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 Grainger – Freelance Copywriter
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…)
This is really bad, but I don’t have one. I know, terrible practice for a self-employed professional but I’ve never been a hugely theoretical person. I tend to take advice and learn from others better than picking up textbooks but I have taken ideas and inspiration by Andy Maslen’s Write to Sell and Brand Anarchy by Stephen Waddington and Steve Earl in the past, even if they aren’t on my desk.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Personally, I enjoy advertising cock-ups, like the famous Desani water slogan ‘full of spunk’. No wonder that didn’t sell well over here. In terms of campaigns that I’ve enjoyed in the way they were intended, I think Irn Bru’s TV adverts are hard to beat. They’re cheeky, push boundaries, and make sure you remember the spot and the brand values.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Plenty of reading, as many books by as many different authors as possible, but also absorbing other literary works. Listening to music that focuses on lyrics, such as Leonard Cohen, is a good example but so is trying to break down good TV shows into character motivations and plotting if you can. Examine everything. The other thing is to write in as many different formats as you can, such as articles, blogs and short stories.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Have more confidence in yourself. I mean, imposter syndrome is a big part of being a writer, but there were chances that I missed to establish myself earlier because I felt I was too young and inexperienced when really I should have put myself out there. Also, read more business books in case somebody asks you about them later on.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Has to be music, every time. Silence puts me off because it reminds me of exams, so I listen to music I know very well that I can work to the rhythm of and sing along to if nobody else is around. I usually have on a mix of artists and styles but if I’ve got a huge project I generally stick some latter-day Iron Maiden on through my headphones and zone out. It’s a trick I learned with my dissertation as the songs are quite long and rhythmic.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray – It’s about the lives of pupils and teachers at a Catholic school and it has tremendous scope, but where it really shines is in the relationships and chat between the kids. It rings incredibly true and has a big heart.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak – Essentially it’s a tale of ordinary Germans living through WWII and fighting back in little ways, but in reality it’s so much more. It’s about love, literature, and humanity and I could never recommend it enough.
Bag of Bones by Stephen King – Whilst it’s not one of his better-known books, or my favourite of his, Bag of Bones was the first King I ever read. It’s pretty much a perfect starting point, to be honest. There’s a writer, a tragic history, a small town, small-town folk and unusual goings-on. It’s impeccably written, as most King is, so what more could you want?
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
In terms of work, I was always very pleased that I managed to get a secret message into the last blog post I wrote for a long-standing client a few years back. I’m not going to say any more but it wasn’t anything dodgy, just an affectionate nod in the copy. I was also very pleased to have a piece on PR in video gaming picked up by the independent and I’ve interviewed a few of my favourite bands for magazines too.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
I bought some downloadable content for a video game I’m currently playing in my downtime. Not terribly exciting I’m afraid.
Who was your teenage crush?
Kirsten Dunst. She was Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man films and I was always a huge Spidey fan. Dunst just seemed a perfect fit and that upside-down kiss in the rain was iconic.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Any Boxing Day meal from the last 29 years. My Mam would always make me a second Christmas dinner whilst everyone else had salad and cold cuts. Since there was just me having it I’d always get a bigger meal than on the day before.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
A crisp Pinot Grigio these days. I lost the taste for beer sometime last year and would always choose a wine over a spirit.
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?
If Attenborough was coming along then I think I’d have to go to Madagascar to see all the indigenous animals that can’t be seen anywhere else. Otherwise, I’m fascinated by Tokyo as a futuristic mega-city. Having been to NYC a few times I think that’s the next step. Not sure David would get much out of it mind.
What’s in your pockets?
Usually my phone, my wallet, a cotton handkerchief (I get ribbed for that a fair bit but it keeps my nose happy) and an assortment of receipts, sweet wrapper, and general crap.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Keyboard and screen for projects but I do take initial notes and write ideas with a pen and pad.
