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…
Mark Dawson, founder of brand and design studio Everything, writer, wannabe painter, pseudo-renaissance man, jack of all trades, master of some.
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 don’t know I’ve ever read a business book in full, but there’s loads of stuff I’ve read, enjoyed a chapter of and took interesting things from. For better or worse, I’ve never felt like a businessman or entrepreneur, although I guess I very much am those things. However, at Everything we have always been dedicated to continuously improving and evolving so I’d definitely advocate people devouring as much information as they can. I’ve always preferred the dialogue of in-person mentoring though over business books.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
I probably shouldn’t say this working in marketing but most advertising either makes me cringe or leaves me cold. Sorry ad folks. That Tango one was good though wasn’t it?
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
When I was studying my Journalism MA my lecturer had a saying that “There’s no such thing as writing, only rewriting” and that’s stuck with me ever since. Most of the writing I do, whether my own creative projects or copywriting work for Everything is an exercise in revision, restructuring and fine tuning.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
My advice, however cheesy it sounds would be ‘believe in yourself’ and probably ‘be patient’. Both building a business and mastering your craft takes a lot of time and there are a lot of disappointments, rejections and heartaches along the way no matter how successful you seem on the surface. This is important of course, because it lets us appreciate the good times and the hard-won achievements.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Music always, I can’t bear silence. Mainly I put on noisy, repetitive/hypnotic stuff to help me focus. Anything by Bardo Pond or Spacemen 3 usually does the trick.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
Niall Griffith – Sheepshagger
Because it blew me away and made me want to write. Griffith has a masterful ability to be able to write incredibly beautifully about the natural environment like someone like Walt Whitman while also being able to write really intense and funny character led stuff like Irvine Welsh. Vastly underrated in my opinion and more people should know him.
Willy Vlautin – Lean on Pete
Willy Vlautin is the singer of the band Richmond Fontaine, who create some beautiful narrative-led Americana music. Given the richness of Vlautin’s lyrics it’s no surprise he started writing novels. Lean on Pete is a wonderful tale of a boy and his bond with a racehorse. The writing itself is lean (no pun intended) but absolutely packed with pathos.
Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Similarly to Lean on Pete, what drew me to this book is the pathos. It’s a portrait of a small American town in the 1930s and it just has so much heart. It kind of swells with longing as all of the characters navigate their own morality, humanity and purpose. It feels so real it sort of stings.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
Without meaning to sound trite I try not to look back too much and focus on making every new thing better than the last. I think there’s a great satisfaction in just completing things and moving on.
However, that said, I’m proud of a recent brand story we wrote for a client in the arts which caused a few wet eyes when we presented it.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A bottle of red wine and a bottle of Diet Coke
Who was your teenage crush?
The girl at school with the DM’s and Rage Against The Machine on her Walkman (cringeworthily predictable for anyone who knows me).
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Hmm, I can’t. All I can think of is dozens of fragments of times I’ve enjoyed other people’s company with food. That’s the most important part of the experience for me I think.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
Beer with friends, red wine with food and a single malt for special occasions.
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 would probably do a tour of the United States and visit all of the major cities. The American urban experience formed most of my tastes growing up, from the books and poetry I liked (Bukowski, John Fante, Hemmingway, Ginsberg) to music (the early punk rock and birth of Hip Hop in New York, Washington DC’s political punk scene, LA’s skater aesthetic and the like). I’d like to see all of those birthplaces first hand, regardless of what’s left of them now creatively. And if I could see a bit of the sprawling, Walt Whitman/Ansel Adams countryside stuff too that would be perfect.
What’s in your pockets?
Same as always, front left jeans pocket: loose change, front right: keys and phone, back left: headphones, back right: wallet. I’m very particular about things.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I tend to make notes out and about on my phone. They’re then often fleshed out in my notebook as a sort of first draft, then I write it up on screen as it begins to become more fully formed. In the Everything studio we also have a big sheet steel wall with magnets where we print off ideas and stick them up to discuss.
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 really love the Paris Review longform interviews with writers from over the decades which are archived on their website.
In terms of more contemporary writing I really enjoy Caught by the River which is, in their own words an “art/nature/culture clash” which publishes stories and sounds and all sorts of other things. I particularly like the contributors Michael Smith and Gareth Rees.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Coffee, proper coffee, I didn’t like coffee for years and was introduced to it by a chef who made amazing freshly ground stove top pots, there was no drinking instant after that.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I do not (I do, but feel pretentious mentioning terms like ‘rustic’ and ‘hand made’ so no).
