WANTED: Joseph Onyango – The Kenyan Freelance Writer Who Kidnapped My Children (words)

This is embarrassing.

I was scammed into writing 36,000 words by a Kenyan called Joseph Onyango.

Before you ask, no he wasn’t Nigerian. Africa’s an entire continent and home to a myriad of internet scams. It’s not cool to stereotype.

So anyway, I half confirmed Joseph Onyango lives in Lavington, Kenya. How? His verified Upwork account says so.

Take a look.

Joseph Onyango can and will kidnap words for ‘fun’ or ‘professional’ purposes. What a sicko.

His scams are much more sinister than the standard Nigerian Prince Scam. Sinister AND sophisticated (it wasn’t sophisticated, I’m just trying to make myself feel better about it).

How?

Well, Joseph didn’t steal any money from me.

He stole defenceless words.

Words that were young and poorly formed. Words that definitely shouldn’t be roaming the internet without a responsible guardian.

You’re thinking that I shouldn’t have left them unsupervised with a monster like Joseph Onyango, aren’t you?

Resentfully, I’ll accept that you’re right.

Why Joseph Onyango Is A Child Trafficker (of words)

Hear me out.

I know this claim’s extreme, but it’s true.

Joseph Onyango is a Child Trafficker (of words).

If I’d known this from the off, I wouldn’t have consented to let them swim in his pool (sent them to him via Skype for a playdate).

I’d agreed to conceive and nurture these words for Joseph because he promised that he’d find a good home for them and reimburse my expenses.

Now, I’m not that worried that he neglected to reimburse my expenses.

I’m more concerned about what he did with the words after he kidnapped them.

After discovering the scam on Thursday, I hoped that he would adopt the words himself. You know, give all 36,000 words the attention and love they deserve.

Maybe raise them as his own in Kenya.

All wishful thinking.

Instead of caring for these delicate words, Joseph Onyango sold them.

Yes, Joseph Onyango, Freelance Writer, sold those adolescents into slavery. I’ve visited the sites where they’re now housed. The conditions are shameful.

Some of my words are now being forced to drop their trousers to sell dog beds to middle aged women. Others have been left outside on farmhouse porches to find new male clients.

Now I think you’ll agree with me that this incident constitutes child trafficking (of words).

That’s why Joseph Onyango is a Kenyan Child Trafficker (of words).

You’re now probably worried that he’s going to kidnap and traffic your adolescents (words) too.

Well don’t worry, here’s another picture of him from Joseph’s LinkedIn account.

Joseph Okinyi Onyango the Kenyan Freelance Writer and Child Trafficker (of words)

You think he looks evil, don’t you?

I disagree.

That brooding smile’s not cruel, it’s just misunderstood.

How Did It Happen?

Can we skip this part? No?

Fine. Do you want the long, or the short answer?

I’ll start with the short one.

I was stupid.

How? Well here’s the long answer.

I was looking for more opportunities to write about sex on Freelancer.

Bidding on various competitions, an account posing as Jillian Milner awarded a project to me, then invited me to have a chat on Skype.

Jillian was then magically transformed into Scott Foster, owner of the content mill, Need An Article. I was surprised, but I thought hell, if Scott gets off by cross dressing on Freelaner, who am I to judge?

I should say now that Need An Article is actually a legitimate business and not affiliated with Joseph Onyango. I learned this later on their Facebook page.

However, at the time I didn’t know that I wasn’t talking to Jillian Milner or Scott Foster.

Over the course of the conversation, I agreed to write ten 2,000 word articles about Project Management.

I should have known something was wrong.

The conversation was filled with red flags:

  • He complimented my writing. lol
  • He promised to pay me $60 for every 2,000 word article (way too much for writing absolute crap)
  • The meta data of every briefing document he sent me listed ‘Joseph Onyango the Child Trafficker (of words)’ as the creator. Not legitimate businessman Scott Foster.
Joseph Onyango the Child Trafficker (of words) expertly covering his tracks.

Where To Now?

Well, I’m pretty powerless.

I suggested to Upwork that they should delete his account, because others may be less forgiving than I. But they haven’t.

Maybe that’s because he works for them? It’s what his LinkedIn suggests.

I also did my utmost to make the best out of a bad situation.

I did it by financially empowering those who bought my child trafficked words to achieve redemption.

It was as simple as emailing every site admin hosting my work, and letting them know that they could use my material for free. There was no longer a need to pay Joseph Onyango for his Child Trafficking services. It worked in at least three instances.

I hope the gesture’s enabled them to love and care for my words properly.

And I also hope that they don’t believe Joseph Onyango when he suggests that I flew out to Kenya and stole his notebook to sabotage his life.

Really, I have better things to do. Like um, writing stupid things on my various blogs.

Joseph Onyango – We Should Be Friends

Finally, Joseph Onyango, if you’re reading this, I’d love it if you got in touch.

I’ve emailed you already.

