An Exclusive Interview With 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards Winner Martine Gingras Of Banlieusardises

Martine Gingras authors the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards winner Banlieusardises, which placed 1st in French Language.

Why blogging? Why did you start blogging, and what drives you now?

I created a personal website in 1995, which revolved around the very urban life I led then, from the ivory tower (where I studied) to the concrete tower (where I lived)…

But when I moved to the suburbs in 2001, surrounded by flowers, groundhogs and birds, I couldn't find a way to fit my new bungalow life in the old metaphor!

Suburbs are often perceived with a negative bias: we think about excess, spoilage, competitive neighbors, clean-cut grass, SUV-lovers and freaks who spoil water by washing their driveway… As you can guess, I didn't plan on living my life in such a cliché.

So very early on, les Banlieusardises were about showing another point of view on the suburbs, from the suburbs. A point of view that, as I soon discovered, appealed to a lot of people!

I started by sharing my recipes, and as I experimented with many new projects around the house, new categories appeared on the site: homemade cosmetics, gardening, home improvement and eventually… parenting!

What still drives me after all these years? The satisfaction of doing things by myself instead of buying. The pleasure of sharing those creations and receiving feedback about what I do. And knowing that it inspires others to do so, too!

According to your About page, you have had a presence on the internet since 1995. Things have changed a lot during the last 16 years, and it's not often that I get to talk to someone who's been around from so early on. What are some of the changes you have seen with regard to personal websites over the years?

I love your question in so many ways: as a blogger, but also as an ex- researcher who got interested very early in understanding what "being online" meant! I studied how we build our virtual self in text-based virtual realities (that was my Masters' thesis in 1994), and even started studying personal homepages in a PhD.

My main interest was to comprehend how numerous "agencies" were at play to build a virtual presence: we're "presenting" ourselves, but other agents contribute to "represent" us, and act as an intermediary with others.

To publish a blog efficiently and get visitors (or "friends" in the social medias), we have to learn to talk not only to humans, but also to non-humans: search engines, publishing tools... Just think of how Google interprets your site and will bring you visitors… or not!

In the early days of the Web, you had to become a technological expert first to manage the tools, and then you could share your passion. You had to manage the server, code HTML from scratch, understand the basics of search engine optimization…

What strikes me is the easiness of "being" online these days: with the new social networks and blogging tools, one can develop a meaningful presence without being a technical expert. For example, SEO is integrated to Wordpress and ease things for newcomers.

But at the same time, when everyone gets a shot at "being there", which is fantastic, you still need to understand and master the technical environment to get a hold on your online self. Let's just think about privacy issues on Facebook. Or blogging under a domain that isn't yours: it's the easy thing to do, but you'll lose your referrals if you switch platform. You might even lose all your data if that platform puts an end to its activities.

So even if being online is easier than ever, managing the tools still has its uses!

You turned a collection of recipes from your blog into a book. Congratulations! Has publishing a successful book changed the way you blog?

Let me just correct: only three recipes are from the blog — my reader's favorites. Everything else on paper is new!

At first, I was so impressed to be approached by Trécarré (also the editor of many authors I admired, such as Anne Desjardins, Stefano Faita, Philippe & Ethné De Vienne…) that I had the blank page syndrome: what could I cook that would be so good it deserved to be published?

And then, I thought about why my readers came day after day to read my Banlieusardises and I realized no one asked me to become a chef: I'm the cool neighbor who experiments a lot and shares her recipes. The girl who cooks with flowers, grows green zebra tomatoes and entertains her kid with giant bubbles! I had to stick to what I was, not try to be a chef.

So has the book changed the way I blog? I'd say it's been the other way around: it's blogging that influenced the way I wrote the book.

My best recipes are always very daily ones: I get creative when I'm confronted to the daily rush, the stress of hungry kids or simply improvising when there are missing ingredients. I came back to that: instead of thinking of a recipe that would look good in a cookbook, I just kept on cooking like I used to, and introduced each recipe with a daily life story… just like it is on my blog.

Also, after blogging for so long (it'll be 10 years in October), I anticipate the reader's questions and I take that into account when writing. I brought that into the book, and many readers tell me it makes my recipes very easy to understand. In fact, the book just received the "best easy recipes cookbook" award for French Canada at the Gourmand World Cookbooks Awards. :-)

Do you you have any plans to publish more books in the future?

I don't know… All I can say is I'm proud of what I've done and it's exactly what I hoped for. It's a fantastic family heritage.

Because let's be frank about the future of my blog: if I stop updating, applying security patches, or paying for my hosting, it won't be there anymore. In 30 years, the Internet may have evolved in such a way that this kind of data isn't available at all.

But the book will be there for my daughters will to read in many, many years, without any compatibility or accessibility issues.

Where do you find ideas for your content? If you are feeling less than motivated, where do you look for inspiration?

Food! One always have to eat, right? So that's the easy path for me. I simply cook something new, try to get a good picture out of it, and there's matter for the blog the next day.

Are you open about being a blogger? How do people offline react to your online writing?

Absolutely! After all those years, that's part of me. A lot of people know the blog, and recognize me, asking if I am "Martine la banlieusarde". Well yes, I'm me and I must say I'm quite proud of what I've done.

Which weblogs are your current favourites? Which weblogs have been most influential in the shaping of your own blogging?

You have to put yourself in context: it's 2001, there are no tools to discover other bloggers… I had friends who used blogs to maintain a diary, others who shared ideas and information about technology, cyberculture and so on. That was about it! I never saw a foodblog, I don't even know if anyone else had started one at the time.

But before blogs even existed, in 1998, I had fun sharing stories-and-recipes under a pseudonym (at Les Quartiers gourmands de Jeanike, still available on Multimania, but beware, it's now full of blinking ads). So I think that's what I had in mind when I decided to use a blog platform to share my food stories.

As for the favourites, with two young girls, work and life at large, I don't have much time to read blogs nowadays. But I never wait too long before stopping by...

... my fellow suburban moms, Madame Unetelle and Chroniques du patio.
... my zesty urban friend, Peccadilles.
... my country counterpart, Vieux Bandit.
... and my favourite foodblog, Obsessions gourmandes.

I'm also very active on Facebook and often get interested by what my friends write or are referring to.

What advice do you have for new bloggers?

Try to find balance! With all the "micro-blogging" sites today, it is sometimes hard to convince ourselves to take time to write a longer blog post. I know people who completely lost interest in their blog, and are now only using Twitter or Facebook.

But social networks (or virtual communities, as we used to call them) come and go. A few years back, everyone used to log into ICQ daily; who does that anymore?

Over the years, I've invested myself in various communities, built numerous profiles, took time to communicate in all those environments. What's left of all that? The friends are still there. Because that's what these social networks are good at it: building ties between people.

But you can't build a meaningful online presence only communicating with tools that come and go.

So yes, do find balance: take time for your blog, which will let you build a meaningful and lasting online presence, and take time for social networks, which will let you build relations.




2010 CWA Winner:
Martine Gingras (also known as "la banlieusarde")
Rosemère, Québec
1st in French Language

Elan Morgan

Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They have been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health, Woman's Day, and Flow magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.