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…
I’m the Education Coordinator for Show Racism the Red Card, but also do my own Equality and Diversity training and consultancy work.
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…)
Hmm. Does Gary Larson’s ‘Pre-History of the Far Side’ count as a business book?
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
The Creature Comforts electricity ones in the ’80s. I’ve always had a fondness for Aardman Studios.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Did it make you happy to write it? Then that’s a good thing, right?
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Don’t linger on mistakes. Either do something about it at the time or accept it, learn from it and move on.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Music. Always music. Whilst working it is usually the radio for musical variety. BBC6 though. Don’t think about touching the dial.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
I’m going to count graphic novels. So, the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. He’s my favourite author whether in graphic or straight ahead novels (like American Gods). He’s endlessly inventive and a springboard to so much other stuff whether Shakespeare, Norse mythology, 60s music, ancient religion etc.
Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski. I know he can be problematic and is undeniably an arsehole, but I just really like his books / poetry and this one is my favourite coming of age novel.
The Stand – Stephen King. I love end-of-days apocalyptic stuff, and also books that feature many characters (see American Gods), and this is my favourite of King’s and hits both of those.
The only reason John Steinbeck isn’t in there is I couldn’t pick just one out of half a dozen that are woven into me.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I wrote a story about a forgetful pigeon when I was a kid. I was awarded a Space 1999 (my favourite show at the time) annual/sticker book. So obviously it was epic.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Just now online. Gig tickets. Josh Rouse at the Cluny, here I come.
Who was your teenage crush?
A little earlier than teen actually but it was Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. I desperately wanted to be involved in a horrific accident so I could be made bionic. Still waiting.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Cadbury’s Mini Rolls. They are flexible and can be utilised for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or indeed in between), and will still meet my approval more than anything a Michelin chef could serve up.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I kind of drifted away from alcohol during lockdown and haven’t really returned, but am fond of a nice quality rum actually.
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 go under the sea. I’m obsessed with underwater stuff. Somewhere warm though. I’d hang out with dolphins and whales for 4 weeks. They are amazing beasts. They are super social, inquisitive and friendly. They’re loyal, empathetic, protective and supportive of each other. They like to play games and have sex for the fun of it. What’s not to like?
What’s in your pockets?
I’m on a train. So I have my iPod and my train ticket in one pocket, and a USB with a couple of soon-to-be-watched illegally downloaded and leaked episodes of Succession season 3 in the other.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pen and ink. I mean I use my keyboard 90% of the time, but if I want to remember something – and a large part of my job is recall – then I have to write it down physically. So I bullet point it in pen, and in it goes into the memory banks. Just doesn’t work if I type it though. Has to be written.
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?)
The process of writing, no, but writing about anti-racism and equality, yes. Everyday Racism, the Black Curriculum, various equality stats blogs/sites.
Tea – or coffee?What’s your poison?
I’d choose water over either of them to be honest. Just filtered tap will do, none of your ‘from the frosty mouth of a glacial stream’ or sparkly bollocks.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I do. It has Tigger on it. Everything is better with Tigger on it.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Character. As above, Tigger. Admittedly the Walt Disney rather than the AA Milne version though.
Your favourite word?
Pentakosiomedimnoi. I love ancient history. They were the category for the richest landowners in Solon era ancient Greece. I fell for the word the second I heard it.
Your most loathed word?(You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)
‘Their’, when they mean ‘they’re’. I am not proud of my pedantry, but it is what it is.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Whether browsing books, music, art – it’s physical touch rather than digital sight every time baby.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
Just one?? Arrgh. Lyrics are my catnip, so dozens just jumped into my head. Okay so there are two that I can’t choose between
“I sing sometimes for the war that I fight
Cos every tool is a weapon
If you hold it right”
Ani Difranco. She’s probably my favourite lyricist. Words are tools. And the fight can be for the greater good.
But I’ve got to also have
“If I was your one and only friend
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you
Even if that somebody was me”
Because you know … Prince. And he’s my dude.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dancefloor.
I really can’t dance. You put Superstition on by Stevie Wonder however, then get ready for uncoordinated full-body flailing.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I can rarely write more than a paragraph straight off. I start a sentence then think of something else, leap to another sentence, paragraph or thought and start writing that, and then jump again, and then I have to go back and complete the sentences.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I’m writing an educational programme for an NHS Trust about Inclusive Leadership and Cultural Competence. So microaggressions, bias, incivility effect. Fun stuff. Well, the impact of these obviously isn’t fun, but I mean I have fun writing about this stuff and creating interactive exercises and discussion points to dismantle them.
Also (shameless plug) a kids book I was an advisor for has recently been launched. “What Is Racism?” by Katie Daynes from Usborne books. It’s really good.
(KW adds: ‘What is Racism?’ was listed in The Guardian’s children’s books roundup – The best new picture books and novels.)
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
A coach load of tipsy people, holding inflatable microphones and guitars whilst sporting synthetic wigs, jumpsuits, flares and platform heels. We were being ferried back to our hotel from an Abba themed 50thbirthday party.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
How about the advice I wish had changed me but still hasn’t? My lecturer (an author) once told me ‘Justine, full stops are free. Don’t be afraid to use them’. However, Little Miss Overly-Long-Sentences-With-Commas-Aplenty still struggles with that.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
An extensively teasing and mocking poem in a birthday card for my Godmother.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“Know safely what the rules are, and then break them with joy” Neil Gaiman
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Well, Draper may have the jawline, but it’s all about Joan. Literally and figuratively.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
One, just one? What are you doing to me?
Okay, the one I haven’t tired of after 30 years is The Big Blue or Le Grand Bleu if we’re being pretentious. Sun-kissed aquatic blue as far as the eye can see, beautiful cinematography, great music score, Jean-Marc Barr’s face, bonus occasional dolphins.
Honorary mentions: The Princess Bride, Grand Budapest Hotel, Paris, Texas, Alien, What We Do In The Shadows.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I tend to go through phases. Right now it’s biographies /factual. So there’s 3 stacked there. Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile, a History of the Tour de France (another love), and the latest David Olusoga.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes.
Who is your favourite artist?
Keith Haring is the man.
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 my desk. Tunes on the radio, cat on the sofa, Haribo GoldBears within reaching distance.