Carry on middle class camping

After spending 24 hours in a field in Kent this weekend, I present to you my Camping Weekend Breakdown. Breakdown as in stats, not as in mental. (That came later.) I felt the need to work out how many hours were spent actually having fun vs how many hours were spent working towards having fun. So here goes…

• 30mins thinking of and typing up Camping Checklist Google Doc.

• 4hrs spent sourcing camping gear from every crevice of the house, lining it up by front door and packing.

• 1hr wondering where the fuck our 4th camp bed is.

• 30mins spent loading up car.

• 30mins spent repacking the car because husband says the way I did it was totally illogical.

• 10mins spent bickering with husband.

• 1hr spent driving to campsite with my feet on dashboard due to giant cooler box taking up all foot space. Kids buried under extra bedding in the back.

Weather: decent.

• 45mins and 4 people to erect our bastard tent. Discovery of lantern and a pair of knickers inside.

• 1hr spent setting up beds and preparing food. (Husband to sleep on a yoga mat due to missing 4th bed.)

• 2hrs spent chilling around campfire with friends, glugging fizz and being interrupted every 15 minutes by a child who needed the loo/needed more food/couldn’t find pyjamas/wanted their sibling’s torch. Sudden fizz-induced epiphany: we don’t actually own a 4th camp bed.

• One family abandons camp with vomiting child.

• 6hrs spent sleeping with child’s elbow in my face.

• Upon hideously early awakening due to other child needing loo, 30mins spent trying to unfold my face and re-inflate it.

Weather: rain.

• 1hr spent in tent sheltering from rain.

• 1hr spent outside tent discussing rain (in the rain).

• Another family abandons camp with poorly child. This time liquid poo is involved. A LOT of liquid poo. They have run out of clean clothes and the will to live.

• 20mins spent in tent privately discussing rain and possible bubonic plague outbreak in hushed tones.

• 1hr spent outside tent discussing rain and possible bubonic plague outbreak in hearty, cheerful tones.

• 1hr spent in small campsite café with a hundred other urban masochists.

• 1hr spent in Pizza Express in Tunbridge Wells hoping not to be spotted and shamed by the rest of our group.

• Another hour spent in Pizza Express in Tunbridge Wells, joined by the rest of our group. Shame dispersed by arrival of Tiramisu.

• 15mins spent strolling along high street receiving odd looks from well turned-out locals. We look like filth because we’re camping! Grrr!

• 2hrs spent in woods with kids trying to stay upright in the mud and being forced to ride a ‘see-saw’ which isn’t really a see-saw but an ill-placed log above a mud pit.

• 30mins spent discussing weather with less optimism. Rain has stopped but it is grey, chilly, and morale is sinking by the minute. Weather app says more rain likely.

Unanimous decision to abandon camp and return to civilization. Unanimous disappointed expressions masking sheer relief and ecstasy at the thought of being reunited with central heating and one’s own bed.

• 1hr spent rolling up camp beds, sleeping bags, hunting down their sacks, squeezing the bastard things into their bastard sacks and then dismantling bastard tent and vowing to sell it on eBay.

• 1hr spent driving back to Brighton with my feet sticking out window. Dashboard says it’s 12 degrees.

• 2hrs spent unpacking car, putting everything back in every crevice. Laundry basket overflowing. Child tramples mud upstairs. Husband unimpressed by my complaints of a stiff back.

• 12hrs spent sleeping. Wake up to a groaning stomach.

Modern Tongue Twisters

I like to play with words. The husband likes to play with shapes, colours and typefaces. Here’s a little something we worked on together: I wrote the words, he made it look pretty. Watch this space as there’ll be more of our modern tongue twisters appearing over the coming months, and they’ll soon be available to buy as posters, etc.

IMG_1043

 

The Old-School Headmaster

This is my first attempt at writing a short comedy sketch for radio. Forgive the presentation, I don’t know how to do tabs on WordPress.

SIR:                          [Speaking into his buzzer] I hear we have our first rabble of rioters waiting outside, Miss Crowther. Would you be so kind as to send the first three in?

F/X:                           [We hear a knock at the door]

SIR:                            Enter! Right, who have we got here then? Names!

