Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of The Writing Desk.
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…
Ellen Holcombe, Professional Word Person (usually referred to as a 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…)
It has to be Write To Sell by Andy Maslen. I first read it when I was first getting into copywriting and it’s been a solid favourite ever since.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
I adore the Porsche ad that starts with the copy “Honestly now, did you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan or a Mitsubishi?”. It’s just so relatable for any car lover.
I also love the new(ish) Spotify ads that use data and statistics. I’ve always loved numbers and stats almost as much as writing so it perfectly combines two of my favourite things.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Read. Read. And read some more.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I would tell myself to stop writing for me and start writing for my audience. That seems like such a basic concept, but when I first started it was difficult to let go of copy that I loved that just wasn’t right for the readers.
Oh, and stop quoting on the time it’ll take you to write. Copywriting is more about thinking and planning. The writing is the easy bit.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
When I’m actually writing it has to be silence. But when I’m brainstorming and planning I like a bit of background music. Probably something I don’t really know (or without lyrics) so I don’t end up singing along instead of getting on with the work.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- The first has to be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s so beautifully written and makes me cry every. Single. Time.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is another one that I can read over and over. Such a good book.
- My third and final novel is probably Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s a YA book that I remember reading as a teenager and deciding that if I did believe in an afterlife, this is what I’d like to believe in.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
Honestly, it was probably my dissertation. It was called “Sorry, Not Sorry” and was the first thing I remember being truly proud of.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A pint of porter called Drop o’ the Black Stuff by Springhead Brewery. It’s blummin’ lovely.
Who was your teenage crush?
It was probably Billie Joe Armstrong from Greenday. It was the eyeliner that did it.
Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
It was probably a lamb ragu fettuccine I ate in Rome a few weeks ago. It was in a little family-run restaurant somewhere near(ish) the Colosseum and was just the best pasta I’ve had in my life.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
I’m going to cheat and go for four (because my favourite depends on what mood I’m in).
I love my dark beers (proper dark ones like stouts and porters, none of this ruby nonsense). I also have a pretty extensive gin collection but also enjoy a good rum every now and then. And there’s nothing better than a hearty glass of red on a dark evening.
Basically, I like booze.
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?
This is a difficult one… there are so many places I’d love to see! It’d probably be somewhere with a completely different culture to my own, so maybe Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe.
What’s in your pockets?
Nothing. We all know that women’s pockets are ridiculously small and can barely hold a mobile phone.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pen and paper for note taking and planning, keyboard and screen for research and writing.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on desk and recycle?)
This is going to sound super forced because of where you’re reading this but my favourite writing blog series is The Writing Desk. I’m really nosy so love reading about other people’s lives and I’ve picked up some really great tips and tricks from here.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. I seem to have convinced myself that there’s less caffeine in tea (which is absolutely not true).
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I do. It’s a straight up-and-down cylindrical mug (I don’t drink out of fancy-shaped mugs) and has the words “Mardy Bum” on. For those of you not from the Yorkshire area, it means sulky, which I am when I’m hungry, tired, or if things aren’t going my way.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I loved Roald Dahl’s stories as a kid, especially The Witches. I think my favourite character, though, has to be Mr Hoppy from Esio Trot. I love the lengths he went to to keep up his prank.
Your favourite word?
Marvellous. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Also, fuck. Am I allowed to say that? It’s such a versatile word. It can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb… you can stick fuck anywhere in a sentence and it’ll work.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Gotten. It’s an Americanism that seems to have made its way over to the UK and I bloody hate it.
Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?
Definitely a bookstore for browsing. If there’s a book I know I want, I’ll probably order it online, but if I’m just after something new to read I like to be in a shop.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
I think it has to be the first verse of Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side. My dad used to rock me to sleep singing this as a baby (weird, I know).
Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Any old school pop/punk band like Blink-182 or Fall Out Boy is bound to get me dancing.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I don’t really have any. I chew my pen, but who doesn’t? And that’s not really a ritual, just a bad habit.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Today I’m working on the web and brochure copy for a personal concierge brand.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Shamefully, it was a selfie. I’ve just got some new glasses that kind of make me feel like Barb from Stranger Things.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
The quote “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It not only helped me realise that good writing takes time but also changed the way I position myself to my clients. I’m not here to save you time, I’m here because good copywriting is hard and I’m damn good at it.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A text message to my other half telling him that, no, I can’t go home at lunch to get the pigeon out of the freezer.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
Argh, I’ve kind of already answered this. Can I say “See answer to question 27”?
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
Peggy. It has to be Peggy. Always a sucker for a strong female character that doesn’t take any shit in a TV show or movie.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Donnie Darko. I was actually talking about this today. As well as being an incredible movie, it has the best soundtrack of all time.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. I love a good psychological thriller.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Mr B, my high school Maths teacher. He was always there to help me with whatever subject I was struggling with (and we share the same birthday).
Who is your favourite artist?
I have such an eclectic taste in music that this is a tough one. I guess if I could only listen to one artist for the rest of my life it’d be Joe Strummer. He has a song for every mood and, for me, has that perfect balance between enjoyment and nostalgia.
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 at my desk in a shared office with a few other freelancers. It’s nice to have other people around, even if we’re all cracking on with something. Here’s a picture when I first moved in and my desk was lovely and tidy!
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
On Twitter: @ellenwordperson
Or on my site: www.wordperson.me