Side Project Stories #2: Holly Cooks


As part of my ongoing exploration of ‘Side Projects’ I’ve decided to start interviewing some individuals whose extra-curricular activities might help investigate and explore both the nature of side projects and the strategies for success.

Holly Davies

For my second interview I rang up my good friend and fellow mountain-enthusiast Holly Davies who started Holly Cooks in 2012 as a side project during her first maternity leave. It emerged when she was challenged by her mother about how she’d fill her down-time on the sidelines of motherhood (even assuming there was down-time during motherhood gives you some insight into Holly’s productivity).

When her mum asked her how she’d fill her day (aside from the baby) she half-joked she’d write a food blog and turn her existing love for food and her ring-binder full of recipes into an online resource. Holly’s relationship with food has always been an interesting one – as a type 1 diabetic she really has to think about what she eats and she includes diabetic advice with many of her recipes.

Holly was keen to both offset the cabin-fever that can set in trapped with a baby and find a way to be achieving something more than just “being a mum”. It kept her very busy and she conceded that if she hadn’t written the blog she “might have been a bit more chilled, less stressed, and have a tidier house”

Like any good Side Project Holly Cooks tapped an existing passion, “an experience, not an expertise“, and a powerful need to get something out of creating something. Holly suggested that a blog requiring regular updates gives you a sense of achievement, especially when people (and especially adults not babies) start responding to your efforts. Holly was really pleased when friends and acquaintances who she regarded as good cooks told her about things they’d learnt whilst reading the blog.

It could have been a work blog – but she wanted to switch off from work and food is something she (cue pun) “brings to the table” as a passion. She hadn’t read food blogs previously – but does now – and can really admire the effort and craft that goes into doing it well – not just the cooking itself, but the writing, photography, and social media mastery.

Holly invested a lot of time in it when baby Joe was tiny, but then she went back to work and it has been ‘ticking over’ since – she’s excited about her imminent next maternity leave as another chance to invest time in it!

In Holly’s own words it hasn’t “achieved massively – but it still could”. At present Holly feels like she’s still working out what the project might become: “I wish I had it all planned out, it’s a massive work in progress – but it needs to be me.” That authentic voice is something that Holly really wrestles with and may well be both the reason its such an engaging project for her and potentially the speed bump to having really pushed on to spectacular success.

Getting it right for her – and her values and interests – is critical to her pursuit of the project. Coming to terms with broadcasting your views is a real challenge, because you’re sharing something of yourself and your competency with the world and effectively inviting responses – for some of us that is a really thought-provoking challenge. Holly confesses that she struggles to be ‘personal’ on the blog and worries about over-sharing or projecting a ‘too perfect’ or inauthentic version of herself.

I wonder if we need a few more shy, pragmatic, less flowery (or should that be less floury?) even laconic bloggers… but self-promotion is absolutely required to succeed to some degree in blogging. So far Holly’s passion for the project stumbles at that self-promotion element, and that continues on into her self-confessed lack of interest in social media beyond a few essential steps.

Holly did however take a course in Food Photography and sought some 1-2-1 advice on photographic lighting – “Natural light in Edinburgh in January is limited.” So developing skills through the project is definitely part of the process.

Right now Holly suggests she has no real plan, but she’s seeing what she can do with it. She has some loose targets – but is acutely conscious that soon having two little ones might disrupt all this.

Holly suggests she wouldn’t necessarily jump into doing it full time – she enjoys too many aspects of her current day job as a fund-raiser (particularly the social bits) but maybe the blog is part of a career plan for tomorrow.

Some words of blogging wisdom:

  • “Comparing yourself to others is not useful unless you know its like for like.”
  • “Things take time, give yourself enough time to do it. If you’re expecting to go from zero to world-class in no time you’ll just be disappointed.”
  • “It’ll only work if you enjoy the process itself.”
  • “You are what you eat – look at what other bloggers are doing – from different fields – appreciate amazing writers and photographers.”
  • “Publish regularly and try to make blog a tiny bit better than the last one” – “my first posts now make me quite embarrassed, but I’m hoping next year I’ll feel embarrassed about what I’m writing now.”

My own favourite Holly Cooks recipes (all tried and tested) would be:


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