By that I mean I’ve emailed seven of your accounts, including completedwork0@gmail.com.

Now I’m afraid that the email isn’t very exciting.

No, it’s not that picture of my genitals that you requested last week.

Instead it’s an offer.

I’ve read your blog and understand the difficulties of trying to become a freelance writer when you’re a talentless hack.

We should get together to discuss strategies on how to make our dreams of writing professionally a reality.

Also, if you stop coming onto me, we could probably be friends.

Silver Linings

There’s at least one silver lining.

I’m pretty sure this entitles me to write $2,000 off on my first tax return. Wow, maybe I could even make it $3,500. I mean, with a face like mine I must be worth at least $500 a day.

Oh yeah, I also learned that it’s easy to write 10,000 words about Project Management in a day.

Go figure.

NB: If you’re Joseph Onyango and your identity was stolen by this guy, like um, let me know and I’ll change the name to Jack Onyango.

Freelancer – Five Months In

Avoid Freelancer. It’s a race to the bottom.

That’s the first bit of advice I received when I assumed the role of ‘definitely a copywriter’.

Actually, that was the second piece of advice. You know, after, “What the fuck are you doing? You don’t even know how to use commas?!

It was a valuable lesson from a real life writer. That’s why I ignored it.

Now five months in, and still experiencing professional freefall, I’ll happily admit he was right.

Yes. Freelancer is a race to the bottom.

Not because the money’s dreadful. That’s a given.

No, it’s a race to the bottom because most employers don’t want words, they want tripe. Or they want writers who are happy to transform their tripe into andouillette.

I guess that’s great if you’re developing a haggis-shaped, entry-level portfolio. But maybe it’s not so great if you aren’t.

As I’m going for more of a century egg vibe, I’ve been forced to trash a lot of blue collar, gourmet work.

So I thought I’d post what I’ve learned about Freelancer here. It’s expert advice. Yes, all $291.48 and €17 of it.

How’s Freelancer Different From Other Platforms?

It’s not.

Freelancer isn’t really that different from other online freelance marketplaces. Whether you’re comparing to Upwork, Fiverr, or Worksome. Sure one’s got a blue logo, one has a light green logo, another’s more bile-tinged, but the principles are the same.

The setup’s simple. Employers post projects, then freelancers submit proposals to secure them. In the case of copy writing, employers review the proposals then select a worthy butcher.

When bidding for a project, success depends on a range of factors. How willing the writer is to work for below minimum wage, how many times they’ve already whored themselves out (ironically, the more the better), and whether the person still has enough savings to pay for their proposal to appear first. 

However, while the other sites are largely the same, my experiences on Freelancer have been strange.

Freelancer Employers Love Sex and Erotica

First, I noticed that a lot of employers on Freelancer are perverts.

The first project I won was to rewrite the SEO title, meta description and footer for a premier adult tube, let’s call it Sleaze Miners.

This job was legit and quite fun.

I thought my work was particularly creative too. Here’s a sample:

Sleaze Miners dig deep down the shaft of depravity to bring you the hottest, wettest, nastiest free porn videos online. Cum penetrate our latest hardcore quarry.

Henry’s First Freelance Writing Project

It’s good, isn’t it?! I bet you would have taken the easy option and misinterpreted the ‘Miners’ bit.

Anyway, great. That’s a realistic, manageable project. But it’s definitely about sex.

A lot of the listings just are.

Last week I stumbled on a job listing to write an op-ed for Ian Cox.

Haven’t heard of him?

He’s a sexual-explorer-cum-inventor who discovered how to extend the duration of the male orgasm 14-fold. How? By tying cords around his testacles.

He wanted someone to pitch an article about his life’s work to Men’s Health. I would have helped, but his blog made me realise my complete sexually inadequacy. Seven minutes? Surely not.

Seperately, back in August I wrote a wonderful listicle for rather ameuturish erotic sex shop, Heated Erotica

Unfortunately, my work wasn’t accepted. Apparently ‘Premature Ejaculation Needn’t Be The End’ didn’t satisfy.

Lesson 1: Freelancers full of deviants who need help peddling their perversions. More evidence that sex sells.

You Can Specialise In Writing Fake Reviews

You know Alibaba?

It’s the online marketplace where you can order industrial quantities of crap from China. Westerners buy goods by the container, then sell them to their gluttonous neighbours through Amazon’s Fulfillment service.

So yeah, Alibaba is the Amazon FBA Seller’s Mecca.

A lot of would be Amazon FBA Sellers commission work on the platform. So, it seems funny that a lot of Chinese manufacturers regularly post listings offering $40 for a fake review on the platform

I guess it’s hard to police.

Lesson 2: Freelancer is the reason your Amazon FBA Business failed.

Coders Prefer Upwork To Freelancer

Why is this relevant? Well, Freelancer taught me that coders prefer Upwork.

How?

