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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…
Andy Maslen. Andy is one of the UK’s best-known copywriters, MD of writing agency Sunfish, founder of The Andy Maslen Copywriting Academy and author of five books including Persuasive Copywriting.
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…)
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. I have the fifth edition, which is falling to pieces, and the fourth.
What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?
Cinzano Bianco with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. I have no idea if it shifted any extra bottles of the vile stuff but it made me laugh out loud. (Which, incidentally, is also at the heart of my love for direct marketing and my central critique of ‘creative’ advertising.)
“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?
I think the secret is having something to say that other people want to hear. That could be a story or an opinion or information. Good style is nice but for me it isn’t a godhead.
If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?
Pretty much the same advice I give other writers: read. One of my favourite Dr Johnson quotes (and don’t we all love quoting him?) is that “an amateur is someone who writes more than he reads”. I would read Ogilvy on Advertising, How to Write Sales Letters that Sell by my mentor Drayton Bird, and Fowler’s Modern Usage as a shield against the shonky spears of pedants.
Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?
Silence. I know designers love music but I think there’s too much similarity between music and language: it’s like a competing symbolic system in your head, fighting for attention with the words you’re trying to write.
What are your top three novels of all time – and why?
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. The story of Saleem Sinai, born on the night India gained independence, transported me, both through the storytelling and the quality of Rushdie’s prose.
- Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I know it’s one of his slighter books, but it makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. Dickens also takes time to show his affection for Mr. Pickwick, even as he, gently, punctures his pretensions.
- The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Weird. Beautiful. Shocking. Funny. Surreal.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?
My latest book, Persuasive Copywriting. I genuinely believe I added something new to the world of business writing by fusing neuroscience and copywriting AND good writing.
What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.
Hotel Chocolat pear cider truffles. Oh God, they’re delicious.
Who was your teenage crush?
Well, that would be Kate Bush. I have a thing for redheads.
Describe the best meal you have ever eaten.
Dinner at Green’s in San Francisco. Aperitifs of kir royale on varnished sequoia stumps in the bar, then a table with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had a pizza (veggie, naturally) and chocolate fudge cake for pudding. Just wonderful flavours and a real sense of occasion.
What’s your favourite tipple?
Pol Roger White Foil. Any champagne will do but this is my favourite (and Winston Churchill’s).
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?
My wife will tell you I’m not a natural traveller. I don’t like extremes – of heat, cold or humidity; I don’t like places where you have to be vaccinated against things with “fever” at the end of their names; I’m not great with bugs bigger than a fifty-pence piece, or apex predators; or crowds. So, maybe New Zealand. I would write about people, what makes them tick, fall in love, or out of it, decide to raise children, go off the grid. I am not sure what Mr Attenborough would be doing all this time. Maybe he could find some nice, non-threatening creatures to show me during tea breaks.
What’s in your pockets?
House keys, phone, business cards, poo bags, dog treats, tangerine-scented handwash, pocket square, wallet, Waterman fountain pen.
Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?
For planning, pencil and paper – freeing, fluid and the eraser at the top is useful; for most copywriting, including blogging and books, iMac; for direct mail letters, correspondence and notes to friends, pen and ink.
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?)
To be honest, no. I prefer to read books on writing. On Writing by Steven King is my favourite. I read magazines OF writing – specifically the New Yorker and The Economist.
Tea or coffee?
Tea. Our house blend is 1/3 Keemun, 1/3 Kenyan Fannings; 1/3 Earl Grey Imperial, all from the “tea man” at Salisbury Market.
Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?
I do have a favourite cup, but I don’t own it. Yet. Call it a Platonic ideal. It is bone china, probably antique and it has a hunting scene: huntsmen in pink, hounds, fox.
What was your most adored children’s book? And character?
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. And Max. “Let the wild rumpus start!”
Your favourite word?
Fuck. It’s expressive. Transgressive. Anglo Saxon. Basically, grown up, funny and clever.
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?
Out of those two, the bookshop.
Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?
“It had to be you.” Sums up my feelings about my wife. We played it at our wedding.
Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.
Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?
I’m not that kind of writer. I think hard, plan, then write as fast as possible without looking up.
What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?
I am writing a direct mail pack for a large international children’s charity. Long copy, emotion to the fore, playfulness and authenticity, soft call to action: write a letter.
In the pipeline, a brochure for a large financial services company. And maybe another book. I want to get all my rants about bad writing and the alternatives down on paper.
Describe the last photograph you took.
My whippet, Merlin, and his best friend, Button, a lurcher, playing.
What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?
From my dear friend, Ross Speirs, a gifted typographer: “You’re unemployable”. He meant, I hope, that there was no turning back from my career path as a writer to a corporate job. Who’d have me? I never thought about employment again.
What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?
A note thanking friends of ours for dinner.
What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?
I just read this in a book and remembered I used to use it to teach:
“True ease in writing comers from art, not chance
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.”
It’s the opening stanza of ‘Sound and Sense’ by Alexander Pope
Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?
David Ogilvy. I love his books, his sense of style, his philosophy, his ads, especially for Rolls Royce, and his background in door-to-door sales.
Name your favourite film.
Just one? OK. Some Like It Hot. It has Marilyn looking fantastic, “Like Jello on springs”. It has Lemon and Curtis, cross-dressing. It has jazz. And possibly the best closing line in the movies.
Which book or books is/are by your bed today?
In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell. The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver. The Bedside Guardian 2014.
Who was or is your greatest teacher?
Sarah Scutt. She teaches me piano.
Who is your favourite artist?
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 would like to work best in a meadow near a stream. I actually work best at my desk.
And finally, Andy Maslen, where can this caffeine-fuelled audience find you?
Thanks so much Andy. Here’s raising a glass of Pol Roger White Foil to you.
Coming soon… Journalist and stylist Sian Lewis shares her writing desk.
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