The Writing Desk | Sarah Russell
Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of this quirky and esoteric feature I’ve started here and welcome to The Writing Desk. We’ll be talking to writers, copywriters, poets, designers, marketers, photographers and all sorts of creative folk.
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…
Sarah Russell, Chief Copywriter. The job title came from a client earlier this week. It made me smile as I’m freelance so chief everything, but I promised her I’d use it so this is for you Lynne.
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…)
Write to Sell by Andy Maslen is the reason I’m a copywriter so is the business book I’ve used the most. These days I refer to Andy’s Persuasive Copywriting more, along with Drayton Bird’s How to Write Sales Letters that Sell and Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, Ogilvy on Advertising and Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.
Anything Dave Trott writes is also a huge inspiration and influence. Who am I kidding? I use loads of different books, as well as a file of emails and articles by Andy, Drayton, Dave Trott, Bob Bly and lots of other people.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
The one that’s stuck in my mind the most is from the ‘80s for a sweet called Splicer. I can still sing the song: ‘Splicer is nicer, it’s great every time, tasting like orange and lemon and lime….‘ My sister is the only other person I know who remembers it though.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Have confidence in your own voice; write what you know, and with honesty. And have a good editor!
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
You are woman, hear you roar! And I’d read Write to Sell first because reading it was a light bulb moment for me.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- Unless by Carol Shields
- The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
Beautiful writing, a compelling story and characters I can relate to – surely what makes a good read for anyone.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
The invitation to a friend’s 50th birthday party. It was personal, funny, and more importantly, everyone came.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
I did a ‘big shop’ at the supermarket last night. I’ll spare you the whole list.
Who was your teenage crush?
A guy called Paul Gregory from the sixth form. We all fancied him and set up a fan club. We had badges and used to wait outside his house to catch a glimpse. The shame!
Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten.
Cheese and potato pie and tinned tomatoes in hospital after my daughter was born. I was starving and ecstatic.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged Malt?
Gin with ice-cold elderflower tonic.
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?
We’d travel the whole coast of the British Isles and through all the national parks and wild open spaces. We’d write about the beauty and diversity on our doorstep, how we need nature in all its glory for our emotional as well as our physical survival and how we must all care for this planet we call home.
What’s in your pockets?
Dog treats, poo bags, a tissue and half a packet of polos.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pencil and paper to plan and draft, keyboard and screen for the rest.
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?)
All Drayton Bird’s emails, again and again; Maslen on Marketing (welcome back – woo hoo!); The Ad Contrarian; anything Quietroom post – I adore that company; and anything by Dave Trott.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I’m a mug whore so am still on the hunt for the perfect one.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? I read it over and over as a child and then read it hundreds of times more to my daughter. Our favourite character was Dr Lion and for many years all doctors were Dr Lion.
Your favourite word?
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Basis, as in ‘on a weekly basis.’ Makes me want to weep.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
I don’t enjoy shopping or towns so probably online. I’ll happily go to Hay-on-Wye though.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
‘For once in my lifetime I was finally free, and you gave that to me.’
It’s from Zoom by Fat Larry’s Band. The song makes me ridiculously happy every time I hear it.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
I love dancing so pretty much anything will do it. But if pushed I’d say Born Slippy by Underworld.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I have to draft in pencil, on rough paper, away from my desk. Not sure that’s strange though.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I’m updating website copy for a client whose business is growing and editing very scientific content into plain English for a veterinary services company.
In the pipeline is a whole raft of materials for a tech company that’s moving from development to commercial launch.
Describe the last photograph you took.
It was for my daughter of our dog ‘hugging’ the Christmas present we gave her.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
George Orwell’s six elementary rules for writers. I’d been banging the plain English drum for years in the public sector so when I became a copywriter it was a joy to be among like-minded folk.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Does an emoji story to my daughter count?
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” Samuel Johnson
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I’ve never watched the TV series but I have recently read Mad Women by Jane Maas, who was a copywriter on Madison Avenue in the sixties and seventies. It’s brilliant, so Jane Maas.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Truly Madly Deeply. Because of Alan Rickman (that voice) and Juliet Stephenson’s snot when she cries.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I finished Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson last night. The simplicity, beauty and cleverness of her writing is breathtaking. I want to be her friend.
Tonight I’m going to start Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
My mum, because she’s kind, funny and pragmatic, which means I can’t quote Phillip Larkin. In terms of writing, Andy Maslen has been generous and supportive and made more of a difference than he’ll ever know.
Who is your favourite artist?
Easy – Kyffin Williams.
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?
Any and all of them, depending on my mood and what stage I’m at with a piece of work. But I do love my desk.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Social media isn’t my bag, so it’s simply: http://www.sarahrussellwriting.co.uk
Thank you, Sarah 🙂