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Eribruch. This was a children’s book I discovered in adulthood when a friend of mine came back from sea after a spell in Norway in the Merchant Navy. He’d had some shore leave and wandered round a Norweigan town and browsed the bookshops. He bought the book because of the beautiful illustrations and couldn’t understand the text as it was in a language he didn’t speak. I saw the book once and never forgot it, despite not knowing what it was about. I lost touch with the friend and was always frustrated I had no recollection of the title of the book.
That was until I found an English language copy in a small library in a coastal town in East Sussex on a miserable day. Nothing disappointed about finding the book in English and after nearly ten years of thinking about it. The illustrations were as beautiful as I remembered, and I could finally read it and understand the context.
The book is a mediation on death, the role it plays in our lives from our very birth and how it is actually possible to embrace death and accept it throughout our lives. All this in a children’s picture book about a conversation between a Death figure and a frightened Duck. I’ve now read it to and with adults and children alike and I’m yet to find anyone not to be moved by it.
Favourite character: Death. With Duck a close second of course.
Your favourite word?
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?
A mix of both but the online experience doesn’t compare with the pleasure of browsing dusty second hand bookshops.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
To choose one is impossible but “In the end it took me a dictionary to find out the meaning of ‘unrequieted’” by Billy Bragg is up there. As is pretty much any Smiths song.
But there’s also a lyric I rate so much I had it tattooed on me, which is from ‘Dead Industrial Atmosphere’ by a relatively little known Sunderland punk band called Leatherface. It’s an Orwelian type of tale about fading industry and post-industrial dissatisfaction and it definitely reflects my experiences growing up and coming of age in a series of Northern towns.
The lyric I have tattooed is “The air in here is dead industrial and so austere” which in the song is followed by, “The air in here smells of religion and Vaux’s beer”. I love that the use of ‘dead’ is so ambiguous (meaning ‘very’ in the North of course) and the reference to Vaux Beer, once one of Sunderland’s primary employers and where I did my work experience at school, in the graphic design department no less). And also, it’s a fucking rager of a song which helps.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Outkast, or Beastie Boys.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
None beyond using the same brand/type of pen and same brand/type of notebook. Plus the music referenced earlier.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Today’s writing was a mix of the very corporate and the very personal. For work I’ve been writing case studies for a tender. These are always very specific and trying to fit in a lot of examples and detail into a short word count is a challenge; which is a great example of there being no writing but rewriting because it’s important it’s an incredibly succinct but detailed piece of work.
The personal stuff is a project I’m working on relating to the (relatively recent) suicide of my father. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write/piece together a funny but meaningful experimental novel/art book that reflects some of the weird, mundane or surreal elements of going through an experience like that. It’s still made up of rough sketches and notes largely and may be rubbish but we’ll see. I have a pretty dark sense of humour and I’m wondering if I have what it takes to make something with humility and sincerity but that also has a wicked sense of humour.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Picture of two paintings I’ve been working on. I’ve pretty new to painting so I like to document their progress then torment myself with the fact I should have stopped before overworking the canvases and ruining them.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
See previous about rewriting. I also was once told by a North East theatre when I interviewed for a press officer job, “We didn’t think you were a very strong writer” and that definitely instilled a ‘Fuck You’ mentality in me and drove me to achieve more.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Always just whatever text note I put in my phone or scribble in my notebook.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“When I begin to doubt my ability to work the word, I simply read another writer and know I have nothing to worry about. My contest is only with myself, to do it right, with power, and force, and delight, and gamble”
Some people may see that as him being arrogant and saying he’s superior than anyone else but I’m pretty sure he’s saying, “Don’t get lost in trying to be someone else, you don’t need to be intimidated by other people’s writing because everyone’s stories are valid, be yourself, it’s interesting”. A ‘You be you, because everyone else is taken’ kind of sentiment if you will.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Wasn’t Nietzsche certified as insane?
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
This will definitely out me as a white male of a certain age but probably Withnail and I. I find the dialogue endlessly comforting. Bruce Robinson’s use of language and turn of phrase is wildly inventive and totally timeless. It feels as fresh today as it did when I discovered it 20 odd years ago.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
Art Sex Music – Cossi Fanni Tutti
How To Be An Artist – Jerry Saltz
Totally Wired — Post Punk Interviews and Overviews — Simon Reynolds
Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl — Andrea Lawlor
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Initially it was curiosity and public libraries, now it is The Internet.
Who is your favourite artist?
David Hockney, purely for his consistently excellent dress sense.
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 work well surrounded by people, be it a pub, coffee shop or in the studio.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?