Food writer and luminous television presenter Donal Skehan was born in 1986 and if that makes you feel like an under-achiever, welcome to Tuesday afternoon. During his early twenties Skehan pursued a career in music. At one stage he even reached the finals of Eurosong – nugget of trivia for you. However, talented vocal chords aside, it is as a food writer that Skehan has blossomed into one of the most exciting young personalities on television. In 2007 he started the Good Mood Food blog and by 2011 was presenting his own show on RTE, Kitchen Hero. In between he has authored acclaimed and best-selling cookbooks as well as developing a flourishing career on British television, where he is a popular judge on Masterchef Junior. In recent times he’s spearheaded the beloved Skoff Pies brand and you can be sure there’s always another impressive project on Skehan’s horizon. And as he’s one of the judges in this year’s #IMAGEblogawards and as a blogging success story we had some questions for the kitchen hero.
What inspired you to begin blogging?
I started food blogging as a way to catalogue the recipes I was cooking when I moved into my first apartment and out of my family home. I loved other food blogs at the time and they were the new big thing, so after buying my first camera I was inspired to give it a go. I loved the instant feedback you got from blogging.
Did you have a clear vision of where you wanted it to go?
When I started blogging it was a sideline hobby to my full-time job and I got so much enjoyment from it that it began to seep in and take over! At the time food bloggers were only just starting to get book deals, so, as much as it was happening, I wasn’t sure that instantly that was what I wanted to do. After a year or so blogging, I became more focused and started writing out my goals for the blog, and it was around that same time that I got approached to do a book – and from then it has really just rolled on and on.
How has your blog developed from your initial idea?
Initially I started it completely focused on healthy eating, which is a big part of how I eat, and slowly over time that then expanded to take in baking and comfort food and also quite a lot of travel posts too. The beauty of a blog is that it is a personal thing and I think as I grew up so did the blog. Now it has become a great platform for all the different things I do and I love that everything still gets directed back to it.
Why do you think your blog took off in the way that it did?
I really put it down to the visuals. When I started blogging I was one of the few who had food images attached to my posts, and over time I got better and better at taking images; learning basics like not using a flash and only taking images in natural light. I think the internet has become so image-driven that it had a lot to do with why my blog became successful.
What would you say is the most common pitfall when it comes to blogging; where do people go wrong?
I think imagery and format. Readers like consistency and that goes from frequency of blog posts to how you format a blog post itself. I think clean and beautiful imagery is one of the major things you need to get right. In saying that, there are plenty of blogs I read solely for the quality of writing, so it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. But in my opinion a combination of well-edited writing, frequent posting and beautiful imagery tends to equal a successful blog.
What were your peaks and pitfalls?
I think every blogger has gone through those periods of empty-blog syndrome, where life takes over and there isn’t time to blog, so for me it’s when I have extended periods I haven’t posted that I get most frustrated, but I think it’s part of the process. Some of the greatest moments have of course been when the blog has opened doors to new career paths and, for me, that went from writing newspaper columns to books and then on to presenting food shows.
You’ve become a blogging inspiration to many a novice, but who were your blogging idols when you started out?
Some of the great blogs I was reading at the time when I started were mainly American as the standard was much higher over there. Matt Bites, Smitten Kitchen and The Pioneer Woman were all top of the list. Now I love reading Manger by Mimi Thorisson, Whole Larder Love, Sunday Suppers, Green Kitchen Stories and Call Me Cupcake.
What in your opinion are the three most important things to keep in mind when blogging?
I think to keep it real is an important part of blogging. So much of the time I used to procrastinate about posts where I should have just been posting about what was going on there and then. Readers much prefer frequency. Also standard of writing: mine was terrible when I began and I often got pulled up on it by readers in the early days, but writing books has really improved my editing process and so giving things a last read before clicking ‘post’ is very important. Images for me will always play such an important role, so take your time with them and go to workshops where you can pick up new ideas. I have been doing it for nearly ten years and I am still learning about photography.
What advice would you have for bloggers who want to attract the attention of advertisers or other collaborators?
I think you have to be careful on that front and decide very early on who you are and what you stand for, as it will be easier to make decisions when it comes to choosing people, brands and products on your blog. I also think that your sole focus at the beginning should be finding out who you are as a blogger. Those extra bits will come to you when you can prove longevity and quality to your readers and you’ll start to find it’s then that you have a lot more to offer.
What has made you happiest/most fulfilled throughout the whole experience so far?
The day I held my first cookbook in my hands was an incredible achievement, but even now there still continues to be great moments with the blog, and only recently Nigella Lawson tweeted about the One Tray Full Irish Breakfast I had up. Like the true nature of blogging, it is an ongoing process that continues to deliver great moments and only recently do I really feel I’m in my stride with it.
What pearl of wisdom would you pass on to newbie bloggers?
Don’t be afraid; go forth and blog, and blog often!
Donal is one of the judges for this year’s #IMAGEblogawards – keep up to the date with the Blog Awards here.