Chinese coders regularly offer me $200 a month to use my Upwork Account and IP Address

Don’t worry, you won’t be caught in the middle of price fixing scandal if you just say no. 

Lesson 3: Freelancer and Upwork appear to be in cahoots.

Native English Speakers Can Charge A Premium

A lot of freelancers claim to be expert English writers, but don’t speak the language. 

That’s why it’s so easy to make a killing on Freelancer in the copywriting competitions.

However, it’s a double edged sword. A lot of employers can’t speak English either. 

This can make it quite the challenge when you’ve been commissioned to write a tagline or come up with a new brand name. 

As a tip, I’ve found that they often like fancy Latin words and portmanteau name suggestions.

For instance, if they have a fitness brand and their core values are love, you’d be onto a winner if you suggested a name like LoNess, or Squit (love squeeze fitremember, the ‘love’ is silent).

Practically, it means that a lot of the briefs are pretty shit. 

But that’s a new skill for your CV, right?

Lesson 4: If the future is Freelancer, the future is broken English.

Freelancer Forever

Perhaps I should stop staring into my screen, but scarily, I think Freelancer represents the future. 

How can you justify hiring, let’s say an illustrator full-time at £25k pa, when you can commission a logo that’s 80% there for £5?

Maybe the road towards meritocracy is acceptance that right now, employers might be overvaluing output and skills.

Lesson 5: Perhaps the future is writing about sex and letting other people use your IP address.

Inspired By Freelancer

On a less dour note, Freelancer has been a great inspiration for Secret Santa presents. 

If I get a job by December, I’m getting my secret santa these testicle tighteners.

COPYWRITING TRAINING: Men frozen in steel sperm tanks, two dollar dinners, and stains that we just can’t find

Or how Henry finally discovered that he didn’t need to learn how to write (by reading Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition)

As part of my ongoing struggle to become the greatest copywriter EVER, today I picked up a copy of William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White’s, The Elements of Style from Homerton library.

Why?

The reasons were twofold:

  1. There isn’t a great selection of instructional books about writing in Hackney, and
  2. My sister, an English grad, keeps telling me that my blog posts are complete hokum (she uses big words because she’s super smart).

At 85 pages, the book’s small, but appearances are deceiving as it’s jammed with loads of life lessons that are meant to make you better at writing.

The edition I borrowed was really old, published in 1979, but the English language is ancient and definitely hasn’t changed since then, so it probably didn’t matter.

Having now finished the book, I can confirm six things:

  • My writing will forever be hokum (whatever that means).
  • I was always right to tell everyone that they should never use exclamation marks!!!! (thanks Fitzgerald).
  • Business words are been purposefully designed to help people feel better about their life choices.
  • Some of the most common words in advertising are portentous and should never be used.
  • SEO, search engine optimisation, is ruining the written word for everyone.
  • Copywriters are the lowest, seediest, and most despicable people in the world.

All six of those lessons came as a bit of shock.

I’ll explain exactly why they are definitely true below.

Epiphanies happen in the garden. Especially when you’re a twat with an instagram account.

1. Why my writing will always suck

The book’s first four chapters are dedicated to lessons about proper grammar and punctuation.

After reading them, I decided to ignore them. That’s because:

  • I didn’t really understand any of concepts (what the hell is present participle?)
  • None of the lessons seem to apply to writing on the internet.

The book also emphasised that Copywriting, apparently, is about writing improperly; aka, in a way that the plebs understand, which I understood as an instruction to ignore everything it said.

If you, the reader, don’t think I made the right decision, get ready to be surprised.

You’d think I was an idiot if I started doing anything of these things (adhering to proper grammar):

  • Omit the s after apostrophes that follow conscience. The correct vernacular being, “for conscience’ sake
  • You can’t use a colon to sunder a sentence in two like a garden worm, instead that a full sentence must proceed it, for instance “A shrink needs: a degree, psychotic patients and a lot of patience.” is incorrect. It should instead be, “A shrink needs three things: a degree, psychotic patients and parents to blame.

2. No one should ever use exclamation marks, ever! (except sometimes)

The book agreed with me and said no one should ever use exclamation marks.

Between the lines it also said we should murder anyone who does, unless they’re being dramatic!

I’ve adapted this lesson for 2019 and now confirm that you can also use them when you’re being ironic too.

But that’s it.

You can only ever use an exclamation mark if you’re being dramatic or ironic!

Have you guessed what I’m being?

3. Corporate language is designed to make business sound like it’s about slaying dragons rather than counting paper clips

Here’s what the book said about business chat:

Portentous nouns and verbs [like deprioritise, action those reports, relations with the secretary] invest ordinary events with high adventure; executives walk among toner cartridges, caparisoned like knights.”

p.82, The Elements of Style

The book goes to length about how these words are about expressing the user’s dreams, rather than the explicit meaning of what they’re doing.

So, I learned that when writing for business people, you need to make the banality of their lives seem more like jumping the shark; full of exciting cliches that they think are new, definitely not overused, and completely non-applicable to their lives.

