July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
The rain fell in shivering cords
Ropes of sky plummeting straight down
The way only summer rain really does
The air felt close, protective
Like the jungle warmth was on our side
June’s hiddenness draped a damp arm around us and wept
May 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
I hated short stories. I found them unfulfilling. I was stupid and blind.
Then I did Highbrow’s short story course. They sent me one a day – The Furnished Room by O. Henry, Eveline by James Joyce – and I realised I’d just been reading the wrong short stories.
I suddenly saw how incredible they are – like a snapshot of a situation; the perfect soundbite of verisimilitude. Rich, earthy, crystalline, unctuous description.
So, recently I wrote one for myself. It turned out to be a fairly long short story but it was one none-the-less. And today, I found a proper short story I wrote years ago. What was I thinking? I hated them, didn’t I?
I read it and thought it quite good. Good enough that I’ve published it on Medium, if you’d like a peek.
Read A Dying Sun.
March 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
With a disappointed sigh, the dress allowed itself to be returned to the rack.
It was a whisper of a dress, a ghostly slip of pearl hues that hushed against the other silks and satins.
Oh, to be worn! To glide against summer skin or float on icy air!
But no – back to the rack, this time.
Inspired by this wonderfully emotive dangling modifier:
With a sigh of disappointment, the expensive dress was returned to the rack.
March 17, 2016 § 6 Comments
For those of you new to copywriting as a career, my copybuddies and I will be putting on a free Saturday talk this April.
NO MORE SPACES LEFT I’M AFRAID
Rather than a plain old introduction to copywriting, this is a welcome. In the spirit of #copywritersunite, we want to draw you into the fold with open arms. This day of copywriting camaraderie is also backed by the Professional Copywriters’ Network. So come along and be welcomed to copywriting.
I’m completely new to the copywriting world. Can you help me?
Absolutely. Do join in.
I’m a junior copywriter. Will I still learn things by showing up?
Yes. And we’d love to meet you.
I’m just starting as a freelancer. Will this be relevant to me, too?
It certainly will. Sign up.
I’m a solidly midweight copywriter or above. Is this going to be of any use to me?
Probably not. Sorry.
Who’s running the show, and how can I stalk them on Twitter?
Kady Potter – @koisurukady
Freelance copywriter, Japan fan, larger than life (on the inside).
Kady has not long reached what most people will agree is midweight level, and it hasn’t been plain sailing. It would pain her to see you go through the same while she watches in silent horror. Join us and Kady will help you to recognise terrible (if well-meant) copywriting advice. You’ll also get a few choice words from her on gimmicks, and on the race to the bottom when it comes to charging for freelance work.
Honor Clement-Hayes – @mutatedmusings
In-house content writer, pint-sized imaginarium, darling of The Drum’s 50 Under 30.
Hey, that’s me! I know about: sucking money and/or glory out of any opportunity, what it’s like to be the only copywriter in a global company, how to keep the YOU in your copy, and how to pester your idols into helping you.
Chloe Marshall – @re_scrawl
In-house copywriter, HMRC wrangler, chalk-o-genic life model.
Our Chlo’s seen it all. And if you’ve ever been to a life drawing class in the Warwickshire area, chances are you’ve seen all of her. On the day, pay attention to Chloe to find out more about starting small, being the only writer in the village (or so you think) and the many hats of small agency life. She’s also got a thing or two to say about extra-curricular activities, and the creative scene outside London (like, properly north).
David ‘Our Dibbsy’ Evans – @daviddibbs
Junior copywriter in waiting, social media manager, beloved by all.
More experienced copywriters will happily give you advice, but they can sometimes be detached from the situation you’re asking about. David’s going through the same things as you RIGHT NOW. He’ll share what’s working for him (and what really isn’t) to give you pointers that are relevant to the current copy job market.
What topics are you going to cover?
Things you will know after spending your day with us:
Ways to start building a client base and portfolio from scratch
How to make yourself and your CV look interesting
Why you’re not getting work, and how to start changing things
Where the proper money is, because it does exist
The pros and cons of being full-time, freelancing, and trying to do both
What NOT to do – tactics that are unlikely to work ever ever ever
An important note: we will not be telling you how to write. We trust that, given you chose this career willingly, you’ll grow into an amazing writer in time without our input. You’re welcome to ask us about copywriting techniques, but we’re not doing example exercises or anything like that.
Do I need to bring anything?
You might well want to take some notes, so pack that notebook / wad of A4 / dictaphone.
How much is this going to cost me?
To attend? Nothing. (We’re not covering transport or lunch, though, that’s on you.)
What the hell? You’re running this for FREE?
Yes, we are.
Where and when will this be?
At The Rag Factory, in central London, starting at 11am on April 30th. That’s a Saturday, so you don’t have to take time off from your unpaid internship to come along. The full address is:
16-18 Heneage Street
It’s right next to 12-14. Look for the face above the door.
We’ve formally got the room booked until 6pm, but stop and chat/network/drink with us after the talks. Assuming we don’t drone on and on, we should be done by around 4pm.
NO MORE SPACES LEFT I’M AFRAID
March 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
But it’s true that these kinds of odd, lonely, wild names awaken something in me that claws to get out. Here are some of my favourites from around the world but mostly the good old mental-case United States of America:
Deception Falls, Washington
Joshua Tree and Ragged Point, California
Bitter End, Tennessee
Hell Gate, Queens
Medicine Hat, Alberta
Nothing and Why, Arizona
Odd Down, Somerset
Pity Me, Durham (thought to come from the French petit mere)
Dancing Ledge, Dorset
Mount Despair, Montana
They all sound like places where someone would go slowly and dangerously mad from loneliness in a Stephen King novel. Only that would require them to all be places in Maine.
