Meet a member: Galen O’Hanlon

Galen’s recent project work for 26 has ranged from researching bees, to delving into the lives of little-known suffragettes in the 1890s. I caught up with him to find out what drew him to 26, and what else he’s working on.

A picture of member Galen O'Hanlon smiling in a garden

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I grew up just outside Oxford. I live in London, and I’m a freelance writer and brand strategist.

Where did your love of words come from?

From a love of reading, I think. I grew up in the countryside, so I was either reading trashy fantasy books with lots of swords and dragons and unusually talented kid-heroes, or I was playing out those fantasies in the woods, grubbing about under hedges and laying siege to the house. Reading and writing gave me access to unlimited new worlds. And I realised, at some point, that you can do incredible things when you get the right words in the right order.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

A friend of mine, Sam Webb, recommended it after we spoke about his poem for the Trees project. 26 offers exactly what I need: a fun project with a brief and a deadline.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

Yes! I get very excited about all of them. I absolutely loved writing for the 26 Wild project – it was an excuse to explore the world of bees in general, and talk to some very interesting people about shrill carder bees in particular. I’m also involved in the Bloomsbury Festival EYE:SPY project, which led me deep into the lives of peripheral suffragettes in the 1890s. And I’m writing a chapter and a few fragments for the Fine Cell Work book – which is a wonderful project to be a part of.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

I try not to get too hung up on the perfect scenario, because it can so easily become an excuse for not writing: I haven’t got my special cushion with me so I can’t possibly write. Oh I need my special mug before I can commit a single word to the page. It’s a full moon so I can’t concentrate.   

Having said that, I do need a few things: a notebook, a laptop, a coffee and a pair of noise cancelling headphones to block out the whining of my cat and the whirring of my distracted mind.

What are you working on at the moment?

As always, it’s a big mix. Last week I was ghostwriting a book for 7 to 11-year-old kids. I wrote 31,000 words over the course of eight days, to get the first draft down in time for a ridiculous deadline. It was mega-fun and completely exhausting. I’m also deep in a content strategy project for a huge insurance company that nobody has heard of, and I’m helping a friend with a few tweaks to the web copy for his brand, which is all about rather beautiful clocks that also forecast the weather.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

It’s tough! I think I’m always proud of the work when the client’s happy and we’ve reached a shared goal. But sometimes a project gives me the opportunity to really dig into some very specific skills. I used to do a lot of work for whisky distilleries in Scotland – the culmination of which was working on the launch of an exceptionally rare 50-year-old Tamdhu.

The client commissioned a short film about the making of the whisky and the craft that went into every aspect of it, from the liquid to the hand-blown glass bottle, to the silver collar and cap. They needed something equally crafted to use as a voiceover – so I wrote a sonnet on craftsmanship. To stop it sounding like one of those awful poems brands occasionally try for adverts, I used buried rhymes and heavy rhythm to drive it. The client loved it, but it wasn’t quite long enough for the duration of the video, so I had to write another half-sonnet and stitch the two together. I like the idea of that craftedness being there in the voiceover, even if 99 per cent of people wouldn’t notice it immediately.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Tricky. Inspiration always comes from the research stage of any project – I’ll pick up on a detail that seems to sparkle out of the murk, then follow the thought to its completion. Failing that, a deadline can be inspiration enough, and a firm belief that it’s perfectly possible to do my best work at any given moment. Or I have a nap and do it immediately after – whatever’s going to get me to that deadline.

– Galen O’Hanlon, interviewed by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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