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…
Cat Roberts-Young, Creative copywriter, aspiring children’s author and chocoholic
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’ve a bookcase next to my desk bursting with wise words from the copywriting greats but my go-to favourites are Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, The Copywriting Sourcebook by Andy Maslen, Brilliant Copywriting by Roger Horberry and a very old, bruised, battered and much-loved copy of The Copy Book By D&AD.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Ooh, that’s a tough one, there’s so many to choose from. I guess my all-time favourite would have to be Gilroy’s Guinness adverts, in particular, the one below, when I saw that in my teens I was so in awe, all I wanted to do was learn more about copywriting.
Second to Guinness has to be Volkswagen, a brand I love and have been lucky enough to work for in the past – one that really stands out is the Golf ‘Gas Station’ ad from 1996 where an American couple are sat describing an alien sighting Roswell style ‘there were bright lights and a symbol…looked like a Vee dubuya’
The Jaffa Cake ‘Jaffa Jaffa’ song is also a favourite as is the 1994 Levi’s 501 ‘shrink to fit’ ad with Stiltskin…not forgetting Flat Eric too.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I’m still searching for the answer but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen was a quote in the Roald Dahl museum from Hemingway to Dahl, ‘When you are going good, stop writing’…because you can pick up again.’
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Talk to as many copywriters as possible. Read as many books on writing as possible (Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, all of Andy Maslen’s and Ogilvy on Advertising). Study billboards and adshells and notice the words around you on every journey you take – making notes on what you notice and what makes you smile, laugh, or cry. Get as much experience as you can, have a tough skin and above all believe in yourself.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Radio and music… depending on what I’m writing I listen to lots of instrumentals where lyrics won’t distract me …Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns are a favourite. When it comes to songs with lyrics I work to Ray La Montagne, Ben Howard, Brother and Bones and Billie Marten. But every Monday morning has to start with Neil Diamond’s ‘Crackling Rosie’.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
‘Why the whales came’ by Michael Morpurgo was the first book I read as a child that I couldn’t put down. Set in the Isles of Scilly it’s full of mystery that haunts every page beautifully.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee…never has a novel had such an impact, where the unspoken word is more powerful than the word etched on the page.
And thirdly it has to be Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’… oh that line, ‘My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.’…gives me goose bumps every time.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
An A-Z pocket guide of team harmony (aka a guide to dealing with difficult people) for a business coaching client. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it was for me – every letter of the alphabet reflected a different personality type and it was brilliant fun to write. On a personal level, I wrote 150 personalised limericks for guests at our wedding. Each one rocked my world, just as the people who I wrote them about do too.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A train ticket to Kingston for my friend’s wedding.
Who was your teenage crush?
My first crush was George Michael. I had a Wham poster on my wall at the age of 4. Teenage crush was Howard Donald from Take That. I spent many a summer holiday making concert banners, trying to think of witty lines to get noticed at concerts… maybe I have him to thank for my career choice!
Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten.
Sword Fish with a tomato and basil crust at the Sea Food Café in St.Ives… although my husband’s Paprika Chicken recipe comes a close second.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged Malt?
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum… the tipple of pirates every time. I love a 7 year Havana club in a Mojito or a Sailor Jerry’s and Ginger Beer.
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?
To Burma, to the jungle. My Grandad was a Royal Marine during WW2 in Burma and was on a secret mission in the jungle for over 6 months. I’d love to hear the orchestra of the wildlife that would’ve been so alien to him… the sounds of the bullfrogs, birds and gibbons and to retrace his steps.
What’s in your pockets?
Always little packets of Haribo and the essential hair bobble covered in fluff.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pencil and paper. I like a nice soft lead (not too smudgy) and either in an unruled notebook or blank piece of paper at a skew-whiff angle.
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?)
I read Writing Magazine from cover to cover (although it takes me a month to get through it!), I read blogs from the Professional Copywriters’ Network and lots via Twitter and then I wonder why I’ve got distracted and lost 20 minutes of my day.
Tea or coffee?
