The 12 days of copywriting

Christmas is upon us, and I want to wish a happy and peaceful one to all of you. I’ve loved every minute of my year as a freelance copywriter, but I’ll allow myself a couple of days holiday before coming back with even more energy. Life as a copywriter is a many-varied thing, and here, to the tune of ‘the 12 days of Christmas’, is a summary of just some of the projects that I’ve enjoyed working on in 2014:

writing santa

On the 12th day of Christmas my clients gave to me…

12 nose job blogs

11 glazing flyers

10 bow tie pages

9 press releases

8 STD clinic ads

7 chair reviews

6 SEO articles

500 websites

4 shark repellant write-ups

3 E-books

2 CVs

and a Bhutan documentary

I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings! No job is too big, too small, or too bizarre. If you need high quality copywriting next year, check out my new website or email me via Have a happy Christmas and an even more successful new year!

Brontë Parsonage

Christmas at the Brontë Parsonage Museum

I love Christmas, and I love books, but there’s one set of books that I cherish more than any other – the works of the Brontë sisters. When I heard that there was to be a special candlelit tour of the Brontë Parsonage Museum on December 15th, well I just had to go. Believe me, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Brontë Parsonage was home to Charlotte, Emily and Anne (and their black sheep brother Branwell) from 1820 until 1855 when the passing of Charlotte meant that the world’s greatest literary family had laid down their pens for the last time. It’s situated in Haworth, West Yorkshire and is open to visitors all year round, except January. The parsonage is now bigger than it used to be, after the addition of a new wing by a subsequent rector, Reverend Wade. This wonderful picture by talented artist Amanda White shows what it looked like at the time of the Brontës.

Brontë Moon

Brontë Moon by Amanda White

I was so excited as I waited for the tour to begin that I could hardly bring myself to drink the mulled wine laid on, but I somehow managed. The tour was guided by Lauren and Anne, two leading Brontë experts, and the parsonage had been faithfully prepared as it would have been at the time the sisters lived there.

Our first call was the drawing room, where the sisters would walk round the table composing their stories. It also famously contains the settee that Emily died on, refusing to the last to admit she was ill. A servant later recalled how sad it was to see first just Anne and Charlotte walking around the table, and then just months later Charlotte on her own, as tuberculosis claimed them.

We next went into the study that belonged to their father, Reverend Patrick Bronte. As well as his writing desk, it contains the upright piano that was played by Emily and Anne. Jamie Cullum has been to the parsonage to play it as well, but you can’t have it all. The kitchen was home to walnuts and raisins, the ingredients for the Christmas cakes and puddings that the keen cook Emily would have made. The reference to Christmas preparations in Wuthering Heights is the only time that it’s mentioned in any of the sister’s books, nor do they mention it in any of their letters. Nevertheless, there was a very festive feel as we walked around the parsonage.

A real treat was waiting for us in the Brontë library, an area that’s not usually open to the general public. White gloves donned, Anne and Lauren showed us letters that were written by Charlotte herself, as well as one of the incredibly tiny books that the sisters wrote as young children. Their father had brought his children some toy soldiers, and they spent the next years of their lives writing stories for them, and about their imaginary worlds of Angria and Gondal. If ever proof was needed of how important it is to encourage children’s creativity, and fire their imagine, this was it. The writing is so tiny that it can only be read through a magnifying glass, and they even put imaginary adverts in their ‘magazines’ as well.

It was incredibly moving to be so near to work created by the minds and hands of geniuses long gone, a feeling that was reinforced as we ascended the stairs of the parsonage. This portion of the museum exhibits some of the personal belongings of the Brontës and their servants, including Charlotte’s wedding veil, and sketches that the children drew on plaster walls. One of the most touching sights is the tiny bonnet that was made for Charlotte’s expected baby by a friend. She was pregnant when she died aged 39, meaning there would never be any Brontë descendants.

Brontë Parsonage

Despite their tragically short lives, and the surroundings of a graveyard, thought to hold as many as 30,000 bodies, and the rolling windswept moors, the candlelit parsonage is an incredibly serene and peaceful place. This really was the perfect start to the Christmas season, and on Christmas Day morning I’ll certainly be picking up a penguin. It won’t be the chocolate bar, or even the lovelorn Monty of advert fame, but those black spined classics that still have the power to transport us to another world. So whether you read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall this Christmas, raise your glass to the talents of three truly remarkable women.


It’s time to go freelance

Freelancing can change your life for the better, just as it did for mine. As 2015 approaches, it’s time to reflect on all you’ve done this year, and all you wanted to do. Are they they same? Perhaps you wanted more time to do the things that you really love doing, or maybe you wanted to spend more time with your family? Perhaps you’re a little bored of being stuck in the same office day in, day out? You’ll blink one day, find that you’re about to retire, and wonder where it all went. Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be like that. Freelancing can set you free.


Two years ago I was working for a marketing team, but I felt that I could contribute so much more. In truth, I was bored with the mundanity of my job. I’d recently written a book, and was amazed when it started to sell. Before long it was selling 3,000 copies a week, and that emboldened me to make the move, and hand my notice in at work. I had visions of being a successful novelist, but soon realised that I needed a more regular source of income. It was then that a friend introduced me to digital copywriting. I signed up for a popular freelancer’s website, uploaded examples of my work, and put a few tentative tenders out. That very day I did my first job, writing a bar review for a blog. My client loved it, I got great feedback, and now the work is flooding in.

