A break from copywriting — chicken broth for the win

So here’s the deal.

I spend my working life with great clients, writing copy that promotes what they do: grabbing folks’ attention and hopefully pushing some business their way.

Ironically, I’m not so good at doing that for my own business. For starters, most people find it notoriously hard to ‘big up’ themselves, and secondly I’m really lucky that, by and large, referrals from contacts and clients keep things moving on rather nicely for the type of small business I have.

Which got me thinking about what I should actually use my blog for.

Sure, let’s talk about words, grammar and all that good stuff (you’ll notice I’ve no issue ending the last sentence on a preposition).

But what about the challenges of working alone? How does a full on self employed life square with looking after a family, running a house, and trying my best to keep fit and get stronger (more on that to come, honest).

So I’ve decided I’m going to put up some non-copywriting posts. Starting with — because it’s all getting a bit autumnal here — a quick and easy chicken broth recipe I created recently.

For folks who are busy — and who isn’t??!! — I’ve found my Instant Pot pressure cooker just fantastic. No, I don’t work for them, I just think mine’s ace. I’m sure any other electric pressure cooker would be just as good.

If a quick, easy, nutritious meal for the family that you don’t have to watch and stir is your bag, then have a wee look at this. I made it using leftover chicken from the night before.

  • Chop two onions and two carrots, sauté them in some rapeseed oil
  • Add 190g pearl barley and 1litre of chicken stock
  • Put the chicken carcass, with meat still on it, in the Instant Pot, I removed the skin
  • Season it then cook on manual for 30 minutes, and ten minutes NPR

When I opened the lid, I took all the meat off the bone (discarding the bones) — it was just falling off, and added in (on sauté) a couple of handfuls of frozen petit pois that I’d defrosted in a sieve by pouring over boiling water. I added another 500ml stock so it was a little less of a chunky soup (you could add more or less depending on preference and amount of chicken left over) and seasoned to taste.


Chicken broth – yummy!

Portrait picture of a garden with lawn, raised beds, and mature trees

From cactus killer to amateur gardener

It’s apparently not easy to dispatch a cactus, but some years ago I managed, inadvertently of course.

Yet, brushing aside my apparent inability to care for hardy succulents, and seeing as I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, when we moved house last year I found myself the proud owner of a large garden that was going to need a significant amount of attention.

And as I’m frequently contrary and rather thran, challenge accepted.

Benefits of working from home

The great thing about working from home is that instead of spending lunchtimes seeking out the last communal fork in the office (true story), I can do something a little more constructive with my time.

In fact, since starting my own business, in between writing words of course, I’ve learnt to make jam and pasta, as well as bake bread and croissants; although, it’s fair to say laminating dough took a bit of time — and several attempts — to master.

A few croissants cooling on a wire tray

My freshly baked croissants

So riding that gastronomic, or gluttonous, wave of success, I decided to make our new garden much more useful by growing vegetables and herbs.

Feast or famine?

From main crop potatoes to beetroot, pea pods to carrots, who knows what will survive my clumsy, and no doubt intermittent care.

It’s not that I’m a daftie (you don’t need green fingers to write good copy, after all) — I’m just a toonser who hasn’t had a proper garden to look after, until now.

But so far, so good.

All my beds are ready for planting over the next few weeks, with some lettuce and fennel already sprouting inside in a seed tray.

Fully constructed raised bed with fertiliser

Two hours and two drill bits in – raised bed success

Early lessons include anticipating two hours, not 20 minutes, for building a raised bed (incidentally you need to make sure the drill bit’s in properly or you might break one — or two — of them); and chitting a seed potato means sticking it in an egg box and waiting for the tubers to grow. Thanks, Google.

Also, don’t expect to be able to move much without a nagging pain the morning after a full day spent gardening.

Chitting potatoes in egg boxes

Chitting my main crop Desiree potatoes

Over the coming weeks, I’ll post updates on my gardening efforts, unless they fail, then I’ll likely post nothing….; meanwhile, feel free to share any of your gardening tips.

Trust me, I’ll need them.

A press pass picture, me using a typewrite, and up to date image

Change, competition and copywriting: advice to my younger self

In the mid-1980s when I was at primary school, my class was asked to work out how old we’d be in the year 2000.

Answer? 25.

A full quarter century. Wow.

And I remember thinking that, by then, I’d be a fully-fledged adult: sorted with a career and family, maybe I’d even be married to Morten Harket.

Yet in my 20s, despite hunting high and low, I still hadn’t met Morten.

All was not lost though: I was making great strides at work, and I was even lucky enough to be on the property ladder.

I’d also realised that being a grown-up is a process that’s never complete: change is the norm.

With that in mind, and to mark the dubious pleasure of turning 40 this week, I considered what advice I’d give my younger self, aside from buying shares in Apple after Steve Jobs’ departure in 1985.

