Jim O'Connor's desk

The Writing Desk | Jim O’Connor | Stories that Sell

by | The Writing Desk

Share Share Hello, Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk. Now, imagine I’m…


Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk.

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…

Jim O’Connor – copywriter, marketing consultant and blogger at Stories that Sell

Jim O'Connor's desk

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…)

The Craft of Copywriting by Alastair Crompton

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

The Lynx/Axe campaign.  Very non-PC, very funny, perfect for the target audience of young male adolescents.  Just makes me laugh…

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

Good writing just hooks you in straight away, and keeps you hooked…to do that yourself the secret is to read a lot (but not just for the story), write a lot and think a lot – it helps if you have something to say…

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

Marketing is not about the media, the mechanics, the metrics.  It’s about people.  Concentrate on understanding people (and realising they are all very different).

Hegarty on Advertising.  He talks a lot of sense and the work he has helped create suggests he knows what he is talking about.  I would advise myself to read with caution anything by a self-proclaimed expert with little evidence of genuine capability – check the fruit on their tree before you swallow what they say.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

I can’t write copy listening to music with lyrics eg Dylan.  But if I’m trying to come up with ideas/concepts then music is good, even stuff with lyrics.

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

Bleak House by Charles Dickens: brilliant detective story, amazing prose that brings huge variety of characters and places vividly to life, while showing how all in society, from lowest to highest, are connected and that if those with the power and money do not use it for the good of all the ills they let fester will contaminate them too.

War & Peace, Tolstoy:  Big themes, epic adventures, an amazing feat of imagination, so many characters and stories and yet he never loses the plot or the reader.

A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe:  Ending is a bit weak but like the other two books it is incredibly vivid and gripping, a brilliant insight into the way USofA works (and hero is property developer like Trump…)

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

I don’t know, but I get a kick out of headlines that just hit the spot and which the client loves too.  I was in Palo Alto meeting a new client.  After spending time with them I went back to my crappy motel knowing the concepts we were to present next day did not crack it.  Woke at 3 am and realized it was pointless trying to explain the product (complex risk management software) and that we just had to scare people into at least finding out more.  I wrote half a dozen headlines on motel stationery with their cheap ballpoint and presented them exactly like that next morning.

My favourite was “It’s a dog eat dog world.  Which dog do you want to be?”  Client loved them, ads ran in business mags, company then successfully sold.

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

Loaf of bread from our village shop.

Who was your teenage crush?

So long ago I can’t remember.  Cathy, Wuthering Heights?

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

Thali in Nairobi, after hitchhiking for a few weeks through Tanzania and climbing Kilimanjaro.  There was no food in that country!!!  Just ugali (watery porridge).  Returned to Nairobi and the flavours of all the different dishes in this cheap Indian restaurant were amazing.  Went back the next night too!

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

A good traditional pint, like Butcombe, 6x, Boltmaker, London Pride, Old Peculier.

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?

South America, Amazon, Patagonia, Tierra Del Fuego, Andes.  Just never been there.  Would go with an open mind so not sure what I’d write about but might try to find sheep station in Patagonia where my grandad (from Trinidad) met my step-grandmother when he was on horseback prospecting for oil.

What’s in your pockets?

 Nothing.  I’m skint.

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

Keyboard and screen, generally.

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 the Economist because it’s a great mind workout and I like the way they make complex subjects relatively easy to understand – it’s not about writing but it helps me write.   Dave Trott’s blog is always thought-provoking.  Bernadette Jiwa.  Stuff From the Loft by Dave Dye.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Either/both…depends on time of day.

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

No favourite.

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

I went through a Biggles phase (!)  Remember liking Narnia novels.  Also Rider Haggard ‘She’ and ‘King Solomon’s Mines’.  But Tintin is the best.

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?

Both, but I find it hard to walk past a bookshop.   Our house is at max book capacity so we’re now chucking out a lot…

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

Easy peasy that one!

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose / Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free…”   from Me & Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin version, probably).

Why?  Because like all great lyrics it means something different every time you hear it.

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

Stones, or Creedence Clearwater Revival

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

The fact I often need a deadline?

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

Today I’m supposed to be writing a website about capability planning software – hence reason I’m doing this instead.   Last article I wrote on Linkedin got more readers than I expected, so I’d better write some more…

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

Picture of a farmhouse and trees on Quantocks last weekend.  Nice light, but I didn’t really do it justice.   Stick to the day job…

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

Someone critiqued an ad of mine by saying it had everything…except wit.  They were right.

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

Shopping list?  Email to a friend who was owed £10,000 and looked unlikely to get it, so having to pay their rent with credit card.  I had emailed earlier and we agreed to meet and share Greggs sausage roll.   They emailed later to say money paid so we agreed to have a whole sausage roll each, provided we could arrange to meet in next few days before all money spent.

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

“Brevity is the soul of wit” (Hamlet/Shakespeare).

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

Won’t watch it – annoys me because it’s so much style over substance.  The real people were a lot more interesting (from what I’ve read), in reality things happened a lot faster and were more exciting/fun – well, from my memories of Saatchi & Saatchi in the 70’s (not New York, not 50’s/60’s, but same kind of stuff going on).   The show seemed pretty boring and tame by comparison.

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

Alien.  Claustrophobia.  Looks great.  Genuinely shocking moments.  The beginning is a brilliant piece of setting the scene of people living very boring lives, bickering over wages, coping with tedium…then it suddenly gets too exciting.

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

  • The Black Daliah by James Elroy
  • Russia a 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith
  • Penguin History of England in the Seventeenth Century
  • Lionel Shriver ‘The Mandibles’…which is scary/hilarious/prescient(?)

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

No one person, I pick up stuff from all over and some of it sticks.

Who is your favourite artist?

It changes constantly (thank you Pinterest).  Klimt, Turner (watercolours), Waterhouse, Hopper, Wyeth, Schiele, Monet…

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?

 At home, in my office (short commute).  The picture I’ve supplied shows house from garden – it’s hard to work when the sun is out!

Jim O'Connor's house

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

 My website: www.storiesthatsell.co.uk

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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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