing front crawl in goggles and a swimming hat.
AND NOW FOR THE QUICK FIRE BIT AT THE END:
CAN YOU LET US IN ON YOUR THREE FAVOURITE INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS?
I love @celestebarber for her fabulous fashion shoot send-ups.
And for proper style, it’s @onlinestylist!
AW THANKS! WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOUR BOUGHT FOR YOUR WARDROBE?
A red velvet embroidered top from Zara for my London book launch for Homemade Cocktails. I absolutely love it.
HOW YOU TAKE YOUR COFFEE
Double shot with a dash of hot milk.
CAVA OR PROSECCO?
Depends on my mood but love both.
SUM UP HELEN MCGINN IN THREE WORDS…
Happy. Honest. Thirsty.
And if you’re planning on following that up with a Dry January then her second book, Teetotal Tipples is the one for you!
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