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Copywriters on the rack #7: Nick Parker

Welcome to Copywriters on the Rack, the blood-spattered den of nastiness that rips the souls out of unsuspecting writing folk. Mwahahahahahah…

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

I’m Nick Parker. I’m a writer.

Actually before we go on I should probably say that I’m writing this in hospital – I broke my leg last night in what can only be described as a freak accident. Many ouch. So dislocate. Very pain. I’ve had an operation and still quite woozy tbh.

Anyway yes, I run a little agency called That Explains Things. I do a mix of tone of voice work (I created Voicebox, the ‘tone of voice method’) and helping organisations with particularly knotty hard-to-pin down strategic words (elevator pitches etc). I like the mix of the creative shaking-up and the precision of pinning down that this gives me.

OK, back again. I have just spent several minutes trying to ask a nurse to pass me the ‘putting-in thing’ (My bag). Forgive me, this is gonna be a ramble.

So, looking for mercy are we, Mr. Parker?

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

OK, so I wrote a verrrry long answer to this but I bored myself reading it back which is galling cos it took ages to type on a phone. Tl;dr: hustled my way into publishing largely because I could use Quark Xpress. Stumbled into creative agency-land largely through ignorance. Started my own thing largely because I would have regretted not trying.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Running my own thing? I love it all. I love the freedom and the challenge of running a business. I love learning about new stuff from a wildly varied bunch of clients. I love the fact that helping people to write better gets deep into questions about personal psychology and identity. I love the feeling of being paid for creating something out of nothing but words. I love that I get to do this at this incredible moment in history, when the Internet is still basically at the beginning of its beginning.

What’s the worst?

The treacherous commute down the dark garden path from my office to the house. Someone could really hurt themselves if they’re not careful.

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

I make things and learn things. I draw, do print-making, make furniture out of scaffold boards, mountain bike, fail to learn Spanish, go looking for interesting conversations with interesting people, play the ukulele quite well, the guitar OK, the piano shabbily.

Lockdown has shown me very clearly that I need to be making things with my hands. If I do that every day – even just a bit – I feel a sense of calm.

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

What was your nickname at school?

I didn’t have one. (Or at least, no-one ever said it to my face.) Now, the obvious choice would have been ‘nosey Parker’ but weirdly, there was a boy in my class called Robert Parkin who had these amazingly sort-of flared nostrils and people used to call him ‘nosey Parkin’. I dodged a bullet there I feel.

What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve done, that’s just shy of illegal?

Let’s just say that technically, you can’t be said to have stolen a hot air balloon if it just drifted away with you in it, can you?

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

There was a juice bar off Oxford street that I passed every morning and one day they were giving out free wheat-grass shots. They were a dark green viscous liquid. It tasted like the smell of abandoned garden centres, concentrated as densely as a black hole. Staggeringly vile. Whenever I think about it, I can actually taste it again at the back of my throat. Ack, it’s just done it now. So thanks for that. Like I haven’t got enough to deal with right now.

You should taste my truth serum! Stop whimpering and tell me, what’s your favourite smell?

Woodland in autumn. Grass after rain. (Interesting how they’re v similar to ‘abandoned garden centres’. There’s a lesson here. But I’m in no fit state to figure out what it is.)

Who’d win in a fight between an alligator with a toffee hammer and a wombat with knuckle dusters?

The wombat could be packing all the firepower it could carry, but realistically the alligator’s still gonna win innit. Although tbh the word ‘realistically’ is a bit of an imposter in that sentence.

The wombat could be smart and slip laxatives into the alligator’s pre-fight energy drink, or maybe troll him on social media for the week before the fight and destroy his confidence. You know what they say: don’t bring a toffee hammer to psychological warfare.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A cartoonist. Then when I was about 11, I read something that explained what ‘ergonomics’ was, and went round telling everyone I was going to be an ergonomist. You can imagine how that went down. But it was a proper light-bulb moment for me that there were actually people whose job it was to ‘have better ideas about how humans use stuff’ rather than just set categories of things like ‘doctor’ or ‘bus driver’.

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

An octopus. They’re sentient creatures but evolved their brains in a completely different way to basically all other brainy creatures. I wanna know what it’s like to be able to think with your legs.

Draw me a picture of an alien getting ready for a night out (yes I know you’re a writer, but do it anyway).

I don’t have anything to draw with here, so this’ll have to do.

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

Top as in ‘most audacious’?: Go to the moon. Retrain as a hostage negotiator. Win a fight with a toffee hammer-wielding alligator.

As in ‘real things I have a fighting chance of actually ticking off?: Live in Japan for a bit. Learn how to improvise jazz piano. Write another book.

What is love?

As in romantic love? A word we use to normalise a pathological state of mind so it sounds non-bonkers.

As in love-love: unconditional understanding.

Pick a random pic from your camera roll and tell us about it.

This is the copy from the back of an Eat Natural cereal box. It’s like a perfect storm of terrible. It’s staggeringly, honkingly, needlessly, bafflingly bad. Every time we buy a new box I’m somehow compelled to re-witness its awfulness by taking another picture of it.

Is there anyone you’d like to say thank you to?

A pre-emptive thank you to Sam for everything I know she’ll do for me in the coming weeks. You’re the best.

Anyone you’d like to say sorry to?

Robert Parkin (see above).

You’re feeling down in the dumps. What do you need to perk yourself up again?

A daft laff.

Let’s play word association:

Glossy magazine
Steamed up
Fudge ‘Pippiry’. (It’s what I thought they were singing in the Cadbury’s fudge advert when I was a kid. ‘full of pippiry goodness’. No, me neither.)

What does success look like to you?

Enough time, money and self-awareness to choose how you spend your time and attention. Combined with an understanding of what ‘enough’ is. Also, that my kids become functioning adults and there are a minimal amount of freakish broken legs going forward.

Make up your own question and tell us whatever you want to get off your chest.

What’s so wrong with having your cake and eating it?

Eating cake is the entire point of having cake. Wanting to use something for the very thing it’s intended for is literally the worst possible way of defining unreasonableness.

Where would you rather be and why?

Given that It’s 1 am and I’m on a hospital ward with a sh***ing painful broken leg and a ward of men who appear to be the British Olympic Snoring Squad, I’m tempted to say literally anywhere else but weirdly, I think I’m ok with being here. Live every moment and all that.

And before I remove the shackles, tell us where we can find you online.

You can get to everything from:

Thanks Nick, I enjoyed every second watching you wince in sweet pain. Now off you hobble before I say something compassionate, like “get well soon”.

Fancy more? Here’s Sarah Townsend trying my thumbscrews out for size.