Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk.
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… Copywriter and chief coffee drinker at Haydn Grey, Katherine Wildman.”
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…)
Write to Sell by Andy Maslen is my go-to ‘brain funk, unwind, reread, start again, take it from the top and laugh out loud’ business book. It’s battered, it’s well-loved and it’s covered in pencil marks. I also keep a copy of The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx on my desk, for when I need reminding that less is more.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Paula Hamilton’s exit from her Chelsea Mews house for VW Golf in the 80s. It was filmed by David Bailey and oozes style. She had big hair, high cheekbones and attitude in swathes.
And she kept the car.
“Everyone is going through changes…”
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
As my Dad would say, “Put your bum on your buffet.” Just write. It can be the hardest part because to sit down and write is to empty your head of ideas and see them naked on the page. Sometimes they’re butt ugly and don’t work but sometimes, oh, sometimes…
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Everything by Andy Maslen. And My Life in Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins. David Ogilvy’s books are brilliant too – and you look über cool reading them in public. And, and, and – How to Write Sales Letters that Sell by Drayton Bird.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Silence all the way. Music interferes with the rhythm of the words and stops the flow of sentences. I read what I write aloud pretty much constantly (which I only realised when I had an apprentice for a few days) and so silence works best. If I’m on a deadline I’ll use a white noise app like Simply Rain to focus the monkey mind.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- Bastard out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
A recent read. Recommended in a magazine by Lena Dunham and OH, MY WORD. Haunting. It’s the most unsettling story I have ever read and written in such earthy language that the horror of it is almost part of its bones. The ending is staggering. As is the epilogue.
- Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
A level English Literature. We may have been sitting in a tatty Portakabin classroom in Huddersfield but in our heads we were half way down a tangled river in Africa, watching bullets fall into the water as we journeyed to meet the man, Kurtz. I think this is the first book that showed me what writing can do.
- South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami
Pure joy. Unrequited love. Japan. Beer. Forests. Naked shoulders. Internal monologues. Fast cars. Pensive faces. Open fires. Sorted.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
The screenplay I wrote for my Creative Writing Masters. It’s miserable and fun, all at the same time. And very potty mouthed.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Does remembering the tooth fairy count? Failing that a long black at Pink Lane Coffee in Newcastle. Palpitation-inducing stuff.
Who was your teenage crush?
Nigel John Taylor, bassist, Duran Duran. All 6′ 2″ of him. The man has cheekbones you could slice carpaccio of beef with… and a flicky fringe.
Describe the best meal you have ever eaten.
A white styrofoam bowl full of chicken wonton soup. East Coast Park Singapore. It cost about $2 and we stood and watched as the stallholder’s daughter made the wonton and then added them to the broth that had bubbles of chicken fat in three layers. I swear it’s kept the flu away ever since.
What’s your favorite tipple?
A Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc always hits the spot, or a big fat chewy Barolo.
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’d like to go back to Asia and see all the bits I didn’t see when I lived in Singapore: Taiwan, Thailand, more of Malaysia, Indonesia – and to go back to Japan with a camera and a fat bank balance. Then we’d travel into the mangroves in Malaysia and look for kingfishers and sea otters…
What’s in your pockets?
Door keys, bike lock key, and a train ticket.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Research stage – an A3 pad, an A4 pad and a block of index cards. A Bic biro, a pack of felt tips for colour-coding sections and different ideas.
Writing stage – a 13” MacBook Air bought because it’s what Sonia Simone uses, although she’d be appalled if she read that #ItsNotAboutTheTools
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?
Copyblogger, CopyHackers, Enchanting Marketing online – all packed full of gems. Mslexia magazine for creative writing, Oh Comely for whimsy and joy and Vogue for pure gloss.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee. Strong. Spoon standing up strong. And black.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I’ve got a bit of a mug fetish going on, to be honest. My theory is – if you’re out somewhere with someone and having a brilliant time, buy a mug and then when it’s November and you’re tired and a bit sad because it’s still dark when you put the kettle on in the morning, you can choose a mug to take you back to that happy place with a great mate. My
My favourite is a beautiful blue and white mug with a pattern of intertwining fish that I bought in Southwold with my darling aunt on a girls’ day out. I made her promise not to let me buy anything as I was travelling home on the train and had already overpacked. She failed and I’m glad every time I use it and think of her.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Winnie the Pooh. Where Piglet falls over on Eeyore’s birthday balloon and pops it and thinks the whole world has blown up, “Or perhaps just the forest part of it had.” I re-read it in my teens, fell out of bed laughing and woke the house. Sorry, Mum. Also Ramona Quimby – and the Fossil Sisters from Ballet Shoes.
Your favourite word?
‘Exquisite’ is pretty damn wonderful when whispered in the back of a cab. Palimpsest and tsundoku are also up there. No cab needed.
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?
Bookshop. With a coffee. And about three hours to kill. Preferably with my dear friend Daniel who has a knack for finding hidden treasures…
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“Moving on the floor now babe, you’re a Bird of Paradise.
Cherry ice cream smile, I suppose it’s very nice. With a step to the left, and a flick to the right
You catch that mirror way out west… You know you’re something special and you look like the best.”
Rio, Duran Duran.
Simon Le Bon. Master of the kitchen disco since 1982.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Gat Décor’s ‘Passion’ is pretty much a guarantee. I’d probably cry too. New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ is also an anthem that must never be ignored. Ditto Born Slippy by Underworld and all things ever by Depeche Mode and The Killers. There was an advert by Clark’s shoes with a little girl dancing alone on a dance floor. She’s my spirit animal.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
When the house is quiet, the incense is lit, the comfy – and so damned ugly – writing trousers are on (battered men’s Abercrombie joggers) and the peppermint tea is poured. Happy face.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Busy, busy… three different websites, three white papers, a landing page for a client’s book and three articles for a magazine in time for Christmas. Yes, really.
Describe the last photograph you took.
A photograph of my son’s black and white checked VANS rucksack. He’s in London seeing mates and gave me permission to borrow it in his absence. Instant street cred.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
It was from my tutor on my MA who frightened the life out of me for a year. I had a tutorial with him and he looked up from the screenplay I was writing and said, “Well, you can write.” It meant the world and his support meant I could finish the work and push it further than I’d thought possible. Thanks, Steve!
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A note from the tooth fairy. In teeny tiny wobbly writing.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
Everything by Anne Lamott but especially this,
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Peggy. When she gets ‘it’. When she sees how words can make people change their minds, thoughts and actions and her confidence grows and she outshines the lot of them.
Name your favourite film.
Lost In Translation. That final whisper.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, A Girl Called Jack by the brilliant Jack Monroe and Fascinate by Sally Hogshead.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Mr Shaw. A level English teacher at Honley High School. Fierce. Grumpy. Short on praise. Brilliant. Mrs Clarke. A level English teacher at Honley High School. Warm. Friendly. High on praise. Glorious. I owe them huge amounts for making books come alive, which sounds really naff but it’s true.
Who is your favourite artist?
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. My Mum and Dad had a copy of The Theatre Box in their room and I couldn’t work out why the woman had tadpoles above her arm… it was years before I saw that it’s an ermine stole.
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?
Coffee shops are THE best places to work at the planning stage of any project. The thrum of everyone around allows me to focus. Failing that, my beloved desk – an eight-seater teak dining table imported from Singapore that has a burn mark from a Le Creuset pot in the middle of it and my son’s name engraved in scratchy writing from him pressing down with a Biro aged about seven. An exquisite palimpsest.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Next time on The Writing Desk, copywriter and author of Business for Superheroes, Vicky Fraser.