For the second in my series of ‘So She Did Diaries’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Kirby, founder of the brilliant blog Hurrah For Gin and Sunday Times Bestselling author of a book by the same name. We spent a glorious hour together chatting about everything from juggling work and life, people not getting her humour and the cringe of self-promotion. In fact we chatted so much, I’ve split the interview into two blog posts!
Katie built her blog (which is now a brand in its own right) completely from scratch when she was on maternity leave looking for (and struggling to find) flexible work options. Her take on motherhood is hilarious in its brutal honesty of how tough being a parent is at times and she has helped women everywhere feel less alone about the daily struggles of helping little humans grow up. Her blog is so simple and it’s in that simplicity and honesty I think she finds her success. She is juggling so much – a business that has taken off, a second book and so many other exciting projects in the pipeline not to mention her family life too. Despite all of this success Katie is so humble and unassuming. She said so often throughout our chat that she’s just a normal mum, sharing her normal life.
Katie has built such a successful business but it’s not just one that (presumably) makes her a living, it’s one that helps other women and mums who might be feeling frazzled or like they’re failing. She has been open about her own struggle with anxiety when she first became a mum too. In my eyes, Katie is successful because she works from her passion to help other women, not from commercial reasons, she is so real and down to earth.
I might not be a mum, but Katie’s story is so inspiring nonetheless, and actually, her content has helped me relate to friends and family who are bringing up children. There is so much everyone can learn from her, mum or not.
How is everything going with the business at the moment?
It is going really well!
How do you manage everything you have on your plate?
It’s just the same with everyone I suppose, life gets in the way. It’s hard managing everything all at once – when things are going well it’s great because it’s exciting and there’s lots of new stuff popping up but at the same time I wonder when am I supposed to get it all done, when am I supposed to do the actual work?! There are always meetings or events or phone calls or just anything really. Next week I’m going up to London twice – I have 2.5 days of ‘official work’ a week because of childcare costs. My youngest has just turned four and isn’t in school yet and will go to school in September so that’ll be good! So with all of that you find you don’t have time to actually do the work – you are at these long meetings and you’re thinking ‘This is all great but when am I supposed to sit down and actually do the stuff we’re talking about doing?!’ So that’s the real struggle I think.
But in answer to your first question, there are lots of great things going on, I am working on a second book at the minute and I’m working on a stationery range as well – calendars, diaries, notebooks and cards etc.
I’ve bought your book for five different friends now, all with different mothering styles and ‘takes’ on motherhood – some more ‘serious’ than others. The friends who I have thought might be offended by it have surprised me and LOVED it – do you ever find people take your humour differently?
You never know how people will take it, people get offended by all sorts in life don’t they? You just don’t know the way in which people will interpret things but I’ve always been quite conscious of it [the book] being quite permanent so I wanted to base it on talking about the reality and making it honest but also ultimately making it a really positive book which I think hopefully it is.
It is definitely. I bought my sister a copy and her boyfriend read it in a weekend, she left it on the breakfast bar and he snaffled it up![Laughs] Dads quite like it too. Jim [Katie’s husband] wrote a chapter in it and I did try to make it as Dad friendly as I could. Dads are half of it so I wanted them to relate to it.
You’ve had huge success with the blog and the spin offs including your Sunday Times Bestselling book! What have been your ‘pinch me’ moments since you started out?
Yeah! [thinks]. I suppose everything feels like that and then something else happens and it overtakes the thing before. When you first write the blog and then you see someone sharing it, even just a small number of people you think ‘Oh, that’s nice, people are sharing it!’ so it’s little things like that that feel good. I’ve been nominated for awards a couple of times and I won blog of the year at the Mad Blog awards and that was really exciting at the time. I won the Mumsnet best writer award and I got a certificate and flowers and that was really cool. Signing the book contract was obviously massive, I’ve always wanted to write books so that was like a dream come true! Then seeing it as a bestseller. Actually, do you know what, all those things I’ve mentioned above are marked achievements but just getting a copy of the book and thinking ‘It’s here, I’ve done it’ and then seeing it in the shops is also quite crazy.
That must be a bit mind blowing, walking into a shop and seeing your work there in print!
Yeah, with the book I got so bogged down in just actually doing it that it was a shock to see it actually finished – ‘Wow, that’s what I did!’
It’s thicker than I expected, it’s a really satisfying book to hold in your hand!
Everyone says that! Because I do the cartoons I think most people expect it to be just all cartoons and for it to be quite thin. I did end up going on a bit!
You’ve had some incredible coverage in the Daily Mail, the Metro, the Telegraph and the Sun to name a few, how do you find the attention?
