Elise Valmorbida interviews Margate Bookie founder Andreas Loizou about his non-fiction work, The Story is Everything: Mastering Creative Communication for Business, recently published by Laurence King (Quercus/Hachette). How could a book with this title NOT find its way here to 26?
In its illustrated and boldly-designed pages, you’ll come across characters as varied as Aristotle, Robert Cialdini, Jane Eyre and Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. You’ll cruise through concepts such as Flow, Error Clusters, and the Myth of the Right/Left Brain. And you’ll play with new toys such as the Roulette Wheel of bad word choices, and the One-Armed Bizpeak Bandit…
First things first: who’s this book for?
For anyone who communicates with other people. My publishers are overjoyed I’m aiming at such a big market!
The Story is Everything is a succinct book, but please offer us the ultra-succinct version: your book’s tag-line and log-line. And, before we go there, what’s the difference between a tag-line and a log-line?
You see the tag-line on movie poster. For Parasite it’s act like you own the place. A log-line is much longer, and tells the reader about the protagonist, the antagonist and their conflict. The eldest son in a family of unemployed adults skilfully leads an invasion into the home of a wealthy family. The tag-line sells the emotions of the film to the audience, while the log-line quickly explains the plot to a film financier or a Hollywood mogul. The poster for The Story is Everything has the tag-line Mastering Creative Communication at Work. If it were a movie, the log-line would be businessman and creative writer fights against corporate bizspeak boredom by sharing thirty years of writing secrets. Any of the Method Acting greats—Pacino, De Niro, Hoffman—could play me.
What do you think might be the most valuable thing readers can expect to get from this book?
Always think about your audience. Be clear what they want from you. I’m amazed just how many books on business storytelling ignore listeners and readers. They all focus on what the company wants to say, and not what people want to hear. To me, that’s a complete waste of time. Even the best double-glazing salesman can’t sell to a customer who doesn’t have windows.
There’s a deadpan sense of humour throughout, particularly in brackets and footnotes. How important do you think it is to make people laugh? (she enquired earnestly)
It’s vital. Laughing relaxes us, and a relaxed person is a better learner. A relaxed person is also a far better presenter.
Humour’s risky, and you certainly don’t want to be quipping all the time. But I admire people who can show levity at appropriate moments. Too many of us equate professionalism with being serious. Stress, tension, tightness and a pinched po-face are all barriers.
You can only make good jokes off-the-cuff if you are present in a conversation or presentation.
In one section of The Story is Everything, there’s an interesting exploration of the world of medics and language, which vividly recalls lived experience. You wrote the book during lockdown. How did that influence what you wrote and how you wrote it?
I signed the deal for The Story is Everything two weeks before lockdown began. It was an absolute godsend. All my training work was cancelled, so it was great to have a focus.
My first lockdown was in Madrid, which was very badly hit by COVID. I ended up spending 100 days inside with my daughter. She had school online in the mornings, but we agreed that we would spend the afternoons and evenings together watching The Simpsons, learning guitar and dancing to X-Box.
Which left the mornings free. What could have been a terrible three months became one of the most productive times of my life. For me—and probably for most people as well—the morning is the best time. My mind is sharper, words flow more easily, I’m less self-critical. I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish, but lockdown created the perfect conditions for writing a book. Three hours a day to concentrate on my writing, and a definite finishing time so I couldn’t dawdle.
You’re the founder of the highly successful Margate Bookie, ‘the friendly litfest by the sea’. How does that experience make its way into The Story is Everything?
I’m always looking for fresh examples. I never ever want to read another book that uses Star Wars to explain story structure, or Apple to show me how marketing works! The Margate Bookie is a rich source of new stories. When I share what happened at the festival, I’m telling people things they’ve never read before about reciprocity, foundation myths, influence, connection and change.
I like writing that reflects experience. I can always tell if an author has invented their experience or has really lived it. It’s a question of tangibility. When I explain how to use Excel to tell stories, you should feel the grief I went through producing heatmaps and infographics for the festival’s funders.
Before, during and possibly after the Margate Bookie, you’ve been an accountant, equity analyst, author and trainer. What can readers learn—and what do you share—from your experience of these different careers?
We learn from everything we do. I could have studied economics at university, but chose my other big love, literature. I’ve always straddled the two worlds of finance and reading. It took me 20 years to combine them in books and courses. I teach hard finance—company valuation, investment analysis—at banks and universities around Europe. In the last five years there’s been a definite shift in demand. People want to communicate their findings in new, better ways. That’s when storytelling comes in.
I’ve never accepted that you are either left brain or right brain. That’s a very limiting idea. We are both. I know I am!
Tell us more…
We’ve all got these two sides. The left side loves business, academia and intellectual pursuits. It’s all about words and numbers. It’s the part of your brain that writes To Do lists and crunches stats. The right side is more artistic and imaginative. It writes songs and weaves colourful stage costume.
Too many books and YouTube videos propagate the myth of the left- and right-brained person. This false divide leads to the extremely limiting assumption that people are either creative or they are not. That’s a dangerous lie. Those who believe this myth see the left brain as a drag on the creative right brain.
But the left and right sides are part of the same brain. Which belong to the same human. They’re not split by an impenetrable wall but linked together by the Corpus Callosum, which is full of the white matter that allows communication between the two hemispheres. We need both sides to be working well and talking to each other if we are to flourish and grow as human beings.
Great stories mix strong structures with sensory details. Their success comes from organisation and emotional connection.
Rumour has it that you have a novel under way. Where are you in the process, what can you tell us about it, and how does writing fiction differ from writing non-fiction—any tips?
Yes, I’ve written a novel about a crime syndicate at my school in Margate. I’m talking to a potential agent today, so I won’t say any more or I’ll jinx it. There are far more similarities than differences between the two genres/types. My early morning writing routine works well for both. I perhaps find it harder to share my fiction, but responding to feedback is equally important.
Please tell us about your writing practice and any brilliant secrets you’ve discovered along the way.
I learned two things about my practice while writing The Story is Everything.
The first is about imagining a reader. When I prepare my work, I always imagine the same listener, Clare, sitting in the chair opposite me. She’s a smart person, but not an expert in my subject. She has high standards when it comes to grammar, logic and presentation, but she’s also supportive and forgives my mistakes. If I keep Clare in her chair just through my words, I know I’m on the right track. But if she grimaces at certain words or phrases, I know that my voice is wrong.
The second is about routine. I chunked down the book into manageable pieces and just worked in the mornings. I produced good stuff from 8am to 9.30am, then had a break before a second stint around 10.30am to noon. I didn’t write for longer than that because my energy drops after three hours. I didn’t write on days when I was teaching or on holiday, but did jot down any ideas that came up. My planning told me that I only needed to hit 375 words per day. All of us can write that.
Interview by Elise Valmorbida
The Story is Everything: Mastering Creative Communication for Business, is published by Laurence King Publishing (Quercus/Hachette). You can buy the book at bookshop.org and all good booksellers.