Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk blog.
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… ”
Sally Ormond, MD of Briar Copywriting Ltd
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…)
That would be “Write to Sell” by Andy Maslen. It was the first copywriting book and has remained my bible ever since. Andy’s style has been a great inspiration to me and is reflected in my work. He was the person who taught me not to be afraid to write with personality, to always put the customer first and to always focus on the benefits.
That kind of direction when starting out is essential – it hasn’t done me too badly. After all, I’m still here 8 years on!
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
My favourite is going back a few years now to the days of the Gold Blend saga. Do you remember that one? Also, the Bisto family. Those were the days when adverts held meaning, unlike today’s “Be more dog” and that purple Muppet that keeps telling us it’ll be all right.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Blimey, that’s a tough one. I guess if there is a secret it would come down to understanding your audience, being honest, writing from the heart, determination and patience.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
The books part of that question is easy – all of Andy Maslen’s. I think I have them all and I believe they are essential reading for anyone wanting an honest look at the world of copywriting. It’s not glamorous and can be frustrating, but at the same time, it’s very rewarding.
As for advice – grow a thick skin, don’t take things to heart and trust your instincts.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Definitely silence. For years I worked for a high street bank in an open plan office and I honestly can’t believe I was able to work with all the noise. Today I need complete silence when I work. That can be tricky at times working from a home office (especially when my boys are home from 6th form and Uni). My husband works from home occasionally. He did share my office, but he made so much noise I had to evict him to the landing!
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
There are so many! Right up there are Jane Eyre and Portrait of a Lady, but for more modern stuff, I love anything by Scott Mariani, Jo Nesbo and a special mention has to go to Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
That’s really tricky because the stuff I write for clients is all for them. My own writing ego doesn’t come into it. I guess my world gets rocked when a client is blown away by my content and doesn’t ask for any revisions.
I did write a stonkingly good letter to my son’s school once whilst studying for my OU degree. The course was on 19th century novels and Charlotte Bronte would have been proud of me (her writing style was having a big influence on me at that time).
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Not very interesting I’m afraid – it was a box of rhubarb and custard gels for cycling.
Who was your teenage crush?
Now I’ll show my age – it was, of course, John Taylor from Duran Duran.
Describe the best meal you have ever eaten.
I love the explosive hit of a curry. When the spices collide to create a sensation that sends shivers down your spine. I’m not talking about one that’s so strong you lose your taste buds – more the aromatic, rounded blend of spice that tingles.
What’s your favourite tipple?
That one is easy – I’m a Pinot girl. A chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Gris usually hits the spot. Mind you, if out on a bike ride, a cold Aspalls goes down a treat (my local cider brew).
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?
So many places. Definitely New Zealand, the Grand Canyon, Iceland, Outer Hebrides… As for what would I write about – the food, the people, the scenery, the weather…in fact, anything that would keep the memories alive for me.
What’s in your pockets?
As I sit here in my usual jeans and t-shirt, there is only a solitary tissue in my pocket. How boring is that?
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Despite numerous efforts to go paperless, I always find myself reaching for pen and paper when I need to plan and sketch out ideas. When it comes to creating first drafts, it’s definitely keyboard and screen – the ability to move text around makes life a lot easier.
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 try to, but to be honest most of the stuff I read is more about the wider world of marketing. I like to keep up to date with what’s happening with social media, SEO, online marketing etc. I love the musings of Dave Trott.
Tea or coffee?
That’s easy – coffee.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
My favourite mug is a small, pale blue, cracked-glaze little number.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
The Hungry Caterpillar 🙂
Your favourite word?
I don’t have a favourite word as such. I don’t have a catchphrase either, unlike my sons who love to say (in unison) “I was just about to…”
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Bookstore. The smell of new books is something I’ll never get fed up with. I also love browsing the bookstall near Festival Hall on the South Bank. There’s just something about second-hand books.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“Club Tropicana drinks are free…” I think that one’s self-explanatory 🙂
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
I do love a bit of the 80s – Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Soft Cell and anything with a decent beat. Oh, almost forgot – definitely Love Shack by the B-52s.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Nothing I would call a ritual. After reading a brief and making a few notes on things that immediately spring to mind, I walk away and leave the ideas to formulate in my head. This ‘thinking’ time is invaluable as it helps my (at times bizarre) mind to make sense of everything before attempting to create a plan and initial draft.
I do find the odd game of Spider Solitaire helps unblock the creative juices.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
There’s a lot on my desk right now: a content library, website content, brochures, newsletter, articles, biographies, and a white paper to repurpose.
Describe the last photograph you took.
The last photo was of my elder son preparing for a cycle road race.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Dare to be yourself. Not so much for client work, but for my own blogging. Rather than trying to write how you think your readers want you to write, write with your personality and don’t be afraid to say what you think.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
The last thing I wrote that wasn’t work related was an entry in my diary. I don’t write in it all that regularly, but every now and then when I need to get something off my chest I find it helps to write it down.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t doing it right.” ― Amy Joy
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Not sure I have one.
Name your favourite film.
Shallow Hal. I think Rosemary is a wonderful character and the conversation she has with Hal after he walks her home from their first date really resonates:
Rosemary: Hal, do me a favor and stop saying that I’m pretty and that I’m not fat, ok? Cause it makes me uncomfortable.
Hal: Umm, ok. Do you have a problem with compliments?
Rosemary: Look, I know what I am and I know what I’m not. I’m the girl who, you know, gets really good grades and who’s not afraid to be funny. And I’m the girl who has a lot of friends who are boys and no boyfriends. I’m not beautiful, ok, and I never will be. And I’m fine with that. But when you go around saying I’m something that I’m not, it’s just, it’s just not nice.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
I’m ashamed to say there isn’t one at the moment. My reading tends to go through phases; for several months I will read constantly, then nothing for a while.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
I would probably say my A Level Physical Geography teacher, Mrs Duncan. She was incredibly strict so a lot of kids hated her, but she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and that was something I admired her for. Something I wish I had the guts to do.
Who is your favourite artist?
I love the paintings by Glynn Thomas. There’s one in particular “Greenwich” I’ve been trying to get my hands on for years, but can’t find it anywhere.
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 work best in my office – prepare yourself, there is photographic evidence of it.
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Thank you, Sally, I’m totally with you on the John Taylor love!
Next time on the Writing Desk, we talk to copywriter, screenwriter and overqualified archaeologist Dan Hanks.
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