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…
Sally Fox. She’s a copywriter and brand voice developer who helps purpose-led brands express themselves. She lives in Spain and has a little dog called Dolly.
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 always consult The Copywriting Sourcebook by Andy Maslen before starting a new project, especially in a format I’m unfamiliar with. I also find Gill Andrews book Making Your Website Work helpful when I’m playing with how to structure a web page.
I’m trying a new thing at the moment where I have beautiful, creative books by my side to flick through while I think. Currently, that’s The Flavour Thesaurus and The Secret Lives of Color. You never know where you might find the perfect word.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
The 2020 This Girl Can ad from Sports England. You’ve got a banging soundtrack (Little Simz – Offence), diverse and powerful women and THAT tampon string moment. As someone who regularly sits with her head in her hands at the representation of women on screen, this hit many of the right notes for me. It also makes me want to get up and move (even if it is only to dance badly to Little Simz), which I guess is the point.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
The secret to good writing is process. The process of sitting down to write every day. Of getting better. But also the process of travelling from blank page to published thing: the note taking, the first draft, the editing, the final tweaks. It’s impossible to throw yourself into the first draft with the necessary fearlessness unless you trust the process. Then, it’s all about balancing the freeness of the first draft with the measure of editing. It’s scary and strange but process is something you can strap yourself to.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I would send myself straight to Emma Cownley’s YouTube channel with a packet of biscuits and a pot of tea. I wouldn’t need to give myself any advice because she would have given me everything I’d need. Those videos are absolute gold.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Absolute silence. The more silent the better. The only time I have music is to drown out an unavoidable lack of silence or if I’m feeling uninspired. Then it’s wordless Spotify playlists like Ed Callow’s Write52 playlist.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for its beautiful descriptions and characters.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini because I love learning about moments in history, society and culture through the eyes of characters you end up loving like your own family. (And clearly I love books with sun in the title.)
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite for being one of the few books that held my interest at the height of the pandemic thanks to its twisted hilarity. (Shout out to my mum for giving the best book reccos.)
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I wrote a blog post about using our menstrual cycles to live and work more happily and effectively. I’d been reading a lot about it myself and wanted to share the ideas with people who might not have encountered them. I got lots of feedback from folk who found it helpful and set out to learn much more on the topic from actual qualified people. It might not be the most beautifully written thing, but if it helped people then I’m happy.
I also collaborated on a winning research grant proposal with an organization working to eradicate sexual harassment and violence and support survivors. They won the pitch because they’re amazing, but I was chuffed to be involved in some small way.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A chilled glass of albariño (our local white wine) with my partner last night. It was delish.
Who was your teenage crush?
I was a walking cliché as a teen. I loved Leo in Romeo and Juliet and Titanic and Matt LeBlanc in Friends. All the obvious pretty boys. That said I hated boy bands. My walls were covered in Spice Girls and All Saints posters.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I remember one particularly restorative bowl of pho in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on New Year’s Day 2019. It chased any hangover out the door. It’s the dish I long for the most regularly.
Honorable mention goes to a Sumatran takeaway I visited with embarrassing regularity when I lived on Bali. For about £2 you could choose a selection of goodies piled high on your plate. At the till, the owner would always make the same joke about the Indonesian rupiah which is about 20,000 to the pound: “That will be 40,000 Euros.” Brilliant.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I love them all, but I’m always going to let the setting dictate the drink. A crisp white on a summer’s afternoon, a full-bodied red in a London pub, a cold beer on a Spanish terrace, a margarita to kick off a week-long holiday, or a whiskey sour on a cheeky Thursday night out.
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 head to South and Central America. It’s been my dream to go there for a long time. Dave could get us to all the cool remote spots for nature-watching. Then I’d hook us up with great eating and drinking options in the towns and cities. Dream team right there. I’d journal about our experiences, the people we met and scrapes we got into after one too many pisco sours.
What’s in your pockets?
These days, a face mask and dog poo bags. A few years ago, you might have got a more exciting answer.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Keyboard and screen for unrivalled speed and deleting options. I go through phases of journaling and that’s handwritten because it’s usually done in bed. The slowness feels more appropriate for the thoughts I’m having.
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?)
