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…
Leigh James, words person (freelance creative copywriter)
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…)
It’s not exactly to hand (and I don’t exactly have a desk, or an office), but the book that always springs to mind is Hey Whipple Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. I devoured the pages while at uni. If my to-read pile wasn’t growing at such a rapid rate, I’d have read it again a few times by now.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Neolithic to modern man in the time it takes to eat a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
I love the concept, the simplicity, and clever touches of this ad. From the date/alarm clock, to phrases and observations in the narration, it’s one of my all-time favourite ads.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Asking questions, paying attention to the answers. Picking up on what people say. Watching what they do.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Writing is like art. Trust your instincts with the words you choose. There’s rarely a right or wrong, and often ten plus ways to say the same thing. Go with what feels a good fit.
There’s no one must-read, or a book I wish I’d picked up earlier. I’d simply say read, read lots. Whatever tickles your fancy, and on occasions pick up a title that doesn’t grab you – I’m almost certain you could learn something from the pages (even if you don’t finish it).
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
It lets the words umm and ahh, and the chatter in my head flow. I especially need a bit of quiet when I’m reading, and re-reading the same sentence over and over.
It’s rare I’ll have anything as background noise. It can be too much of a distraction.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
I might be an oddity. I don’t tend to read fiction. Saying that, I’m never too old for a lot of children’s books (they don’t really count as novels though!?). Anything by Roald Dahl. I distinctly remember spelling out some of his imaginative words on car journeys, not knowing how to say them.
More recently, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.
I’ll genuinely struggle to name three. I have shelves jam packed with autobiographies though.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I find it insanely difficult to judge my own work. Especially client work. It partly explains my woeful portfolio.
I had fun scribbling my blog ‘Suggestive biscuits and strangled eggs – reimagined words’, and others seemed to enjoy reading it.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
The Big Shop.
I’ve re-stocked the fridge, freezer, and cupboards.
Who was your teenage crush?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I’m a fussy so-and-so. Never take me to anything remotely resembling a Michelin Star restaurant. I simply wouldn’t appreciate it. I definitely wouldn’t enjoy it.
I’m more of a pub-grub girl. And I’m at home with a lot of Italian food.
But I’d go for a family roast. Roast potatoes (naturally). Crisp and crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle. A bonus if they’re dug from the veg patch at mum and dads. A meat of choice. Veggies (not too many – I’m fussy). And ‘proper’ gravy, made from the juices of joint.
The Christmas day roast tops all other roast dinners.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
Terribly dull. I’m not much of a drinker. Give me a cuppa, and I’ll be happy enough.
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?
Wherever he takes me.
And I’d write postcards. To friends. To myself too. Since my first trip on a plane aged ten, I’ve picked up postcards on my travels.
If I wasn’t a writer, photography was in the running as a career. I can’t resist a good photo. I pick up a collection of postcards capturing the shots I couldn’t get myself. And I scribble a mini diary on back, slap on a stamp, and send it home. They make fab memories. I love the artiness of the postmark, and smile looking back at my atrocious spelling.
What’s in your pockets?
It’s rare to find me in anything but running kit or pyjamas. They’re not known for their pockets. And today isn’t an exception. Running leggings and a long sleeve sports top – no pockets.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
A mix. I think it depends on my mood. And what I’m writing.
I enjoy getting stuck into research. That lends itself to dumping notes in a Word doc. But when the cogs are whirring, ideas are best scribbled in pen on paper.
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 must be about the two hundred and seventy sixth person to mention Nick Parker and Dave Harland’s newsletters. I read them without fail. Others I’m more likely to dip into ad hoc. With a pick ‘n’ mix of things that pop up on Twitter (and less frequently LinkedIn).
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
A split personality answer – at home, tea. Out and about, latte please.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
Pantone – yellow 012
It’s part of a five-piece self-made set spanning the colours of my logo.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Honestly, I don’t think I had one. I didn’t pick up books anything like as much as I do now. I was more likely drawing my own characters. Art was my thing. From my earliest memories I was always going to be an artist. This writing lark is a happy accident.
Your favourite word?
Gosh. This changes, almost daily. It means I struggle to pick just one. A trio that are constantly in the mix are: cwtch, diddlysquat, and atishoo.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)
Not my most hated, but the one I find myself changing more than any other seems to be ‘ensure’.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
By choice, I’d be out and about. Touching things. Picking them up. Looking for inspiration. In practice it’s more and more online, unfortunately.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“So I was late for class, I locked my bike to yours
It wasn’t hard to find, you painted flowers on
I guess that I was afraid that if you rolled away
You might not roll back my direction real soon”
It’s hard to pick a verse. Each one in ‘Do You Remember’ by Jack Johnson paints a picture. An almost hazy, nostalgic, polaroid-like photo.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
No matter what you play, I’d be the last on the dance floor.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I don’t think so!?
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
An A5 flyer for a London nursery, encouraging parents to book a place for their little ones.
The rest of the week is filled with writing about financial products and services, with a spot about energy – things like ‘erroneous transfers’.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
It’s grey. Gloomy skies filled with rain, contrasted by a darker grey of the sea crashing against wet rocks.
Taken around the halfway mark of Porthcawl parkrun on Saturday. The rain was matched by the wind that morning. Character building weather.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
I don’t think there’s one thing that’s changed me. I’m a better writer for picking up plenty of tips along the way.
‘Show, don’t tell’ is one I thing I’ve instinctively felt. Don’t tell me I’m a valued customer, make me feel valued in what you say and do.
Something that’s definitely improved my writing is ‘Put the people in your writing’. For a long time, I didn’t really know what an ‘active voice’ was, this rephrasing really helped simplify things.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A one letter message ‘z’.
Dad and I go through phases of different ways to say goodnight. After watching ‘It’s A Sin’ we’d say ‘la’. More recently it’s ‘Zeds’, or as I did tonight, ‘z’.
(I’m writing this far too late, obviously.)
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
I guess it suits my inquisitive nature, to ask lots of questions, to want to understand what I’m being asked to write. To undo ‘the curse of knowledge’.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I’m drawing a blank on this one.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas moves me every time I watch it. It’s one of a handful of films I’ve seen more than once. The innocence. Naivety. The cruelty. In lots of ways, it shows the best and worst of people.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Blimey. Erm. I’m very much a words person, but distinctly remember a year 7 maths teacher making lessons genuinely fun. She left my school after that year. Even if she’d continued to teach me, I don’t think I’d be an accountant now. She had a knack for engaging us in a subject she enjoyed though.
Who is your favorite artist?
I’m a fan of fellow freelancer, and illustrator Julia Allum.
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?
I fidget. I don’t have a desk, or an office (but the space under the stairs where most people hide things like their ironing board has been earmarked as my office). So, I have a chair, a laptop and a blanket box as a makeshift desk, and I squirm in various positions during the day. Wherever I feel most comfortable.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Take a nosey at my website.