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 regularly, no. As you may have guessed I’m terrible for switching off away from the actual work. I’m usually doing something unrelated.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Tea in the morning and coffee in the afternoon. I’m trying to cut down on doctor’s orders though as it’s affecting the lining of my throat and making me choke, which is obviously bad for business. It’s difficult but not as bad as when I worked in an office space that didn’t have a kitchen or fridge and I had to bring flasks with me for the day. Dark times.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I’ve got several in rotation! There’s a Spider-Man one (unsurprisingly), a Star Wars mug which activates lightsabers when the hot water goes in and a special ‘Uncle’ cup from when my nephew was born. I also have a magnificently voluminous R2D2 mug at my girlfriend’s house.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
As with any right-headed person, I always adored Roald Dahl, and Danny Champion of the World had a big impact. It arguably opened my mind for the first time to the sorts of events, characters and feelings that books could really explore. I also loved the Magic Faraway Tree series, so I’ll go with Moon-Face for favourite character.
Your favourite word?
Aside from the rude ones? I love ‘aquiver’ because it’s so sensual and just thinking of the meaning seems to draw you further into the physical phenomenon of the word. Or maybe that’s just me. ‘Spelunking’ is also a majestic word.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
‘Omnichannel’. I have a low tolerance for wanky buzzwords, mainly as I think there are better, more real ways to get your point across. Omnichannel was a favourite of an old boss of mine, and every time they threw it into conversation it made my teeth itch.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Either with my head in a book/video game, walking along the coast or in the hills of Weardale where my girlfriend lives. I am partial to swanning around Newcastle with my headphones in too.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
‘I wish that I believed in fate/I wish I didn’t sleep so late’ (The National, Mr November). The National’s lyrics can be quite obtuse at times, but I think this from the bridge of Mr November just encapsulates that idea of wanting to seize the moment but not quite knowing how. The narrator wishes it was all decided for him, but instead has to face up to the fact his success is down to him alone and struggles to make it work. It’s a feeling I think we can all relate to.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Haddaway. What is Love? is an absolute tune and deserves to be danced to. Usually I’m the one who requested it mind.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I tend to keep an assortment of knick-knacks, balls and old toys nearby so I can absent-mindedly fiddle with them when I get stuck.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I’m in the process of improving my web presence so I’m currently drafting and redrafting some relevant blog posts. Aside from that just the usual life-admin and an assortment of client work.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
It was actually a picture of some hilariously horrible trousers that I found in a sale. I was teasing my girlfriend by saying I’d bought them for our upcoming holiday. She didn’t believe me because she knows me too well.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Well, I started off in arts and entertainment journalism, and the idea of writing what you would like to read made a real difference. It helped me find my own voice, even if that voice has changed over the years.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Birthday cards for my brother and sister in-law. I try to write meaningful and individual messages each time so that the card means something and isn’t just a token. Sometimes I think writing other people’s greetings cards would be a nice job to have.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
‘Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.’ – Isaac Asimov.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I always had a soft-spot for Harry Crane. He was ahead of his time and knew it, but wasn’t as much of a prick as some of the others.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Her. It’s just a wonderful look at love and loneliness and what each of those states means. The design and palette is very individual to that movie too, and the performances really grab the heart. Not bad for a film where the female lead is a voice-only role playing an artificially intelligent computer operating system.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I’ve just started reading The Stand by Stephen King. It’s pretty long mind, so I’m expecting to be finished somewhere around my birthday in December. After that, I’ll probably treat myself to something shorter.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I’ve been lucky to have some very good teachers, but one of the most influential was the local historian, and sometimes TV presenter, John Grundy. He taught me English Literature at A-Level, and as well as being extremely engaging and passionate he was also wonderfully supportive and encouraging.
Who is your favourite artist?
I prefer to happen across talented artists on social media and online stores than in galleries. If we’re talking music then it’s The National. They write anxiety-laced, jittery indie-rock and generally soul-bearing music.
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 have a corner desk that is slightly too low for my chair but does have a nice view of the cherry orchard in the garden. Sometimes I do like to get some cushions and work sitting on my bed though. It’s terrible for my posture, but my back has been a disaster area since secondary school.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Well, I spend a lot of my time on Twitter but I also have a dedicated Facebook page, a new website, and of course LinkedIn. I also post the photographic equivalent of gibberish to Instagram pretty regularly.