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Copywriters on the rack #31: Mel Barfield

Come in, come in. Welcome to Copywriters on the Rack. This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you (dear reader, please note that at this point, I couldn’t suppress a little snigger as my guest/victim let out a whimper and squeaked, “Thanks, I’m horrified to be here”).

Who are you and what do you do to pay the bills?

I’m Mel Barfield. I’m a creative copywriter, copyeditor, and event speaker. I like whacking the word “creative” in because it makes me sound like some deeply talented artiste. I write words for businesses that don’t want to sound boring. My clients appreciate what bespoke artisanal homemade words can do.

What was your career path to get to where you are now?

A long and winding road that ironically includes qualifying as a careers advisor, despite me never knowing what I wanted to do. I did a whole post-grad diploma in it and became a project coordinator working in all sorts of settings from prison to private schools.

Then we moved areas when I was pregnant with our eldest and after an ill-advised micro stint as a child-minder, I fell into a little admin role to fit around parenthood. I progressed to events and community engagement then finally found my forever job in my mid-30s. I did a course through work and fell head over heels for copywriting. I went freelance on January 1st, 2022, and I’m probably unemployable by now. I love it so much. I still use my old jobs for inspo though; one of the talks I give is all about using stories from your career to build your reputation. I’m a big believer in picking up new skills and I’m obsessed with training to become the best I can be.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The freedom of not having a boss is intoxicating. When one of my children is ill, I get to lie on the sofa under their germs and snot without feeling guilty. What a buzz!

Regarding copywriting itself, the thrill of finding the exact right words to convey a client’s message is hard to beat. And I’m immensely motivated by praise. Middle child thing, probably. I need people to tell me I’m doing a good job and when they do I get all warm and fuzzy. It’s a direct dopamine hit when you work for yourself.

*Mel, you’re doing a good job* Now tell me, what’s the worst thing?

The tumbleweed times where you start to worry you’ll need to get a “proper” job. And that moment immediately after you submit work and the client hasn’t replied yet. Schrödinger’s feedback; until you hear back it’s simultaneously the best and worst thing you’ve ever written.  

How do you fill the gaps when you’re not doing the day job?

All gaps, cracks, orifices in my diary are plugged by my children’s endless needs. Since we moved away from family while pregnant, we don’t have a gaggle of grandparents to call on. It can be tough at times, but we get by with Mario Kart. I do enjoy an annual solo trip to Milton Keynes Snozone to remind myself how to ski. Small wins, eh?

Now we’ve got the formalities out of the way, let’s go rogue:

You’re locked in a cell with 2-foot thick stone walls and no windows. Outside the solid steel door, two fully tooled-up guards keep watch in shifts, 24 hours a day. Armed with only a cigar, a Tesco’s reward card and a share bag of pickled onion Monster Munch, what’s your escape plan?

I bribe one of the guards in advance, promising him my Tesco Clubcard points in return for his help. I’ve been racking up points as a loyal Tesco delivery customer since 2009, so it’s an easy sell. I pull off the toes (or are they fingers?) from the Monster Munch and attach them (with lick) to my face and neck so they look like crusty pus-filled boils.

With the Tescoey guard’s help I convince the incorruptible guard I’m terribly terribly sick and need to go to the medical wing. Once out of the cell I make a break for it, shouting over my shoulder “don’t forget you can convert points into voucherrrrrrs!” Once I’m out of the joint I take the cigar, break it in two and put it in the bin. Because in the battle against Big Tobacco, every little helps.

Write me a poem about jelly.

Worst desert surely goes to the Arctic,
It’s just ice, it’s no Kalahari,
Worst dessert also goes to the Arctic,
The Roll. Followed closely by Jelly.

(I’m not a poet so you’re lucky it didn’t start “wibble wobble”)

Who would win in a fight, Nick Knowles off DIY SOS, or Charlie Dimmock off Garden Rescue?

Nick Knowles just watches other people do the work. So I reckon Dimmock’s got stronger upper body assets. She’d take him.

Write me three straplines for:

1) The first apartments for sale on the moon
Go lunar, sooner!

2) Rowenta’s new chocolate kettle
The perfect gift for late-paying clients.

3) The Go Compare man’s retirement party
It ain’t over ’til the fat lad sings.

What would you like to come back as, if there’s a next time?

Definitely not a guppy fish – they seem to have a knack of not only dying for no reason but also mysteriously disappearing from our tank with no trace. If I’m allowed to choose a human I’ll come back as Cindy Gallop, please.

Draw me a picture of an anglerfish peeling a satsuma (yes I know you’re a writer, but do it anyway).

Angler fish peeling a satsuma

I gave it some of those plastic arms that people put on chickens. Might have to swim upside down and drop the segments into its mouth.   

