Edinburgh copywriter Karen Marston's desk

The Writing Desk | Karen Marston | Untamed Writing

by | copywriting, The Writing Desk

I have a Twitter crush. And it's on Karen Marston. Hysterically funny. Sharp as a tack. And just someone who's…


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…

Karen Marston, Untamed Writing”

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 uh… don’t have one. I’m one of those idiots who thinks that if I read something once, I will remember it forever. Or at least the important parts. IF IT DOESN’T GO IN THE FIRST TIME, IT’S NOT WORTH KNOWING is my stupid, completely inaccurate mantra.

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

That… Oasis one. Sorry, I have a short memory for ad campaigns, hahaha. But I do love that campaign though. You know the one. The ‘we’ve got targets to hit!’ one that’s so divisive among copywriters. Sometimes when I am drunk I will go to McDonalds and get an Oasis just to spite people who say the campaign is shit.

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

Writing uninhibited. Don’t censor yourself because of what other people might think. Censoring yourself is what makes startling writing mediocre.

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

I would say, ‘Karen, stop pretending you’re gonna do your work “later”. You know that’s not true. Do it now. You’ll feel good after.’

As for which book to read? Well, I would say The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, except it wasn’t published when I began, so I’m not sure how that would work. It’s not about writing, but it’s helped me understand so much about myself and how I work.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

MUSIIIIIC, always. Unless I forget or it’s incredibly early. I usually put on some lofi chillhop radio on YouTube. Non-stop chill beats that aren’t distracting. If I’m having trouble getting into my work, I’ll head to a coffee shop and put a badass videogame or anime soundtrack on to boot me into action. (Here’s a playlist I put together of the most badass, industrial remixes from FF7: Voices of the Lifestream.)

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

Oh, shit. What kind of question is this??? Okay, fine.

  1. Down and Out in Paris and London (I notice Graeme Piper also chose this. A man of fine taste)
  2. Oryx and Crake
  3. Day of the Triffids

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

You know what? I never think of my work in this way. I just write. Inevitably it will be something I wrote for myself rather than a client because I love the stuff I choose to write more than the stuff I’m paid to write. I mean, right?????

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


 So I’m going to leave the answer here that I originally wrote when I started filling out this questionnaire a million years ago: Volume 13 of the Blue Exorcist manga. I just found out one of my favourite characters is a traitor and I am distraught. DISTRAUGHT, I TELL YOU.

Who was your teenage crush?

Indiana Jones. And also about a thousand videogame characters. And this one guy I went to army cadets with who I thought was dreamy, but I never told him.

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

Well, that would require remembering what the best meal I’ve ever eaten was. So instead I will tell you about one I had a couple of weeks ago with friends. Sunday lunch (roast dinner, obviously) at a quaint little pub near my flat. Pork belly – which is the absolute best meat – neatly cubed and perfectly rendered, a Yorkshire pudding drowned in dark, glossy, not-from-a-packet red wine jus, plus roasties and other assorted roasted vegetables. AND NOW I’M HUNGRY. THANKS, KATHERINE.

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

Red wine with pretty much, like, all food. A can of Strongbow or three in the sunshine on hot days. Am I classy or not? I’LL LET YOU DECIDE.

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?

ANTARCTICA. I’d loooove to go there, although I guess a month is probably a bit long for that. So also, ooh. Some places in Africa. Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda… and also somewhere with phosphorescent beasties in the water. I can’t remember where that is, but still. Okay, this is probably too much for a single month now.

I would also love to go to Japan for a month, but I don’t think David Attenborough would be my chosen companion in Tokyo. Maybe I’d meet him in Hokkaido.

What’s in your pockets?

Right now? Nothing. But when I head out, my phone (which is constantly connected to my headphones), my keys, and often a small notepad and pen in my back pocket to capture any ideas I have for my novels or business on the fly.

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

Keyboard all the way. I fucking love typing. IT’S SO MUCH FASTER. And more… password protected. And legible.

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 don’t habitually read any blogs about writing any more. I sometimes dip into Make a Living Writing. It’s one of the best, least generic ones out there.

I don’t read/buy any magazines at all. Occasionally I’ll buy a magazine and be like, I’ma read this with coffee and it’ll be lovely and then I leave it on the side for three weeks until I remember it exists, then I put it straight in the recycling.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Ginger tea in the morning to wake my mouth up. Did that sound weird? Whatever, I’m going with it. Double espresso or long black when I’m out and about. Chamomile tea in the evening.

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

No. I only have four mugs and they are all exactly the same: stripy, grey and ugly.

