Interview Nick James Freelance Writer and Copywriter

Today we are privelidged to introduce to you all another great creative mind, I always look to expand the spotlight to all areas of design and Nick certainly shines the light on another part of design we don’t always acknowledge. Today we share with you an interview with Nick James; Freelance Writer and Copywriter. Another UK designer from the midlands Nick has his skills fleshed out in many projects and it was a great pleasure to spend some time getting to know him more.

1. Hi Nick, Thanks for taking your time to be interviewed for our Design Juices community today. Firstly can you please introduce yourself to our readers, Who you are? and what creative fields your involved in?

My name’s Nick James and I’m a Birmingham-based freelance writer. To expand upon the ambiguity of that intro – as, I think, within the creative fields everybody has the capacity to be a writer – I am foremost a copywriter, both for the digital and print mediums, and then a feature writer for magazines; and finally, on a personal level, a blogger and unpublished novelist. Oh, and I live in Birmingham.

The copywriting and magazine articles I get paid for, the rest is just me letting rip in a sort of lingering hope that I may one day be “discovered” and offered my own column/book deal or whatever else they have to offer… ha ha. Anyway, role it all into one package and you get the freelance writer label. If it needs words, I’m happy to provide them.

2. What’s your background in design? Do you have a self taught background? University educated? Or are you still on the learning curve today?

Self taught, though I’ll be tickling that learning curve right up until I’ve breathed my last. As they say, every day’s a day at school and I think that applies even when you’re at the pinnacle of your career. There’s always the opportunity to tweak this or adjust that so that it alters depth, meaning, emotion or whatever, the next time around. Not necessarily for the better, but that doesn’t matter, writing is a permanent state of evolution and it’s the creativity that counts, along with the ability to communicate to the reader.

As you may have guessed following that outburst of pseudo-philosophising, I didn’t go to University. In fact, I spent the first ten years of my working life in engineering, as a toolmaker. I’d always had a passion for writing; as far back as I can remember actually. This pretty much fell by the wayside during my years in engineering, but being in a trade that was rapidly in decline (for the UK, at least), I bought myself a laptop and started to write again. At that point I hoped to knock out a book so I could wave goodbye to the toolmaking game and the very real lack of job security that existed in all of the manufacturing industries. The book never materialised, but I did manage to land myself a job at a design agency as in-house copywriter, where I remained for five years. The rest, to coin a phrase, is history.

3. To what extent do you personally and professional partake in social media? Is twitter still king for you?

For me, the whole social media thing has pretty much remained on a personal level. Over the last few years I have been active on numerous sites, such as Stumbleupon, Friendfeed, Reddit, Delicious… even Plurk, but all, with the exception of Twitter, Flickr (if you count that) and Facebook have gone for a Burton. I have a LinkedIn and Ecademy profile knocking about somewhere too, but the less said about those, the better.

Flickr I use for storage – Basically the photos of my 18 month old daughter as she grows up. As these are only available for family to view it is very much a personal thing with no social interaction at all.

Twitter and Facebook are different. I keep the two as far apart as possible. Facebook I rarely participate in, although I have been toying with the idea of creating a page for my Head Full of Snow website. As I say, I keep it and Twitter apart. Facebook is basically everybody I know on a tangible basis, or went to school with. I can look through my list of friends and in the vast majority of cases say I know them from my local pubs over the last 20 years. My activities as a writer though, remain pretty much unmentioned upon Facebook. There’s only a few on there who know that I do this for a living.

Twitter, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. I initially began using it partially out of curiosity and partially as a means to promote the now defunct Not What it Used to Be blog I was writing. After all, that’s all Twitter is about really, self promotion, whether it be a website, product, service or yourself as a brand. I was blogging under the name Jeffman, so the choice of @Jeffman1 as my Twitter handle was a no-brainer (@Jeffman unfortunately unavailable). This name has remained ever since, and over the years I have met a good deal of interesting “tweeps” (yourself included), as I believe the common terminology decrees us as being. Apart from engaging in conversation with people who share a similar outlook to me, I am able to use my timeline as a supplementary RSS feed for Head Full of Snow.

So essentially, Twitter is pretty much king as far as my social media activities go nowadays.

