Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk blog.
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…
“Jo Ciriani, Director, Spaghetti Agency in Warwick”
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…)
I like to keep my books on a bookshelf and my desk as clear as possible, but in terms of the books I read a lot I’d include Bernadette Jiwa, Andy Maslen, and Dave Trott.
At this early stage in our chat I feel I should point out that I’m an imposter copywriter, rather than the genuine article. My company offers social media and other types of online marketing help, so I don’t spend all of my time copywriting. <Ends imposter syndrome disclaimer.>
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Ooh, tricky question there. I’m not sure whether it’s my favourite but the Old Spice ‘I’m on a horse’ ad is memorable. The smoothness of the transition through the camera shots is a delight, and the mixture of manliness and campness is right up my street.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I certainly wouldn’t say I know. From the research I do I’d say reading a lot has to help. And reading a variety of sources, too. I do get a bit confused when industry experts I admire are in disagreement about something. It means I have to think for myself and make a decision. Toughie.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
There’s so much I didn’t know I needed to know. It’s a huge learning curve. Maybe Simon Sinek for emotion, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs for entrepreneurship and Cialdini for sales. Since day one I’ve been compiling resources to help newbies I come across. Not just copywriters but business owners in a variety of industries. There’s so much great content out there it’s difficult to know where to start. I’d talk to as many people as possible and get advice from them all – then decide who to believe.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Absolute silence. I adore music but can only cope with it if I’m doing admin or social media scheduling. Writing and proofreading need peace and quiet IMHO. I cannot fathom how my partner Todd can write while listening to boom-chick ravey dance music. Apparently he likes the repetition. We work better in separate counties.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
I suppose I’d have to look back at novels I studied in depth as they were more enjoyable for that reason. Does Oscar Wilde count? Can I have him? If so, I’ll have The Importance of Being Ernest and overlook the fact that it’s not a novel. I’ve seen the play heaps of times and can almost recite it from memory. For pure emotional storytelling I’ll go for To Kill a Mockingbird. The vivid pictures that book paints stay with you, I think. I also really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale in spite of its darkness. I purposefully didn’t watch the film as I didn’t want to ruin the book.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
Gosh, you’re delving into the depths of my soul here. I hope the best thing is yet to come. I’m still reading a lot about what I should be doing, and trying to hone my skills.
In a previous life at an agency I did a lot of work for automotive clients including Ferrari and McLaren. That was fun as I had an awesome product to sell and lots of pretty pictures to accompany the copy. I’m quite a visual person so I prefer to see my words displayed lovingly and temptingly.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
I browsed on the App Depop last night. It’s like a cross between Instagram and eBay, where people buy and sell clothes and accessories. I nabbed myself a rather warm North Face jacket for dog walking in the colder coming months, and some hot pink Hunter wellies for a bargain price. I’m hoping to keep toasty this winter.
Who was your teenage crush?
I was in complete love with a model called Malcolm. What a sexy name that is. It was the 90s so naturally he had a centre parting and curtains. And beautiful blue eyes. I had 26 photos of him above my bed. I’ve just Googled ‘Malcolm model 1990s’ but I can’t find him. I wonder whether the years have been kind.
Describe the best meal you have ever eaten.
I love being on the coast, and I spend time in Lanzarote and Devon whenever I can. Any meal on the seafront is a winner for me because of the scenery more than the actual grub. I do remember a very special meal on the beach in the Maldives watching the sun set, which was stunning. I couldn’t tell you what I ate though; sorry!
What’s your favourite tipple?
Anything sweet and not too strong suits me. There’s a delicious pink vodka I like to mix with lemonade, but I’ve only ever seen it in Italy. I like a well-made cocktail too. Or a Bucks Fizz with Prosecco and orange juice. I have the alcoholic preferences of a teenage girl.
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’ve seen some of the Frozen Planet series and it’s incredible, but I’m not keen on cold temperatures so I’ll give the poles a miss. Ideally I’d see Oz to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef, then hop over to Kerala in India and find out about the Indian Giant Squirrels because the smaller ones are pretty cool. I’d quite like to tame a baby one and bring it back to England. I could be the lady who has a Squirrel on her shoulder all the time. I could train him to steal biscuits from people and give them to me.
What’s in your pockets?
If I put something in my pocket I’ll lose it, so I stick to using my handbag. Assorted glamorous items such as dog poo bags and Bonio biscuits usually feature. My essentials are phone, keys, lip balm, and my bank card in case I get involved in a random adventure.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I’m 100% screen-based I’m afraid. I know I *should* try writing properly but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. I don’t like mess, so it’s nice to be able to delete the random scribblings effortlessly.
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?)
Hell, yes. I read dozens of them then forget to do anything about them to help myself improve.
Tea or coffee?