4. Words that I now know you should never use

There are a load of words you should never use. Here’s a few of them and why:

  • Meaningful is a bankrupt adjective. In place of meaningful you should shoot yourself.
  • Chaired is not a verb (or even a word). You should instead write, “the iguana acted as chair of the meeting.”
  • Personalise,“A pretentious word, often carrying bad advice.” Which means it’s still applicable for your mobile data plan.
  • Pistons thrust, restructuring programmes do not. (You’re not allowed to use the word thrust in business, even when you’re, you know, talking about sex)
  • Unique means ‘without like or equal’, so you can’t have a unique coffee machine. Looks like William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White’s were the forerunners of introducing the modern term, snowflake generation. So, um, Chuck Palahniuk, maybe you should publicly admit that coining the term wasn’t that special an achievement?

5. SEO is ruining writing for everyone

Ok, so the book didn’t come up with this one, I figured it out by reading it instead.

We all know what SEO is, right?

It means optimising your written, online content so that search engine algorithms will list it higher on their results pages.

It’s pretty simple. Here’s how to do it:

  • Consider what you’re writing about and how you can make it relevant to what people search for on the internet.
  • While thinking, write down a list of keywords (both long and short) that are related to your content and people are likely to type into google (sexy, porn, why my mother won’t stop crying every time I call her).
  • Delete your previous article or other written content and write some monstrosity indiscriminately littered with your new keywords.

In doing this, I’m confident that everyone is probably just inserting phrases that do not belong in the articles they’re writing. Which, I learned from The Elements of Style, is how you write badly.

Great one Google. You made writing shit for everyone.

6. Copywriters are soulless

Deep down, I knew this one already.

I can’t express why Copywriters are the scum of the earth without it sounding really pretentious though, so I just copied the quote below:

“Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself. The true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.” (p. 84)

p. 84, The Elements of Style

Evidently, proper writers hate copywriters.

Damn.

Conclusion

So, now I’d finally read something about writing, I’d learned that what I was trying to do by becoming the greatest copywriter EVER, was completely selling myself out.

I also noticed that nice living was pretty much guaranteed.

Well, at least it was a better choice than working in a corporate environment.

If you think I’ve completely misinterpreted the lessons of the book, please let me know.

Then I can tell you exactly why you’re wrong (now I know that I don’t need to write adequately to communicate).

Yeah, paid work’s definitely for losers

or how Henry got a job in a burger joint

Hey, I wanna ask you a question.

Imagine I’m pointing my finger at you (the right one).

Yeah, you.

Now you’re looking back at me.

Savings are great, aren’t they?

Now, imagine you’re looking perplexed.

Seriously, are they?

Wait, don’t say anything, I’ve already had this conversation with you in my head. It went like this:

You: “Why are you asking?

Me: “Oh, I don’t know. Do they make you feel warm at night? Could you paint me a picture with a background of green and blue, just like that of the glorious five pound note? Something to help me relax before exiting the cornershop with cans of special hidden under my hoodie?

Me: “Why are you looking at me so strangely?

Me: “Ok, fine. I admit it. I just wanted to talk about money. Or lack of it.

I don’t know why it took so long to get here, but it’s finally happened. The ATM will no longer give me money.

On a positive note, my bank balance now has two letters after it, DR. I’m not entirely sure what it means though. Maybe damn radical? Sure.

At least there’s some solace in Lloyds, Barclays, or whoever, finally realising it’s cool that I can’t pay my overdraft fees. After all that pain in 2008, the banking sector must no longer be full of losers (I’m joking, of course it still is).

I don’t really want to link the two (and I’m not sure if I should), but I keep feeling like I should.

I have no money and I quit my job a month ago. Surely there’s no correlation?

I mean, work just brings pain right?

Let’s move to a commune and reek of patchouli

Initially, no money wasn’t an issue.

It was like I was living in a commune with my flatmates. I, the entertainer, was rewarded with stolen tobacco, half finished beers, and tea spoons of hummus clinging to the pot’s lid.

But then they noticed I was licking the lids of their pots of hummus and stopped letting me use their washing liquid.

Not washing was fine though.

I mean, bin liners are perfect for hiding guts developed in servitude.

What fits better than a bin liner when pretending you can play electric piano?

However, some people didn’t get it, and despite being breezy, it wasn’t helping me find a way to get money.

Finally though, they got sick of the bin liner and the landlord started asking for the rent.

No longer young enough to attract richer older women, I had to find myself a job.

Who’d have thought it? I mean, it was going to totally ruin my quest to become the greatest copywriter ever.

It also seemed ridiculous.

What was the point of quitting my previous job if I had to getting another fucking one?!

Turns out I’ll never know.

A month of failure

I wasn’t worried. Henry’s are grafting men; take Henry the Hoover, and um, King Henry VIII. The latter was so busy he only managed to have one son!

No one else seemed to realise this though.