  • Be a sponge – From every good experience, from every bad one, learn something; engage with people; read, watch and listen to the news; make up your own mind
  • Don’t worry so much about what others think – Simply put, those who matter don’t mind; those who mind don’t matter. Generally, you’ll do better and gain more respect (although not necessarily friends) by expressing a rational, reasoned argument
  • Try not to pass up great opportunities – But don’t dwell on the what ifs if you do
  • Surround yourself with positive people, capable of dishing out honest advice – Be a trusted friend or colleague; don’t let others bring you down
  • Your only real competition is you – Only by consistently doing your job better, including learning from mistakes, will you stand apart from those you’re competing against
  • The minute you lose your patience, you’ve lost the argument – Fair to say I’m still working on this one
  • Don’t be so afraid of change – Setting up my own business was a risk. No question. Yet it remains the best career move I’ve made. Calculated risks can pay dividends, and not just financially
  • Qualifications are good, but it’s what you do with them that counts – Don’t assume your degree or qualification entitles you to a senior management role. Build on it with hard work and a good attitude, and you’ll see results
  • If you don’t know an answer, ask – Far from making you look daft, it’ll show you’re someone who’s willing to learn and not afraid to admit they’re unsure

And finally, learn to move on.

Whether it’s putting an issue or disagreement to bed; changing jobs when the Sunday fear gets too much; or even opting to move to a different city, there’s something rather liberating in personifying the immortal words of West Wing’s President Josiah Bartlet.

“What’s next?”

Over to you, what advice would you give?

Black and white picture of a street in Aberdeen on a rainy, overcast day

A dreich day in Aberdeen

Having a good fudgel? Need a cwtch?

Words are extremely powerful: expressing and shaping our beliefs, feelings and opinions. They help us develop a sense of belonging, build a strong identity, and influence how we act and behave.

As a copywriter, it’ll come as no surprise that words, their meaning and their origin, are something I’m particularly interested in.

And if you noticed, and objected, that I ended my sentence with a preposition there, you may be interested in this.

Enter my less-than-scientific and not quite representative study.

In current media parlance, I ‘took to’ social media, asking friends and followers to contribute their favourite words or phrases.

While I wouldn’t say the results led to a deeper understanding of the human condition, they were genuinely interesting.

What’s more, the heart emoji, the Global Language Monitor’s international word for 2014, wasn’t mentioned once.

Let’s start close to home.

Most of the suggestions came from specific parts of the UK, perhaps emphasising that the words we use are often a means to articulate an affiliation with, or sense of belonging to, where we come from, and places we hold dear.


  • ‘Stood there like cheese at fourpence’ (waiting idly/timewasting) comes from the Lancashire mill towns where, at one time, fourpence was expensive for cheese and pricing it as such would mean a lot was left unsold
  • Also from the north-west: ‘Stood there like piffy on a rock bun’ (hanging around unnecessarily)
  • Nesh: Someone susceptible to feeling cold


  • Cwtch (pronounced cootch, to rhyme with butch). Recently, Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens suggested to two fighting players that if they wanted a cwtch (a cuddle, hug) they should do it off the field


  • Dreich (dreary, bleak – eg this post’s featured image), outwith (outside/beyond) and stramash (uproar/tumult) were all suggested, as well as scunnert (fed-up): “I’m fair scunnert the day.”

Northern Ireland:

  • Thaveless (someone who’s pathetic/useless); ‘Catch yourself on’ (get a grip of yourself, wise up) and ‘stickin’ out’ (brilliant) eg: “That dinner last night was stickin’ out.”

And suggestions from the European mainland included:


  • Lichtgrenze (literally means ‘border of light’): It’s the name given to the lit balloon installation where the Berlin Wall once stood, marking 25 years since its fall
  • Weltschmerz translates as ‘world pain’ and describes a weariness because of a perceived mismatch between the ideal world and how things really are

And finally….

Anyone who’s had an argument will have experienced Denis Diderot’s l’esprit de l’escalier (literally staircase wit): the predicament of thinking of the perfect retort or comment too late.

So whether you like a Chic Murray-esque paraprosdokian turn of phrase: “My girlfriend’s a redhead. No hair, just a red head,” or are having a fudgel (pretending to work), join in and suggest your favourite words.

Close up image of thesaurus entry for the word 'grammar'

To strand and split: unforgivable or acceptable?

I don’t have an inner pedant.

Instead, mine is particularly obvious and opinionated: liable to dole out some serious side-eye if you put an apostrophe in the wrong place.

That said, there are two so-called grammar misdemeanours I’ll tolerate and even encourage: ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives.

They’re rules that grammarians, keen to bring English in line with Latin language structure, sought to introduce centuries ago.