WILLIAM:                William Chapman, Sir.

TOMMY:                   Tommy Spicer, Sir.

ERNIE:                      Ernie Jones, Sir.

SIR:                            Your second day at secondary school and in the headmaster’s office already. Tut, tut. So which one of you deliberately tripped over Tina Watts on the staircase?

WILLIAM:                 But Sir, it wasn’t like that.

SIR:                             William, is it?

WILLIAM:                  Yes, Sir.

SIR:                              It was really nothing, was it, William? Life in a humdrum town dragging you down, eh? Heaven knows you look a bit miserable to me, boy.

WILLIAM:                  I’m not miserable, Sir. And I didn’t trip up Tina Watts.

TOMMY:                    He’s telling the truth, Sir. It was just an accident.

SIR:                             Tommy, is it?

TOMMY:                    Yes, Sir.

SIR:                            [Chuckles] Used to work on the dock?

TOMMY:                    Eh, Sir?

SIR:                             Down on your luck, are you? Finding it tough? Tina’s probably thinking of running away.

TOMMY:                    Honestly, Sir, she just tripped.

SIR:                             And you, boy. What’s your name?

ERNIE:                       Ernie, Sir.

SIR:                             Fastest milkman in the west, are you?

ERNIE:                       What, Sir?

SIR:                             Feeling lost without Bert? Once a muppet, always a muppet, eh Ernie?

ERNIE:                       I’m not a muppet, Sir.

SIR:                             In the school of life, Ernie, a muppet is someone who trips up a fellow classmate, sending them iPhone over funny bone and leaving them with a broken arm.

ERNIE:                       But Sir, it wasn’t us. It was Luca Di Pietro.

SIR:                            [Speaks into buzzer.] Is there a Luca Di Pietro out there?

F/X:                            [Door opens, Luca enters.]

SIR:                            Name?

LUCA:                        Luca, Sir.

SIR:                            Live on the second floor, do you?

LUCA:                        What? No Sir.

SIR:                            Think you’ve seen me before, hmm?

LUCA:                        Sir? I was lost – we all were. I wasn’t looking where I was going. I walked straight into Tommy and we sort of stumbled into Tina and–

SIR:                            I think I’ve heard enough.

LUCA:                        If you must know, Sir, it was Rio Wentworth.

SIR:                            We’ve got a Rio in our midst? You’ve got to be kidding!

LUCA:                        Rio did it, Sir. I saw him stick his leg out.

SIR:                              I can’t wait! [Speaks into buzzer] Miss Crowther, please tell me there’s a Rio Wentworth out there?

 F/X:                           [Door opens, Rio enters.]

SIR:                            Rio, is it? Tell me, lad, do you dance across the sand?

RIO:                           [Sighs] Yes, Sir – just like that river twisting through a dusty land. And when I shine, I really show you all I can.

SIR:                            [Long pause.] All of you are dismissed on a warning – except Rio.

F/X:                           [The others leave, door closes.]

SIR:                            Alright you smart aleck, explain yourself.

RIO:                           Last year you gave my older sister a week of detentions, Sir.

SIR:                            And who might your older sister be?

RIO:                           Eileen, sir.

THE END

Creative Brighton

Last week Design Week asked a group of creative directors from around the UK why their location was a good place for a creative agency to be. My husband and co-director at Harrison Agency, Chris, suggested I respond with a poem about Brighton. Never one to turn a fun piece of creative writing down, I got stuck right in. Here’s my answer below. (And if you’re looking to relocate to somewhere with creative work in mind, the full article is worth a read.)

 

You might think you’ve got Brighton sussed

A town built on weekends of lust

With hipsters and greens

Mods, rockers and queens

The odd bit of new agey crust

 

Yet bold ideas are key to this place:

Its royal palace once deemed a disgrace

But a prince with a vision

Ignored all derision

The result? An iconic ace

 

This city gets under your nails

Its freedom puts wind in your sails

Be creative, be a freak

Brighton loves what’s unique

By contrast elsewhere simply pales

A poem about… Budgie Smugglers

Dedicated to all British men who dread putting on the appropriate attire for the French piscine… Allez. Bon courage.