Despite spending the end of May applying for the lowest paid, hardest, least office type jobs I could find (within walking distance), I didn’t get a single call back.

No, not from Oslo, a bar in Hackney, where I applied to assist k-holing patrons from south London home, or even at Hackney Council as a groundsman, despite how I had two arms and wore a bin bag (so like, my clothes wouldn’t get dirty when I was digging stuff).

It was a real shame. A real shame indeed.

The biggest shame of all though was that as an aspiring and talented writer (yeah, I’ve been unemployed for a month so I can now legitimately call myself a writer), people were definitely not set alight by my CV.

And I didn’t immediately understand why.

It was full of great short and long keywords, like:

‘the hunkiest bar man you’ll ever need’

‘bricks and mortar baby – aka, I’ll stand the test of time’, and

‘I definitely didn’t just walk out of my previous job without giving any notice and they definitely didn’t fire me. It was a mutual thing. They knew that I was definitely not the right fit. The right fit? Oh, you know, I just liked working too hard and taking orders so much and excelling at my work so much. Oh yeah, I mean we agreed I’d leave because I was making everyone else look so bad.’

Henry’s CV, May 2019

And I’d even lied about last job, stating that I was definitely less important than I actually was so people wouldn’t be as intimidated by me.

Clerk of the Stationary Cupboard formerly known as King. The Department for Digital, Media, Culture & Sport (haha, get it?!)
June 2017 – May 2019

Henry

So what the hell was going wrong?

How to get a job that pays £8.21 an hour

Then I realised, I was being way too smart for my own good. The people reading my CV didn’t know anything about long keywords. They probably weren’t very good at reading either! (actually. they were, they just didn’t spend all day sitting around reading things and talking to other people about them at the tea point, so had less opportunity to scrutinise)

The best action I could possibly take was to copy and paste all of the key phrases from the job description onto my CV and title them as previous roles responsibilities.

It was so simple!

Clerk of the Stationary Cupboard formerly known as King
June 2017 to May 2019
Responsibilities: To be proud of Bromley Court Hotel’s rich 200 year history and years of experience offering comfortable surroundings, superb food and personal service to all of their guests.

Henry’s CV, June 2019

So I did. I also moved down all of my recent experience and listed some bars that I definitely used to work at.

It was funny because it actually worked.

And now I have a job, waiting tables for 40 hours a week at a burger joint.

And it’s great.

Where else is a successful Hollywood director going to meet a dashing and incredibly handsome waiter that looks like he should definitely be the next Spider Man (four’s the charm, isn’t it?)

And when he does, I’ll make sure I get his order wrong so he has a reason to give me his business card.

Paid work’s for losers

Or how Henry started volunteering, again.

Three weeks ago, I decided to become the greatest copywriter EVER.

To realise my dreams of getting paid £700 a day to write nonsense, I needed to complete my seven point plan.

I’d already ticked off #7: become the coolest kid in Hackney.

How? By going to eight free gigs and writing awful reviews about them. It was irrefutably confirmed when L.A. Peach responded to me positively on Twitter, just after I’d demolished his band.

Clearly I was very, very cool. But that was only one-seventh of the plan.

Two kisses. Seems like L.A. Peach might want to cut me a slice!

Then I remembered that I’d done some research (went to the library and borrowed some books that I definitely didn’t read – reading isn’t cool).

So there were only five points left to complete!

Where next? #2 and #3 of course: develop a kickass portfolio and get some experience.

Surely that’d be achievable in a week.

But who could I trick into letting me work for them when I had absolutely no experience?

I settled on asking my sister’s fiancé if he’d pretend that he was the author of a pre-written reference in exchange for a hand in not failing his medical degree. It was genius, I’d get a reference to put in my portfolio that he could also send to prospective employers! (Like they were going to read a portfolio and a reference)

To minimise the prospect of him saying no, I cooked up an offer that no medical student could refuse.

It was easy. Everyone knows it but, the hardest thing about med school is remembering all the body parts. So to help him not fail his degree, I was prepared to revolutionise his studies with a new take on Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

And it wasn’t even very much work! I was just going to replace some of the classic body parts with more complicated ones, like femur and collar bone!

Femur, collar bone, knees and toes, knees and toes.

Those body parts were SO complicated, the idiot would probably never realise that the song wasn’t that different.

Then I went over and saw that he was already watching this video of the exact same song. Damn, I couldn’t compete with something that good. (The link’s a really shoddy YouTube video. It’s got over 400 million views, but it looks like it was made by a predator. Maybe success in the future is going to be all about making creepy videos for neglectful parents).

Unable to think of anything else that I could help him with, I returned to the drawing board.

The Hackney Gazette Fiasco

Like all those who run out of ideas, I started thinking about how I could reuse my existing content.

It wasn’t long before a great rehashing project came to mind.

Last week I’d written a review about a local eatery, Homerton’s Kingfisher. Maybe to build up a portfolio I could get my review into one of the local papers. It’d be just like getting published (kind of)!