Copywriting is like bailing a boat out with a thimble, discuss.

It’s a slow and steady process to start with and you tell yourself everything’s going to be fine but gradually you descend into manic frenzy as the waterline aka deadline rises and you have to admit to yourself you should have started sooner.

Snog, marry, boil in salad cream: Darth Vader / Hannibal Lecter / Freddy Krueger

I’d marry Darth Vader because Luke Skywalker would make a good (if a little whiny) stepson. Snog Freddy Krueger, provided he can keep his hands to himself. Boil Lecter in salad cream because it feels like a karmic end.

What is love?

Love is being there emotionally and caring whether someone’s happy or sad. I’ve edged away from friendships in the past when supposed “friends” have been jealous I’ve done well, or not cared when I’ve had difficult times. Love is a two-way thing. I’m very lucky to have a brilliant husband who’s my biggest supporter, and the kind of dad to our girls I wish I’d had. Warms me ol’ cockles.

Sorry, that reminds me. OI, EGOR HAVE YOU HEATED THOSE BRANDING IRONS UP YET? Staff, eh.

Where was I? Oh yeah, pick a random pic from your camera roll and tell us about it.

Scrambling egg

I’m working my way through some BBC Maestro courses and recently made scrambled eggs using Marco Pierre White’s method. The trick is to keep the heat as low as possible, removing the pan every now and then if needed. Best scramble I’ve ever had.

Weird, looks just like something my last guest left on the floor after our, err, little conversation.

Anyway. Write me a very short story featuring: An irate scaffolder, a telephone box full of custard and an embarrassed politician.

Furious at being dumped by her politician lover, scaffolder Doris Delaney broke into the prop department at the ITV storage unit in Bovingdon Airfield. Delaney commandeered a forklift truck and stole a replica telephone box. She filled it with pink prop custard and deposited it in the front garden of Piers Flapps, Conservative MP for North Wangfordshire.

Make my skin crawl.

Why do I need to make you’re skin crawl? You’re meant to make me uncomfortable, not the other way round.

EGOR, BRING ME THOSE IRONS! Now, make my heart melt.

You’re an absolute inspiration, I read your blog loads and when you asked me if I’d get stretched out on this here rack I got a little bit teary eyed and emotional. Not just from the toenail extraction. Genuinely, a “look Ma, I made it” moment. So, thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Now can you please take the jump leads off my earlobes?

Smooth. But don’t think flattery will get you anything other than even more pain. Write me dictionary definition entries for ‘Wilcock’s Lexicofantabulous Compendium of Oddities and Soddities’:

1) Fwaureen
An affectionate term for an especially MILFy mum on the school run.

2) Spum
Plant-based SPAM, made from legumes.

3) Mexican Thunder Sausage
A world-destroying remotey gadget from supervillain inventor, Professor Juan Double-Entendre named after his mother, who’s from Cancún (his Dad’s from Lille).

You’re feeling down in the dumps (by now, you’d better be). What do you need to perk yourself up again?

Hugs! But if my family are at school/work I’ll take a can of Dr Pepper straight from the fridge and Lord of the Rings. Or a voice note from Bonnie Harrington telling me about her day, or one from Ben McKinney doing an excellent impression.

If you were alone on a desert island for a month, what 6 items would you take with you? (they have to fit in a Morrison’s bag for life, and yes, you can keep the bag).

Four fat notebooks and two pens so I can draft LinkedIn posts about all the business lessons I’ve learned from being alone on a desert island for a month. I’ll keep them dry using the bag for life.

Now make up your own question and tell me whatever you want to get off your chest.

Mel, what’s the worst possible (but actually completely trivial) thing that can ruin your day?

Well, I probably shouldn’t tell you this what with you being my captor-torturer and all, but I cannot STAND it when I’m moving my plate off the table and the dirty cutlery drops onto the floor. Even thinking about it makes me shudder. Someone should invent a device. Like the string that holds two mittens together, or a glasses chain. An elastic coil that makes the knife and fork bungee jump instead of hitting the floor. Someone needs to Dragon’s Den it.

Give me three reasons why I should let you go.

I’ve got a deadline for a client’s newsletter, my tummy’s rumbling because I haven’t had lunch yet, and I’ve got to pick up the kids from school. Maybe I should stay here a bit longer.

Sorry, you’ve worn the jump leads out. Before I remove the shackles, tell us where we can find you online.

My website

Yes, I’m getting greedy now, but I also have two newsletters. One’s with Ben, where we promo our upcoming LinkedIn audio events. The other is mostly me wanging on about cheese.

Barfield & McKinney
Nosy B*stard News

Now gitchorassouttahere – so many Copywriters to brutalise, so little time – sure you understand.

Want to hear another Copywriter spilling the beans? Copywriters on the Rack #26: Ben McKinney