It’s not something I naturally enjoy, I’ve never wanted to be famous. When you get taken outside of that and you’re in magazines or you’re on TV it’s a bit strange and also it’s out of your control because the journalist is in control of the way you’re presented. No one has written a horrible article about me as such but the way I’m portrayed in some as the ‘gin mum’ is just not what I’m about and not really representative so I don’t really enjoy that side of it to be honest! The Telegraph did a nice piece that I was really pleased with but often I feel that what they write isn’t what I would have said about me or how I want to come across so yeah, it’s a bit weird getting used to stuff like that! That said, that’s the way it is, if you have a book that does well and you start getting shared quite a lot and have a lot of Facebook followers it’s part of it.
Does the attention and your massive following mean you get recognised?
Yeah I do quite a bit! It’s strange! In somewhere like Tesco or in the park which is nice but it’s also strange to get used to. What happens more often though is that I go somewhere and I can tell that someone has recognised me and then later on I’ll get a message on Facebook or Instagram saying ‘I saw you today!’
Awwww![Laughs] It is weird because then you’re thinking ‘Wait, I’m just a normal mum like everyone else, I’m not a famous person’ but there are some people who see you like that. It’s definitely strange for me, it’s not that I hate it but it’s not something that I am really comfortable with if you like.
There are a lot of bloggers from the earlier era of blogging who have become famous but they never intended to do that…
Yeah and there are some people who are probably enjoying that too and thinking ‘Wow this is great’ and just go with it but then I’m more comfortable behind the computer writing. Perhaps with vloggers it’s different, they are obviously more comfortable seeing their face on the screen but that’s not really me!
So we’re not going to see a Hurrah for Gin YouTube channel anytime soon then?!
No, no definitely not! People say that to me a lot though because obviously vlogging is massive and a lot of bloggers do then go into vlogging to get a new audience or to increase their reach and stuff but it’s not for me!
You seem quite careful about working with brands in contrast to lots of other bloggers…
Yeah. Loads of people blog professionally and I suppose there comes a point where you have to monetise what you’re doing in some way and if you spend a lot of time doing it then why not. I started as a hobby so it wasn’t my main thing, I started when my littlest was at home and I just did it on the side. Right at the beginning I did do a couple of reviews but it never felt right and I always wanted to be about the writing. Once it starts growing a bit you just realise that sometimes more commercial stuff puts people off. They don’t want to read through loads of posts and advertorials to find the content. I don’t think it’s bad to do paid stuff but I started the blog more for the writing and if I wanted to get anything out of it it was that other people enjoy it, I enjoy other people enjoying my work. I don’t want my readers to feel put off by ads and I suppose as it grew I thought perhaps this will turn into me writing professionally. I didn’t think about a book deal at that stage. But writing for magazines, stuff like that was in my sights and I thought that if I started doing other things [like paid partnerships] it would just muddy it all up and it would perhaps harm my chances of writing professionally.
As a reader you have to be quite astute when you’re looking at content online to know what’s paid for and what’s not.
Exactly. And a lot of bloggers get to review products and sometimes you wonder if them saying ‘It’s great’ is totally honest. Sometimes it looks like they want to say great things about all the brands they work with so they can get more branding and brand work.
YouTube feels really commercial these days, so many hauls! My two-year-old niece finds videos of people playing with new toys…
Totally! I said to Jim the other day, I’m not going to let the kids have the iPad in the week, I’m going to put it away because my littlest just likes watching unboxing videos on YouTube. I’m not someone who is really against lots of stuff, I’m quite casual with parenting but this doesn’t seem right. If he was playing a game, or watching something on the telly with an actual story to it I’d be happier but just watching people play with toys feels so commercial. I think it makes him a bit angry as well or a bit unappreciative of his actual toys that don’t even get played with so I’m like ‘Right, we’ve got to cut this YouTube time a little bit’.
Did you always want to be your own boss?
Um, I don’t know. I suppose so in a way. Jim and I used to work together, that’s how we met and I never felt that passionate about what I did as a job. I was never that into it, he was always much more into it, he really enjoys his job (as much as we all enjoy jobs!). I didn’t really have that, I have always wanted to do something a bit more creative I think so I would always have been a bit more suited to being my own boss. It wasn’t really a plan but luckily it’s all happened in a good way.
Lucy, my last interview for this series said her success has been a ‘happy accident’ – do you identify with that?
Yeah, think that’s certainly the case for a lot of mums. It seems to be more and more common to fall into something successful, especially with social media and stuff. It’s much easier to start a business and sell it. Even if you don’t have your own website you can sell it through Etsy or set up an Instagram and start getting followers. It’s so much easier, you don’t have a lot of costs to put up upfront, you can do it all online and big companies are still unfortunately really inflexible. When I was looking around to work most of the agencies are up in London and it’s full time. I was working in social media at that point which doesn’t really suit a part time role either. It’s hard to go back into work when you’ve had kids and a lot of mums have that challenge so they start thinking about what else they can do like start their own business.
