Hattie Harrison and Fran Taylor are humorous local parent bloggers who have gained national recognition; and recently competed for the Mumsnet comedy prize earlier this month. Andrew Tong spoke to them ahead of the big reveal
You might not want to get on the wrong side of a sleep-deprived mum of multiple toddlers, especially if she has a fine line in acerbic wit. But what happens if they are scrapping with each other?
Cyberspace is bracing itself for what might be called the ‘prosecco wars’, as two local bloggers compete for the title of Mumsnet Best Comic Writer of the Year. Remarkably, only six other writers nationwide were nominated.
Hattie Harrison, 31, from Southborough, is the author of That Mum Blog, which she describes as ‘refreshingly honest parenting observations to make you feel better about your parenting abilities – you’re welcome’. She has three children – Lola, six, Frank, three, and Olive, one.
She’s up against Fran Taylor, 32, from Tonbridge, who writes a blog called Whinge Whinge Wine, in which she can be found ‘surviving two small sleep thieves through wine, tea and sarcasm’. She has two children, aged one and two, who she prefers to remain anonymous.
Having noticed a local backdrop in a picture posted on Instagram, they met up for the first time this summer and managed to get through three bottles of Italian fizz. No doubt the repartee was in full flow too. “We had a fun night but we had a bad day the next day,” reports Fran.
Like bubbles in a wine glass, both can be described as enjoying a heady rise in the blogosphere. Neither has been penning her thoughts for a full year yet, but already the foremost internet forum for mums has recognised their efforts.
So what drives fatigued, harassed young mums to use up their invaluable downtime in order to get people interested in their lives and thoughts – and try to make the readers laugh at the same time? A case of laugh – or you’ll cry?
Hattie relates: “It was after I had my third child that I started to do it. It came about out of frustration because I was spending more and more time at home. I had a deep desire to share my experiences of parenting and be honest about it. “It’s a warts ’n’ all view – I wanted to offer a counterview to all the glossy magazines going on about how ‘it was the best Christmas of my life’. No it wasn’t, it was just like any other day, you didn’t get much sleep and one of the kids was probably ill.”
For Fran, it was a matter of filling the void of the small hours: “I started when my smallest was six months old and didn’t sleep for more than two hours. I did it when I was awake in the middle of the night with my son asleep on my chest. It was a good outlet for my stress and I thought it would help other people too,” adds Fran. “But I found I just couldn’t be serious. So it quite quickly morphed into something else.”
Sharing experiences and helping others are themes running through both writers’ work. “It’s enough to make people talk, and it makes parenting much easier if you can talk it through,” said Hattie, “and that’s what it’s all about really.”
But there is a massive amount of parenting blogs out there. Fran reached the finals of the Mum and Dad (MAD) Blog awards in the best newcomer category in September – as one of more than 8,000 parenting blogs which were considered. So what makes these two West Kent mums stand out?
“I don’t think people are interested in your day-to-day life, and it doesn’t even have to be about children,” says Hattie. “It really is a saturated market.
“I think I’m a little bit odd,” she adds. “I write about strange things, I’m more theme based and I think I’m pretty honest. I like to just pick something up and run with it.”
Fran reveals: “I’ve got to be honest, I hadn’t read any parenting blogs when I started doing mine. I had no idea how many there were out there, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered if I had known.
“I write the way that I speak,” is the secret of her success. “People like a laugh and if they relate to it, they might share it with someone. You can’t fake it.”
Interestingly, both women have degrees in psychology – Hattie studied at Reading University, having attended the Mead School and Kent College; Fran, who moved to Tonbridge in 2007 after growing up in West Sussex, was a student in Cardiff. Hattie spent six years working with special needs children, with autistic provision in mainstream education and as a teaching assistant in a special school, then at a children’s hospice in London called Shooting Star Chase.
Fran, meanwhile, used to work for one of the local councils until she recently parted company with her employers because of issues relating to childcare. So there could be a spicy little blog on that subject coming to a screen near you soon.
Both have been rewarded by recognition of their talents.
“I knew I was doing okay when my mum and my mother-in-law both said they liked it,” says Fran. “And then I bumped into an old work colleague – he’s a single parent with a 16-year-old – and he told me he’d read the blog as well, which was great.”
Hattie relates: “A friend of mine went to a wedding up north recently and one of the guests mentioned something they had read and my friend said ‘I know who wrote that’. That kind of thing is very exciting.”
Closer to home, both have found their husbands to be supportive. “My husband Doug told me he’d spotted a spelling mistake the other day so he must read it,” laughs Fran. “He’s supportive because he knows it gives me something to do. “And he’s also supportive because when I’m writing he can go and play computer games. He’s always told me, ‘Fran, you’re not funny’. So I guess I’m trying to prove him wrong.”
“My husband Mark totally backs it – he reads through it for me – and thinks it’s a great outlet and an exciting thing for me to do,” says Hattie. “It’s organic, it’s quite creative, and a very therapeutic process.”
She recently wrote a piece about her post-natal depression, which included a letter addressed to her eldest daughter describing how the experience had nothing to do with her feelings for her newborn child.
“Lola is aware that I write a blog and that it is about the family,” she says, “so I read the letter to her out loud describing why I felt bad after she was born. But her normal response to what I write is ‘what’s for tea mum?’”