Mumsnet’s BlogFest: A retrospective


“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” mumsnet blogfest opening session
― Gloria Steinem


“Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”
― Phyllis Diller



Now I know I said I went to Mumsnet’s BlogFest with no particular expectations, but then again I did lose half a stone and get a haircut so I must have been expecting a decent slice of action of some sort.

So much has been written about *that* feminism debate at BlogFest at the weekend, the other sessions have been slightly squeezed out.

What happened as well as all the shouting about jam and boobs?

Here are the sessions I went to and what I thought of them:


Opening debate – What kind of internet do we want?

This was a fascinating discussion about bad behaviour online, trolls (particularly on Twitter) and the part anonymity plays in online trolling. Many contributors on the wall of tweets spoke out against anonymity, whilst themselves using an assumed name. Bloggers crack me up sometimes.

Toby Young did not endear himself to the audience by keeping his laptop open for the initial minutes of the debate, like a teenager who doesn’t want to join the family for dinner. 

mumsnet's blogfest funny writing sessionThe big thing that was missing for me in this debate was the voice of the blogger – why were there no bloggers on the panel?

Over 4,000 blogs in this network and not one of them was deemed worthy or relevant enough for the opening panel? Blimey.


In it for the Lolz: writing funnier stuff

Obviously you can’t totally teach people to be funny, but you can inspire them to be funnier, and this panel did.



Also: punch up, not down. You can get a better aim that way and it’s less mean.



Think Bombs
Nuggets of thought-provoking cerebration delivered with style by Professor Tanya Byron, Dr Sue Black and Sir Jon Ronson (he’s not a Sir but I think he deserves a title and if I start the rumour you never know where it might go).

I would’ve loved the chance to ask some questions and develop the rallying cries the panel started, but these Think Bombs were a bit like farts in that they all dropped one and left. But, y’know, good farts. Farts so stimulating they’re worth talking about.


Just me then.


How blogging and social media can change our world
I went to this because, to be blunt, I’m trying to change the world by encouraging children’s literacy, technical skills and confidence with KidsBlogClub.

One key pointer I picked up from this session was that many outstanding campaigns are not planned that way – they simply develop organically and the world responds. So hurrah for making it up as you go along, a blueprint for life.


How to tell a better storymumsnet's blogfest writing session

This was really magical, my favourite session of the day. All of the panel spoke with warm and gentle humour and I really felt that we were being challenged into something bigger here.

Most of the speakers, who included Lionel Shriver and AL Kennedy, were coming from the perspective of writing long form fiction, where obviously the parameters are different to blogging.

But I think we can all get behind: “Write as if you respect the person who’s going to read it…Write a lot and all the time and only put a small amount of that out for people to read…If you don’t love it, don’t post it…If you do love it, edit it until it gives you pain, then publish…For the whole of your life you will be learning how to write well.”

And finally, *that* feminism debate, in which we address the question: How many feminists does it take to piss off a mummy blogger? Answer: None at all, when the question is duff to begin with.


Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist?

Now, I nearly didn’t book on to BlogFest because of this debate. I thought that the title was incredibly patronising. I couldn’t believe that this was considered an appropriate question to consider in 2013.

I assume that all intelligent women must be at some level feminist. So this debate question translates to me as: Can you be a mummy blogger and still be an intelligent woman? Er, quite. You can see why people got riled.

But I do like a shouty debate. For a long time I used to produce TV debate shows, specialising in particularly shouty ones. It did occur to me that the thinking behind this debate may have been to antagonise and shake things up a bit. Certainly it provoked many discussions about feminism which would not otherwise have taken place.

There was a complete disconnect between what was being said on stage and the fury of tweets being broadcast on the screen behind the panel. These were practically on the point of self-combustion when the whole screen of tweets got pulled.

So – was it provoking debate for the sake of it? Isn’t that a bit like what trolls do? Isn’t that where we came in?

And after that – to an audible sigh of relief, the awesomesauce of Jo Brand.


Then it was time for gin and a goody bag and home.

All in all I had a great day, it was like a tickling stick for the mind.

I deliberately chose ‘big picture’ sessions and that worked better for me. As an experienced blogger, I often find ‘How to’ sessions end up telling me stuff I was doing 6 months ago.

But big picture is uplifting, and being uplifted is good (so long as you translate that into action once you come back down to earth).

I thoroughly enjoyed every session, and the in between bits of talking to people, re-connecting with old friends and making new ones. The only thing I would change about the day is to include at least one blogger in every panel.



After writing this post, I went to BlogFest the next year, but didn’t find it anywhere near as inspiring as this first one. It felt very repetitive, as many of the sessions were virtually the same year on year. The shouty sessions had gone, and with it some of the crackle of the event. I do think it’s a good event, but maybe one to go to as a one-off rather than to return to year on year. As yet I’ve no plans to return, but never say never…