Brits are known for being rubbish at accepting praise, do you find it hard?
Yeah, I think I do actually! I get a lot of ‘I love you’ type comments and that type of stuff which is really sweet but yeah, I suppose it’s less hard when you read it but when people are nice to your face I find it difficult to accept!
On the flipside, do you find negative comments and criticism hard to take?
Do you know what, I am so lucky. Obviously, I do get negative comments but the vast majority are lovely. I’d find it a lot of harder if it was a bigger proportion, I’d probably not be able to carry on. It’s such a small percentage of negative people, probably less than 1%. Most people understand that often I’m joking about stuff, it’s humour and you can love your kids but still find them annoying sometimes. Luckily it’s very few but it depends, sometimes I’m able to laugh it off and some of the comments are ridiculous so they’re easier to shrug off. There are days when it touches a nerve and someone picks up on it – it’s a learning process. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve realised I shouldn’t have said something or that it’s upset somebody and I hadn’t thought of the way it would upset them. Often what will happen is I’ll get somebody read something and it will upset them because they are going through a difficult time and my post applied to that particular moment. In that instance I do try and reply (unless they’re being an arsehole) and say ‘I’m really sorry that upset you, I obviously meant it as a joke but I wouldn’t want to upset anybody’. Often they might reply going ‘Yeah, I see that, I didn’t expect you to reply, I’m just having a bit of a hard time with my youngest who has/is doing X’ and in that case it kind of works out but when you see stuff online it’s all too easy to react.
The internet can, to some, feel ‘faceless’ can’t it, where people feel able to be mean (or worse) without consequences.
Yes, definitely, and they often don’t expect someone to reply to them and sometimes all it needs is someone to say ‘That sounds really shit, I’m sorry this upset you, it wasn’t meant to’. And they say ‘Oh thanks, that’s really nice of you.’ But there will always be some people who just can’t take a joke. Obviously it’s called Hurrah For Gin and I’ll talk about having a glass of wine at the end of the day and some people are really anti-drinking and so they tell me I’m promoting alcohol and I’m the reason mums think it’s OK to drink too much – ‘My sister’s an alcoholic and you’re making it acceptable to drink’ etc. I don’t know how people expect me to shoulder responsibility for other grown adults that I don’t even know. I often think ‘Well if it’s your sister, why don’t you go and support her? How are you blaming it on me I don’t even know her?!’ See, I’m even justifying myself to you now! That’s sometimes how I feel! I don’t blog about getting pissed when I’m looking after my children. I might talk about having a hangover or having a drink when they’re going to bed in the early evening or something but I think it’s to the level that other people have a drink, not anything more. Some people just can’t see the humour. Or they think the sun shines out of their children’s backsides and they can’t take a joke about the fact that it can be really hard sometimes.
Do you ever battle with any negative thoughts? Especially when you were starting up? Or because it was a hobby did it happen more by osmosis?
Yeah, sort of. I didn’t really put much thought into it. I was struggling to find a job after having my second [baby], so for something to do I thought I’d start a blog as I’ve always liked writing anyway. I had done some writing in the past but it had fizzled out so I just literally thought ‘I’m going to call it this’ and just started it up. The thing I struggled with at first was that it felt embarrassing, do you know what I mean? You might feel that too as a blogger but actualanna is interesting and it’s often about other people so it’s less embarrassing whereas mine, I was thinking ‘I’m just talking about myself, isn’t that a bit cringe?!’
I definitely get that! Clicking publish on Facebook is painful sometimes! Do you still get that now you’ve been doing it much longer and you’re so successful?
Oh God I do! Even more as it grows too! You can see what people say and what they like so now I worry about keeping up the quality or what if I post something that’s really not funny. That’s the pressure. It was like that a lot at the start and I didn’t tell anybody I was even doing it! Then gradually as it grew people saw it and found out. It’s quite cringe worthy!
What I try not to do is to imagine people reading it. If you just stay true to yourself that’s important. If I’m writing what I enjoy and find fun to write usually other people will like reading it so I try not to overthink it in that way.
That idea of self-promotion thing can be really hard.
Yep, it can be really hard! On twitter when you retweet someone saying your content is amazing, I wonder if it’s the right thing to do. It’s a bit ‘Yay look at me!!!’ but you have to share it, that’s life. You’ve got to blow your own trumpet.
To be continued… In Part Two Katie talks about supporting other mums, how she got her book deal, how she keeps motivated and her advice for anyone wanting to start their own thing. Post coming on Thursday!