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

I devoured Babysitters Club books when I was a kid. Me and my mum would go to the portable library around the corner from my house whenever it showed up and I’d grab a pile more. I guess my favourite character was… Claudia? She was the arty, cool one, I think. I dunno. I can’t remember. But I didn’t read much else as a kid, so it has to be one of the BSC crew.

Now if we’re talking PRESENT TENSE, my favourite kids’ book is The Secret Garden, which I didn’t read until I was… eighteen, I guess?

Your favourite word?

What’s with all these questions where I have to think about things, Katherine? I’m going to tell you my favourite number instead, and we can pretend it is my favourite word: five.

Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?

Pglhem. Phelmg. Phlegm. Ah, there we go. It’s hard to spell, it’s ugly, and it’s the most vile substance in existence.

Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?

Both! Although I recently committed to not buying any more books for the year, in an attempt to read all the ones I’ve already got. So uh, wish me luck?

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

It is a terrible confession of mine that I never listen to the lyrics in songs I love. I KNOW them and can sing along when I hear them, but I rarely pay attention to the meaning. IT’S ABOUT THE WAY IT SOUNDS, OKAY?

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

Polysics. They’re this wild rocky synthpop Japanese band and they describe their style as ‘technicolour pogo punk’ so… yeah. I saw them in London a few years ago and things got messy. That night wound up with me and my friend in a cornershop trying to figure out the best way to repair the rips in our jeans – he chose superglue, I went with the classic safety pins – so we could get into a posh casino down the road. Yeah. Messy.

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

Not really a ritual, but I like to work by lamplight with the curtains closed. Maybe a candle or some incense going on. I might as well remove all the bulbs from the overhead lights in my flat, to be honest.

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

I wrote a 2,500 word blog post this morning about my experience writing for the Guardian. Now I’m filling out this questionnaire.

Client-wise, I’m rewriting a couple of handbooks about literacy to make them more fun to read over the next few weeks, then I’ve got a report to write about three events I’m attending for another client.

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

Umm… it’s a photo of my character in the Comrades DLC for Final Fantasy XV. I was showing it to my best friend because you can now get this cool new outfit based on one of our favourite characters… so um… yeah, I’m a massive nerd. My phone is full of photos I take when playing games so I can show my friends.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

My best friend, age 15, telling me I should start a LiveJournal. I did and I’ve been writing ever since. Not advice, but it made me as a writer.

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

Chapter 4 of my Accidental Fantasy Novel? Oh, no, wait. I journal in Scrivener a lot. So probably some bullshit about how I can’t BELIEVE that character from Blue Exorcist is a traitor.

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

STOP ASKING ME TO THINK ABOUT THINGS, KATHERINE, UGH. It’s probably something about verbs. That’s my favourite piece of writing advice: use powerful verbs that can stand alone. Oh hey, that’s the answer to a question I just answered badly a minute ago. There we go.

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

JOAN. I would die for Joan. I know she’s not a copywriter, but whatever. She’s the best. Don can fuck off, quite frankly. I don’t care how talented and handsome you are, you treat your family appallingly and you look really creepy when you try to smile.

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

Educating Rita, all day every day. A film about a woman who fucks off her loser boyfriend who’s desperate to have a kid and a traditional life in favour of BOOKS? What’s NOT to love?

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

My iPad is always close to hand at the moment as I download one volume of Blue Exorcist after another. I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto over breakfast for the past week or so, too. My actual BEDTIME read right now is The Children of Men, but I’m not far into yet because I keep falling asleep. So far it just seems to be a pretentious middle-class ageing white dude lamenting his past, which I’m not super into. This had better pick up soon.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

In keeping with my habit of barely remembering anything that happened more than five seconds ago, I’m going to say TWITTER. Yes, all of it. Honestly, I’ve learned so much about so many things from Twitter. EVERYTHING gets talked about on that site and I love it.

Who is your favourite artist?

Fiona Staples, legendary artist of the graphic novel Saga, of course. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve been friends with her since I was, like, 14. She’s super talented and a great person and is often on the receiving end of the nerdy game photos I mentioned above.

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?

Edinburgh copywriter Karen Marston's desk

Probably in a coffee shop listening to that industrial FF7 mix I linked earlier? That’s what I did this morning and I enjoyed it. Look, I think we’ve already established my brain recalls things on a very what-happened-four-minutes ago basis. So… that is my final answer.

The photo is of my home office, not a coffee shop. You can just imagine what the inside of a Starbucks looks like, right?

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

Untamed Writing – where I share things about my life and work as a writer that I probably shouldn’t admit to publicly

Edinburgh Copywriter – my freelance copywriting site where I try to convince people to hire me

On Twitter @karenmarston – spouting bullshit, as usual

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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