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…
Ellen Forster, freelance copywriter, web designer and mother of two gorgeous, retired racing greyhounds based just outside Newcastle Upon Tyne.”
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…)
It’s got to be Content DNA by John Espirian, he is an absolute genius and such a down-to-earth guy. I also adore Company of One by Paul Jarvis for when I need a reminder about why I am doing all this and keeping my eye on the prize: work to live, not live to work!
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Wow, tough choice. The brand that comes to mind is Brewdog and their incredible ability to reactive swiftly and humorously to current events, such as their ALD IPA partnership (following the discount supermarket’s attempt to mimic the brewery’s famous tipple), or the impressively speedy release of the “Bamburgh Castle Eye Test” earlier this year.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I honestly think story telling and empathy are the keys to great writing. You’ve got to write in a way that people will identify with, even if the topic is seemingly alien to them at first.
Show that you understand your reader, their circumstances, and their needs before you even write the first word… and if you don’t, then that’s where customer research comes in.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I’d 100% recommend Sarah Townsend’s Survival Skills for Freelancers, which covers many of the toughest lessons I had to learn myself. I also get a lot of messages from people asking about freelance copywriting, and the best advice I can give is to never undersell yourself and form boundaries with your clients from the very start.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
If I’m writing, then it’s got to be lo-fi instrumental music (something like the never-ending Study Girl livestream), but if I am working on a web design project then I will often watch YouTube videos at the same time, or even listen to the latest episode of the Being Freelance Podcast with Steve Folland.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
This is a tough one! I am an avid fiction reader (find me on Goodreads) and I am on course to smash my 50-book target for 2020. I mostly read epic fantasy or sci-fi, but I do dabble in literary fiction from time to time. I could talk about books all day, but I’ll spare you that and provide my top three as of right now:
Epic fantasy set in Sanderson’s cosmere universe where gods walk the earth and swords can talk. It’s great.
Another fantasy story set in a strange urban world where objects have unknowable power and not everything is at it seems.
- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (this one is not for the faint-hearted).
Following four college friends as they grow up and become fully-fledged adults, uncover each other’s dark pasts, and just generally destroy you from the inside out.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
While I am a commercial copywriter, my true passion is writing about mental health – which I do every week in my newsletter, Conversations By The Sea. I am proud of every issue I have ever sent out, particularly Why business owners don’t talk about depression, How to know when it’s time to quit and Hi I’m Ellen and I’m a productivity addict.
I also published a piece for The Mighty, which was then shared on Yahoo about my experiences with anxiety, panic disorder and IBS. I’m very proud of this one as it was a very difficult story to tell.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
I popped to Sainsbury’s this morning for a little shop, which included oat milk, vegan cheese, Linda McCartney sausages and other delicious vegan treats. We’ve definitely been indulging more in our pricey favourites during lockdown as there is little else to look forward to!
Who was your teenage crush?
There were SO many but the one that stands out the most is probably Keanu Reeves. From the age of 12, I was obsessed with watching Speed and then rewinding the VHS to watch again. I was also deeply passionate about Bill & Ted (this year’s long-awaited sequel did not disappoint!)
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
In 2018, we spent seven months travelling South East Asia and Australia. This period saw us eat some of the most incredible food ever. So many dishes stand out, particularly mushrooms masquerading as crispy beef and even fake shrimps at a restaurant called Sabay Vegilicious – which I have just learnt is permanently closed and I am devastated!
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I have a penchant for craft beer and I am a massive snob about it. Luckily, we have a fantastic local bottle shop nearby that only stocks independent brewers (sorry Brewdog!) and I love a good cloudy pale ale on keg!
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 am very grateful to have already explored parts of South East Asia, so instead I’d head in the other direction and visit Central and South America. I studied Spanish at uni and I was always very interested in Latin American culture and art, so take me along Guevara’s motorcycle route, to visit the sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica and then show me where García Márquez wrote Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
What’s in your pockets?
Dog poop bags!
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Google Docs for all my writing, I typically reserve pen and paper for drawing.
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?)
Thinking about this question, I don’t read a lot about writing, instead I like to read about all different topics, but I tend to subscribe to something because of the writing style, if that makes sense. I love the way people write about stuff they are passionate about, even if it’s something I didn’t realise I was interested in until now.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Oat milk flat white in the AM and peppermint tea in the PM.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I have a mug I painted at my friend Hazel’s shop, The Pottery Experience, here in Newcastle. It’s absolutely mega and perfect for huge cups of peppermint tea.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I didn’t read as much when I was younger as I do now, but I was a proper tomboy, so I’d have to say Alex Rider in Anthony Horowitz’s Stormrider series.
