Gwendolyn Richards, a well-respected journalist, was met with her most challenging story of her career, her own. With an economic depression in full swing, Richards was laid off in 2016. Now, she channels her passion for writing in another direction — food blogging.

Her story started with a university application, but like most kids applying to university, Richards was uncertain of how she should plan her life. She dreamed she would be the CEO of a massive company, but fell short of that goal because math was not her strong suit.

“Half of my applications went out with a business major and then I had this epiphany that I did not want to do math anymore. So the other half of my applications went out with a writing major.”

After deciding to focus on her passion of writing, Richards came to find herself deep in the heart of journalism. Richards took every advantage she could to make her start and succeed in this budding new world she found herself in.

In the early days of Richards’ career she was a one-woman crew, often improvising to get the story published. Working in rural areas around British Columbia, with little support, she made her start.

“In all those small towns … I was the editor, the writer, the photographer … I did layout and design. At one newspaper I had to turn my bathroom into [a] darkroom because we were still using film … with a duvet hung over the door and the door closed to make sure no light got in.”

Those long nights working for small newspapers paid off though — she landed a job at the Calgary Herald in March of 2004.

Tony Seskus, who was Richards’ editor at the Calgary Herald, worked closely with her during her crime reporting.

“Gwendolyn did some of the hardest, most difficult writing,” said Sekus, speaking to the emotional toll that crime reporting had on Richards. “No matter the story, Richards found a way to keep true to the heart of it,” Sekus said.

Sekus commented that there is often a temptation to dramatize traumatic events because of the nature of the emotion attached to it.  However, he says she was very sensitive to the feelings of the story and kept as true as possible to the facts, telling the story masterfully.

He remembers her hard work, ethics and skillful reporting through the coverage of the Calgary floods. This took a toll on her — she was writing about people who had lost everything.

Richards lost her job at the Calgary Herald in 2016. Then, unemployed and wanting to continue her writing career, she decided to alter her goals and find a new medium.

She wanted to use her love of cooking as the main component of her new career path and to find a place where she could express herself and her passions — naturally the internet stood out.

“I wanted a creative outlet that had nothing to do with grief and dying. So I started this food blog, Patent and The Pantry. I pitched the idea of writing once a month for the lifestyle section [at the Calgary Herald], the editor said ‘Great.’”

Tess Raff, Richards’ sister, remembers the start of Patent and the Pantry and how her sister’s passion for food blogging changed her life.

“When she started being able to write about food for a living, things shifted for her. She had more autonomy in her job, which I think was really exciting for her because that was one of the first real times she could control what she wrote about as opposed to chasing down the story.”

The crowning achievement in Richards’ mind is her cookbook deal. She published a book called Pucker, and now recalls how the idea was pitched to the editors at the Calgary Herald.

“I pitched this one publisher [the cook book idea] because I had a good relationship with their PR person. I sweated about it for a few weeks, waiting and waiting and waiting … then I got this phone call that that they wanted to publish my book idea.”

Richards, while successful in her blogging so far, is looking forward to the future with determination and optimism.  

“Everyone’s a food writer now, right? The food blog world has completely exploded … I don’t know what that means for me going ahead. I’m a medium fish in a smallish pond. I’m happy here.”

ilindo@cjournal.ca

Editor: Mackenzie Jaquish | mjaquish@cjournal.ca