4. What people would you recommended to us in your social media circle on Twitter?

Well, there’s a hell of a lot of smug, self-righteousness on Twitter, but amidst all that you come across the occasional genuine character, who you think you’d probably get on well with, if you were ever to meet them in real life. That probably makes me sound like some self-righteous hypocrite myself, but at the end of the day, you take away from Twitter what you, yourself, want to take away. Personally, I keep the number of people I follow down and don’t follow any so-called “celebs”, unless, of course, you count comic writer Warren Ellis. But as for recommendations, I can attest that the following are all genuine and thoroughly creative types (in alphabetical order):

@catherinebuca – Sweary left-winger. Need I say more?

@creative_boom – Katy and the team are doing a lot for freelancers within the creative industries. Their site is a must for anybody who has just an inkling to one day go it alone and succeed in this business.

@dripdrydesign – Paloma is setting out as a freelance Graphic Designer and Content
Manager and, as such, always has something interesting to say.

@fi_wilson – One of the writer/editors at online film and style mag, LateMag. Always a pleasure to talk to and a shit-hot writer to boot. Has a love of rodents and strange foreign cinema.

@snoog – Top Geordie lad. Did the Revolving Video podcast, which cast an irreverent eye over films and the like; mainly in the horror/exploitation genre. Has a solid grounding in so-called “video nasties”.

@stonemonkey45 – The other writer/editor at LateMag. Top resource on all the violent genres of Asian cinema (kung fu, bloodshed, swordplay etc). Pens a mean film review.

@thesidsmith – Writer for Classic Rock Presents… Prog magazine, Record Collector and many more. Also writes the Postcards From the Yellow Room blog and presents it Podcast spin-off. Another top Geordie bloke with an encyclopaedic knowledge of prog band, King Crimson.

Oh, and @DesignJuices, of course. But everybody will know about you already.

5. With 2010 behind us, did you learn more about yourself in the past 12 months? Do you have any highlights for us in your design career?

Highlights thus far? It’s probably a toss-up between seeing my first paid article in print and getting my first paying client as a freelance copywriter. Both came at times when my self-belief was in very short supply, and these helped me focus upon the road I wanted to be heading down, as well as reassure me that there was a life beyond the soul-sapping drudgery of toiling away in somebody else’s employ.

6. With the end of the previous year, comes the new beginnings of 2011. Do you have any big plans/events our readers should watch out for?

No events as such. Just a fire in my belly to continue providing the best service for my clients and hopefully get a few more on board…

Saying that, I do have an article coming up in the March issue of Record Collector magazine – a feature on 60’s psychedelic band The End, who were mentored and produced by Bill Wyman. I’m also hoping to refresh the look of the Head Full of Snow website, after two years the decor is looking a little tired. Apart from that, at present it’s just business as usual.

7. We know you have extensive experience working both in-house and as a freelancer, what prompted your change and have the change been for the better?

Well, I’d long wanted to work for myself. In fact, I suppose it’s one of the things that keeps many people going, the thought that one day they might be their own boss, with only themselves (and the client, obviously) to answer to. Everybody wants to be released from that quicksand of exploitation that keeps them “under the thumb”, in a cycle of endless uncertainty, and unable to truly set free their creative potential. Personally, I don’t think I could return to those shackles that held me back for 14 years. Not without going a little bit mad, anyway.

But I digress. For me, it was a case of grasping the nettle by both hands and seeing how bad the rash looked in the morning.

The design agency with which I’d been the in-house copywriter for the previous five years was hit particularly badly by the recession. Meanwhile, my wife had just given birth to our first child. Unfortunately, the agency could no longer sail against such an ill wind and had to call it a day.

With a newborn baby and the entire job market in a state of collapse, I decided that if I was ever going to go freelance, now was as good as time as any. It wasn’t the easiest decision to make, nor, at the time, perhaps the best; but it was the kick up the arse I needed, and one that finally set me on the road to real job fulfilment. Once that first client came in, it hammered home that I’d maybe made the right decision after all. Thankfully, things have been on an upward turn ever since. So, at this moment in time anyway, the change has been for the best.

