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…Claire McCabe, Writer
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…)
I don’t really have any business books, as such. I have destroyed Alice Hollis’s ‘The Little Book of B2B Blogging’ with post-its and notes. It’s fab. I also often refer back to Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ – and that’s seen quite a bit of underlining action!
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Irn Bru – ‘Made in Scotland, from girders’. And all the subsequent ones! Funny, different to other fizzy drinks companies. I actually remember people talking about the new ones when they first aired.
This is a total Coca Cola piss-take one and I love it! “unpronounceable too!”
Honestly, search ‘old Irn Bru adverts if you fancy a bit of a laugh.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I believe it’s a combination of thinking + time + research + rewriting (x infinity) + that elusive creative spark thingy + knowing when you’ve got to the best version.
I love that feeling though, when it’s just right. But it is a feeling, not a knowing.
I think the thinking is the most under-valued part.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I’d have looked for my online tribe as a priority. Now I’ve found them – #ContentClubUK – I know where to ask for quality advice.
It’s the overwhelming amount of stuff that’s the biggest problem when you’re starting out. And you don’t know enough to know what’s quality. And I would have read Alice’s book and Steve Morgan’s ‘Anti Sell’ first. This last one made me feel so much less weird about the whole ‘selling me’ part. As well as being full of excellent advice.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
It depends on my mood really. Sometimes silence, then I’ll stop for a bit of a desk disco to something loud and pop or rock. Sometimes I put on calming tunes, like Norah Jones. I wrote a whole blog thing about this actually because I realized that I use music to regulate my moods, so I can concentrate better on my work. And I kind of wanted to know what everyone else does!
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
Well, this was an agonizing decision! Thanks! My first internal argument was what I mean by ‘top’. I’ve decided that for me, it means my places of solace. The three books I return to for soothing escape and emotional nourishment. Oh, and a good laugh.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ – Jane Austen
Well, it’s hilarious, isn’t it? This is probably the book I’ve read most often. I love the language, the characters, the silliness in it.
‘Chocolat’ – Joanne Harris
Dark, magic-filled, beautiful, intriguing characters, funny, sweet, delicious. Can only be read with chocolate nearby. And there is now a series to eat up too.
‘The Mystery of Mercy Close’ Marian Keyes
Hilarious and tender. One minute you’re laughing, the next it’s tricky not to cry. I love everything this woman writes. She knows people; their fears, weaknesses, sadness, loves, hopes. This is part of a group of novels about the same family and you end up feeling like you’re part of it.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
The best thing I’ve written so far was for a teeny weeny charity in Canada. I found the job on Upwork, literally years ago now. A cancer charity selling teddies wearing different coloured jumpers, to correspond to the different types of cancer. The woman was a survivor herself and just wanted a homepage and three product descriptions.
I was really proud of it because I really felt like I wrote from the right emotional perspectives – patient and gift giver. There’s a lot to capture in that. I felt that ‘just right’ thing when I was finished. She was delighted with it.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Deodorant, toilet duck whatsits and a blue Bounty from Wilko. Soooooo glamourous! They got me with the ‘discount sweets at the till’ there. First Bounty I’d had in ages and I really enjoyed it!
Who was your teenage crush?
There were so many! Narrowing it down to those I had posters of on my wall. Bear in mind, this choice was largely dictated by what posters I could pull out from Smash Hits magazine.
Jason Donovan – From Scott in Neighbours, until now!!! I mean, I don’t have a poster of him up any more – but I still love him!
Philip Schofield – I also had a Gordon the Gopher puppet!
Ralph Macchio – The Karate Kid himself!
Morten Haarket – A-Ha lead singer, still hot.
Luke Goss – Bros twin, the singer, not the drummer.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I am lucky enough to have eaten some amazing meals in my life. I tend to only remember bits of them though. I do remember one that I fully expected to be gross, but was actually the most delicious thing ever. It was the summer of 1995 (I think, I don’t want to delve into the numbers), me and my lovely friend Tal were doing a tour of people we knew in America. So lucky. I think we were in Boston at this point. We’d been looking around this lovely area and it was extremely hot. So hot. And we were getting very hungry. You know, the ‘I might cry if I don’t eat’ kind of hungry. We ended up in this fancy restaurant, which I was definitely not dressed appropriately for. And I ordered soup. A cold soup that I could afford, but was fully expecting to be awful. When it arrived, it was white. White, cold soup. I gingerly took a little sip from my spoon. Then wolfed down the whole lot! It was gorgeous. Creamy, savoury, fresh, so cold. And did exactly the job of all soups everywhere. Filled me up and, instead of warming me through like every other soup I’d ever eaten, it cooled me right down from the inside out. I was so surprised. And delighted! I cannot remember what it was called, or all the flavours – I mean it was long, long ago now! But I’ve rarely felt so satiated at just the right time! If anyone knows the name of this, please tell me, its perfect for this ridiculous heat.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
Gin! And tonic, maybe cucumber or elderflower tonic. Minimal ice (don’t want it diluted!) Sometimes with ginger beer. And lime or grapefruit.
