An interview with: Chef and food writer Sophie Godwin

Chef, food writer and all round brilliant human being, Sophie Godwin is here to tell us about her career in food. When Countertalk was in it’s early stages Sophie helped us immensely by interviewing interesting UK based producers that we love – for that we are very grateful! Her constant radiant energy and zest for all things good food, being outdoors, writing and so much more is what we love about Sophie. Here is Sophie’s career journey, from cheffing, working at BBC Good Food, ghost writing cookbooks it’s a fantastic showcase of what is possible in the food world. We hope you are as inspired by it as we are.
Take it away Sophie:
Did you go to cookery school and do you recommend it?
I got into food in a roundabout way. I did a History and English degree in Sheffield, on finishing I walked into my favourite cafe in the city and asked for a job in the kitchen. Thankfully they took a punt and I worked there for a year and a half, learning from head chef Matt (the first person who really got me psyched about vegetables). Wanting to learn more, I moved to London and enrolled at Leiths where I studied whilst working for Caiger and Co catering company at the same time.
Cookery school is a funny one. First off it’s very expensive, and something I was able to afford because of my mum’s passing. To fork out 20k for anything is a HUGE financial ask, so you either need to be certain that it’s going to be money well spent, or wealthy. It also depends what direction you are going in, working in a restaurant for example will arguably be a better practical teaching, yet if you lack confidence, understanding the science behind cooking is invaluable.
For me, it was the accelerator of my career for which I will be eternally grateful.
How did you land a job at BBC Good Food and what was that like?
One of the attractions of going to Leiths in the first place was that at the time BBC Good Food offered a three month internship to one student per year. Remarkably after an interview, in which I was uncharacteristically timid with nerves, I got the internship. This was then extended into a full time job.
Working at Good Food was my dream. I was a hyperactive whirlwind, bringing new (and often a bit rogue) ideas to every meeting. I got to test global recipes and learnt the importance of recipe writing style; a habit that has stayed with me throughout my career (I can’t stand poorly written recipes!).
Ultimately in the end I missed both the buzz of being in a working kitchen and wanted the independence that freelance life gives you. My Dad has never worked for anyone but himself so you could say I get that from him.
Sophie you’re talented across a lot of areas in the food world, you can cook, cater, write, style! How have you managed to diversify your skills?
Thank you, that’s very kind. Although I’ll let you in on a secret, I hate food styling. It’s not my forte, my brain isn’t visual enough. All I’m thinking is does it taste nice?!
I suppose I’ve always been doing a bit of everything which for me works the best. I find it exciting, and feel like cheffing only makes me a better recipe writer and vice versa. I also hate not being busy and like to push myself out of my comfort zone, so in the past have said yes to things in order to learn.
How did you land your first ghost writing job?
I was actually recommended for a job by the then art director of Good Food. I got an email from a publisher to come in and have an interview. I was so excited and nervous, I can remembering shouting elatedly on the phone afterwards to say I’d got the job.
For my most recent work with MOB Kitchen however, I started working with Ben Lebus when his platform was in it’s infancy. I sent him an email to say that I loved what he was doing and could I be involved in some way.
In what way is the discipline of ghost writing different from writing under your own name? 
Traditionally ghost writers are, as their name suggests, invisible. So in order to be a good ghost writer you need to be comfortable with the fact that you can write an entire book, and once it’s been sent off to the publishers it’s not yours. There won’t be any external validation for the job.
That being said, this is now being challenged by the likes of Ben at MOB, who is adamant that anyone who works on his books are credited.
How do you tune into the voice and requirements of the official author, how do you work together on recipes and writing?
Good question. Tuning into their voice is really important, and something I focus on when working with a new client. If they have produced other books, the publisher will send them over and I will spend a good while combing through, picking out turns of phrase and noting the overall style so that I can replicate it myself.
In terms of how much you work together this really varies depending on who you’re working for.
How much input do you have in terms of the book’s concept and structure?
The most common way of working is a publisher/client comes to you with an overall brief including a total number of recipes and a list of perimeters to work within. Be that a time restraint, seasonality, food for a certain mood etc. This is identical to how features are built within a magazine. I think often people think you just come up with recipes, whereas in fact there are very set features, with only a few flexibilities each month.
When I work with MOB, Ben and I collaborate to form the concept and structure of each book. A process we both relish; he’s also one for high energy so our planning meetings are often reminiscent of two kids who’ve eaten too much sugar!
What are the benefits of ghost writing, as opposed to writing under your own name?
  1. It’s easier to land a book deal for someone more famous than yourself.
  2. If you love writing recipes for the sake of getting people to cook then writing for someone with a bigger platform = more people cooking.
  3. It massively expands and enhances your recipe writing skills.
  4. It’s a challenge.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into food writing, and specifically ghost writing?
  1. Start writing. I started off with what for me now is a very cringe blog (the sort where you have to read ten paragraphs that no one cares about before you get to the recipe). Yet it was also my first portfolio, a demonstration that I could write.
  2. Approach people. Don’t be afraid of a little hustle. Ask brands whether they’d like you to write a recipe using their product. Send some recipes to a publisher and say you’re available for ghost writing etc.
  3. Can you get a USP? If you are wanting to write your own book what’s your hook? Or if you are a ghost writer do you have an area of specialty that could be useful?
  4. Make a good impression. Be nice. The content industry is relatively small so you may get work from word of mouth/referrals.
  5. Don’t give up. Work hard and you can make it happen.

Follow wonderful Sophie here 

Photos by Sophie Godwin

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