Dave Harland Desk


by | The Writing Desk

"Write like you speak – not just how people speak – how *you* speak."


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…

Dave Harland, Copywriter, The Word Man

Dave Harland headshot

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…)

Richard Shotton’s The Choice Factory. Coming from a non-marketing background, my mind was blown by this example-laden intro to behavioural psychology and how I can apply it to my writing.

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

The Milk Marketing board Accrington Stanley ad. It was the first that really stuck in my mind, and it made me think milk was some super-power juice because I could grow up and be as good as Ian Rush. I imagine loads of kids begging their parents for more milk. And what do they say… don’t speak to the decision-maker, speak to the person the decision-maker can’t say no to.

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

Intrigue is the clincher for me. It’s always been about making the reader think, “where the hell is he going with this?”

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

Read everything by Andy Maslen. Subscribe to Drayton Bird’s newsletter. Question every brief you ever receive. Read Tom Albrighton’s Copywriting Made Simple

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Music usually. Easy listening, Americana / folk / acoustic stuff

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

Roald Dahl Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as it opened my eyes to the beauty of weirdness as a kid.

Jack Kerouac On the Road. It felt like a textbook in rule-breaking, even from the way it was structured. I read it while backpacking around America, too. What a cliché.

Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games. I love anything dystopian and this was refreshingly original long before Hollywood got its hands on it.

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

A sign within the reception of a Vietnamese launderette, surrounded by photos from their history. They asked me “how can we communicate our 100+ years of heritage to our customers without waffling or making it all about ourselves?” So I wrote the line “Imagine how good you’d be at something if you’d done it every day since 1908…”

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

Yesterday, I bought 2 bottles of Lucozade Sport and a Snickers Duo, 25 miles into a 35-mile bike ride, because I’d foolishly set off without breakfast and ran out of energy.

Who was your teenage crush?

Dannii Minogue, then later Britney Spears.

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

A menu item called “Duck bites with bear” in some swanky restaurant in Bucharest. We somehow blagged our way in despite a rather strict reservation-only policy and I had the richest, most flavoursome casserole of all time.

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

Gin and tonic.

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?

Easy. I’d travel around Japan. But rather than write anything cool and cultural, it’d just be anecdotes about the shenanigans me and Attenborough got up to.

What’s in your pockets?

The deposit receipt from a TV repair shop. Such an Alan Partridge response. My widescreen computer monitor went kaput when I brought it from my shared office to my home on day one of the Coronavirus lockdown, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get it repaired.

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

Top-level ideas with pen and paper, and screen once I’ve settled on my favourite 2 or 3 lines to develop further.

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?)

Drayton Bird’s newsletter is a masterclass in copywriting. Eddie Shleyner’s Very Good Copy blog is a goldmine of tips written in the most engaging way.

Glenn Fisher’s All Good Copy podcast, and Gasp!’s Call To Action podcast are must-listens. Nick Parker’s newsletter is great – loads of tone-y stuff in there. And the Really Good Emails newsletter.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Coffee, white, half a sugar.

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

A Scrabble mug with a mish-mash of tiles on the outside. My niece Alex got me it when I first went freelance.

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

The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Getting up to mischief struck a familiar chord with me as a little hyperactive kid myself.

Your favourite word?


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

Solutions. The bane of my professional life when writing B2B.

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

Definitely the bookstore. I’ve never quite adapted to the kindle way of life.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

Let it be. When shit happens, you’ve just gotta deal with it. Worrying about it gets you nowhere.

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


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

During most jobs, I have a box split into four quadrants (Synonyms, Rhymes, Idioms, & Experiences) and pour out all the related words to the key thing I’m writing about onto the page. Nice to have that as a reference point and it only usually takes 5 minutes.

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

A landing page for an automation company in NYC. Case studies for a UK research agency. And a sales guide for a UK telecoms company.

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

Standing 17th in the social distancing queue outside my local Aldi.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

Write like you speak – not just how people speak – how you speak. Simple stuff like changing “Hi” (which I never say aloud) to “Hiya” (which is how I’d greet you if I met you in the street).

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

I helped my dad write the eulogy for my nan who died in Feb.

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

The more effortless it reads, the more effort it takes to write it.

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

Not seen it.

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

Ghostbusters. It’s the perfect blend of funny, chaotic, easy to watch and packed with star performances.

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

Make ‘Em Laugh & Take Their Money by Dan Kennedy.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

My A-Level English Language Teacher Mr Fraine. That’s where I really got to grips with the power of words. Plus he was sound as they come, but you could only go so far with him before he pulled you up for taking the piss. The best kind of teacher.

Who is your favourite artist?

Art’s not my thing. AT ALL. So errrr, Banksy?

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 my best writing in my shared office. But my best thinking when out on my bike(cycle).

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

Website: www.thewordman.co.uk

Twitter and Instagram: @wordmancopy

Linkedin: Dave Harland, Copywriter

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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