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…
Vikki Ross, Copy Chief
(Ever since Peggy Olson got promoted in Mad Men, I’ve been calling myself that. Sometimes.)
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…)
Now seems about the right time to warn you that I’m indecisive and can’t answer questions asking me for one of something. Or three – I see that coming up in question 6.
My desk and bookshelves are filled with books on copywriting and advertising. Books by Dave Trott, Charles Saatchi, John Hegarty, Bob Hoffman and Paul Arden are my favourites – full of attitude, brilliant writing and tales of advertising in the good old days.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
There are loads of ads that have entertained or inspired me, or stuck with me like Dave Trott’s ad forAriston. The line was “Ariston and on and on and on.” My grandma used to say my mum was like Ariston if she was nagging at my brother and me.
More recently, I fell in love with this Duracell ad: Oof, “I was deaf, so I didn’t listen” is one powerful line.
I could go on (and on and on and on) but I’ll stop at just one more. Nature Is Speaking gets me every time I play one of the videos – such beautiful copywriting.
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
Talk directly to the reader, keep the message simple and play on human truths so everything you say is relevant, interesting and believable.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
I tutor copywriting at School of Communication Arts (SCA) in Brixton and am forever telling young creatives to read anything by Dave Trott and Andy Maslen, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Read Me by Roger Horberry and Gyles Lingwood.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
I used to work in noisy creative studios or agencies with anything from Chas & Dave (I’m looking at you, Table 19) to Madonna (at The Body Shop) coming from the speakers but could always block it out to write.
Now I work for myself, home alone and I love the silence.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain last year and have been sort of stalking Ernest Hemingway ever since – a wonderful pastime that’s led me to reading Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood and Villa America by Liza Klaussmann followed by:
- A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
- Living Well is the Best Revenge, Calvin Tomkins
- Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda, Jackson R. Bryer and Cathy W. Barks
- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Ann Fowler
- Hemingway in Love by A. E. Hotchner
- A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
- The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
- Ernest Hemingway, The Last Interview and Other Conversations, Melville House Publishing
in that order, if you want to do the same, which I highly recommend – it’s a wonderful world to get lost in.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
The nerd in me is answering this one. The Sky brand book. Writing for the UK’s biggest entertainment brand is one sexy gig for a TV lover. And it’s so gorgeous and glossy thanks to branding agency Venture Three.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
A Bloody Mary at The Woolpack in Bermondsey. Blimey, it was good.
Do you know, Langan’s Brasserie calls their Virgin Mary a Bloody Shame? I bloody love that.
Who was your teenage crush?
George. Michael. Oh. Yes.
Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten.
18 plates of unique, unusual and innovative dishes at Mandarin Oriental’s Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo. There are only eight front row seats at this kitchen theatre where chefs talk you through the origin and inspiration for each mouth watering and magical course.
What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged Malt?
Right now, I’m really into the fresh and fruity Dill Fix at Peckham Refreshment Rooms in Peckham.
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?
India. I’d tour the Golden Triangle and write about the sights and smells of my surroundings, the architecture, the food, the culture. David can put his feet up in a rickshaw; I’m good to go by myself.
What’s in your pockets?
Nothing. Skinny jeans’ pockets are rubbish for putting things in.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
Pen and paper for scribbling notes in a meeting or briefing (and capturing #thingsyouhearinagencies for my Twitter account @AgencyQuotes). Keyboard and screen for getting copy out.
Do you read any blogs or magazines about writing? (And I mean read, not just subscribe to and delete/leave on desk and recycle?)
Not on writing but I read Dave Trott’s blogs in Campaign and Bob Hoffman’s emails. I also read Best Ads and Ads of The World newsletters – it’s good to know what’s out there and who’s doing it.
Tea or coffee?
Tea. Ginger or peppermint.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
It’s large and cream with a black “V.” Or “J” if I use my husband’s.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
I loved the Milly Molly Mandy books so my favourite character would be Milly Molly Mandy. Her white cottage with the thatched roof sounded so dreamy.
Your favourite word?
I don’t have one but I like words like sparkle, glisten and fizz.
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?
Online. I hate shopping in shops.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“It’s Mr Moon who plays in tune
Mr Moon who knows
And if it’s Mr Moon who gives the sign then that’s the sign that goes…”
From Mr Moon by Jamiroquai for the memories…
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Wait, can I have two? Prince.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
Not strange – pretty simple, really. One is to walk away when you’re struggling – the idea or the line always comes when you stop thinking about it. The other is to flick through magazines to get words going. Careful where you do that though – early on, I was told off for doing it because my Head of Copy thought I was just kicking back.
Now I have loads of magazines at home for whenever I may need them. Wallpaper is good – their headlines are often inspired. And stock up on Christmas magazines – it’s hard to write about Christmas in May with nothing around to get you in the festive spirit.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
Today I’m writing a brand book and an ad campaign for a TV channel. I’ve got a series of copywriting and tone of voice gigs coming up at another TV channel, and I’m planning some training courses for D&AD and Future Rising.
Describe the last photograph you took.
Two houses on Fournier Street in Shoreditch – one front door says “Eleven” and the other says “Eleven And A Half.”
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
Never present rubbish. That’s my own advice. I once presented a really shit line thinking it wouldn’t get noticed amongst my better options. The client chose it and it lived on the front of their brand catalogue for six long months.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
Does a WhatsApp message count?
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
“The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
I’ll give you one guess given my answer to Question 1.
But isn’t Roger Sterling fabulous?
Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?
Oh blimey. No.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
He’s not my teacher but Marc Lewis does a bloody good job at School of Communication Arts and as a tutor there, I get to see him in action. Future creatives are catapulted into the ad industry, armed and dangerous, after spending a year with Marc.
Who is your favourite artist?
Andy Warhol. Or Roy Lichtenstein.
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 home: at my desk, on the couch, on the floor, in the garden (weather permitting).
And finally, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Tweet me @VikkiRossWrites or meet me at quarterly #copywritersunite meet-ups in London and at Copy Cabana (@Copy_Cabana) in Bournemouth.
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