So I rewrote my review for the local press.

If you want to give it a go, the process is simple:

  • Add a dash of amateurism (make it less professional)
  • A touch of character (make it more effusive)
  • A sprinkle of authenticity (added some typos), and
  • Make sure it’s totally PG (remove the expletives)

However, despite sending my revised copy to Time Out, the Londonist, Hackney Citizen, Hackney Today and Hackney Gazette with one extremely persuasive email about how they would be totally unauthentic if they didn’t carry it, only Hackney Gazette got back to me:

Hackney Gazette clearly not stating that they were about to misrepresent me in print (the bastards)

Still, one out of five wasn’t bad.

I was pleased. In the email Hackney Gazette all but confirmed that they were going to publish my review. I couldn’t wait to find out how much money they were going to pay me.

But then they just went silent.

A couple of days later, the paper published an interview with the owner of the Kingfisher.

Upon reading it, I was shocked.

The Hackney Gazette were running a quote from me?! They hadn’t even got in touch to ask me for one. Instead, they had the nerve to make one up out of my revised article, as if I was some sort of dick.

The worst thing was that the quote was completely unrepresentative (I’d rewritten these lines for Hackney Gazette because it was in line with their style guide):

Delighted customer Henry told the Gazette: “While there are already a great range of vegan eateries in Hackney, from the Black Cat Cafe to the Temple of Seitan, what’s different about the Kingfisher is that it’s somewhere you wouldn’t expect to find a vegan menu.

“As an independent, family-owned business, it’s exciting to see them trying out new things.”

Hackney Gazette, I didn’t realise there were so many vegans, says Homerton chip shop owner

Damn. When everyone saw the article they were going to think I was a lot less cool.

By trying to complete #2 and #3 of my plan, I’d jeopardised becoming the coolest kid in Hackney.

I’m never delighted. Fuck being delighted.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

The article didn’t carry my name as author, I received no cheque, and pretty much all of the story (except the interview with the owner) was word-for-word what I’d written in my write-up.

I’d learned the hard way that you can’t trust a journo, even if they only work for Archant.

I also learned that if someone sends you an email, you’re definitely okay to use bits of it as a quote that you can publish online.

But I wasn’t that bitter. At least I’d got the Fish & Chip shop in the paper – they’d probably now give me free fries.

I also had a second reason to live. In addition to becoming the greatest copywriter EVER, I was also now going to have to destroy the Hackney Gazette.

Realistically, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to burn the Hackney Gazette down until I had the resources of a world-class copywriter available to me.

Volunteering means working for free

Great.

Having exhausted all other options, I had to do something that I really didn’t want to.

I needed to start volunteering again.

So I made an account on do-it.org, the peer-to-peer volunteering website and started searching for the perfect opportunity.

While looking it appeared that a lot of old people are lonely. It made me wonder why they don’t make them make friends with each other, or are old people too good for that?

Finally, I found an opportunity for a lead copywriter at a local, Hackney based plc. The organisation will remain anonymous (in case they read my blog), but it was perfect, as it said no experience necessary.

Surprisingly, the offer of a native-English speaking copywriter really interested them. And I was definitely English.

I just hoped that this wasn’t going to turn out like the last time I volunteered:

  • Branded as unemployed in the local press (despite the fact that I had an enviable post in Jobcentre Plus)
  • Aligned with the Conservative Party (shock horror)
  • Having to hang out with other unemployed people (gross), and
  • Eventually securing a job that I, oh so adored in central Government.

I mean, that definitely couldn’t happen again, right?

Heat up the branding iron

or how Henry misinterpreted lukewarm as cool

A crucial step in my seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER involved making sure that everyone in London knew I was the coolest kid in Hackney.

Out of 32 London boroughs, Hackney was definitely the coolest (how isn’t being 98% over the European legal limit for nitrogen dioxide emissions a middle finger straight up at the man?) and if I managed to become the coolest kid in Hackney, I’d probably be the coolest kid in London.

Easy.

Actually, it wasn’t.

I didn’t appreciate the challenge I’d set myself until I took a long look in the mirror.

Standing in my mirror staring spot I said, “mirror mirror, oh what do I see?

Knowing the answer, I gave it, “a 28 year old with great hair.

Suddenly an evil voice emanated from the frame, “look closer. What do you see?

A little confused, I replied, “unwavering determination?

The same voice hissed, “look closer and up a bit.

Then I saw it. I must have missed it because it wasn’t there – a hairline about to sink from mild recession into a deep and tragic depression. And this time the economy definitely wasn’t going to pick up – I didn’t have a job.

The priorities had changed. I needed a Turkish hair transplant stat. But before I could do that, I needed money.

Ah, money. For money I needed a job.

Damn.

Ok, the plan was back on. The parameters had just changed a bit.

I was going to have to become cool but without any hair.

Was that even possible?