Too many. I really like Sonder and Tell’s newsletter about copy and brand strategy. The wonderful Feasts & Fables never fail to delight with their Sunday evening musings. And Lauren Pope’s Ten Things always has some fascinating gems that get me thinking. Not strictly about writing, but Freelancer Magazine deserves a shout out (Hey, Sophie!) here for building a global community and reviving print as a medium.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
I see tea as a weekday drink and coffee (always made in a moka pot) for lazy weekend mornings. Coffee on weekdays gets me too fired up and jittery to be of any use to anybody. Tea on the weekends feels too gentle.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
We just moved here not so long ago, so up until May we only had two identical pale pink mugs. Bland. Then, my mug world got turned upside-down when I won a Freelancer Magazine mug. Its monochromatic fabulousness has really improved my Zoom game no end. Thanks, Sophie Cross.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I don’t know the name of it but it was about this little girl whose Christmas list for Santa got mixed up with the shopping list. On Christmas morning, she unwrapped bags of carrots, potatoes and other groceries instead of the presents she wanted. In the end, she takes her gifts outside to share with some nearby animals. I was weirdly obsessed with it given that if Santa had given me carrots for Christmas I’d have been devastated.
Your favourite word?
It’s a Spanish word – chiringuito – the little beach bars where you can get an ice cream or a beer. It’s just got such a cheerful feel to it.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?)
Moisture. I had a Geography teacher who use to really masticate over the word and we seemed to study a lot of damp locations. Still makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
In a book shop ideally. Although I live a plane ride and several COVID tests away from the nearest English book shop so online it is for now.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
I’m a sucker for humour in songs. I know that overall Kanye has become a problematic figure, but I still think he’s got some of the best and funniest lyrics out there.
“I’m living in the future, so the present is my past, my presence is a present, kiss my ass.”
Then again, the best verse on that whole album is Nicki Minaj’s on Monster. If you haven’t heard it, go and listen to pure magic.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Prince. Or any disco. But let’s be honest, it’s been 18 months since I last saw a dancefloor so I’d get up for just about anything at this stage. (Not you, Phil Collins.)
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Only yelling at my partner to be quiet. Does that count?
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
This month I’m doing tone of voice work for a US jewellery brand and a British haircare company. I’m also writing for two organisations in the sexual harassment and violence space. I feel very lucky to be working with such inspiring and purpose-driven businesses. Today, however, it’s all about my content.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
I was out in the garden at lunchtime and noticed the first delicate purple bloom on my borage. I made a few attempts to capture her majesty but the results were absolute shite.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Good enough is good enough. Once I let go of the idea that everything has to be perfect, I was able to enjoy the process a lot more which I think makes the writing better naturally.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
I’m learning Spanish so that I can make friends where we live and chat properly with my in-laws. My teacher is really fun and creative, and we often do writing exercises with the words or grammatical structures I’m learning. Yesterday, I wrote a feminist reimagining of the classic ‘witch in the forest’ trope.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
It isn’t really about writing, but the Chinese proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now” pushes me to get cracking when I need to.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I’ve never seen it. I’ve heard good things but I’m trying to prioritise women-made shows at the moment.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Thelma and Louise. It has everything: female friendship, adventure, a young Brad Pitt and incredible denim. I don’t know why anyone would ever choose anything else tbh.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
My Kindle, a collection of essays by Zadie Smith and a book about houseplants, both of which my dear friend Laura sent to me.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I’ve been very lucky to have had so many, from my parents through to my wonderful Spanish teacher, Aída. But a special shout out to my A Level French teacher who underestimated my abilities by two grades and told me I probably shouldn’t bother going to university. I realise it’s pretty minor as adversity goes but it taught me that people can be wrong about you and not to let that put you off your stride.
Who is your favorite artist?
I studied Art History at uni and always gravitated towards the work of women artists. Everyone knows Tracey Emin for her controversial work but she did these beautiful tapestries which take a traditionally ‘female’ craft and turn it into something political and powerful.
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?
Today as I’m working on my own content I’ve come outside for a change of scene. Normally I’m at the dining table. Generally, I’m happy as long as I’m near a window.
I’m also including a picture of my future office to help manifest it into a reality. This is our loft space which we’re working towards converting from spider HQ to writing haven. Finally, my partner will be free to live his best loud life without me yelling at him.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
You’ll find me on Twitter sharing daily thoughts and gifs @sallymfoxwrites.
I write fortnightly blog posts about writing, freelancing and doing both in alignment with your values.
And once a month, I send out a newsletter called The Right Place full of tips and inspiration for running your business with purpose. It’s not as earnest as it sounds. Promise.