Tea – herbal tea – either a Super Berry from Tea Pigs or a shot of Matcha. I love the smell of coffee and wish I liked it (just so I could ask for a Mocha Chocca Wokka in the mornings like the cool folks) but to me, it tastes like the Devil’s spit.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I do and I love it so much I think it’s worthy of a picture. It’s no ordinary mug…or is it? To some, it looks like a plain old white mug, but it has a magical lid that makes it look like a toadstool. Not only does it keep your brew warm but the lid also acts as a saucer for a cheeky biscuit or three.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Alice in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter was my favourite – the magic of his tea party was absolutely genius. I was lucky enough last year to go as close to wonderland as I’ll ever experience – at The Vaults near Waterloo for the ‘Alice Underground’ tour. It’s coming back in 2017 and I recommend anyone who loves the story to book a ticket today https://www.alice-underground.com/
Your favourite word?
‘Petrichor’ is my favourite, closely followed by ‘punnet’ and ‘grapple’. But I think a word that can describe the fresh smell of the earth after the rain is absolutely beautiful.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
‘Supper’…it actually makes me squirm.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Lost in a bookshop, the more quirky the better. There’s one near where I live that’s a barn full of meandering corridors that lead to rows upon rows of books and adventures where I could easily lose track of all sense of time.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
‘In 666 there lives a Mr. Miller. He’s a local vicar and a serial killer’ Neighbourhood by Space. There’s something about this song that reminds me of the ‘Happy Family’ books I read as a kid but a twisted version. I grew up in a village and this song just reminds me of how nosey (and inspiring) some neighbourhoods can be.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Pretty much any! I’ve been known to dance to TV theme tunes and ringtones.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Every morning as soon as I wake up I open my notebook and write three ‘morning pages’… just of anything that comes into my head to clear the way forward for the day. It’s a ritual made famous by Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artist’s Way’ and it’s the only New Year resolution I’ve ever stuck to – three years on and still going strong. Most of the time there’s nothing brilliant on those pages but every now and again there’s a flower amongst the weeds.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Two pieces of children’s fiction (just for fun) and my own website copy – embarrassingly still a work in progress because client work always comes first.
Describe the last photograph you took.
Two gorgeous pigs at Mini Meadows farm. Just wish I had a garden big enough for one of my own.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
To not worry too much about that first draft – just to get the words down on the page and then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A playlist of songs to give birth to. Probably TMI but it was fun…Salt n Pepper ‘Push it’ followed by Billy Ocean ‘When the going gets tough’…it’s made me look forward to labour!
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
One from Picasso that could be applied to many things ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’ It’s one I apply to cooking on a regular basis – home economics isn’t a strength.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Peggy and Don the dream team.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, because Gene Wilder is legendary. There are so many parts of that film that make me cry with laughter because of his delivery. He’s one of the most believable characters in cinema to me.
(As a guilty pleasure I also love Smokey and the Bandit 2… what’s not to like?!)
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I’m slowly reading ‘When the sky fell apart’ by Caroline Lea… I’ve found it difficult to put it down and now that I have, I don’t want to pick it back up again until I can give it the time it deserves – every sentence is delicious. And because I’m an old romantic there’s also a copy of Pablo Neruda’s poems from ‘Il Postino’.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I’ve been lucky enough to have many but if I had to pick one I’d pick my old Primary School teacher Mr.Dix. He was the first teacher to encourage my writing and really believed in me. He taught our class how to book bind and gave us the freedom to write stories on whatever topics we wanted to – creativity had no limits in his classroom. He also brought music and song to every day and arranged for us to learn
He also brought music and song to every day and arranged for us to learn Guajarati during a project on India, to cook Indian food and learn about different faiths. At the age of 10 in a very rural village school, this was beyond a breath of fresh air – it was inspirational.
Who is your favourite artist?
Willard Wigan. His micro sculptures completely blow me away. I cried when I saw his exhibition in Birmingham a few years ago, I was astounded by what I could see – the Titanic on a grain of sugar in the eye of a needle. He’s phenomenal.
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?
People watching is my favourite pastime so as much as I love coffee shops, I find them quite distracting. So I write at my desk, in my garden beach hut and wherever I can find a comfy perch – the closer to the sea the better.
36. And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
https://uk.linkedin.com/in/cat-roberts-young-336679118 and hopefully soon at catcopycreative.co.uk (although the baby may arrive first!)
Thank you, Cat, and good luck with everything!
Next time on The Writing Desk, Sarah Turner from Turner Ink
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