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 Hooper, freelance editor / journalist / copywriter / consultant / bob-a-job man…
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…)
Currently it’s ‘The Art of Impossible: The Bang & Olufsen Design Story’, as they’re my main client. An amazing book that shows how putting creativity, experimentation and boldness at the heart of your company is the best way.
Other than that I have to confess I don’t read many business books, but I have a lot of books on the Crimean War, randomly – which are as good a study as any on how not to manage! From cronyism to sidelining innovative thinkers, scapegoating and zero communication – it’s got it all!
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Either the classic 1960s VW ads or the Economist (ongoing but I think they were at their peak in the late 80s / 90s). Both have a brilliant, dry wit about them.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I hate overwriting. Take out any unnecessary words. It’s all about making the complex simple rather than vice versa.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I think I had a good education reading Smash Hits and The Face magazines. That’s not meant to be facetious!
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
I cut my teeth on youth culture magazines, where there was always music blaring in the office. I really love having some background noise, but anything with lyrics (or Radio 4!) just distracts me too much. I’ll usually try a bit of BBC 6Music and then switch to some classical on Radio 3 or something more ambient / instrumental.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
Just beautiful, a reverse love story that’s so heartbreaking.
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
It just blew my socks off. Just started it again!
The Old Devils – Kingsley Amis
I remember reading this at school and thinking I needed to be at least 10 years older to really get it. And I’ve re-read it every five years or so and each time it gets better.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
Early in my career, I came back from a liquid lunch thinking we’d gone to press only to be told we needed to quickly write a sidebar for a feature. I can’t recall who it was about, but I do remember they had a missing finger. So I decided to write one about other famous people missing digits. I rattled it out as swiftly as I could, ending with ‘Boris Yeltsin: one finger on the button, two on the floor…’
The reason I liked it so much was our ferocious managing editor, who I loved to death but was terrified of upsetting, laughed so much he was crying, and then said I should obviously spend more time in the pub!
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A Lego mug (ie a plastic mug with Lego brick shapes on it, so you can stick your own Lego in it) – for my son. And a coffee.
Who was your teenage crush?
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
A place called the Cliff in Barbados on an amazing blagged holiday (thanks to my wife’s boss!) Fresh swordfish overlooking the sea.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I like wine (Spanish whites from places famous for their reds!), cider and pale ales.
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’ve been lucky enough to live in some amazing places – Athens, Greece and Harare, Zimbabwe are really special and I’m dying to go back to both. There or Wester Ross in Scotland (not Game of Thrones!). Anywhere with a good view and I’m happy!
What’s in your pockets?
A mask, keys, credit card, nectar card, phone.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I always take notes on paper, then usually start writing on a laptop, get stuck, scribble some thoughts down on paper and go back to the computer.
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?)
Not really – sorry! I spend so much time writing I want to forget about it and read something for enjoyment.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Tea at home, takeaway coffee when I go for a walk.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I’ve got a brilliant hand painted David Bowie ‘Low’ mug by my friend Sian Pattenden (at raw-art.co.uk)
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I keep trying to get my kids into Winnie the Pooh to no avail! It’s so amazingly written, it captures that wide-eyed wonder you have as a child.
Your favourite word?
‘Brilliant’. (Most used at least!)
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)
Anything overly wacky or those compound swearwords from Twitter!
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
I can’t resist a secondhand bookshop. It’s probably the thing I missed most during lockdown.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
Impossible! My latest is John Grant’s ‘Outer Space’:
‘I still don’t know what I’m looking at / ‘Cause I’ve never seen anything like this before’
It just captures that feeling perfectly of when you fall head over heels with someone unexpectedly.
But I’d have to go with something by Bowie probably – ‘If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to / It’s nothing to me’ – always makes me cry.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
I’ll dance to anything.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I’ve had quite a good day for once and crossed lots off my list! Next up is some copy for B&O and Fred Perry – I left the most fun ones for last!
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
A lovely view in Kent. My daughter once asked me, ‘why do you always take photos of backgrounds?’
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
It was actually from my Philosophy tutor at University – if someone can’t explain what they’re saying in plain English, they don’t know what they’re talking about!
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
‘Go to Rugby / Coventry’ (!)
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’ – Stephen King
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I never really got into it I’m afraid! I liked the English guy who had his toes cut off (spoiler alert!)
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Dog Day Afternoon – such an odd, human, messy, fascinating film. All the actors are amazing, even the extras and the members of the public who joined in the crowd scenes.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Scott King’s ‘Debrist Manifesto’ (which is brilliant and probably should be my answer to question 1!); ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Richard King; ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore; ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ by Pip Williams; ‘Asking for Help’ by Kevin Braddock (AMAZING book!)
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
‘Doc’ Rees, my English teacher at school, who looked exactly like John Lennon (the beardy Abbey Road version). He just filled me with the love of writing and reading. He once showed us a video of ‘Throne of Blood’, Akira Kurosawa’s retelling of ‘Macbeth’, and said, ‘In a few years’ time you’re going to be doing this story for GCSE and you’ll probably be completely bored with learning this story – so just remember it’s really about Samurai cutting each other’s heads off!’
Also the brilliant, dearly missed Gavin Hills, who took me under his wing when I was a clueless freelancer for The Face. Everyone should own a copy of ‘Bliss To Be Alive’, the compilation of his writing edited by Sheryl Garratt.
Who is your favorite artist?
Duncan Grant & Vanessa Bell (always together!)
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?
Yes my desk, with various objects to fiddle with instead of writing!
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
I usually hide! Instagram is the only social media I do: @markhooper
Oh and I have a book out in September!