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…
John Bizzell, Events & Awards Manager for MRS
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…)
Does Matt Beaumont’s e count as a business book? I’ve read it at least four times and have foisted my dog-eared copy upon new comms recruits many more. We can all learn a lot from the staff at Miller Shanks (and Beaumont’s ingenious plotting). If not, the most thoroughly abused tome on my desk is The Oxford Guide to the English Language (1984 edition), which falls open to page 137 – GRAMMAR – unprompted.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
I love a jingle – I’m only ever two drinks away from my word-perfect rendition of Waffley Versatile – but if you can’t stick in someone’s head you better stick right to their heart. The Channel 4 ‘Meet the Superhumans’ campaign for the 2012 Paralympic Games really got me. The research behind it took the Grand Prix at the MRS Awards in 2013 and that Public Enemy track they used still gives me tingles.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I know a lot of people on this blog answer with something like ‘truth’ or ‘honesty,’ which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. Writing is only as good as the person reading it thinks it is. For me, the secret is to read as much as you possibly can of other people’s stuff and try to understand why it’s good (or bad) to you as a reader. It will inevitably improve your own writing. Also, you must let other people read your work and accept that sometimes what sounds ingenious in your own head might not translate.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
You almost always need to hear what you don’t want to hear if you want to improve at and progress with anything. People who play sports as children often seem to grasp this much faster than those of us who spent PE smoking in Danson Park (for example). To be clear, I am absolutely not advising younger me to take up sport because I don’t want a cigarette burn in this jumper, but he should actively seek critique instead of dreading criticism. Also: read something that will make you understand punctuation. It will save you so much time later.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
I sing to myself whilst I work. Myself and the rest of the open-plan office. Everyone loves me.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin. Whilst I adore his Tales of the City novels, I can honestly say that reading this lesser known gem about accepting yourself as you are, and being fabulous with it, in the early 90s was life-changing. “Love wouldn’t be blind if the braille weren’t so damned much fun.
- Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald. I’m fascinated by civilian life in London during World War II. The atmosphere must have been extraordinary. I’ve read literally hundreds of books about it and this is one of my absolute favourites because it’s based on Fitzgerald’s own experiences of working at the BBC at the time.
- Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff. As she says herself in 84, Charing Cross Road, Hanff always preferred reading about things that had happened to real people, so you’ll have to forgive me for choosing her memoir about being a struggling young writer in New York over a third novel. I love it.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
I took a three-month sabbatical from my job in London to organise a charity gala for a non-profit theatre in New York. I wrote a weekly blog whilst I was there and the encouraging response to it was the real turning point in me going from writing mostly for business to writing mostly for pleasure. It’s also just a great record of a very important time in my life and I’m really proud of it.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
I spent my last 90p on a packet of Halls Soothers for this Dickensian cough I’ve picked up.
Who was your teenage crush?
Krishnan Guru-Murthy: yesterday, today, tomorrow.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?
Tesco Simply Muscadet AKA Simply Mustgetdrunk. 3-litre box of.
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?
When I can’t sleep I listen to natural history programmes. This, unfortunately, means that as soon as I hear David Attenborough’s voice I tend to lose consciousness. If nothing else, it will be a restful month off.
What’s in your pockets?
Half a packet of Halls Soothers and an empty wallet. Date me now!
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Hunt and peck. You should see my two fingers fly across this keyboard.
Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?
Tesco Simply Muscadet AKA Simply Mustgetdrunk. 3-litre box of.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I do have a favourite mug, but it’s not mine. My colleague is obsessed with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. She received a mug commemorating their engagement as her Secret Santa and it’s the most contentious piece of crockery since the Holy Grail. Shaped like a toxic waste drum and flyposted with photos that make the couple in American Gothic look insatiable, its miniature curlicue handle forces you to grasp the ruinously thin porcelain of the main vessel to achieve a purchase, scalding your hand on every occasion. Despite its questionable aesthetics and injurious impracticality, this mug gets used by somebody other than its owner almost every day causing her to charge around the office ransacking desks and threatening retribution. It is hilarious.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Little Miss Splendid. I wasn’t hiding anything.
Your favourite word?
Scurryfunge: a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see company arriving and the moment they knock on the door.
Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?
Sluice. Ew. There’s a moist sluice in Penge. EW.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
Dinner party answer: The layers of assonance and alliteration in Lin-Manual Miranda’s lyrics for Hamilton are mind-boggling! “I’m in the cabinet/ I am complicit in/ Watching him grabbin’ at power and kissin’ it/ If Washington isn’t gon’ listen/ To disciplined dissidents, this is the difference/This kid is out!”
Real answer: Cher crowing “I’m looking for anonymous and fleeting satisfaction/ I wanna tell my daddy I’ll be missing in action” at Meatloaf during Dead Ringer for Love. Try it, it feels brilliant.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
You have three seconds between the first note of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love and the arrival of Hurricane Bizzell to seek shelter.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
The best sentences always manifest themselves when I’m not in a position to write them down, so I have to repeat them out loud over and over again until I get to pen and paper. That once took three stops on the Northern line. Other people seemed to find it strange, I was fine with it.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
More events, more programmes for them, more copy to sell them, more stories to market them. I’m lucky to have such a diverse role at MRS. Many events producers don’t have such a holistic brief; creating, communicating and delivering the content they’re responsible for. One day I could be writing criteria for an award, the next web copy and the next an MC’s script.
Can you describe the last photograph you took?
Not without upsetting my mother.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
My New Year’s resolution was to post one 1000-word personal blog that I’m happy with a month. That probably doesn’t sound like much, but the crucial phrase is ‘happy with.’ So far, so good.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” That’s Jodi Picoult I think.
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
On the TV show? Joan, obvs. In real life I’ve been lucky enough to work with Dr Liz Nelson OBE many times. She’s the N in TNS, so maybe not exactly what you mean by a Mad Man, but she was a pioneer in the market research sector in the 1960s as a psychologist and a businesswoman and she’s also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Neither of them allows crying in the break room.
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Dinner party answer: Cactus Flower, 1969. Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, Goldie Hawn. The script is perfect. It’s such a shame Bergman didn’t get to do more comedy.
Real answer: Big Business, 1988. Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. Bette yodels. My mum rented it so many times for me from the video shop that eventually they gave it to us. I know it word for word.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
Stacked largest to smallest, starting from the bottom:
Patrick Procktor: Art and Life by Ian Massey (read, but has nice pictures)
You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: And Other Stories by Alan Cumming (read, but has nice pictures)
The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman by Leo Lerman (read, too big to move)
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (unread, too big to open)
Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns (because I like the cover)
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Who is your favourite artist?
Patrick Procktor. If I ever get paid for a piece of life writing, I will buy one of his screenprints.
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?
At my desk in the open plan office surrounded by people telling me to stop singing. (photo attached)
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
For many words: Saint Mavis on tumblr.
For fewer words: @John_Bizzell on Twitter.
For pictures of my cat: @BizaBizzelli on Instagram.