I think the fact that I was fortunate enough to have the full support of my family also played a major part in making that leap into the unknown. Without them I’d still be searching for a non-existent job while undergoing the fortnightly ignominy of being treated like a criminal down at the dole office.

8. What other pursuits do you enjoy in writing online; I see you have affiliations with the sites Record Collector and Head full of snow.

Record Collector is one of the print magazines I contribute features to. Dealing in what some might say is a niche corner of the market – old records, basically – it suits my own interests somewhat perfectly. They gave me my first real break with a piece on Dantalian’s Chariot, Zoot Money’s psychedelic band from the late 60s. I’d love the freelancing for magazines to be a full time thing, but unfortunately, at present, I don’t have the time to pursue it fully. The freelance copywriting takes up most of my time and, if the truth be told, it pays a lot better than magazine articles. Once again it comes down to job satisfaction, and, fortunately, I get both as things stand at the moment. In the future though, I’d like to pursue the magazine hack route more vehemently, with an eye to making it the main breadwinner, particularly in the area of music writing. Rock writers can live quite comfortably once they’ve become established.

This brings us somewhat conveniently to Head Full of Snow. Now into its third year, I started HFoS for two reasons. Firstly it was a way to scratch the itch I had about being a music writer, as well as share my love of psychedelic, folk and prog rock of the 60s and 70s. Secondly, I wanted to put something out there as a sort of portfolio, so to speak, as a way of attracting magazine editors by saying: “take a look at what I do, any chance of writing for your publication?” … Completely naive.

Of course, back then I didn’t have the first idea of how to go about writing for a magazine and the pitching process that went with it. I was absolutely clueless and sent out these fawning emails to editors saying how great their mag was and how would I go about writing for such an esteemed publication. Needless to say, I didn’t get any responses. Shit, it’s hard enough to get a reply from an editor as it is. They seem to inhabit a different plane to that of everybody else when it comes to communication, and believe me, if you’re serious about writing for magazines and only just starting out, you have to persevere, persevere and persevere again.

If you’re not fortunate enough to have a foot in the door through some familial association or happen to be moving in the right media circles then it’s an uphill struggle. I initially sent the same pitch to the same editor about four or five times before I got a response. It’s pretty much been my experience with all the magazines, the large ones at least. Smaller magazines sometimes get back to you without making you feel as though you’re continually haranguing them. Unfortunately these smaller mags rarely pay for articles and at the end of the day, nobody should sell themselves short. I’ve learned that through experience. My very first published article was, in fact, for Shindig magazine, which doesn’t pay its writers, or let them know this up front, or even have the inclination to show a bit of common courtesy in their dealings with you. The less said about them, perhaps, the better.

But again I digress. As I said earlier, I’m looking to refresh HFoS at some point during the year, as I’ve never really been happy with the design of it. It’s basically writing therapy for me. My chance to write how I want to. When things are slow, it also helps in keeping my hand in.

I believe at some point, a long time back, you asked about my online writing in general… Well, I’ve written for many websites, both in a professional and purely non-professional capacity. As I write a lot of content for businesses, these etchings are spread far and wide. I like to think I bring a contemporary voice to what can be a very uptight market. Thankfully a lot of businesses today are happy to roll with it, and are open to new ideas that veer away from the somewhat stale comfort zone of the old-style copywriting.

Once again, on a personal basis, I also enjoy an ongoing relationship with LateMag, the online resource for “Things and Stuff”, which is currently undergoing a facelift, so presently sits in a state of limbo. However, I do film reviews over there, mainly of Spaghetti Westerns, which is another of my passions.

9. What kind of working environment do you have being a freelancer, do you find yourself out in coffee shops? own rented office space? or do you have your own room to lock yourself away in?

I aspire one day to a little office of my own. At present, I have a small corner in our living room, with a desk, my laptop, a printer, office chair and my CDs. All the trappings, just not the complete article. Nevertheless, it’s an acorn from which, I hope, bigger things will grow.

You can find Nick at his copywriting website over at

If you have a designer who you think we should interview and pose a few questions towards then don’t hesitate to get in touch for us to get to know them and introduce them to our readers.

If you have any thoughts, opinions or comments on this interview or anything discussed in this interview. We invite you to leave them in the Disqus comments section below.