My Interview on the Writing Desk

After years of following her on social media, I met the very lovely and talented copywriter Katherine Wildman in person at the Copywriting Conference last year.

She ran a workshop there a couple of years ago and we got chatting. And she asked if I’d like to appear on The Writing Desk, her blog dedicated to promoting fellow copywriters. What, talk about myself a lot and get to pontificate about art, books and copywriting? I jumped at the chance!

Here is the result…

KW: 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…)

SM: I’m very tidy so usually, there isn’t one but this week it’s been Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction. I found it at the weekend, and I’d forgotten how much useful info is stuffed into its little pages.

What’s your all-time favourite advertising campaign?

I’m going to go for one that made me buy a new car when I had no intention of getting one so it must have been bloody good: the Almera Professionals spoof ad back in 1996.

Here it is on YouTube if you want to re-live it:

“Everyone has a book in them…” Or so the saying goes. What do you think/know/believe is the secret to good writing?

To tailor everything for the reader and situation. We all want rules but it ain’t that simple.

If you were just starting out, what advice would you give yourself? Which book or books would you read first?

To s-l-o-w down, don’t want everything to happen all at once. A guide to pacing myself.

Silence? Radio? Or music while you work?

Silence always.

What are your top three novels of all time – and why?

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. His writing is so powerful and beautiful and evocative. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, it contains so much wisdom. And I’m going to say Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy for the same reason. Some writers have a profound understanding of what it is to be human and I love to learn from them.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever written? Why did it rock your world?

I once had a brief to name a corporate social responsibility programme for a very large paint manufacturer. I had three days to do it and on the third day I came up with Painting Brighter Futures. I think that flash of inspiration always feels amazing when you’re bricking it that you won’t come up with anything, and it seemed to hit all the right notes.

What’s the last thing you bought? And yes, that packet of chewing gum counts.

An Indian takeaway last night!

Who was your teenage crush?

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. OMG.

Can you describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten?

I LOVE great food, so this is a toughie. Lunch at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans on my honeymoon in April is probably the best ever though ­– it’s one of the best restaurants in the US, the whole experience was incredible.

What’s your favourite tipple? Is it wine, beer – a cask-aged malt?

Champagne or a nice glass of Pinot Noir.

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?

I love the US so maybe a grand tour of the States. I’d drive, David could look at the scenery, and I’d write about the weird wonderfulness of the US.

What’s in your pockets?

Dog poo bags. They’re in the pockets of every item of clothing I own!

Pen and ink, pencil and paper or keyboard and screen? What’s your writing style?

Keyboard and screen 95% of the time. I still keep a notepad and pencil next to my bed for those weird moments of inspiration I get at about 4 a.m.

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?)

I read too many blogs to mention, I’m an information addict, and I subscribe to Mslexia, a writing magazine for women – creative writing, not copywriting.

Tea – or coffee? What’s your poison?

Ooh, gotta be good coffee.

Do you have a favourite cup or mug? Can you describe it?

Very boringly I use whatever comes out of the cupboard first.

What was your most adored children’s book? And character?

The Black Stallion. The horse! I loved those books.

Your favourite word?

Discombobulate. Our dog’s called Bob, we do a weird pun thing, it’s too tragic to share it.

Your most loathed word? (You know, the one that makes you shudder and say “Ew!”?

I’m getting sick of the word Brexit I have to say. And now someone’s come up with Brexmas. No thank you.

Where can we find you? – Browsing online or lost in the aisles of a bookstore?

Online these days, I don’t even know where my nearest bookstore is, isn’t that sad.

Favourite song lyric of all time? And why?

The one that springs to mind is Coldplay’s “If you never try, you’ll never know just what you’re worth”. Working for yourself is hard. Working for yourself when you have a chronic illness is really hard. But I’ve always wanted to see what I’m capable of and that lyric inspires me to keep going.

Name the artist who is guaranteed to get you up on the dance floor.

Most pop artists from the ‘80s to the ‘00s. She loves to dance, has to dance…

Do you have any strange writing rituals you’d like to share with us?

I don’t think I do. I scribble a few notes then dive in.

What are you working on today? What’s in the pipeline?

I’m going on holiday tomorrow so I’m tying up a few loose ends today. I’ve recently started working for two new clients, a firm of accountants and a special school, and I’m planning some behavioural insights workshops (a bit like what I did at #CopyCon19 but more in-depth).

Can you describe the last photograph you took?

It’s bound to be one of the dog sunbathing.

What piece of advice really changed you as a writer?

Write the way you speak.

What was the last thing you wrote that had nothing to do with your job?

A card for my partner.

What’s your favourite quote about the process of writing?

This one from Stephen King: “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

Who is your favourite Mad Man – or Woman?

Is it terrible that I’ve never watched it?!

Can you name your favourite film – and tell us why you love it?

Thelma & Louise. It was amazing to see strong female characters like that at an impressionable age.

Which book or books is/are by your bed today?

These… I know.

Who was or is your greatest teacher?

Life and Mr Smith, my English teacher at school. He spotted a fellow rebel in me and we got on really well.

Who is your favourite artist?

Monet. If you’re not into art, I’m going to sound like a total nob, but his work takes me somewhere I can’t express very well. It puts all of life into perspective. Standing, staring at the Palazzo Ducale at the Guggenheim a few years was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

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 a desk in my home office. I’m very rigid, I rarely work anywhere else.

That’s me! If you’d like to find about more about Katherine and her work, visit her website:

And to meet more copywriters and find their inner secrets pop over here:

What are your thoughts?