I may not be on the road to a Nobel prize for literature (yet), but I am making a living as a professional writer. That, in it’s own way, is fulfilling a dream I’ve always held. I earn as much as I ever did before, and I’m free to work when and where I choose. It’s a varied life, I write blogs, press releases, marketing materials, and the content for websites. Do I enjoy it? I love it.

If I can do it, so can you. Is it time that you took the plunge, and gained control of your own destiny? As a freelancer, the hard work you put in goes directly into your pocket (and to the tax man, of course), rather than primarily benefiting your employer. Everyone has a skill that can be utilised as a freelancer, whether it’s writing, translating, drawing, designing, or coding.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be showing you how to use your skills to start a fresh, new, entrepreneurial life. I’ll also be bringing you my usual book and theatre reviews, as well as news of all things relating to the Brontës. Please comment below, or ask me any questions. 2015 could be your best year yet!

Theatre review

The Threepenny Opera at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

If you head down to the lovely West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Especially if you’re a fan of Bertolt Brecht. Today I watched their latest production in conjunction with Graeae: Brecht & Weill’s ‘Threepenny Opera’.


Before the show (originally a 1928 proto-musical) began, some of the cast were on stage, singing, dancing and asking people to sign their petition against cuts to the Disability Living Allowance. I wasn’t completely comfortable with this, although I do support the cause. It was, however, very much in keeping with what was to come.

Graeae are a ground breaking company who combine both disabled and able bodies actors, and the end results, as in this case, can be stunning. You soon forget that one actor is in a wheelchair, or that another is deaf, as you become carried away by the great performances.

Onto the show itself. It opens with the most famous aspect of the ‘opera’, Kurt Weill’s sublime song ‘Mack The Knife’. The lyrics throughout were modified to give it a more modern setting, including references to ‘King Charles III’, Jimmy Saville, David Cameron and more. Theatre companies who dabble with modernisation are dicing with death, but Graeae pulled it off with aplomb. And, after all, the 1928 original was itself an update of John Gay’s 1728 offering, ‘The Beggar’s Opera’.

The music was brilliant, but it’s hard to go wrong with such a fantastic score. The singing also was uniformly excellent, the best that I’ve heard in the WYP. Special mention must go to two cast members.

Firstly, John Kelly as the narrator. Loud, brash and funny, he had more than a touch of Ian Dury in a wheelchair about him. He interacted fantastically with the cast and the audience, and ensured that a good time was had by all.

The standout performance was Cici Howells as Polly Peachum. By turns sweet, naive and menacing, she had a real pizzazz on the stage, not to mention a sex appeal that could get any flick-knife murderer hot under the collar. And what a voice. Cici made the part her own, and I look forward to seeing her in future productions.

Milton Lopes, in the lead role of Macheath, did a good job. Whilst not the tallest actor, he really did achieve the necessary sense of malovence and impending violence.

Be warned, there is a lot of adult content and strong language. It’s not one for young children or Daily Mail readers. But it is riotously enjoyable, I even enjoyed the bizarre re-writing of the end. I won’t give it away, the phantom reviewer doesn’t do spoilers.

It was life-affirmingly good. For a show about a black hearted villain it was jam packed full of fun. I heartily recommend you see it, not only to see the placard reading: ‘Charles smells of poo.’ It runs until 10th May, and I enjoyed it so much that I may well go and see it again.

Well done West Yorkshire Playhouse, well done Graeae, and well done Brecht & Weill. Your genius lives on, and earns this production a well deserved 5 Phantoms rating.


Who is The Phantom Reviewer?

Is the phantom reviewer a theatre lover that’s risen from the grave, to see how the latest actors match up to the board treaders of yore?

Or is the phantom reviewer really called Mr/Ms P.Hantom (or similar), and it’s just a clever-ish play on their name?

Or is it the third option? (Clue: it is the third option). The phantom reviewer is a man who loves the stage, and everything that appears on it. In a theatre-watching career spanning over 30 years, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the very ugly. It’s a welcome break from my ‘other life’ as a freelance writer.

How do you know what’s worth seeing, and what’s complete trash? Here’s the sordid truth: you can’t always trust the reviews. Often the reviewer has links to the writer, the director, or the theatre, or they’re given perks on the night of the show. Not-so-subtle bribes, if you wanted to look at it that way.

That’s why my identity will always remain secret. In that way, you can be assured that my reviews are always completely impartial. You don’t know who I am. The theatres don’t know who I am. Heck, even I’m not sure who I am some days. But I do know that I’m crazy about drama, musicals, comedies, the opera, ballet and everything else that can take place on a stage.

I’ll sneak in, sit somewhere near the back, and then sneak out. Like a, er, phantom. That writes reviews. I’ll be reviewing shows from all round the country, in big theatres and regional theatres. There are great (and awful) shows to be seen in all of them.

Each review will be marked from 1 Phantom to 6 Phantoms. Why 6? Well, I’ve seen lots of great productions recently that have been worth a 5 star (I mean Phantom) review, but then where do I go if something truly spectacular comes along? That’s why the coveted 6 Phantoms will only be given in exceptional circumstances.

You may not agree with my reviews, but you can bet your bottom euro that my opinions will be straight from the heart. As well as theatre reviews, I’ll also be writing book reviews, and talking about my passion for the Brontës. Please drop by for regular reviews, and remember this: if all the world’s a stage, who’s in the audience?