Amy Boylan

The Writing Desk | Amy Boylan | Copywriter

by | The Writing Desk

The best thing I've written? “Best” is for my readers to call, so I try not to dwell. But two…

Hello Amy,

Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk Blog.

Now, imagine I’m about to introduce you to an auditorium, filled with the smiling faces of folks fuelled by caffeine and an eagerness to learn. What would I say?

“Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce…

Amy Boylan – Freelance Copywriter

Here’s the part where we’d sit down and try and look comfortable next to the microphones. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

Can you name the business book that’s always on your desk? (I’m talking about the one that’s covered in pencil marks, coffee stains and has turned down corners…)

Andy Maslen’s The Copywriting Sourcebook is never far away. All his books get straight to the point, but this one helps me shift gear when I’m swapping between formats for the same client.

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our club” is my childhood.

The Embrace Life seatbelt campaign reduces me to tears every time. A throat punch to the emotions and only glitter gets spilt.

“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?

Good writing is good editing. True or not, it helps me power through those crappy first drafts guilt-free. And, by then, I know exactly what I think, and I’m ready to sharpen up.

If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?

This is technically my third career, so I’m getting good at learning quickly.

Andy Maslen’s Write to Sell was probably my first read. It’s basic but distilled magic. I stalked copywriters I admired, including your lovely self, Katherine, and read everything I could.

My lucky break was being paired with Sarah Turner of Turner Ink, via the SheSaysUK mentoring scheme. Sarah’s an outstanding writer, a blackbelt freelancer and an all-round splendid human being. I just did everything Sarah advised.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Always, always silence for writing. Binaural beats or tinkly spa music for research.

What are your top three novels of all time – and why?

I do tend to read more non-fiction. Three leap to mind, though:

  • H. E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May makes me nostalgic for a bucolic, sun-drenched Kentish childhood I didn’t have.
  • Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is poignant, poetic and painful. A slow gathering of everyday lives.
  • Giles Milton’s Nathaniel’s Nutmeg tells the story of the 17th-century race for the spice islands. Read it and you’ll want to don a ruff and put to sea.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?

“Best” is for my readers to call, so I try not to dwell. But two writing projects carried huge lessons. My doctoral thesis came in on time and at 60% of my word limit. Proving early on that things don’t improve if I keep on writing and tinkering.

And my now-retired personal blog showed me how much I love writing and that maybe I’m not terrible at it.

What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.

A massive, sweaty struggle of a food shop after getting back from holiday. Ocado would have done it for me if I ever got around to booking in time.

Who was your teenage crush?

Donnie Wahlberg. Who knew he’d be the brother that time forgot?

Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?

I LOVE food, so I can’t begin to pick one. But I climbed Mount Toubkal years ago, and our lunch afterwards was boiled eggs speckled with cumin. At 4000m, after a 4 am start, it was the food of the gods.

What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?

These days, I rarely drink, bar the odd glass of celebratory Prosecco. I used to relish the bitterest of pints and a face-full-of-hillside-peaty single malt.

If I were to give you a private jet, David Attenborough as a tour guide and a month off work – all expenses paid – where would you go and what or who would you write about – and why?

Deserts and mountains are my things. Algeria, I never get bored of Morocco, Jordan… The villages of the Atlas Mountains and the women who peek shyly at strangers from the shadows.

What’s in your pockets?

My exit mantra is “phone, purse, keys”. My phone is full of random voice memos with ideas that struck me while I was walking in the park.

Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?

First thoughts and personal writing: always pen and ink. And it must be a uni-ball Eye, or it doesn’t count. After that, it’s keyboard and screen.

Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on desk and recycle?)

Glenn Fisher’s, Belinda Weaver’s and Yoast’s newsletters usually get read. And every blog post from That. Content. Shed, André Spiteri and ProCopywriters. My phone auto downloads The Hot Copy Podcast, so I always have some of Kate and Belinda’s wisdom ready to go.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Tea. I’m a decaffeinated writer, and forgetful too. So there’s usually a cold cup of Pukka’s finest on my desk.

Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?

I’ve half a dozen white enamel tin mugs with blue rims. They remind me of childhood camping trips with my dad.

What was your most adored children’s book? And character?

My mum taught me to read with The Lettermen, before I went to school I think, and that was it. I devoured books. Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne have long traditions in my family.

Then I moved onto Roald Dahl. Boy was a revelation to me – a fantastical adventure that was true.

Your favourite word?

Squeeze. Packed with juicy promise.

Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?

Moist. It’s grim, grim, grimness.

Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?

Online. We’ve a cracking bookshop in Fulham (Nomad Books), and the smell alone is a reason to spend hours in quiet reverie. But online I find what I was looking for and six other book recommendations.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

From Snow Patrol’s Disaster Button:

“And suddenly
it lifts the roof off the place
It puts a vault in my step
And a grin on my face.”

The perfect description of the moment when the DJ puts that track on.

Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.

House of Pain’s Jump Around is irresistible. Today, the joy-maker, peace-bringer and kitchen floor-filler in my household is the Trolls soundtrack.

Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?

Nope. Kettle on, brain starts ticking, ready to write by the time it boils (sometimes the kettle, sometimes my brain).

What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?

Brochure copy for a construction firm. They need fresh everything, so it’s a long-term client. Sharpening up my website to attract more of the type of work I loved last year.

Also, the pitch for a whip-smart client that would draw on my past careers too. I’m desperate to land this one.

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

I couldn’t get my phone out in time, so it’s a mental one. Man in a top hat on a Penny Farthing, nonchalantly riding along the King’s Road. Chelsea still has its splash of mad old characters.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

“Trust the process.” I was moaning to Sarah (Turner) that I was too slow to start writing and panicked at each new job. Her advice was to simply get stuck in.

Draft the Contact page for a website, or begin at the end of the piece, or scribble down any line that comes to mind. Once my brain is moving, the process of writing will follow.

She was absolutely right. Now I just take a deep breath and start.

What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?

I write every single day. There are notebooks all over the house. I write to know what I think, what I feel, why an idea is in my head, why something caught my attention.

It’s a wonder it took me so long to make it my living.

What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” Stephen King

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

Confession time: I’ve never watched it. I was lucky enough to hear Fay Weldon speak at last year’s Copy Capital about her real life as a Mad Woman.

Her strength, determination and directness blew me away. What a woman!

Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?

Jaws. Ground-breaking cinematography, the tightest of scripts and editing, and so much of the terror is in the viewer’s mind. It’s timeless.

A hundred watches later, and the scene with Ben Gardner’s boat still makes me jump.

Which book or books is/are by your bed today?

I finished Glenn Fisher’s The Art of the Click recently. It’s packed with tips to use immediately, along with lessons on structure and process. I can’t recommend it enough. Tom Albrighton’s Copywriting Made Simple is next up.

There’s always some Terry Pratchett on the go for a shot of geeky humour.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

Time and disappointment.

At 21, I couldn’t admit what I didn’t know. So I wouldn’t have got much from being mentored by Sarah. Also, realising I was miserable in jobs I’d worked hard to get was a great motivator for change.  

Who is your favourite artist?

A modern American artist called Cary Smith. His work is bold and simple yet painstakingly crafted and technically brilliant. He produces the pictorial equivalent of great copy.

Where do you like to work best – is it at a desk, in an office or in a coffee shop? And would you send us a picture of where the magic happens?

Invariably at my desk in the basement. Aside from needing silence, I’m incredibly careful about my desk set up. Writing day in and day out calls for some respect for my beleaguered spine.

And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?

Twitter is my favourite hangout, @amyboylanwrites. The chat’s great and the company entertaining and wise.

Or say hello via my website, www.amyboylan.com.

Written By Katherine

Katherine Wildman is a copywriter for creative agencies and multinational brands – and the Creative Director of Haydn Grey.

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