I interviewed Sally Cronin who runs Smorgasbord, a lifestyle blog with 32,000+ followers, and has twenty years of published writing behind her. Sally says about herself: “In 1996. My first book ‘Size Matters’ was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one.”
In part one of the interview I asked Sally about her highly successful blog.
Leslie: You publish Smorgasbord an online blog magazine for ‘lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general’. It has 32,000+ followers and you blog several times a day. How did it begin, grow and develop?
Sally: In 2008 I moved back to the UK to look after my mother full-time when she was 90. (She was not really care home material as she was a bit of a character!) In the beginning I was able to combine my nutritional therapy work with radio presenting, something that I had been doing in Spain for the last four years. However, all that went on hold by the time she reached 93 and developed dementia which meant she needed someone with her 24/7.
My husband David joined us to provide much needed support and for the next two years we focused on making my mother as comfortable and happy as possible. She slipped away peacefully overlooking her garden at almost 95; still as feisty as ever. Naturally there is the sorrow of losing a parent, but we all felt a sense of relief that she was no longer suffering the confusion and fear associated with dementia. It had been a very intensive two years, and I had not really appreciated the stress that had accumulated for both of us. Thankfully we had plenty to keep us occupied, and with the rest of the family, we spent the next few months dealing with the official side of bereavement and preparing her house for sale.
We returned to Madrid in early 2013 to our own home that now required some attention following our absence. The physical activity of repairs to the house, and stripping back the undergrowth that had taken over the garden was a welcome distraction. Once that was accomplished, I turned my attention to another area of my life that had been put to one side. It was tougher than I expected to sit down at the computer and return to books that were half written and abandoned nearly five years before. I also needed to embrace the fact that there was a new approach to book marketing that had taken place since I had published my first four books. It was clear, that without some form of online presence, any future books would be very difficult to market.
It seemed a good idea to get back into writing mode and to create a platform for my books by starting a blog. Initially with the attention of focusing on health posts, but after two or three months, I realised that there were a great many bloggers also specialising in that field. It was time for a rethink.
I love food and in particular buffets. I also had a line from a film in my head when looking for a new title for the revamp. I had seen ‘The Prize’ (1963) starring Paul Newman and Elke Sommer at some point when I was a teenager. I had laughed my socks off when Elke Sommer, when asked if she was married by Paul Newman’s character, replied with this pithy response “Why have one, when you can have Smorgasbord!” Of course with a very sexy Swedish accent.
That is how Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of Life….A blog with a view, was created. The aim was to cover a number of topics that I enjoyed myself, including health, books, humour and more importantly as a platform to showcase my own books and other authors.
As to developing it to where it is today, and hopefully going forward, I am always looking for new topics and themes to revitalise the look and balance of the blog. For example this year has seen a move to a more magazine-style approach with columns that are contributed to by exceptional people. I would love to have more collaborators so that the readers do not have just my input all the time.
My other social media platforms have been instrumental in developing the readership with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn the three main sites that I have cultivated. Those three are also my top referrers, along with certain very supportive bloggers who are part of the amazing community that I belong to. We meet regularly on all the platforms and like, comment and share; the collective boost for our blog posts is certainly instrumental in growth and development. It is very much a reciprocal arrangement and benefits us all.
There is a great deal of information online about the ‘perfect’ blogs and one of the key points is not to blog too often in a day. I am afraid I have never been very good about following the rules, and I break that rule and a few others on Smorgasbord. (But I do recommend that people do not click the notification box… just pop in on a Sunday and pick and choose from the round up).
Leslie: What humorous/unexpected incidents and ups and downs have you lived through with ‘Smorgasbord’?
Sally: After about six months, I felt that I had developed a sufficiently decent readership for the blog and my social media, to begin interviewing authors and other creative artists. I was delighted when William Price King who is an amazing American Jazz musician and composer agreed to be interviewed. Following that coup, I decided to send invitations out to some agents for artists including a quite famous painter. Whilst still in England I had published a health manual aimed at men in middle-age who might be tempted to reach for pills in an effort to combat the loss of testosterone. I probably got carried away with the title; ‘Forget the Viagra, Pass Me a Carrot’! Anyway, I received a rather curt response from one agent who told me in no uncertain terms that they would not recommend any of their artists to be interviewed on a pornography site that sold Viagra.
Leslie: How on earth do you find the time to do all that and write books?
Sally: I have worked since I was fourteen when I sold souvenirs and ice-cream along the seafront in Portsmouth. I gave up working for other people at 43 when I was putting in 15 hour days and often seven days a week as an operations director for a telecoms company. I have been self-employed for the last 22 years although have worked in partnership with my husband David or as part of a team in broadcasting. To be honest, I consider that I am a part-timer at 8 to 10 hours a day minimum, with a few hours thrown in at the weekend. Thankfully my husband is very understanding… self-sufficient and also is a workaholic!
I think it depends what you are hoping to achieve with your blog, and for me it is a platform to inform others about various aspects of health, to sell my own books and to market others. I have never seen the point in doing anything half-heartedly, and it is a very important part of my life. All the time people enjoy what I do, and I continue to learn and develop, I will keep getting up every morning and coming to work.
I set aside time to write and often schedule posts on the blogs a week ahead to give myself a little more time. I also employ talented blog-sitters when I am in need of a break and they get a fantastic response.
Leslie: Who are your contributors and audience? How do you get/keep in touch with them and get the best out of them?
Sally: I was very lucky with William Price King when he accepted my invitation to write a weekly column on jazz back in 2014. As an American who fell in love with a lovely French lady, called Jeanne, William has been wowing audiences in the South of France for over 30 years, gigged in other European countries and also mentored and coached some rising stars. Since then William and I have worked together on sharing the lives and work of classical and contemporary artists.
Paul Andruss, author of two fantasy novels, contributed a guest post in 2016 and then popped back periodically for a couple of months. He went down a storm with my readers and it was wonderful when he accepted the post of Writer in Residence later that year. Paul does meticulous research for his posts, which cover a wide range of subjects. He usually writes about the myths and legends we are familiar with but do not know in depth. He is one of the few writers who can deconstruct a life or legend and reconstruct, bringing a whole new perspective to it. Recently he has begun to share his other talent as an experienced gardener with an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants. The Gardening Column is proving a great hit.
Carol Taylor and I connected via the blog early in 2017 and discovered that we shared a love of food and cooking healthily. I asked her if she would like to collaborate on a series where I supplied one of my top nutrient-dense foods and she provided the recipes. ‘Cook From Scratch’ ran for six months and was a great success. I then invited Carol to take charge of the Food Column which began in the New Year and each week we are treated to exotic foods and recipes as well as some of our favourite western dishes.
My most recent contributor is author Jessica Norrie who studied French literature and then became a teacher and translator. Recently retired, she now blogs and also writes the Literary Column for Smorgasbord. I used to re-blog her own Friday post every week, and then we met at the Blogger’s Bash in London last year in person. We talked about how we might extend our relationship and I am so lucky that Jessica has introduced such a wonderful new and exciting element to the blog.
My readership comes from all walks of life and cultures. I do love that aspect of blogging, where you get to connect with someone from a country thousands of miles away, who shares the same passions. It is wonderful too when other bloggers share their posts as guests. The series of Posts from Your Archives has opened the blog up to even more topics that I would necessarily write about. It is has led to Smorgasbord living up to its name and offering a much more interesting buffet for the readers.
Next week, in Part Two of her interview, Sally Cronin talks about her upbringing, her love of language, and the differences between blogging and writing books.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.