In this month’s profile of a 26 member, we talk to Fiona Thompson, writer and harpist. Here, she tells us about 26 Treasures of Childhood, the crossover between words and music, and how to beat writer’s block.
Day job: Having written articles for national newspapers and magazines, and had a spell in a business psychology consultancy, I’m now a freelance writer. Recently, I’ve written a brochure for Save the Children, web content for City University, case studies for Deloitte and brand stories for a Somerset cider company. I also run writing workshops.
Private passions: I’ve played the harp since I was nine and still play most days, so music is a lifelong passion. I’ve loved French since I first heard the word ‘pamplemousse’ on holiday in Brittany as a child, and have become equally passionate about Italian after spending time in Naples recently.
What do people get wrong about you? They think I live in Brighton, not London, because my website’s full of pictures of the seaside. What can I say? I like stripy deckchairs.
What do you like best about belonging to 26? Through 26 I’ve met some of the best copywriters in Britain. It’s been a brilliant way to network and has given me all kinds of insights into the business (from rates of pay to clients’ changing needs). 26 has also given me the chance to get involved in creative projects with D&AD, International PEN, the V&A and the National Museum of Scotland.
You have been heavily involved in the 26 Treasures of Childhood project. What do you hope the exhibition will achieve? And tell us a little about your own object. I hope that the exhibition will encourage hordes of people to go to the Museum of Childhood, get nostalgic about Chopper bikes, and think about the profound ways that childhood has changed between 1948 and 2012. I also hope it will be inspiring for the young writers who are taking part (the Ministry of Stories is working with children from a primary school in Hackney who are writing responses to 21st century objects).
I’ve actually got two treasures: Fuzzy Felt and Lego. Lego was more my sister’s thing. I used to love Fuzzy Felt, though, because you could make pictures even if you were no good at drawing.
You are a prolific tweeter. What advice would you offer 26ers looking to dabble in Twitter? I don’t know about prolific! I still feel like a beginner. But I’d encourage potential dabblers to get interactive – ask and respond to questions. Read ‘Tweet Right’ by Nicola Morgan. Decide why you’re tweeting (is it primarily for business or for personal reasons?), and never tweet when angry or drunk – unless one of your brand values is curmudgeonly and that’s why you’re on Twitter in the first place.
At last year’s Wordstock you wowed us with your harp playing. How do your music and writing inform one another? There are so many ways. They’re both about rhythm, contrast and engaging your audience. Writing and playing music are both forms of storytelling. And for both, you have to practise regularly to be any good and be open to feedback to get better. See the 66,000mph website for more about the crossover between words and music.
You are judging the writing in design category in this year’s D&AD awards. What did you learn from the judging process about what makes good writing in design? The winning pieces of work were always engaging, radically simple on occasion, sometimes took risks, carried their concepts through consistently, and seduced the judges with grown-up wit.
What’s your favourite piece of advice for good writing? Read your work out loud. You’ll see where the rhythm is wrong and what you need to cut. I also like Anne Lamott’s ‘shitty first draft’ theory. In ‘Bird by Bird’, she encourages people to beat writer’s block by just crashing out a first draft without worrying about it. Then, once you’ve got something on the screen, you can use that as a starting point.
What advice would you offer to other 26ers looking to become freelance copywriters? Save some money before you leave your job. Be clear about the type of work you want to do and the kind of companies you want to work with, network like crazy, and remember to build in time for admin and marketing.