 

One thing about France that British blokes hate:

The piscine rules aren’t up for debate

Baggy shorts are seen as a foreign man’s crime

Blokes, there’s no point complaining – it’s budgie time

 

You trawl the internet, seeking lenience

What are the reasons for this inconvenience?

How can baggy shorts be more of a scandal

than bikini bottoms that draw attention to your handle?

 

Get over it Britishers, work that stiff upper lip

Remember, in France, you’ll look pretty hip

There is one advantage to the hammock de banane –

all the French ladies love a budgie smuggler man

Good copywriting is important – here’s why.

Today I want to talk about copywriting, which is what I do for a living. It’s a different kind of challenge to writing fiction – I have to bear in mind clients’ requirements, but creatively it can be just as rewarding.

I work with my husband, a graphic designer, and over the years I’ve often noticed how people see the importance of good design, but sometimes text plays second fiddle. People often think that so long as there aren’t any typos, their copy is probably fine as it is.

Tut, tut! To this I say: never underestimate the power of words, in particular the tone of voice they’re written in, and the effect they can have on the reader.

The right words are key. The right amount. The right tone. The right message.

Good design with poor copy is like eating artisan bread with Happy Shopper marge.

So here are a few things I’ve learned about copywriting over the years, some of which can equally be applied to writing fiction.

1 • Don’t say what you think people want to hear.

Businesses want to sound professional, so they strive to use professional language. But language that sounds too professional and businessy, can often sound soulless and dull.

Thanks to this tendency, there are certain words and phrases today that have become a tad vacuous: ‘world-class’, ‘cutting-edge’, ‘highly regarded’ and ‘leaders in our field’ to name but a few.

Would you say to your friend/partner/kids, “Let’s go and visit that world-class museum with the cutting-edge displays that really add value to the unbeatable admission price!”?

Of course not.

Just speak normally. It’s allowed.

2 • Go easy on the war paint.

Vacuous words aside, messages drenched in adjectives don’t sound confident. You just sound like you’re trying to compensate for having a below-average product or service.

For example, ‘So-and-so stars in this side-splitting, laugh-out-loud, smash-hit comedy.’

Is this film going to make us wet ourselves with laughter? Probably not. The copy is trying too hard and we suspect it’s probably a mildly amusing film at best.

You might think your message looks a little bare or weak without a good dressing of adjectives, but don’t be fooled by the fear. Too much make-up never makes anyone look better.

Keep your message simple and honest.

3 • Frankie says relax.

Don’t go spewing all your key selling points into one piece of marketing.

If you’re trying to shoehorn a long list of benefits, accolades, praise and statistics into a paragraph, then take Frankie’s advice and for goodness sake, relax.

Less is more. Hold something back for later. Have a little mystique. Keep ‘em dangling.

After all – those three words ended up going viral for Frankie, decades before ‘viral’ was a thing.

4 • Forget your ‘target audience’.

You may well have worked out exactly who your target audience is, down to the most detailed demographics. But the person you’re really talking to, if the truth be known, is the one who gets it.

The more you try to widen your tone of voice to reach every potential customer, the weaker your message will be.

You’re talking to one person. The person who gets it.

This requires trust.

5 • Be true to yourself.

If you’re true to yourself, you’re much more likely to reach those who’ll get it.

Every time you get lost in a book or film, or laugh at a comedy or advert; every time you’re swallowed whole by a piece of music, or stop to stare at a piece of art – the creator, whoever they might be, was being true to themselves.

They didn’t create it with nothing but sales figures in mind. They wrote it/painted it/produced it for themselves. That’s why it touched you. It was fresh, honest and real – not contrived.

Find your true voice and don’t be afraid to use it.

6 • Show, don’t tell.

If you’ve ever gone to a creative writing class, you’ll no doubt have heard the expression ‘Show, don’t tell’. It’s one of the golden rules of storytelling.

But it’s just as relevant to copywriting as it is to writing fiction. To tell is to state the facts. To show is to paint a picture in the reader’s mind – to help them visualise what it is you’re talking about.

To tell: “That’s a very big shark.”

To show: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Don’t just state the facts. Paint the picture.

7 • Don’t undervalue the power of humour.

We all notice language that makes us laugh or smile. It brightens our day for a moment.

