Awards, awards, awards, thanks – and a small plea

Out of nowhere a third of the year has gone, and I’ve not stopped even to properly ask and assess how the new gluten-related labelling legislation has affected coeliacs and the kinds of products they can and cannot buy. Snack-a-Jacks and Walker’s have both become nibbles non grata, I understand, but anything else?

Reflecting on the first quarter, it seems to have flown by in a blur of awards-related frenzy.

First up was the Free From Food Awards, judging for which was back in February. The awards were founded by my editor, colleague and friend, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, and I’ve been on the final judging panel for these awards for the last four years, and it’s always a fascinating few days of tasting, debate, discussion. I blogged about this extensively last year so won’t repeat myself as so much of what I wrote then applied again, but what brought a new dimension to judging this year was the presence of so many more bloggers. Partly as I was a bit under the weather, I did a lot more listening this year than speaking, and it was good to hear their new perspectives. Many have blogged on it, and if you’ve not gotten around to reading their posts, here are some from Aurea, Caleigh, Sian, Ruth and Melanie to read over the weekend.

Second up – the FreeFrom Skincare Awards. These are new awards I’ve founded with Michelle, in order to reward and encourage excellence in ‘free from’, organic and natural skincare, and products which are suitable for those with sensitive, allergic or problem skins.

When we launched the awards in January, modestly with just three categories of hair/bodycare, face care and make-up, we had no idea what to expect in terms of reaction, entries and quality. As it turned out, we were overwhelmed with the support from the industry, and from sponsors NATorigin and awards partners The Beauty Bible and the Allergy and FreeFrom Show – as well as by the quantity and standard of entries.

Initial judging was a complicated business of trying out products, assessing ingredients (both presence of and absence of), scrutinising labelling, considering issues such as originality, ease-of-use, pleasantness, aesthetic appeal, value for money, packaging and much more. It’s a group trumpet-blow I know, but a team of six of us did a fantastic job in assessing them rigorously, and so impressed were we with so many of the products we found it fiendishly difficult narrowing them down to a manageable shortlist. Eventually, we decided to create another level of commendation for products we thought sat very well in a ‘free from’ skincare world, but in a stellar field were just beaten by some tremendous products which deserved shortlisting and progression into the next round of testing.

Michelle has made my job a lot easier by blogging about the judging already, and you can read all about the awards, including the commended and shortlisted products, here on the site. Shortlisted products are currently undergoing intensive one-month testing, giving all of us involved a little breather before results are collated and we reconvene to select winners, which will be announced at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show, at Olympia in May.

And finally, March began with a personal and cheery piece of news, in hearing that my book Coeliac Disease: What you need to know, had been shortlisted for the Guild of Health Writers 2012 Best Health Book Award. It’s obviously personally satisfying when your work is recognised, and every email from a reader telling me that my book has helped them find their feet post-diagnosis has been heart-warming. Being recognised by your peers – health writers who have been in the business much longer than me – really complemented those notes and letters and reviews, and has made all the work that went into the book that little extra bit worthwhile.

Again, it’s the bloggers who deserve a special shout: so many got behind the book’s nomination, such as Saara and Caleigh and Ruth, and too many others have been complimentary, most recently Kel’s kind comments on Twitter, and yet more like Sian, have reviewed the book, and their comments are collected on the book’s dedicated page on this site. My thanks again to all, and to those I’ve missed!

The announcements of the awards were made last night at the Royal Society of Medicine, and the winner was an excellent looking book called the Cancer Survivor’s Companion, by Lucy Atkins and Frances Goodhart. I’m really pleased that the runner-up was a fellow author at my publisher Sheldon Press, Dr Tom Smith, with his book, Reducing Your Risk of Dementia. Obviously, I would have loved for the coeliac book to have won, but remain chuffed at the nomination, and hope it has raised awareness of coeliac disease in a small way, perhaps among my fellow writers who attended last night.

The night itself was great fun, and I want to end on a little plea to support health writing and health writers. Something I was reminded of when I was listening to all the shortlisted pieces of work, which you can view here, was the diversity and depth of the kind of work my colleagues do. There were shortlisted pieces of work on the future threat of CJD (terrifying, I might add), about buying donated sperm on the internet, about current teenage perceptions of sex, about the ongoing menace of carbon monoxide, and too many other valuable investigations and stories to mention.

I think there’s sometimes a slight misconception among the public that we journalists are busy rifling through celebrities’ bins or getting involved in nefarious business with mobile phone messages and that authors are living it up on five- or six-figure advances and retiring on their royalties. This is far from the truth, and far from my experience and of those in the industry I am close to. The health and medical writers I know are busy researching untold stories, exposing threats to our wellbeing, and trying to educate the public in a responsible way – all the while battling the eternal struggles against rate cuts and clients who demand all rights to their work and then take several months to pay up. There are tougher jobs in the world, I know, and we don’t always get it right – but when we do it can do a lot of good, and there’s not much as satisfying in this line as positive reader feedback to keep us going.

So, a shameless plea to support health writing if you can: buy health magazines and books, drop an email to a journalist whose article helped you, blog about a health programme you liked… that kind of thing. We need you!

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