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…
Ed Callow, 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…)
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
This series by DDB for Stabilo called Highlight the Remarkable: https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/stabilo_boss_highlight_the_remarkable_katherine.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Empathy. All of the best writers I know are very kind people. I’m not sure it’s possible to write well without being able to imagine things from someone else’s perspective; whether that’s a target demographic for an ad or a character in a screenplay.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Believe in yourself: you can actually do this. There is far more demand for good writing out there than there are people with the talent, training and temperament to do it.
Reading-wise, I wish I’d had access to Sarah Townsend’s Survival Skills for Freelancers when I started out. It has everything a new freelancer needs to know and would’ve helped me to avoid plenty of pitfalls.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Instrumental music, almost exclusively while I write. I have a huge instrumental Spotify playlist (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0gN55vz5Ml5WukXKkM7sNN?si=d59c6342024b42f2) which is usually on in the office. It used to be a collaborative playlist, but strangers on the internet can’t be trusted not to ruin it (this is why we can’t have nice things.)
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
I reckon you could ask me this question every day for a year and you would always get a different answer. Today it’s:
Franz Kafka – Der Prozeß (The Trial)
Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God
Alasdair Gray – 1982, Janine
These are all deeply personal narratives, with vivid, fascinating, flawed, transgressive characters who navigate unfamiliar worlds to try to find personal truths.
Probably best not to think too hard about why those resonate with me.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I wish I could say it was a piece of long content in my portfolio or my Masters’ dissertation, but it’s probably some random tweet my brain pushed out at 4AM.
I did once write a Lovecraftian horror short story about an academic copyeditor who is marooned in a town where no one can spell. Maybe that’ll see the light of day some time…
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
The biggest bag of dry cat food you’ve ever seen in your life. The picture of a cat on the bag is bigger than both of our cats stacked on top of each other wearing a trenchcoat.
Who was your teenage crush?
Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. *Sigh*
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
One sweltering summer’s night in Seville we ducked into a little place on a side street, seeking tapas and cervezas. A portly waiter in a waistcoat and bow tie nodded at our order, then stoically brought us plate after plate of the most creatively presented food either of us had ever seen. Tapenade smeared on a stone, sangria in test tubes, delicate slices of chorizo hung from a tiny washing line by delicate little pegs. Otherworldly.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I quit drinking a few years ago, so I’ll take a non-alcoholic beer. A Lucky Saint, if you’ve got it.
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?
Patagonia. I’ve never been, but it looks like the most gorgeous open country to ramble through and explore. I recently read (in the brilliant novel Weather by Jenny Offill) that the south of Argentina is likely to be one of the regions of the globe that lasts longest as climate collapse rages on, and is where doomsday preppers are buying up land for their doomsteads. So I’d probably work on that apocalyptic ecologist’s screed of a novel that I’ve been meaning to get around to. Maybe I’ll call it Hot Water.
What’s in your pockets?
Nothing in my pockets but pens and lint.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pen and paper for scribbles and notes, that’s the most direct way to get thoughts from my brain to a page. Laptop for typing up the presentable thoughts into words that pay the rent.
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?)
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
The strongest, blackest coffee you can muster, please.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
A Being Freelance Non-Employee of the Week mug/trophy. Too precious to drink from, but chipped by an unknown assailant at a coworking space.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I read a lot of Terry Pratchett as a kid. Captain Samuel Vimes “’Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness” really stuck with me. Still does.
Your favourite word?
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Pandemic notwithstanding, a physical bookshop/record store wins every time. Buy independent.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
Like the novels, this is an impossible choice that will change every time you ask me. The first three (sorry!) that came to mind today:
“I sleep on my back because it’s good for the spine,
And coffin rehearsal.
I know a psychic who reads her own palms,
And her findings are personal.
She keeps her fists shut tight,
And she sleeps on her side.
Well, maybe she knows something I don’t know.”
Why – Fatalist Palmistry
“On the back of a cartoon coaster,
In the blue TV screen light.
I drew a map of Canada,
With your face sketched on it twice.”
Joni Mitchell – A Case of You
“The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway,
Is that it’s you,
And that you’re standing in the doorway.”
The Mountain Goats – Going to Georgia
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Chaka Khan never fails.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Whenever I get bad writer’s block I move away from the work and do a cryptic crossword.
For me, being creatively blocked feels like trying to batter down a locked door, always charging it head-on from the same angle. Solving cryptic clues forces my brain to think about sentences, words, syllables and even individual letters in different ways and from different approaches. It’s like a palette cleanser for the mind.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Today is an admin day (boo), but I’ll punctuate it with writing a #Write52 email newsletter. Fun stuff in the pipeline includes an as yet unnamed fiction project, screenwriting for a feature-length script about the Danish Resistance and lots of websites, blogs and email newsletters.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Inevitably, it’s of one of our cats. This particular shot sees Evie lying serenely on a plush brown blanket, basking in a slim ray of sunlight. She looks far more elegant than she actually is.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
“Forget your idea of what ‘good writing’ looks like.”
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A text to the family group chat, announcing the winner of our Euro 2020 sweepstake. My dad (Italy) cruelling beating my two-year-old nephew (England) to take the prize pot. Heartless.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Peggy, of course. A born writer and an incredibly written character. Deserved a better ending though.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Arrival. An alien invasion sci-fi movie where the military are the enemy and the hero is a translator who needs to convince the world to work together while coming to terms with memories of her daughter.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I had so many lovely, kind teachers through the years. I studied English Lit at the University of Sheffield, though, so I was lucky enough to have some lectures and seminars with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
Who is your favorite artist?
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?
My desk at home. Since the whole pandemic started my wife has been working from home too, so we’re lucky to be able to share an office and cater to each other’s needs for company/coffee/someone to complain about unreasonable clients to.