My day job is allovertheshop. I switch from brand consultancy, to copywriting, to design, to fiction, to teaching, to voluntary work, to project management, to, er…
What are your private passions?
If I tell you my private passions, they won’t be private any more, no? Shall I tell you my PIN numbers and passwords instead? How about some public-private passions: chocolate, wine, springtime, Curzon Soho, bed, Radio 4, old ladies, lipstick… Actually, I think the lipstick is totally public and so probably doesn’t count.
What do people get wrong about you?
My name. I have official mail addressed to Elsie Valgrobdl, Denise Van Morbid and Lisa Valmorbidabida. My favourite name was given to me many years ago by George Melley who was hosting a fundraising auction of student art. Before starting the bids off, he picked up my painting and read the note on the back. He announced solemnly: “This is a painting of Ella Fitzgerald by— (pause) Val. (pause) Morbida. (long pause) What a name to wake up to in the morning.”
What do you like best about belonging to 26?
26 is the loveliest brightest crowd of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work and play with. We make things together that we couldn’t do by ourselves.
Unusually, you work across words and design. What are the challenges and rewards in working in that way?
I worry about keeping up with design technology. (Writers can get away with using a quill and/or Microsoft Office.) I worry about being too generalist and too busy. It’s very hard to say no to interesting work. The rewards outweigh the worries, though. Whether I’m working alone amongst my selves, or in a team with real other people, the joy is making dynamic connections between visuals and verbals at the concept stage. Another joy, later on, is being able to solve a problem any which way – eg when the quart doesn’t fit into the pint pot, you can edit the copy, or change the design, or both, on the spot.
You produced the micro-budget independent British film, SAXON. What advice would you give to aspiring film producers?
1 Make it happen. Talk it into existence.
2 Don’t do it with/for the love of your life.
3 Make sure you have a resilient script in your hands, because you sure as hell will unpack that thing for a thousand days and nights, in a thousand different ways, and it has to come together again and again and again.
You were one of the organisers of Wordstock this year. What stands out for you from the day?
Sharing my friend David Bodanis with the gang of 26. Experiencing the poetic voice of Jacob Sam-La Rose. Working closely with Ezri Carlebach and Sarah McCartney (who wants to be a witch when she grows up).
The Free Word Centre is a London hotspot for writers and writing. How are you developing links between the centre and 26?
The Free Word Centre is more than a venue – it’s a cluster of organisations we like: Arvon, the Literary Consultancy, English PEN and others. Early this year, we met with Rose Fenton, the director. We became associate members. Since then, we’ve promoted events for each other, we’ve Wordstocked (13 October), we’ve held countless meetings in that sweet café, we proposed and have now installed the Throwaway Lines exhibition.
What have you enjoyed most about your involvement with the Throwaway Lines project?
I love the creative randomness of a project like Throwaway Lines. Andy Hayes started off with a load of old rubbish. And a great idea. I got excited. It’s all been fun, from editing to promoting to going 3D to writing my own piece of ‘litterature’. Where next? That’s fun too. This one has legs. Long ones.
You’re a novelist and run creative writing classes at the University of the Arts London. How does your fiction inform your work as a business writer?
Each helps the other. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of dexterity. Other times it’s about insight. It’s mostly about the fitness of the writing muscles, and they are spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical, even if they are invisible.
What’s your best piece of advice for good writing?
Think. Contradiction is often the way to truth.
What are you working on now?
A novel heaving with women and polenta. A new brand identity for Arvon. A brand story for LEGO Education. An External Examiners report for the Falmouth MA in Professional Writing. Wordstock (the video) and Throwaway Lines (the exhibition).