In October last year, 26 awarded its first ever Emerging Writer Award. Three months on, we caught up with winner Bert Preece to hear about his writing journey so far, his Segway-filled day job, and why we should all be listening to Skepta.
Congrats on winning the 26 Emerging Writer Award! How does it feel be an award-winning writer?
When I remember that I’m award-winning writer of course it feels great. Although I probably think about it most when the going gets tough. When I’m struggling with a hefty document or troublesome stakeholder, knowing I’ve won something reminds me that I must be OK.
When and how did you get into writing professionally?
I woke up one Friday lunchtime in 2010 (it was lunchtime because I was a student) and had a missed call from 26er Roshni Goyate. It turns out she was inviting me to spend two days at The Writer on ‘Word Experience’. So, for two days that December, I gallivanted around Borough Market, wrote poems, learnt about tone of voice, wrote headlines and much, much more. So that’s how.
What are you doing now? And what’s your day job like?
I’m Head of Words at the fastest growing firm of accountants and business advisers in the UK, PKF Cooper Parry. We have a running track, Segways and yoga tent in our office. And there’s unlimited paid holiday. The culture is great and everyone feels really trusted to get on and do their best work. In terms of my work, I work with leaders in the firm to help us talk to our clients. One day I might be writing for a not-for-profit organisation, and the next a very wealthy person who wants help planning what to do with their money, investments and inheritance.
You were commended for ‘spellbinding audiences of 70,000’ by 26. Can you tell us what that’s all about?
‘Spellbinding audiences of 70,000′ sounds good doesn’t it? I think even Hermione Granger would be impressed with that. If I ever meet Emma Watson this is what I’ll say. But rather than tantalising dementors, 26 was actually talking about my previous job at Boots. I worked in the Colleague Engagement team, where I used to find creative ways to communicate with Boots’ 70,000 employees. Wingardium leviosa.
What’s the piece of writing you’re most proud of?
Probably the piece that won me the award. I read some spoken-word poetry to 400 HR colleagues after Boots’ merger with giant American drug store company, Walgreens. People tell me they still remember it. Poetry over PowerPoint any day.
What are you working on right now?
I’m writing the whole of PKF Cooper Parry’s new website – it’ll be up in January. I also have loads of notes in my iPhone’s notes bit. I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. One day I think I have a novel. The next a haiku. The next some killer bars for a rap verse.
How do you sharpen your writerly skills outside of work?
I listen to lots of hip hop and RnB. There are some great lyricists out there who are brilliant at telling stories. That’s it. You should all go and listen to Skepta and Frank Ocean. Oh, and I try to do what we should all do too. You know: READ. The best book about writing I read this year was Stephen Pinker’s ‘The Sense of Style…’.
When it comes to business writing, there’s not really a set path into the industry. What advice would you give to other emerging writers looking to make their way in?
This blog by Anelia Varela does a really good job at answering that question: I would just add that you should write wherever you are. I got a job writing for Boots because I used to work in their shops where I’d occasionally personify fridges in little notes, write my store manager’s end of year report and so on. There are opportunities to write and tell stories everywhere. Just get on with it.
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