Tea, with almond milk. I’m dairy intolerant (snore) but it’s been so long I can’t even remember what ‘normal’ tea tastes like. It does the job. Coffee makes me a bit shaky and stabby, so it’s best avoided.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I have an eclectic collection of mugs with ‘hilarious’ slogans on. I’m quite partial to my scrabble mug with a simple J on the front. I don’t share that mug. The Literary Gift Company make a range of Grammar Grumbles mugs which are very ‘me’.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I’m showing my age again, but I vividly remember the A Mazing Monster series by Jim Slater. The illustrations were inspired by the author’s 10-year-old son, Christopher, and have a distinctive style. I loved the simple stories and happy world they lived in. Each one ended with a cute moral.
Your favourite word?
With my Italian heritage it would have to be an Italian word. One you hear a lot when eating at family homes is ‘Mangia!’ which is an instruction to eat. They’re desperate for you to fill your face, and frankly I’m more than happy to oblige.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
I don’t think I loathe any words. As Jimmy Carr points out, they’re just words. I don’t get offended unless someone intentionally says something nasty to me directly. I love a dry and sarcastic sense of humour and I don’t think anyone should tell anyone else what’s acceptable and what’s not. My parents told me not to swear in my writing, but I don’t give a shit. 😀
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Online! I do enjoy mooching around bookshops though. The best thing about going on holiday is having the opportunity to spend hours reading. Things are a bit hectic in my life at the moment so I buy books and stack them up, waiting to have the time to get to them.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
You’re killing me here! Don’t make me choose. I’ve considered Guns ‘n’ Roses, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, and all sorts. My final answer is just a couple of lines that never fails to lift my mood:
“So throw those curtains wide!
One day like this a year would see me right.”
It’s One Day Like This by Elbow.
By the way, my unimpressive party trick is that I know almost every song lyric ever written. If I’ve heard the song, I know the lyrics. Tweet me to test me (@Spaghetti_Jo) whenever you fancy a bit of procrastination.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Justin Timberlake. I’m not a teenage girl, honestly. I love dancing to R&B, hip hop, and rap. Anything with a cool bass line usually does the trick, too.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Nothing particularly strange to report I’m afraid. I do like to have a cuppa tea available, and a nice quiet room. A morsel of chocolate helps the creativity too. I might, sometimes, procrastinate slightly by tidying up or finding something to do that isn’t urgent. When I sit down and write I really enjoy it – but at the moment a lot of time is taken up by doing other business management gubbins.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Today’s Friday so I’m catching up with my emails and making sure everything’s in place for meetings and client work next week. We manage social media every day too. I’m also project managing some technical SEO stuff, and editing a couple of blogs.
Describe the last photograph you took.
It was my Chihuahua’s birthday yesterday so I took a photo of her wearing her new harness and licking her lips while looking at her birthday sausage. The sausage had a candle in it, which she was a bit scared of – but she enjoyed eating it very much.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
I think we’re constantly all changing as writers. The basics of not ‘weeing’ all over the copy is the main thing I usually focus on when I edit marketing documents. That, and using emotion and storytelling to highlight benefits. The usual, really.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A friend of mine needed a hand with his CV and covering letter, so I helped him out. I’m quite good at them and I’ve been offered quite a few jobs over the years. It’s a shame I didn’t work out earlier that I’m completely unemployable.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
It has to be Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Can I have two? I also love this quote by Bruce Bendinger: “Copywriting is a job. A skilled craft. Verbal carpentry. Words on paper. Scripts to time. And one more thing. Salesmanship.”
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
My huge confession is that I’ve never seen it. Everyone says I’d love it but I rarely watch telly. I’m sorry!
Name your favourite film.
When the right mood takes me, I enjoy watching 80s movies like Back To The Future and Dirty Dancing for the pure cheese. Pixar animations are so much fun to watch, with the movie Bolt being a highlight. I don’t *do* peril or sad films, so I tend to stick to lighthearted comedies and fun stuff.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Heaps of business books and a few on high functioning Autism. My partner and his son are on the spectrum so I try to educate myself as much as possible so I can communicate in ways they understand more easily. It’s not always easy – but it’s harder for them than it is for me.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
The internet. I know that’s awful but I’ve learned so much since I’ve been online. And I know not to believe everything I read on there.
Who is your favourite artist?
Neil Dawson. He’s a contemporary urban artist who does wonderful things with light and reflections. I fell in love with an image of Venice’s Rialto bridge several years ago and one day I intend to own an original piece. It’s something to aim for.
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?
Outside in the garden during the summer. Coffee shops are great for the occasional hot chocolate but I can get distracted and end up chatting to people instead of actually working.
My proper office is in a fairly quiet place and I have the Chihuahua in her bed next to the keyboard. (She’s a bit clingy.) It’s nice to see her relax and hear her gentle snores while I work.