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…
Peter Krijgsman. Head of corporate communications at a couple of investment banks before dropping out for a more reflective and deliberative life in the Somerset countryside in 2001, where he works as a freelance PR and financial writer.
(Peter’s also a former colleague of mine from when I worked in the City and drank a lot of champagne🥂 )
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…)
Complete Plain Words by Ernest Gowers is a super tutor on writing clearly.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Probably Heineken for its self-denigration posing as grandeur or vice versa.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
How many smart arses have replied with “If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret.”
I write well, generally, when I am sober, well-rested and motivated to communicate for whatever reason.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Advice: People want to hear from you, not your impression of who you think people might want to hear from. Nurture your own integrity in other words. And listen with great care.
Books: Anything by Raymond Chandler and any of the Jeeves books by PG Wodehouse. They had the same English teacher at Dulwich College and both have the capacity to make your jaw drop with admiration at their turns of phrase. E.B. White’s “One Man’s Meat” – a collection of his columns from Harpers in the 1930s and ‘40s provides superb examples of what an honest voice sounds like.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the few books I have ever read that can still induce a visceral, emotional response. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx for its humour, pathos and the way it works awkward Newfoundland accents into the dialogue. The Favorite Game by Leonard Cohen because it’s set in and evocative of Montreal, where I was born.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
A long article for The Independent in March 2019 explaining why I felt so strongly about Brexit, which at the time was making me depressed to the point of seeking professional help. I was braced for the attack of the killer trolls but none came. Instead, many long comments and personal notes from friends and colleagues with their own perspectives, most but not all of them as anti-Brexit as me.
My best-ever piece of copywriting was an ad I wrote for Barclays Capital years back to fill their pre-booked slot in an awards issue of Euromoney. It was supposed to crow about all the awards they’d won. The problem was they hadn’t won any. I spotted that in the awards’ client categories, scads of clients had been given best this and best that for deals that Barclays had led. My boss told me (not his usual style) of his pride as he watched a competitor look at our ad a week or two later and turn to his companion to say “I wish we’d done that!” It simply read “Congratulations to our clients” over a collection of their “tombstone” deal announcements.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A litre of semi-skimmed milk, a copy of The Guardian and a lucky dip on the lotto. You can see I live in hope.
Who was your teenage crush?
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
My first trip to Greece in the late ’70s, backpacking, alone, broke and sick of tinned food. I had some fish cooked on a small grill in the street outside a little taverna on Ios. The man who served it has become a cartoon figure in my memory, all grey moustache springing from crevices in a sailor’s face whose smile showed the effort he’d put into his life.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
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 park the jet and invite David to Somerset so that we could explore local life in depth without chewing up more of the planet. That’s not green/anti-travel so much as pro-consciousness. We don’t make enough of now and here.
What’s in your pockets?
A white, unused handkerchief: an unscathed relic of the 2020 Hayfever season.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
On the road, it would be a lined A5 notebook with Uniball. In the office, the keyboard, sometimes moving back to the notebook if screen fatigue sets in.
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?)
Lucian Camp is good on financial services. Have also started following George Tannenbaum – both fellow dinosaurs who still believe in grammar and think that “content” is something you find in a bowel movement rather than on the written page. I like your stuff too.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Gallons of tea first thing. Real Coffee around 11.00, instant thereafter to keep the palpitations in check (better since I quit the fags three years ago).
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
A few, but the builders here left behind a white mug with a Sea Link logo on it – I have always loved ferries.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore.
Your favourite word?
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Harvest applied to contexts other than the original one involving bundles of wheat, apples and vegetables.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Brendon Books in Bath Place, Taunton
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
I have always loved Leonard Cohen for his dark humour and insights on (my) human nature. Favourite one will change with circumstance, but Stories of the Street and The Story of Isaac are running round my head at the moment.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Being exceptionally tall, it’s never been a pretty sight. Maybe Marvin Gaye after a few drinks at my Booker Prize acceptance party…
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I talk to myself as I write.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Nothing commercial. My last major client was in the hospitality sector, which has been severely affected by the pandemic. I am pitching for work in the technology/venture capital space but still waiting for bites. Meanwhile, I polish the novel, work on the songbook, keep the Journal going.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
A juvenile seagull snatching food from its mother in the car park at Morrisons.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
ADVERBS ARE UNNECESSARY (usually).
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
The minutes of a conversation group I am part of called The Tertulias. We meet for an hour every two weeks. One of us is responsible for cooking a batch of biscuits and selecting a topic of discussion. This week’s was “The Future”. Very dystopian sadly.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
Herbert Spencer said something along the lines of “To protect a man from his own folly is to fill the world with fools.” It is a reminder that we sometimes have to find ways to be honest with ourselves, and where you cannot you should feel free to quit.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Don’t watch it.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Can I have two? It’s a Wonderful Life will still make me well up. Of films made in my lifetime, Lost in Translation is a beautiful exploration of love and loneliness.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Attention by Joshua Cohen.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Mrs. Maver in Elizabeth Ballantyne School, Montreal West understood how to motivate an eight-year-old to try and understand both words and numbers. After my family left Canada in 1965, I wrote to her from London. She wrote back, signing herself Pearl Maver, which surprised me. A good person.
Who is your favourite artist?
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 used to love writing longhand on the train up to London for client visits – usually just stream of consciousness stuff, or taking notes of one side of a fellow traveller’s loud mobile phone conversation. I treated it as a learning process rather than a product. But generally, I work best at the safety of my desk. I am lucky to have my own quiet space.