Some flashbacks, thoughts and recycling inspired by the tweets and speakers at the Professional Copywriters’ Network Conference on Friday…

1. What the fuck is creativity?



It’s 1991. I’m in a A-Level Psychology tutorial when two second-year girls roll up. They want to experiment on us. 

It’s a doddle. They ask us to draw some images they project onto a whiteboard.

The pictures are simple. One is a four-sided shape, wide at the bottom and tapered at the top.

It looks like an upside down bucket. Or a hat. Or a weight without a handle.

But it’s none of these things. It has the word ‘beehive’  under it.

So I draw a beehive.

But I don’t draw the upside down bucket, or hat, or weight without a handle.

I draw a proper beehive. A proper old-fashioned clay one, with a cute little door and bees buzzing all over the place.

A beehive you couldn’t mistake for a bucket, a hat or a weight.

It’s not a great drawing. But it’s more interesting than the shape on the whiteboard.

More interesting to look at. More interesting to do.


Next up is a rounded-out oblong in a rectangle.

What’s that? A box of tissues? A picture frame?

No. It’s a TV Set. It says so underneath.

Fuck that. I’m drawing Evil Edna, and I don’t care if she turns me into a small, grrrreen frog.

TV Sets

And so it goes on. More minimalist shapes. More flights of fancy.

Then we hand our papers in.

Everyone else has copied the shapes. No bees. No Evil Edna. No nothing.

And I feel a bit of tit.

But the second year girls love what I’ve done. They’d predicted at least half of us would have gone off piste.

I was the only one. So I get the smile and the praise and the thanks for not fucking up their experiment.

And all the jealousy. Creativity gets you the girl.


2. Courier is the most profitable typeface



I’m back in the conference hall.

Andy Maslen tells us that Courier is the most profitable typeface. Or, at the very least, it’s worth testing.

He says it’s easy to read, that the serifs are  tram lines that guide your eye along the page.

I don’t think that’s true. Or if it is, it’s not massively important.

A letter that looks typewritten makes you feel the writer gives a shit. 

Cares enough to beat out the words on a machine, hammering the paper hard enough to reach one, two or more carbons.

In 1945 an old lady did just that. She was typing  a menu for my grandparents’ wedding.

She cared. And if she didn’t, I wouldn’t have this copy today.


Wedding menu

Pugin knew – by all means decorate a construction, but never construct a decoration.

Amen to that.

3. Without empathy, writing is a pointless, sterile exercise



Pretty soon I heard someone speaking to me.

It must have taken me quite a while to notice because, by the time I did, she was half way from the bar (where her drinks were) to my table (where I was) and speaking quite loudly. Most people speak loudly if they are determined to break in on my reading.

“What’s in the news?” she asked.

It’s a sad fact, but I’m much better at observing strangers than swapping banter with them. Cheapo public schools can do that to people.

So I went pink and muttered: “Oh. Nothing much really.”

“You must find it interesting if you’re reading it”

“Oh. I’m. Just. Erm. Reading, erm, reading the…”

“Look. I’m trying to chat you up. You must be able to get me interested in it.”

Embarrassed pause.

Then she said: “My dad’s just died”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Why do people always say that?”

“Say what?”

“That they’re sorry?”

“Well, it’s sad to hear isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Well, you’re obviously sad.”

“Am I?”

She was really. Her eyes were red and her lip trembled when she forgot to tell it to stop.

“Look. I’ve just got to talk to a complete stranger.”

Then out it all came. Her father was a straight sort of a guy. He used to come home every evening and have one drink and one cigarette. Her mother had been married four times. She had a habit of marrying bad men.

“I don’t work any more,” she continued. “I bet you have a good job”.

“No. I gave all that up.”

“Did you? Why?”

“I couldn’t stand it any more.”

“So you don’t do anything now?”

“Well, I freelance. I get paid for some writing I do.”

“Oh that doesn’t count.”

“So why did you give up work?”

“I was in a trial.”

Here it comes, I thought. She’s an axe murderer. Left her last husband in bite-sized chunks for the crows.


“I was the star witness.”

“Oh? What was the trial about?”

“People always ask me that, and I don’t like telling them.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’ll make you sad.”

“So I have to choose between the suspense of not knowing and being sad?”


“You’d better tell me then.”

“It’s not nice. It was a paedophile trial.”

“Oh. Someone you went out with?”

“One of my mother’s men.”

“Oh. Did he get convicted?”

“Yes. He got eight years.”

Then, continuing. Or this may have been earlier in the conversation.

“Have you got a partner then?”

“I’m married.”

But I do remember how the conversation ended.

“Look,” she said. “I’m sorry to have told you all these things. I’m going to go over to my brother.”

I looked up to see a guy who drinks in there every afternoon. No flicker of recognition. Can’t be him.

“I wanted to chat you up. You’re very good looking. If ever you’re single…”

“I’ll know…”


And with that she moved off to the other end of the pub to find her brother, I finished my pint and got another. And then I reread the paper in a daze.

She was just my type of person.