When companies take themselves a little less seriously, they start to sound less corporate and more human. The more human you sound, the more you’re likely to connect.

Inject some humour into your copy and it will start to sound more friendly and warm. If you think this doesn’t apply to you because you’re a firm of lawyers/accountants/other type of professional service, then I would challenge that perception. Too much serious-toned sales bluster on your About Us page can actually come across as intimidating and, in some cases, gives off a condescending air. Remind people you’re a bunch of humans, too.

ShitcoffeeAmazingcoffee

(I asked a group of friends which sign they preferred. ‘Shit coffee’ won hands down.)

8 • Don’t brag.

Saying you’re the market leader or the best in your field is all very well, but who cares? No one likes a big mouth.

By all means get the message across that you’re number one gun, but do it with some subtlety. It’s less off-putting and more believable. All companies have their flaws and weaknesses, so why claim to be perfect? Everyone knows it’s not the entire truth.

Be honest about who you are. And again, don’t just state the facts. Paint the picture.

9 • Don’t stack stats.

Never add up lots of statistics to make one big, fat, meaningless statistic, such as: ‘We have over 175 years’ experience between us.’

TV documentaries are particularly guilty of this insult to the nation’s intelligence. Ie: ‘These 40 dieters lost a whopping 150 stone between them.’ So what? It means nothing to anybody. How one dieter lost a few stone is what’s relevant and interesting.

Keep stats to a minimum and put them in context to make them meaningful.

10 • Ignore what everyone else is doing.

Don’t spend too much time looking at other people’s websites/brochures/adverts. You will definitely find someone whose work looks better than yours. And another person is likely to think your work looks better than theirs. And so on and so on…

So don’t waste time drooling over their awards/portfolio/market position.

Avert your eyes and ears from all the noise out there, find your true voice, write yourself a quick, uncensored pep talk and frame it. That voice in the pep talk – that’s the one.

You’re writing for the person who gets you. And as you’re the first person to get you, you’re basically writing for yourself.

Bah Humbug Apostrophes

Season’s greetings and all that crap. It’s not actually Christmas yet, so let’s get down to business. Apostrophes. Come on, people! It’s pretty simple really. I’m not going to explain it to you, as you’ll just switch off and it’ll fall on deaf ears. It would be far more effective, I thought, to just give you punctuation abusers out there some examples you might remember. OK, like hell you’re going to remember, but at least I can get it off my chest and enjoy my mulled wine unburdened. So pay attention.

• You’re eating a lot of mince pies, you greedy bastard. (You’re = you are.)
• Your festive jumper isn’t ironic, it’s annoying. (The festive jumper belongs to you, hence your – not you’re. If you say you’re festive jumper, it means you like to jump up and down at Christmas time. Which maybe you do. Each to their own.)
• It’s fucking freezing out there. (It’s = it is.)
• The sodding tree has pissed all its needles all over the floor. (Its not it’s. I can’t be bothered to explain why. Just ask yourself would the tree piss all it is needles? That doesn’t make sense, so restrain yourself and don’t stick an apostrophe in here.)
• Have you done all your Christmas shopping yet? (Your – not you’re. If I say you’re Christmas shopping, I’m stating that you are Christmas shopping, as in right now, when in fact you’re probably lying on your backside eating more mince pies.)
• Thanks for the leg-warmers, Auntie Cynthia. They’re so 1980s. (NOT 1980’s for crying out loud. Get it right.) (Don’t get me started on they’re, there, their. On second thoughts, I’ll come to that in a minute.)
• Don’t even think of putting that Christmas compilation album on again. (Don’t = Do not.)
• Do they know it’s Christmas time again? (According to The Guardian, they do. And they also probably know there’s an apostrophe in it’s in this instance – unlike you.)
OK, deep breath. Count to 10. Time for the big one.
• There were six mince pies in this packet. Now they’re all gone. Whoever stuffed them down their pie-hole is going to get their arse kicked.

OK. I think that’s enough for now. (That’s = that is. There’s no such word as thats.) Happy Yuletide. (Yule not you’ll.) May the new year bring you peace, happiness and a deeper appreciation of apostrophes. (Apostrophes, not apostrophe’s.)