Who’s the coolest bald guy?

I racked my brains.

Stumped, I put my favourite thinking record on, Sonic Youth’s Kill Yr Idols.

The title track roared:

I don’t know why,

You want to impress Christgau,

Ah let that shit die,

And find out a new goal.

Then it hit me.

The coolest guy in the world without any hair was Robert Christgau. You know, that guy who wrote all of those mean album reviews for Village Voice and publicly admitted that he knew nothing about music.

I didn’t know anything about music either! I was already qualified. PERFECT!

Robert Christgau almost bald
The self-ordained ‘Dean of American Rock Critics’ – ok, he’s got more hair than I let on. Maybe I wasn’t balding that much. (Photo by Joe Mabel – I found it on wikipedia)

And if I’d interpreted Sonic Youth’s lyrics correctly, he was so cool that even they hadn’t been able to impress him. I mean, he gave Confusion is Sex a C+ and that album’s radical.

I was going to emulate Robert Christgau. But how?

Becoming the dunce of British rock critics

To become the British Robert Christgau, I’d have to write music reviews.

But I didn’t know who any of the cool new bands were and had no desire to spend weekends scrolling through SoundCloud

Then it hit me.

I lived in London and there were loads of free gigs that only friends of the bands and weird groupies went to.

I could write reviews for those gigs!

It was a brilliant plan:

  1. Assuming I didn’t drink anything, it wouldn’t cost any money.
  2. It’d provide a ton of content for my great blog that’d make me look very, very cool.
  3. I’d be able to take pictures of grimy venues and put them on my Instagram account.
  4. Rolling Stone would probably give me a job and I’d be like that kid in the movie about the band who were in that aeroplane that falls out of the sky then the drummer tells everyone he’s gay (you guessed it, Almost Famous).

So I found three free gigs on Dice and went to them.

I then wrote about it here: Gig on Tuesday, Gig on Wednesday and Gig on Thursday.

I was becoming so cool already.

Then my father called.

Parents are made to inspire doubt

RING RING.

After picking up, my father just shouted at me.

Father Henry, “You need to stop doing those bloody music reviews Henry. They’re shit. It’s like you’re writing for Melody Maker.

I didn’t know what the Melody Maker was, but when he said that it was worse than NME I felt awful.

Why? Because NME’s a pile of shit and definitely not cool. I was worse than NME?! Surely not.

I took a look at NME’s best article ever, you know the one, their list of best 90’s EMO songs.

Jimmy Eat World before Jawbreaker?

I was reassured. Whoever wrote for NME was clearly an imbecile and I definitely wasn’t.

I still didn’t know what Melody Maker was though so I googled it.

Yes, Melody Maker was the Daily Telegraph of the music rags. I’m not even making this up, the editor actually wanted it to emulate the Daily Telegraph.

But, I mean, my music reviews weren’t overly long or complicated. I had an inkling that my father was acting out.

I was about to challenge him on it when my sister and mother said exactly the same thing: “Henry, you need to stop writing those music reviews. They’re just not very good.

Damn, all three of my readers had told me that half the content on my site wasn’t any good.

I took a moment to reflect. Looking over the reviews I just didn’t get what was wrong with them.

The exercise had even shown me how to publish threads on my new Twitter account.

What was going on?

Then I thought back to my copywriter training.

What did my readers have in common?

Understanding (and disregarding) your audience

Ohhh, yes! My father, my mother and my sister had never, ever been to a gig EVER and their favourite musicians were QT and Billy Bragg.

It was confirmed: their opinions didn’t matter!

I’d be damned if I was going to stop going to free gigs, drinking too much beer on a daily basis and writing bad music reviews about the bands I saw. 

Redemption sometimes comes in SMS (the joke doesn’t work if you don’t pronounce SMS as smeees. Get it? It sounds like threes)

And just as I realised that I was well on my way to becoming even cooler, I received a text from Dice.

I’d won tickets to All Points East.

Dice Tickets
I was sad. I really wanted to see the Courtneys.

The gods had spoken and they clearly wanted to read my review of everything that happened at All Points East.

I mean, it was clearly a sign and I couldn’t disappoint the gods now, could I?

Copywriting research starts at Homerton Library

or how Henry uncovered the Homerton Library conspiracy

I’d developed a foolproof seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER. Now I just had to execute it.

Where to start?

I rolled a one. Yes, I was going to Do Way More Research.

Where does research start? AT THE LIBRARY!

1. Getting to Homerton Library

I showered, squeezed into a button shirt and made my way to the library.

While walking I hummed everyone’s favourite song about libraries. Yeah, that one from Arthur.

Having fun isn’t hard,

When you’ve got a library card.

(That’s right!)

Having fun isn’t hard,

When you’ve got a library card.

Remembering the nation’s best-loved aardvark was a reassurance and useful for my future career (aardvark is a good copywriting word because it starts with two a’s). Surely the library wouldn’t be a bore at all!