And both continue to stimulate debate today. But, bearing in mind the years that have passed, and how they came into being, do they have a role or relevance in modern English?

I’m not sure they do.


Prepositions, including to, by, on, at and about, describe the relationship between parts of a sentence or clause.

Avoiding ending a sentence with a preposition can make what you’ve written seem clumsy and stilted or even, as is often said, Yoda-esque.

For example:

  • She broke the vase in the shop, so paid for it had to be.

Rather than the much more natural:

  • She broke the vase in the shop, so it had to be paid for.

Split infinitives

While I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Gene Roddenberry’s goal when he pitched Star Trek to television executives, the Shatner-narrated ‘to boldly go’ opener is probably the best known example of a split infinitive (where an adverb is placed between the word ‘to’ and the verb).

For what it’s worth, I believe avoiding split infinitives can make writing lose some of its impact or even subtly change the meaning of a sentence. Not really what you what when you’re trying to communicate clearly.

To compare:

  • Susan decided slowly to walk to work: she took a while to come to her decision to walk to work.
  • Susan decided to slowly walk to work: she walked slowly.
  • Susan decided to walk to work slowly: the meaning here is ambiguous. Did she take her time deciding, or did she walk slowly?

I think the added emphasis a split infinitive gives is important too, particularly if, for example, it’s being used in marketing materials to plainly articulate to potential customers why a specific product or service is the right one for them.

Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting we split infinitives or strand prepositions just to be objectionable; however, I am proposing, in the interests of unambiguous copy and plain English, that there are times when it’s appropriate, even desirable, to over-ride these supposed rules.

One thing’s for sure, the grammar debate looks set to continue.

What do you think? Are these conventions outdated and irrelevant or compulsory and pertinent?

Picture of three paintbrushes in jar

The start of the copywriting journey: The DIY myth

I have a confession to make.

When I first decided to go freelance as a copywriter, I thought it would take a bit of time to build up work so I’d have time to sort things out around the house: do a bit of painting, or even have a nosey at Netflix.


The DIY remains unfinished (although I did lag some pipes recently), and client work has been building right from the start.

One sunny Friday in May, I set out for my first interview as a freelance copywriter, less than 24 hours after leaving my office job.

I’ll be honest, I had a bit of a spring in my step and was pretty pleased with myself, but the enormity of what I’d done wasn’t lost on me either.

Despite having clients lined up and some transitional work already complete, I still felt pretty nervous when it struck me that I was truly on my own.

But the last seven months have been incredible.

I’ve written (probably tens of) thousands of words and interviewed people across four continents for almost 20 clients operating in various industries from oil and gas to construction and agriculture.

And my overwhelmingly positive experience made me think about what advice I’d give to someone starting out.

  • Love what you do and do it very well
  • Have a couple of bob in the bank: This should tide you over until the cashflow kicks in
  • Don’t be greedy: Do your research and set a fair rate for you, and your customers
  • Build your network: Meet new people, listen to what they have to say, always learn something new
  • Be visible: At events, meetings or online. Whatever works
  • Be flexible: Dismiss the 9-5 mindset (not that I ever had one of those jobs anyway). If you need to knuckle down every weekend and most evenings, do it
  • Don’t be afraid to say no: If you don’t have the time to produce great work, despite working those evenings and weekends, don’t commit to a project
  • Ask for advice and pay it forward: Speak to others in a similar position, even form a collective, and help others when you can
  • Know where you’re going: Stay focused and motivated. Write a business plan, revisit it, update annually, repeat
  • Be upfront about invoicing: If you’ve done the work and the client’s happy, send the invoice

What do you think? Feel free to contribute.


Photo credit: Alan Cleaver/creative commons

Picture of the planet Uranus

Uranus: the planet formerly known as George

Who knew? Well, plenty of people presumably, but it was news to me when I came across this revelation on Facebook recently.

I love it though. For a fleeting moment, I imagined a world, or solar system, where Jupiter became Dave, and Mercury? Steve.

A pipe dream, sadly.

While it’s true that Sir William Herschel, who announced its discovery in 1781, named the seventh planet from the sun after his patron, King George III, he actually called it Georgium Sidus, or George’s Star (for those of us without a Latin O’ Grade).

Perhaps not surprisingly, this name wasn’t popular elsewhere in the world so alternatives were put forward, with the name Uranus, from Greek mythology, the eventual victor.

I love this kind of trivia, but what does it have to do with copywriting?

Lots, actually.

To be a talented copywriter you need an inquiring mind; some call it curiosity, I say it’s just being nosey.

Think about it this way: that knowledge, acquired by asking loads of questions and learning all the time, along with life experiences, makes it easier to come up with great copy ideas for relatable content.

So anyone who believes education ends when you walk out of those school, college or university doors for the last time should think again: it’s only just beginning.

Meanwhile, I’m still rooting for Dave and Steve.