March 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
Sense of place – verisimilitude, remember? – has been a really important thing in my development as a writer. A lot of my writing, especially my poetry, has been about capturing a single moment as accurately as I can, even if it isn’t a moment that actually happened.
She’s Charles Bukowski in a negligee but Bukowski is punishing you; Lana still hopes you’ll find her on that revolving bed overlooking Topanga Canyon. She’s been crying for days and her eyeliner has run onto the pink satin, but she’s got fresh lipstick on, a Hollywood smile ready for the lights.
A house we built, or family did. Out of the wood that surrounds us, strong but easily reclaimed by the earth. Deep porch, sheltered by eaves and supported by pillars smooth with the touch of many loving hands. Four steps down, grass.
The grass gradually gives way to gravel and sand, the lapping of water. On that stony shore, you can stand and see for days. There’s an island out there – it’s hidden but waiting. Our boat is near; small but more than able for a storm or two. We painted her red and called her Jenny.
Climb back up the worn steps and pass the swing, drifting gently in the lovely, lonely light. Inside is the smell of woodsmoke, bread and the warm old blankets we’ll drag around our shoulders tonight as we search the sky for icy stars.
The two books I can identify as formative in my childhood are A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Both have a richness to their description of rooms and things that has stayed with me in all the years since.
Do you wonder that she felt sure she had not come back to earth? This is what she saw. In the grate there was a glowing, blazing fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm crimson rug; before the fire a folding-chair, unfolded, and with cushions on it; by the chair a small folding-table, unfolded, covered with a white cloth, and upon it spread small covered dishes, a cup, a saucer, a teapot; on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt; at the foot a curious wadded silk robe, a pair of quilted slippers, and some books. The room of her dream seemed changed into fairyland—and it was flooded with warm light, for a bright lamp stood on the table covered with a rosy shade.
A lost piece of my writing history is a fantasy description I wrote of a house when I was probably 11. It was hugely cribbed from similar descriptions in The Little White Horse (and probably overused adjectives like I’d just discovered them) but I can still feel exactly what I was going for.
Later, Harry Potter made me realise that there are ways to make people feel a sense of place from clues, rather than description. Learning about etymology has given me a vast treasure trove of subconscious bread crumbs I can feed my readers, putting a whispered memory into their minds that they can’t quite place but know in their bones.
[Incidentally, J.K. Rowling has said her favourite childhood book was The Little White Horse and I think it shows in her writing, particularly in descriptions of the house common rooms.]
Last year, I read The Furnished Room by O. Henry. It’s the epitome of sense of place; secrets and hints and whispers run through it, alongside glowing description.
A faint light from no particular source mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.
One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph became explicit, the little signs left by the furnished room’s procession of guests developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of the dresser told that lovely women had marched in the throng. The tiny fingerprints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had splintered with its contents against the wall. Across the pier glass had been scrawled with a diamond in staggering letters the name Marie.
That last line is pure, pure magic to me. Marie’s presence is still hanging heavily in the room, etched into importance by the hardness of a diamond. A diamond she cared little enough about to use as a way of marking her time, like a prisoner tearing their fingernails on the wall of their cell.
That’s enough of that.
March 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
About a week ago, the copycats and I were discussing our mind palaces. The places we go to think through ideas and solve puzzles. I already wrote about my unhappy place, so I think it’s time to talk about my mind library.
I first explored my mind library several years ago, in a poem I wrote about the imagination contained in a so-called commonplace notebook:
And it is there in the library of thoughtful books
that gently age on their sun-warm shelves.
There in the gloaming dim, with its dust motes cascading in golden highways,
leading to that eternal resting bench – on the hill, in June.
My mind library is in Oxford. It’s in a very old room, long and quite thin. The shelves reach the ceiling and require ladders to reach the highest and oldest books. It’s quite a light room but dappled, throwing certain corners into comforting and enveloping shade. The sun that illuminates other parts falls in golden blades; late afternoon sun but still with some warmth if you wanted to lounge on a window seat.
Looking out of a mullioned window with skinny glass, pooling at the bottom of the pane, you’d see a bustling street and beyond that, a perfectly green quadrangle shimmering in the late August light. It’s strange, but up here, you can’t hear a thing. The only sound is the gentle sigh of the pages you turn and perhaps the spitting of the fire when a log shifts.
I come here when I have a problem to solve in my writing. Searching for a solution, I’ll cross-reference all the books and articles and poems and blogs and notes and conversations I’ve been lucky enough to store away over the years I’ve been collecting for my library. They’ll converge and dance, rewriting each other into the right answer.
[Commonplacing is a relevant concept here. From a lecture by Steven Berlin Johnson:
…all of this magic was predicated on one thing: that the words could be copied, re-arranged, put to surprising new uses in surprising new contexts. By stitching together passages written by multiple authors, without their explicit permission or consultation, some new awareness could take shape.
And this is how I learned to write. Copying and remixing. I still write poetry like this, pulling out bits and pieces of things I’ve been reading. Perhaps it’s how I write everything. After all, there is nothing new and I only have at my disposal the same words everyone else has. That’s what makes this a craft: base metal into gold.]
Sometimes a visit to my library is a peaceful browse over the shelves, fingers dancing across spines like a pianist’s; sometimes an eleventh-hour rummage. Sometimes I’ll need to flick through the reference drawers to find the name or date I need. But all the time, I know it’s there. A warm place of mottled leather and faded tapestry, growing old in dusty grace. The place that makes me the writer I am.