Dark Angels Note 82
This week we hear from Shoreditch soignée, proud Hullensian and superstar brand writer, Sarah Farley.
1. Tell us about something you’re working on right now.
Ey up. Thanks for inviting me to do this.
Well, to say that my day job has been eclectic lately, would be an understatement. I’m not going to name-drop any clients here because the projects are still in progress, so I can’t say owt about ‘em yet. But, in no particular order… I’ve edited a sustainability report for a digital tech company, worked on a leaflet that helps people with spinal injuries understand how to use a catheter to go for a wee, written a stack of digital and print stuff for a travel brand, partnered with two fab designers to create an ad campaign for a skin-care brand, and to top it all off, I’m helping a medical tech company find their voice and tell their story. You couldn’t get a more varied group of clients and audiences, which is why I love doing what I do.
In terms of personal projects, I haven’t had much time lately as you can probably guess. But for the last year or so, I’ve been tinkering with an idea that combines my writing life with another thing I love doing: walking. I haven’t settled on a format for it yet – maybe a newsletter, podcast or website of some kind – but it’s starting to take the shape of a book. I know, I know. No one is more surprised by the book idea than me.
2. Can you recommend something for us to read?
Flippin ‘eck – you just want the one? I’m struggling to narrow it down, so here’s a random bundle.
I love short fiction – particularly eerie stories that leave you feeling unsettled – and Uschi Gatward’s English Magic ticks all those boxes for me.*
In terms of articles, I’m enjoying Psyche immensely, which “illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts”. I studied psychology in a past life and I’ve been dipping back into psychology, neuroscience and philosophy a lot lately, which is how it came onto my radar.
In poetry, Lemn Sissay is a long-time favourite, especially his poem Morning Breaks. But lately I’ve been reading everything I can by David Whyte. I think Dark Angels might enjoy his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words in which he explores what it is to be human by turning words on their heels and looking at them from a different angle and deeper perspective. I think it makes for an interesting writing exercise, too. Take an everyday word you hear or use all the time and delve into it. Look at its original meaning and see if you can reframe it. If you really like a challenge, I’d start by playing around with brand writing buzzwords like identity, purpose or values to see what else you can find.
Next up is a sliver of a book by Georges Perec called An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. (I reckon Nick Parker would be pleased with how easily it fits into a coat pocket.). Perec was interested in everyday, humdrum events, something he termed as the infraordinary. So he set out to see “what happens, when nothing happens” by spending three days in Place Saint-Sulpice recording everything that passed through his field of vision – the people, the traffic, the pigeons and so on. It’s not a long book, but it inspired me to try it for myself where I sit somewhere and observe everything I see, hear, smell and experience around me and write it all down. I call these observation exercises ‘attempts’ and I’ve been building a bit of a collection of them over the last year.
And as a final bonus, if you’re interested in exploring how short stories work and what makes them so compelling, then you should head over to George Saunders’ brilliant Story Club over on Substack. The comments section is the best place to be on the internet these days.
3. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever read or received?
I was asked to give a writing tip somewhere else, so I’ll share it again here. There’s a myth that writing is a solo activity, but it can be so rewarding when you treat it as a team sport and work in a group. This probably applies more to copywriting than to fiction or poetry, but the client projects I enjoy most are the ones where I get to work with, and learn from, other people.
4. Share one thing you do when you get stuck.
For years, whenever I wanted to work through something I would head for the fields and go for a walk. (There’s a theme here, isn’t there?) But then I started practising meditation earlier this year and realised that my walks were actually a kind of meditation, so I started experimenting to see if it could help me unstick myself.
So when I’ve become stuck I’ve taken ten minutes to sit quietly and meditate, focusing on either my breathing or the sounds around me – putting the thing that’s causing me a problem out of my head. It feels like a palette cleanser for the mind – a sort of mental reset that helps me return to the task with fresh eyes.
5. What’s your desert island book and why?
Is there one called How to Survive Alone a Desert Island? Failing that, I’ll take a blank notebook and a fistful of pencils. It seems like walking alone on a desert island would the perfect time to make that book idea a reality. Mind you, it might be hard to find a publisher once I’ve finished…
* After I answered these questions I learned that Uschi Gatward died at the end of 2021, which is incredibly sad. She was a superb writer and I was looking forward to seeing what she wrote next. If you’d like to know a bit more about her, here’s the link to her publisher’s announcement.
Thank you, Sarah, for your responses and the smorgasbord of recommendations you’ve shared. Fear not, the Dark Angels Walking & Writing course is in R&D right now.
Arvon x John Simmons Masterclass in Copywriting
Online Thursday, 3rd February 2022, 11:00 GMT
With the republication of John Simmons’ influential book, We, me, them & it reaching its 21st anniversary edition, John is leading an online masterclass with Arvon that workshops many of the book’s principles so prevalent in Dark Angels courses. Bring pencils, laptops and brains for a lively and enlightening session. Sign up here.
John & Jamie In Conversation (Save the Date)
Online Thursday, 3rd March 2022
If you don’t make the Arvon workshop (or even if you do), join us for an online conversation with John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey. Exclusive to Dark Angels, this will be a convivial gambol around the challenges, questions and stories that lie behind John’s book. More details to follow.
Weekly Tuesday Gatherings
Join us on a Tuesday evening for the Dark Angels gathering. This is a lovely hour of reading, writing and communing. Everyone is welcome; in fact invite a friend along. We meet at 7pm UK time. To join us, click here on the night. There’s no need to register in advance and we’ll be using the same link every week from now on.
Be well, keep reading, keep writing and know that we’re always here..
From everyone at Dark Angels
Also published on Medium.