Then I remembered that I didn’t have a library card.

Did that mean I couldn’t have any fun and more importantly couldn’t do any work?

Probably.

But I was almost halfway there. I couldn’t turn back. Valiantly, I strode on.

2. Enter the library

The foyer smelled like bleach and primary school lunches. It was only 10:00am but already uniformed children were stalking the corridors (probably hiding from bullies).

This all brought back painful childhood memories so I hastily passed through the metal detectors and entered the book room.

I was almost knocked out by the heat. It was tropical.

Now between the bookcases I pulled out my imaginary binoculars and took a moment to admire the wildlife:

  • A suit perched on a low padded chair. No book just a phone. He was definitely pretending to be there for a business meeting.
  • A hippy reading a vegan cookbook. He must be trying to figure out how to make his tinned spaghetti & sausages more palatable.
  • Three evenly spaced shadows hunched over keyboards all scrolling through Facebook. It must be that time of the week when people need to update their universal credit claimant commitments with job search activity.

I carefully placed my imaginary binoculars back. As the world spins it’s heartening to know that some things will never change.

I made my way to Librarian Island. 

I’ve lost my library card. I need a new one.

The only librarian sitting in front of a computer gave me a disgusted look, “I don’t know how to use the new system.” She turned to her coworker, “Darnell, can you help him?

And for once Darnell’s shaking head was a resounding yes! Of course he could!

Darnell sat me down and went through the secure library card recovery procedure, “What’s your first and last name?” – Yeah, that was it. He didn’t even ask for my address.

Library card fraud is an opportunity

Hell, if the whole copywriting thing didn’t work library card fraud might.

THE PLAN: Get someone’s first and last name, take out smutty books (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight), scrawl dreams of kidnapping onto the blank pages at the back, date them and proceed to blackmail whichever irresponsible person didn’t shred their junk mail.

Darnell found my account and promptly demanded £12. Apparently I’d never returned a book on the Rolling Stones. That didn’t sound like me. I way prefer the Stooges.

It was a difficult decision. I didn’t want to give Homerton Library £12. I was unemployed. But eventually I complied. I needed access to free books.

He then handed me my magnificent new key to knowledge. It had pictures of cyclists in London Fields. GREAT!

But where to start? I knew the Dewey Decimal System by heart, but where do copywriting and technology fit into its ten categories? Was it general works, philosophy and psychology, religion, social sciences, language or history, biography, and geography?

Where would writing to trick people and make money fit into that list? Probably religion.

Luckily I didn’t have to ponder for too long, there were signs for those less gifted than I.

3. Who buys books for libraries?

I was directed to the technology section.

Pursuing the books was a disaster. They were dreadful.

Quick Steps Microsoft Word 2003, Step by Step Microsoft Word 2016, My Facebook for Seniors, DK’s Effective Marketing and Successful Marketing Plans in a Week. HG Wells’ War of the Worlds was there too.

Damn.

Once again Arthur had wasted my time. There definitely weren’t any decent books at the library and I wasn’t having any fun at all.

Maybe I was looking in the wrong section.

I accessed the online catalogue. I knew the title of one book that I wanted to borrow, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Apparently there were only two copies in London and they’d been missing in action since 2011 and March 2019 respectively.

PhotoEditor_20190522_140650658

4. Settle with what’s there

I knew then that going to the library was just like dating.

I was going to have to follow my parents example and settle with ripping trodden chewing gum from the pavement and making the best of it.

So here’s to making the best of it!

I borrowed:

  1. Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen
  2. Writing Great Copy, Sallyann Sheridan
  3. The Golden Rules of Blogging, Robin Houghton
  4. Creative Advertising: An Introduction, Miriam Sorrentino (this one looked good, it had pictures)
  5. How to Write a Marketing Plan, John Westwood
  6. SEO for Dummies, Peter Kent

All six looked shit but they were going to have to do.

Who knew? They’d probably be the backbone of a later extremely well received post on my blog entitled Top Six Books Copywriters should Totally NOT Bother Reading. I was at an advantage. Unlike the other lists of top books copywriters should read (here, here and here) at least I’d actually read the books in mine.

Homerton Library had given me until 11th June to make this list. I was going to need to move faster than that though. I set a timer and said to myself softly, “Henry, you’ve got until Sunday. Go.

5. What I learned about the library

I had the books, but while at the library I think I may have uncovered something much more sinister.

Face it. Here’s what sinister looks like spelled out in black and white:

  • £12 library fines.
  • Unemployed patrons.
  • A selection of books that actually reduce your chances of finding work.
  • An extortionate staffing and heating budget.

You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you?

Yes, Homerton Library was in cahoots with all the self help publishers. It was delivering an effective plan to make sure people stayed unemployed and kept getting fined (I wasn’t sure how, but they must have been). It was like the Department for Work and Pensions but more creative.

It was my civic duty to expose them and uncover this conspiracy.

But first, I had to read all these books.