Former Doncaster Free Press reporter up for national travel writer award

Andy with wife Clara and daughter Aoife.

Andy with wife Clara and daughter Aoife.

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A former Doncaster Free Press reporter has been voted one of the nation’s best travel bloggers.

Andy McFarlane, 39, started his journalism career at the Free Press in 1999 and worked in the paper’s former Sunny Bar offices for more than two years.

Andy's travel blog on Sierra Leone has been shortlisted for a national award.

Andy's travel blog on Sierra Leone has been shortlisted for a national award.

Last year, he took a career break from his job at BBC News to move to Sierra Leone with wife, Clara Burton, 33, who took a job there with a development charity, and daughter Aoife, now two.

He’s been recording the couple’s ups and downs in the capital, Freetown, via his Home Salone blog, which has been shortlisted in the Travel category of the 2017 UK Blog Awards.

“My blog initially started as a way of keeping friends and family informed of what we were up to, as well as recording some pretty memorable family experiences,” says Andy, who works as a journalist.

“Our daughter was only 17 months old when we moved so she won’t remember life in Africa, but it’s a great way to document that part of her childhood for her.”

He has been cataloguing his trials and tribulations in the African country in a popular blog.

He has been cataloguing his trials and tribulations in the African country in a popular blog.

The family had to cope with regular blackouts and water shortages but the blog also focused on the positive aspects of living in West Africa, such as access to its beautiful beaches and unspoilt jungle.

“Sierra Leone is also a tough place to live, and there isn’t a lot of information available for expats, so I thought my website could help address that,” said Andy.

“Home Salone aims to shed light on real life in a place that’s mostly associated with civil war and Ebola by writing about its beauty, and the fabulous characters you meet, as well as its grim realities.”

The blog, which you can read at expatfamilyfortunes.com, was shortlisted after a public vote.

Panels of experts in each category sector will judge shortlisted entries. Andy is one of eight finalists in the travel category, sponsored by LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.

He will find out if he has been crowned the winner at the acclaimed awards event in London on April 21, sponsored by ODEON.

“I was delighted even just to be shortlisted,” he says. “Being a finalist justifies all the time and hard work spent on the blog, which can be a challenge in a place where power and internet access are extremely unreliable.

“I would love to bring my stories together for a book one day, and this might be the springboard that helps me get there.”

The UK Blog Awards, which celebrates the country’s best creative writers, photographers and vloggers across 17 categories.

“The 2017 UK Blog Awards is set to be our biggest and best yet, and we’re so excited by the shortlist of talented bloggers,” says Gemma Newton, UK Blog Awards Director.

“The rise of social media channels has changed the way online content is perceived and the world of blogging and vlogging has never been so creative or influential. With 2,400 entries, and over 96,000 votes cast, the finalists have done extremely well to get to this stage, and we look forward to recognising their hard work at our awards night in April.”