Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk.
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…
Bethan Townsend, creative copywriter and Queen Bee at Bee Copy
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…)
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. There is no kind of writing this book doesn’t cater for. It’s magical.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
There’s a special place in my heart for Barry, the First Direct platypus but I’m not sure if that’s just because I can’t get the tune out of my head.
I also loved ‘it’s a MINI adventure’ campaign. Again, I do have a soft spot for Minis in general but I thought it was really clever too.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Read read read read. I’m not a big reading of business books but I never stop reading everything else and it is a constant source of more inspiration, more information, and new ideas. After the reading then write something, anything, if you’re getting something down it’s worth something. I recently went on a short story writing course and the tutor was very into making sure we know everything we write, whether we like it or think it’s any good, is worth something.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Sounding like a broken record but Bird by Bird. This is the book all writers need. I had already read it when I started out as I did a couple of creative writing modules for my degree and a creative writing dissertation. This aside, I’d still recommend it above all other books.
I’d also tell myself (or anyone else) to recognise the value of every single written word and not be tempted to work for exposure, it just does not work.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
I can’t have music on when I work because I end up typing what I’m listening to and I’m not one for silence or instrumental music. I usually have really old TV serials in the background, things I’ve seen a thousand times so can tune out.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
This is far too hard a question. I can’t really give a top ten most of the time but at this moment in time (although it’d be different if you asked me again in a couple of hours I’d say):
Good Night Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian – one of the writers who cemented my desire to write myself. I love this novel so much and have read it so many times. It’s so sad and so complex at the same time. It’s about war and grief and love and redemption and all sorts. Everyone should read it, whether they’re 8 or 80.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life is one of those novels which does change the way you think about everything. It’s harrowing, it’s relentless and it’s worth every single one of its pages. I love the way the author creates friendships and shows them develop over the decades.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – Murakami is an all-time favourite but I love Tsukuru because of the depth of all the characters and the fact that the ending is SO frustrating but it’s Murakami so I was able to accept it. His best for sure.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
The best is yet to come. I have a soft spot for the short story collection I wrote for my dissertation but there are always ways to improve. Watch this space.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Regular broccoli, leeks and an additional Romanesco broccoli I thought was a cauliflower (as you do).
Who was your teenage crush?
Ryan Giggs, but I am far from a Manchester United fan. Said teenage crush is still ongoing.
Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten.
We have an amazing Mexican restaurant called Savina in Liverpool and their Pimentos Rellenos is the best thing I have ever eaten. I’m not even a vegetarian but it’s definitely the best. It is just peppers stuffed with vegetables, feta, rice, and cashew nuts then topped with jack cheese, baked and then topped one again, this time with chilli jam. It’s so much better than it sounds.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged Malt?
I don’t really drink very often but on this occasion, I’d go for a gin sling (not Gordon’s, thanks).
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?
I have visited some amazing European cities that I’m desperate to take my daughters back to but I think on this occasion I’d be selfish and go to Japan. I’d want a tour of every place mentioned in every Haruki Murakami novel as well as a visit to Moominland (it doesn’t open until next year so I’m hoping the trip can be held off until then) and the Ghibli Museum. I would dedicate any writing entirely to Murakami (surely Attenborough’s connections could set up a meeting?). I’d also like my time in Tokyo to mirror Lost in Translation.
What’s in your pockets?
I am pocketless today.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I have hundreds (no exaggeration) of notebooks flung around but it’s mainly screen and keyboard for me. Even when ideas come flying in at 2am I whack them on Evernote via my phone rather than reaching for pen and paper these days. It’s quite sad when I think about it, I feel like I need a bit of a paper revival.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on your desk and recycle?)
I get Mslexia which is ace and great for a creativity boost. I don’t subscribe to any blogs/websites as I usually just dive onto Twitter and pick and choose from what those around me are sharing.
Tea or coffee?
I’ll have to say neither. I don’t drink alcohol (much) and I don’t drink tea or coffee. I do have a decent daily dose of caffeine however in the form of Coke Zero/Diet Coke.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I don’t drink from mugs but I have a couple of beloved Batman mugs which look quite good when displayed.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
The Trip to Panama by Janosch. This book is magical. My favourite character is the Stripy Tiger Duck from The Trip to Panama.
Your favourite word?
Pow is a particular favourite. I have a thing for onomatopoeic words that say all they need to say in a single syllable. Thwack and zap are good too.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Journey. I feel I must explain that in the right context, the context of going from point A to point B journey is fine but not everything that ever happens to a person or a thing is a journey. I am so fed up of reading about the social journey, the consumer journey, the journey that X reality TV star made from their ‘normal’ life to ‘stardom’, the EVERYTHING journey. It’s probably the word of the moment but it’s driven me to hope to never see the word written down ever again.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
I used to live in bookshops, I used to spend 2-3 hours in the same shop up and down the aisles. Now I have two daughters aged 5 and 3 and so it’s not as practical. The same level of browsing happens, I’m just behind this screen.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
This is hard again but I’m going with:
I, I know a girl
And she flies right off the handle
At the sound
Of scratching on the wall
Well It could go either way
But I don’t mind at all
Cos I’ll go, I’ll go and I’ll go to Liverpool
Uh, oh, oh
Well I know I’ll be loved there
She’s no scrubber
She’s my Breck Road Lover
And we wash in dirty waters
And walk the streets where she gets her name.
Breck Road Lover is an unreleased Libertines song and I was (and am) a devotee. Being from Liverpool and living near Breck Road made hearing this song live one of the best moments of my entire life and so the lyrics remain special. There are better ones out there but the sentimental value of this song makes it stand out.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
I’m not a dancer. I’m making myself sound really boring but I guess it’s a self-conscious thing. However, I will be as close to up there as I get when anything Libertines-related is played. It’s not really dancing but it’s as good as I’m going to give.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I like to have a font of the week. It makes things a little more interesting and it’s only for my benefit as I make sure to switch it all back to a standard font before sending any work off to clients. No fonts are banned so there has even been a Comic Sans week.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I’m on a homeware product description job at the moment so it’s a long list of SKUs and a brain full of ways I can redecorate the house.
Describe the last photograph you took.
It’s my youngest girl. For some reason, she’s doing a ‘thumbs down’ gesture but smiling and she’s sat on a bench on Southport Pier.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Write for humans. I think I got a bit bogged down in making sure everything ticked a box when I first started out that I forgot people were reading what I was writing.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
An Evernote: “What if he steals the postcards?”
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
The whole of so you want to be a writer by Charles Bukowski but particularly the last couple of stanzas:
‘don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.’
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Mad Men is sitting on my pile of DVDs I’ve yet to watch. I KNOW I’ll love it yet I never seem to find the time. I must make it a priority.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
The Wizard of Oz – how can anyone not love it? It’s pure magic.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (currently reading), George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl (me and the girls just finished it) and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (just finished myself).
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
My history teacher in high school Mr. Hubbard was my absolute favourite. You could tell he was interested in what he taught which made a big difference to us being taught. I took History through to A Level because of him and probably should have continued it further!
Who is your favourite artist?
I have always loved Picasso. I have Guernica in my bedroom and I’m not sure I love any painting as much as I love that one, for all its darkness.
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?
I work mainly from my front room; I have an office upstairs (as pictured) but with at least one child at home a lot of the time it isn’t practical. I plan to move back upstairs when I’ve achieved the Holy Grail of both children in full time education. As you can see my laptop has been sabotaged by small people.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Thank you, Bethan.
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