Meet our new Chair: Sophie Gordon

After 20 years at the helm, Martin Clarkson has stepped down as chair of 26’s board, with the wonderful Sophie Gordon sneaking out from the shadowy den that is the newsletter and taking his place. With plenty of interviews under her belt as newsletter editor (I started trying to count, but gave up at 30!), I took the opportunity to turn the tables, and we sat down for a chat.

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

I grew up in Glasgow, and I’ve been living in London for some time now after moving down to join the Creative team at the NSPCC. I spent many happy years there working my way up from Junior Copywriter to Creative Director, and for the last couple of years I’ve been working on strategic communications for social change at FrameWorks UK. We research how people think about different social issues, like homelessness and health, then test and craft communications strategies that can shift the narrative and ultimately lead to positive changes and greater equity. Yes, it’s QUITE the brief. 

Where did your love of words come from? 

I definitely have my family and some brilliant teachers to thank for instilling an early sense that words can unlock things. Words are so bound up with ideas and I think that’s what I really love. Although I considered studying English at Uni, Art School felt like the place for me, and when I realised I could study Graphic Design and basically spend all day thinking about and playing with ideas, I couldn’t believe my luck. That was when I realised what I really loved most about words: using them to problem solve—to communicate and connect.

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

One of my colleagues at the NSPCC, Laura Hunter, suggested I join. I’m so glad I did! I was in a new city, and only just starting to think of myself as a writer. I found 26 to be such an encouraging space to meet other people working with words, experiment through projects and find inspiration through events like Wordstock. I must have been part of 26 for around 10 years now. 

Have you been involved in any 26 projects? (Other than the newsletter of course!)

Many! So many I’ve lost count. While I love creative writing, I’m not very good at making the time for it when I don’t have a brief or a deadline; 26 projects provide that much-needed prompt and always take you to interesting places (sometimes literally). A few highlights: taking an actual Rembrandt home to write about for 26 Prints, exploring Monet’s garden for 26 Armistice, learning about the vital work Fine Cell Work do with people in prison and writing a chapter for their 25th anniversary book. I can think of so many more that I’ve loved, but I’m trying to keep this brief!

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?)

For getting down ideas, I find I just need to grab the moment whenever inspiration strikes. I’ll bash some notes on my phone or scribble them down somewhere before they pass me by. Or, if I’m lucky enough for this to coincide with me being at my laptop, I’ll zone in and write away. When I’m in that phase, nothing tends to distract me. 

But a lot of the time that’s not the case! If I’m trying to create that focus, a bit of music without lyrics, or listening to rain tracks on repeat can help (it really messes with my Spotify Unwrapped, though). 

The worst thing for me is the blank page, so I’ve learned to force myself to start filling it. Even if this starts of as rubbish, it’s much easier to edit and tweak once you’ve got something to work with. And there’s perhaps no bigger motivator for me than a deadline. 

What was your favourite thing about working on the newsletter? (And have there been any particularly memorable submissions?! Did you have a favourite section?)

It’s been a lovely way to feel connected to different members of 26. I’ve alway enjoyed hearing from different 26ers and seeing what you’ve all been up to. For that reason, I think the Meet a Member feature might be my favourite. I also loved interviewing Harry Pearce and Phil Cleaver for a couple of long reads about their designs and relationships with words. 

Why does 26 matter to you? And do you have any goals for the group as you take over as chair of the board?

26 has given me a creative outlet and such a confidence boost, through meeting other writers, taking part in projects, and being commended in the emerging writer award a while back. It’s definitely shaped how I see myself as a writer, and I think it’s done the same for lots of other 26ers. 

Something great about 26 is that anyone can suggest and run a project, an event, some training—whatever you would like to do. I hope that during my time as chair I can spread the message that 26 is what you make of it. The doors are open and we’d love you to come on in and get involved.

– Interview by Max Parfitt

There are some projects in the works at the moment and so many ways to get involved, but if you would like to get in touch and suggest an idea, please email sophiedjgordon@hotmail.co.uk, or max@whiteweavearts.co.uk, or just reply to the newsletter (we’ll send your suggestion where it needs to go!).

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