Emma Cownley desk


by | The Writing Desk

When you read something that connects with you on a personal level, it’ll leave an indelible mark.


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…

Emma Cownley, freelance lifestyle copywriter and blogger.”

Emma Cownley 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…)

Playing Big by Tara Mohr. It was recommended to me at the start of my freelance career and I genuinely don’t think I’d have gotten very far without it. It helped me get my fear and self-doubt under control at a time when I needed to be bold. I still go back to it when I need a bit of reassurance!

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

Christmas perfume ads are universally great — they’re so conceptual that they border on insanity. One I genuinely liked was the 2007 Chanel ad for Coco Mademoiselle, featuring Keira Knightley. It’s got a great feel to it and I strongly suspect they were playing off the success of her recent role in Atonement (best sex scene ever btw).

An honourable mention should go to the Wall’s sausage ads with the French bulldog inside the ring box. The guy would open the box and the tiny dog would do a rap about how much the man loves sausage rolls.

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

Be human! I don’t think the importance of human interaction or human experience can ever be understated. When you read something that connects with you on a personal level, it’ll leave an indelible mark.

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

I have a tendency to doubt myself, so I’d travel back in time and let rookie Emma know that she’s on the right track. If I’d known my approach was going to be successful, I might have slept a little easier and been more confident.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

I can’t listen to lyrics while I write because it befuddles me! I usually go for an instrumental album by Gunship or a ‘no speaking’ ASMR audio track. Keyboard typing sounds and crinkling plastic are my favourites.

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

The Collector by John Fowles – I love how dark, passionate, and desperate it is. The perspective flips halfway through and you get to experience the story through a different lens. True dark genius!

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk – This is an anthology of totally bizarre but inspired stories and when I first read it, I knew that this is how I wanted my own fiction to be. I’m officially taking ‘Sister Vigilante’ as my stage name.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – The academic in me could write a dozen essays on why this is so brilliant. I find myself cringing inside for the unnamed protagonist but at the same time, I desperately want to protect her! Also, gothic literature is boss.

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

Earlier this year I wrote an article on Trent Reznor and the controversy surrounding Nine Inch Nails’ BrokenEP. I wrote it during lockdown when work was pretty scarce, so I had the freedom to get stuck in and be indulgent. For me, Trent Reznor is ultimate, so it was incredible to be paid to chronical such a pivotal moment in his music career. It’s basically a love letter to the guy.

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

I bought a notebook insert for my journal. It’s a refillable Stamford Notebook and I realised I was going to run out of pages!

Who was your teenage crush?

Zac Hanson from the band Hanson. It was an intense but short-lived infatuation — he was quickly replaced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I religiously watched in 3rd Rock from the Sun. They were essentially different flavours of the same boy.

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

I went to Morocco a few years ago and ate like an absolute beast the whole time. I love Middle Eastern food and Moroccan cuisine borrows from that region: tahini, dates, za’atar, flaked almonds, chickpeas…I was in heaven.

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

I’ll take a pint of Tiny Rebel Clwb Tropicana or a double Laphroaig (no ice!).

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?

We’d fly out to America and travel across Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado and Montana to track and study herds of wild horses.

I saw wild mustangs when I was riding in Wyoming and Montana a few years ago and became obsessed. The wild American breeds are absolutely stunning — I’d love an Appaloosa. Maybe we’ll catch one?

What’s in your pockets?

A mini Pat McGrath lip balm and a post office receipt.

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

I start with paper and a fountain pen. When I’ve finish spewing my brain onto the page, I head over to the keyboard.

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?)

To be honest, I’m a bit shit at regularly trawling writing blogs. I usually read articles by my fellow freelancers — if they’re shouting about it on Twitter and it catches my eye, I’ll head over and throw some support their way!

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Strong black coffee, no sugar.

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

My husband bought me a poisoned apple mug when we visited Disneyland last year. It’s a ruby red mug in the shape of an apple with pearlescent poison running down the sides to form the shape of a skull. Drinking from it makes me feel powerful and devious.

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

Unreal! Eight Surprising Stories by Paul Jennings. It’s the first of several short story collections he did, most of which ended up as episodes of Round the Twist. I’m almost certain this book helped define my tastes as an adult — unexpected, grim and bonkers.

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?

I do a bit of both, but I always try to buy second hand, either in charity shops or online. I get this urge to ‘rescue’ homeless books. The more battered, the better.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

That’s a hard question! I think the lyrics to Diamond Eyes by Deftones are beautiful, especially the chorus: Time will see us realign/Diamonds rain across the sky/Shower me into the same realm. The music video is gorgeous, too.

Having said that, the lyrics to Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac will always hold a sacred place in my heart.

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

I’ll dance to almost anything. Better yet, I’ll do it like no one’s watching.

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

I keep a rabbit’s foot on my desk because I get restless hands and I like to hold something intermittently while I work. I have no idea what that’s about, but there you go.

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

I’m writing this on my first day back from annual leave (I went horse riding in Brecon for my birthday), so I have a pile of emails to slog through and then some Christmas marketing to write. It’s my first festive piece of the year, so I’m quite keen to get involved!

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

A tub of Baskin Robbins ice cream with a birthday candle in it! I turned 34 last week and my husband bought me a litre of Jamoca Almond Fudge as a birthday cake.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

It’s not about you. When I was a rookie, I used to take briefs from various departments who were (understandably) only interested in pushing their agenda to the customer.

I thought I was doing a good job by parroting those messages in a more palatable way until I learned that customers don’t give a crap about business agendas or what you have to say about yourself. Seems obvious now, but back then…I was shook!

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

An entry in my journal. I’ve been writing a journal since I was 12 and never quite got out of the habit.

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

Write drunk; edit sober. Apparently, this isn’t a Hemingway quote! No one seems to know who actually said it. Either way, I hold to it!

Pour pure creativity out onto the page, no matter how bananas it is, and allow your brain to run rampant without an editor overlord to veto the ideas before they have a chance to breathe. Then go through and use your analytical brain to sort and order it all.

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

I don’t watch it, so I’ll pick whoever is the most goth.

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

Although Heathers is a very close runner up, my one true love is Lord of the Rings. If I had to pick a favourite of the three, it’d be The Fellowship of the Ring.

I go to an all-night movie marathon at the Prince Charles Cinema every Christmas to watch the extended editions — that’s 12 hours of solid LotR goodness. I’ve got no idea why I love it so much. I even have a LotR tattoo and a cat named Arwen!

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

I’m having book-related commitment issues at the moment, so I’m switching between a few! I’ve got Sandman: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman, Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, and a Ken Follet book that André Spiteri recommended.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

My old printed.com marketing manager, Siobhan. She was the first boss who ever took the time to nurture me professionally and help me see my own potential.

When we were assessing the merit of a piece of work, she used to say, “it’s not about ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’” and I still quote that six years later. I also still use her briefing template!

Who is your favourite artist?

A Brighton-based artist named Lidia de Pedro. I first saw her work in a gallery down the Laines and a few years after I went freelance, I had enough money to buy one of her pieces. The Resurrection of a Mysterious Chicken now hangs in my living room as a reminder of what I can achieve.

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’m a creature of habit, so I like to be at my desk. Everything is exactly how I like it!

Emma Cownley desk

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

I’m over at Jot Jot Boom or on Twitter @EJCownley. If you really hate yourself, you can visit my YouTube channel.

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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