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’d like to go to places that are as unlike the UK as possible and listen to Sir David’s observations of the human behaviour there. Literally anywhere, but I am intrigued by Japan, Iceland, Russia and Switzerland. Imagine his brain turned on humans!
What’s in your pockets?
Dog poo bags (they’re in everything!), tissues, keys – just back from walking the dog.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pen and notebook for my own creative stuff. Sometimes whole first drafts on paper.
A4 pad and pen for client work research, then onto keyboard straight away.
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 read newsletters by these fabulous folk:
Glenn Fisher, @AllGoodCopy
Ellen Forster @ContentByTheSea
Cole Schafer @honeycopy
Jen Eastwood @RockRoseDigital
And #Write52 ones I save for when I need some brain stimulation.
Also always read blog articles that pop up by you, Digital Drum, Sally Fox, Rose Compton, Alice Hollis, Gareth in That Content Shed and loads more that I’ve now insulted by forgetting right this second!
What I love about articles about writing is that they’re never just about writing.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Coffee – fresh, black and strong.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
My favourite is my rainbow mug. An end-of-year present from a lovely little boy and his mum when I was still teaching. It’s just the right shape to cradle and a blast of cheerfulness.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – I still have my copy and there are several pages threatening to fall out. I read it and re-read it and started reading it again.
I loved Anne of Green Gables and wanted to be as bold as her!
Your favourite word?
It varies, at the moment it’s ‘nourish’. I like the feel of saying it and its meaning.
I also really like saying lots of words that have ‘b’ in them, I discovered. Wrote a blog about it too! Now I want to know why…hello potential new study topic!
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Say no more!
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Bookshop. I just don’t find online shopping as satisfying.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“Hello, darkness my old friend…” and the rest of ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Pretty much anything disco or dance! Listening to a 70s disco compilation as I write this. Honestly, you’d think I was some kind of Strictly winner. I will literally be the only person on the dancefloor. I am appalling – but I love it. Once I hit about 22, I stopped caring that I was rubbish and just enjoyed myself. The horrified can look away! This is perhaps the most life-enhancing thing I learned at uni.
Give me Kylie, Take That, Rihanna, a big old rock ballad I can air drum to…! See you under the glitter ball!
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Not really, I don’t think. I tend to keep things in the same place on my desk. And I like a specific type of pen.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Just finished an article about car tax dodging in different parts of the UK. A revamped marketing strategy for myself. And a guide about how being made redundant can affect your tax position. Then, my own next blog article.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Another photo of my lovely golden lurcher sleeping. You can’t have too many of them. It’s when she curls round and puts the tip of her tail delicately over her nose…just irresistible!
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Can’t think of a thing for this one.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Letter to a friend – yes, a real-life, actually needs a stamp, letter.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“I am sorry for writing such a long letter but I did not have time to write a shorter one.” Mark Twain
“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” Bill Wheeler
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I admire Peggy’s tenacity. And Joan is a stunning character. I can’t choose! But now I want to go and watch the whole thing all over again!
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Rear Window – the original. It’s just perfect. I’ve seen it several times and I still get carried away by the emotion of it. You feel everything, the heat, his frustration at being stuck in a wheelchair, the growing menace. All the characters are brilliantly cast and it’s got some real humour in the dialogue.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I’ve just finished ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Ownes. This is a first novel and it’s quite unique. I really loved it actually. Beautiful detail. Intriguing main character and a sense of deep foreboding mixed with painful tenderness.
Now I’ve got the next in the Chocolat series sitting there, ‘The Strawberry Thief’. I may treat myself to going back and re-reading all the others before I start on this one. Haven’t decided yet!
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Experience, family, friends, novels.
Who is your favourite artist?
Don’t think I know enough about art to have a favourite artist. I love Jack Vettriano, they’re mostly people-focused. I love Elle J Wilson’s lurcher portraits – she knows them so well!
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 do all my client work at my desk. It’s an old antique writing desk. If I’m writing for myself, or trying to corral some new ideas for me, then I prefer to go and sit in a café or library with a notebook. Just at the initial thinking stage. For some reason it helps to not be at my desk during this time.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Phone and email details here .
I like to chat on Twitter . I’ve filled my timeline with dogs, biscuits, word stuff and anything funny or beautiful. I like it!
I’m just starting to work at my LinkedIn network, so do say hi.