Your favourite word?
It’s not so much a word as a phrase: L’esprit de l’escalier
Direct translation “mind of the staircase”, the phrase refers to the feeling of thinking what you should have said after the opportunity has passed.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)
Addicting – like, surely, it’s addictive. Argh. Another other weird Americanisations would fit here.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
At my desk writing, at my desk drawing or on my big yellow chair reading. One or twice a week I venture to a coffee shop for a change of scenery!
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and I have the following tattooed on my leg: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
This one line speaks loudly to my own dealings with depression and tendency towards the negative, sometimes even a simple reminder that you are alive is enough.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
It has to be Bruce… Dancing in The Dark is a corker. I’d also be up for any Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon or Hall & Oates.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I find it really hard to just sit and write, I always have music or a video on my second monitor. Right now I am making my way through Marc Rebillet’s back catalogue, if you’ve not heard of him he’s a DJ who improvises all of his music and uses clever loops to create amazing tunes, he’s also known for warning a kimono with just underpants and his iconic moustache. Sounds like a total weirdo, and he is… but it’s great music for writing. Here’s a starter for anyone who’s intrigued.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
We’ve had a huge influx of work in the past week or so. I have been writing site copy about fire curtains (bit boring), building a website for a mortgage advisor (less boring) and planning for my monthly webinar with the members of my LinkedIn Toolkit (not boring at all!).
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
I work in the tiny spare room of my house and I have two very large greyhounds. They could sit anywhere in the house, nowhere is off limits to them… yet they to decide to cram into my office all day.
I just took a photo of the pair and sent to my partner and Content By The Sea’s Creative Director, Craig Boyle, who works downstairs.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
I can’t remember who told me this, but the idea that editing comes after and not during. Smash it out and go back later to tidy it up, instead of getting bogged down with word counts and ruining the creative process in the moment.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
My weekly newsletter isn’t currently monetized, so I’d say this! I try to write it over the weekend, so I don’t spend Tuesday evening scrambling, but 9 times out of 10 I do fail that mission.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
Brandon Sanderson, the famous fantasy author and scribe of my favourite novel Warbreaker, is known for his incredible output. While George R. R. Martin has spent more than ten years’ chewing on The Winds of Winter, Sanderson has written 12 novels since 2005, and some of those are more than 1,000 pages.
Of writing, Sanderson says: “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” I love this, and while Sanderson is a fiction writer, I think it holds true in commercial writing, too.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
How can I not answer Peggy? She enters a male-dominated world and from day-one she decides to show them how it’s done. I was 16 when Mad Men was first televised, and Peggy really was an inspiration to me as a young lass who loved writing but saw no way of making it into a feasible career.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
As with books, there are many contenders but Stand By Me takes the lead. I’ve watched it hundreds of times and on each watch I see another angle to the journey they go on, as I get older and the characters stay the same, it’s fascinating to see my shift in perspective and brings me back to that world of childhood innocence that first discovered the flick
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I am nearly finished Book 2 of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance. I have a giant TBR pile, so I will probably take a break from this series to enjoy some shorter novels before embarking on the next installment.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I honestly didn’t have any stand-out teachers at school. I went to a school where many students were exceptional, we had a good track record at Oxbridge and the-like for a state school.
So, as an above-average-but-not-gifted-and-talented student, I felt a little overlooked. That being said, the person who taught me the most was my therapist, who I saw fortnightly last year when my Mam was diagnosed with, and eventually passed away from, pancreatic cancer.
She taught me a lot about grief, love, life, and boundaries, and I often find myself repeating some of her lines to other people, such as: “what makes someone else’s feelings more important than yours?” It’s a head scratcher, that’s for sure!
Who is your favourite artist?
I adore stylised illustrators like Cheyenne Barton, Catherine Kay (Katnipp) and Fran Meneses (frannerd). I’m finding myself drawing more and more at the moment, thanks to these two and other similar illustrators. I post some of my doodles on Instagram under Illustrellen.
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 have a lovely desk in my spare room, it’s my favourite place and I often found myself here scribbling well past the working day is done.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Twitter is my online home, you’ll find me @ContentByTheSea, I am also often found on LinkedIn, or you can always pop by my website Content By The Sea or subscribe to my newsletter, Conversations By The Sea.