Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk
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…
Graeme Piper, Copywriter and content writer at DropCapCopy
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…)
There’s no single book that’s like my Bible (yet), but I reach over for ‘Write Copy, Make Money’ and ‘Write To Sell’ by Andy Maslen fairly regularly. ‘The Copywriter’s Handbook’ by Bob Bly and ‘The Craft Of Copywriting’ by Alastair Crompton all get handled frequently too. There are nuggets of gold that I pick up from all sorts of books and authors: Dave Trott, John Simmons, Steve Harrison, Josh Bernoff… It’s just a question of building up a quality library and dipping into it repeatedly.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
The ads for Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges cigarettes always used to catch my eye on a visual level back in the day. But I’ll always admire the copy in the adverts for Swiss Life whenever I see or think of them. Such simplicity, but they work so well.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Keep it simple. Unless you have to write for a very specific and technical niche. I’ve never worked on anything where long sentences, long paragraphs or bigger words are beneficial.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I did this very thing for someone who wanted to become a freelance copywriter just a few months ago. I told him to read these:
Instant Networking by Stefan Thomas
Write To Sell by Andy Maslen
Champagne & Wax Crayons by Ben Tallon
The Human Freelancer by Chris Kenworthy
How To Write Better Copy by Steve Harrison
I’d also say: Shout about what you do. Make yourself available so people know about you. Get yourself out there. Self-confidence is a great outfit – rock it and own it.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
I envy those who can write while they have music playing. I just find myself singing along and generally getting sidetracked. It’s not helpful. Plus, I’d spend ages trying to decide what to listen to beforehand. And radio is just way too distracting full stop. Silence is best for me.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
The Diary of a Nobody – George & Weedon Grossmith: An incredibly funny and wonderfully English novel written in diary form through the eyes of Charles Pooter. Desperate to raise his social status, and failing.
Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell: Orwell does a masterful job of translating his experiences of being destitute in Paris and working in the grease and grime of a hotel kitchen, and living as a tramp in London, into words. Makes you itch when you read it.
Selected Stories – Edgar Allan Poe: Not strictly a novel, of course, but includes Poe’s best and most celebrated works of terror. Such rich and descriptive language that just keeps you turning the pages.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
Anything I write that comes back virtually amendment free from the client and appears online or in print pretty much rocks my world. Any editorial that runs in magazines on the shelves of newsagents up and down the country always gives me a bit of a buzz. I wrote a piece for a client who’s in insurance recently for Tattoo Master magazine. I got the byline on it too, so quite chuffed with that one.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
The last physical things I bought were two shirts and a stapler. Living the dream. I did buy two hog roasts and a pair of pints for us both at the weekend too.
Who was your teenage crush?
No one in particular. I was into rock music during my teens in the late 80s, so buying records and going to gigs was where I was at. Some of the music videos made interesting viewing though…
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
There was a local pub called The Artichoke round the corner from where we lived on Dartmoor about 10 years ago. Their food was amazing, without fail. We also had (any vegetarians among us, look away now) the infamous roast suckling pig at the oldest restaurant in the world, the Botin Restaurant in Madrid. Just sublime. Hemingway makes mention of it in The Sun Also Rises, so if it was good enough for him…
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I’m partial to a nice, fruity cider like a Thatcher’s or Koppaberg, but do love a Vodka and Tonic. Wine is wasted on me. Awful stuff.
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?
Well, firstly you said it was “a month off work”, so I probably wouldn’t write a thing. Except a few postcards for the lucky few. I’m far more likely to post a ton of photos onto Instagram as a sort of visual diary. In terms of location, I’m not much of a traveller, but I’ve hankered after Japan for a number of years.
What’s in your pockets?
I never carry much in my pockets at all. Right now, it’s just a couple of tissues. It’s hayfever season, don’t you know. If I’m out, I’ll have my iPhone in one back pocket with a handful of change in other.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
I make all my notes beforehand with pen and paper. My current materials are a 200 page, 80gsm, Pukka Pad and a Berol Handwriting pen (so smooth). Red ink Bic pen for editing. All actual writing is keyboard and screen. While I was on holiday a few weeks ago, I was on the beach, writing a 1500 word piece on Frexit by hand for a client which was oddly satisfying. It did make for a rather messy and confusing editing process though.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on desk and recycle?)
I regularly read the email newsletters that ping into my inbox from Karen Marston (always very sweary and entertaining), Reed Words, Copyblogger and Marketer, Neil Patel. Also, blogs from Tom Albrighton are always good, whatever topic he decides to tackle. I also look out for stuff on Twitter that other copywriters might link to.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Strong coffee in the morning. And maybe a cheeky one in the afternoon to get the brain cells popping again. Always black with two sweeteners (should anyone need to know for future reference). After that, peppermint tea all the way.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
My wife recently bought a set of four mugs from a local ceramic artist which are very capacious, so we’re using those right now. My other ‘go to’ mug features Mr. Strong from the Mr. Men.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
The book that clearly sticks out in my mind, is The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. It was the follow-up to The Enchanted Wood and, like some movies, proves that the sequel is sometimes better than the original. Also, like many films and books, Dick and Fanny were the main protagonists.
Your favourite word?
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Right now, I’m sick to death of the word ‘Brexit’. I’ve written several things over the months where that subject needs to be addressed and I always try and replace it with ‘the referendum’ or ‘our exit from the EU’. In my previous job, the word ‘cosy’ made way too many appearances in all content to the point where I attempted to ban its inclusion.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
I tend to buy most of my books through Amazon, purely for ease and breadth of choice. My lists on there grow all the time. But I do have a love for wandering round bookstores – from Waterstones down to any second-hand shop.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
Pretty much anything written by Peter Perrett (The Only Ones). Hard to choose any one lyric – the man’s a genius.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
I was a massive fan back in the 80s, so it would be Bon Jovi, specifically ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. The last time this occurred was my brother-in-law’s wedding reception three years ago. Regrettably, there is photographic evidence of this doing my best guitar face. Needless to say, there was copious amounts of free alcohol involved.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Nothing that you could call a writing ritual as such. But I always start my writing day by first checking my emails, followed by a scan through the BBC website (news, entertainment, and sport in that order). I’ll then take a quick look through my Twitter and Facebook pages and retweet, like and reply accordingly, before cracking on.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Besides this, which is procrastination at its very best (props to you), I’m currently helping an agency with some of their rebranding. In the pipeline there’s some social media work for a premium snack brand lined up, a 15-page website to get started on and a set of four blogs for a repeat client. And I’ll be sending out some invoices tomorrow.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
I took some over the weekend for my Instagram account. A couple from a craft festival and some of a flyer advertising an exhibition for Japanese artist, Hokusai. I’ll usually take a few whenever I’m out and about, but a lot of them tend to be snaps of my cats looking either ridiculously cute or just ridiculous.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
It’s always the simple pieces of advice that you remember. Things like the word ‘you’ should appear in your copy three times more than ‘we’ or ‘I’. Little gems that continually pop into your head when you write.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
I don’t tend to write anything that isn’t connected with work, so probably adding ‘Gaviscon’ to the shopping list… or an 18th birthday card. Not sure which happened first. Does that count??
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
There are loads out there of course, but one that sums it up for me is “Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” by Leo Burnett.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I was a real latecomer to Mad Men. My wife was addicted, but I just didn’t get into it until, probably, the penultimate season. I did like Peggy because she was a copywriter. And Roger for his smoking, drinking and philandering ways. I feel I ought to revisit it really.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
I’m not a movie buff by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said “I’ve never seen it” to which people recoil in shock and disbelief. I do have a great love of Withnail & I though. Incredibly funny throughout, heading towards a poignant ending. I went through a phase years ago of watching it every day. I was so caught up in it, that when they published the screenplay, they included scenes that were cut from the final movie. I could picture them so vividly that I forgot they weren’t in the movie at all.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I always have about 5 or 6 books on the go at any one time, together with the latest issues of Private Eye and the New Yorker. What I’m *actually* reading right now (for the second time) is In The Pleasure Groove by John Taylor of Duran Duran (seriously). The remaining pile consists of:
- Sound Man by Glyn Johns
- Just Kids by Patti Smith
- Better off Dead by Tom Woods
- The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore
- The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Anyone that can give me that solid piece of information or advice at any given moment. You can always learn something by listening to anyone. My wife’s also very good at grounding me and dampening my freak outs and imposter syndrome symptoms when they reappear.
Who is your favourite artist?
Picasso. That was cemented when we visited the Picasso Museum in Malaga a few years ago and saw Guernica at the Museo Reina Sofia on a trip to Madrid. The Pre-Raphaelite movement is always a joy to look at and learn about too. And for some “unsettling, surreal humour”, Joan Cornellà and Mr. Bingo. Both available for visual delights on Instagram.
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?
It’s proven to me that I work better from my own home office. Had to work from the waiting area of the Seat garage last year while they were servicing the car. No good. I also worked from a Costa a month or so ago while I waited for my new passport. I briefly felt like I was living the cliché of a freelancer, actually working in a coffee shop. I soon came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worthwhile after I had to edit and rewrite rather thoroughly the next day. Solitude and desk is best.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
I’m all over Twitter and Instagram usually, while checking in with LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ sporadically. Feel free to like, follow, double-tap, connect and any other social media buzzwords that are current.