It never ends (although it might)

True to its name, Perpetual Disappointments Diary is back – in an updated edition packed with underwhelming features. The latest edition is the one with the orange bellyband and it’s available from Pan Macmillan in both good and bad bookshops. The US edition continues to be available from Chronicle.

Picking up on the trend for the Quantified Self, there is a new section called The Quantified Loser – a way to keep track of the gradual decline.

There are also some new demotivational quotes mixed in among the old.

And you’ll find perennially useful features such as a travel phrasebook…

…reminders of important dates in history…

… a contacts page for all those friends of yours…

… and a notes section at the back.

It’s been a long journey doing this diary – the original came out at the end of 2012 and we published and sold it independently for a few years. That was a fun time because we got to see exactly who was buying it. The highlight was when David Blaine (!) bought a copy and then ordered 20 more. His PA complained at one point that the covers were curling a little, and we asked her if David Blaine had been staring at them too hard.

We didn’t really – the covers were curling because of production problems that became an annual headache and eventually led us to seek out a ‘proper’ publisher. It’s now in its third edition with Pan Macmillan and I’m not sure whether it’ll extend beyond that – this could be the last sad hurrah.

Working with a publisher means you lose some sense of personal ownership, but it’s also been great fun to see it appearing in shops around the world – lots of photos pop up on Instagram from Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to the Library Shop at Queensland State Library for the photo at the top of this post.

So yes, it’s available now and I’ve no idea how long it will be in future, so maybe act now if you’re ever going to. You can’t argue it’s not a timely gift given the state of the world.

Order now to ensure disappointment. (The link goes to Blackwell’s because they’re nice, but other massive online book retailers are available – just make sure you get the orange edition.)

The Copy Book


Earlier this year, D&AD and Taschen published a new version of The Copy Book and I’m honoured to be in it. 

The original version came out in 1995 and became something of a rarity, with copies exchanging hands for crazy money on eBay. It included 32 advertising copywriters, each of whom contributed an essay talking about their approach to copywriting, followed by a few spreads of their most famous work. An updated version came out in 2011, with an additional 16 writers included. This version adds another five and comes in a compact and more affordable format.

It’s still a great and relevant read. Whether it’s designers, poets, songwriters or copywriters, I like it when people talk about the actual craft of what they do, rather than trying to give inspirational life advice etc – always seems more interesting to me.

On the downside, the original line-up of 32 writers included (I think) only one woman – and that imbalance remains pretty noticeable, even though the updates have been more equitable.

The majority of the work is also pretty old now, but that’s not a downside. It’s impossible to read the writings of David Abbott and others, and not come away with a sense of extremely relevant wisdom being shared. Whatever else has changed, writing is still writing, ideas are still ideas, and persuasion is still persuasion. 

When it came to contributing my piece, I felt like I couldn’t launch straight into talking about my approach to writing, in the way most of the other writers do. With the original cast of ad agency writers, there’s a shared understanding of what the job actually is, so you can go straight into talking about technique and craft. 

In my case, I feel like I’m wandering into an advertising book as a flag-holder for all the brand/design writers out there, so I needed to write something that would give some context to what I do and talk about how writing has evolved (in good and bad ways) since the time of the original book.  

My piece has just been re-published on Creative Review (paywall). And the book is available from here and the usual places.

Bagpuss, Gump and Dancing Queen


I haven’t done one of these Realtime Roundups since the end of June, mainly because I’ve been busy working on a Realtime Notes website (see above) — a torturously slow process during which I’ve cursed myself many times for writing so many poems.

I’m hoping the site will be ready to share in the next week. I’ll keep doing these round-ups occasionally and post them on the new site. In the meantime, here’s a quick-ish roundup of the greatest hits of the last three months.


July saw Realtime Notes take briefly to the streets, with a placard against Trump.


But the best Trump poem was probably this one. Occasionally, I achieve escape velocity and nail a couple of good lines — the last two lines here would make a good blurb for the project as a whole.


As ever, there were plenty of realtime epitaphs to write. You’ll soon be able to read them all in the Deaths section of the website. (Hooray!)

This three-month period started with Peter Firmin (above) and also included Steve Ditko, Saman Guman, Barry Chuckle, VS Naipaul, Aretha Franklin, Rachael Bland, Burt Reynolds, Chas Hodges, Charles Aznavour…


… and John McCain, whose passing inspired a national unity that included everyone except the president.


At the end of July, I had a brief falling-out with my keypad, maybe brought on by the fact that I was approaching an entire year of realtime writing.


The one-year anniversary of Realtime Notes came around on 17 August, and the poem above recounted a domestic scene that I think made for a good ending. ‘Everything might happen’ could be a collection title.

I had thought about finishing Realtime Notes altogether on the anniversary and wasn’t even sure on the day itself whether I’d keep going or not. As it turned out, I was glad I did, because the following week brought that crazy evening where Paul Manafort was found guilty and Michael Cohen took a plea deal.


I ended up writing five poems in the space of an hour, starting with this one about Michael Cohen…


… and culminating in a minor epiphany where I realised the entire story of America could be told in those two rhyming characters famous for their red caps.


I continued my recurring anagram obsession with this open letter to Ivanka Trump (in each pair of lines, the second is an anagram of the first).


And there was a moment of pure realtimeness when a fly landed on my computer screen and joined me in a collaborative poem that I broadcast live on Instagram Stories. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble retrieving it from my Instagram archive and it may be lost forever. It was really good.


Among September’s greatest hits were this response to conservative pundit Ben Shapiro…


…this reworking of Matthew 7:26…


… and this summation of the state of the Brexit talks. (This is the second draft with an improvement to one line. From now on, I’m going to pretend it’s the first draft.)


So far, October has brought Theresa May dancing onto the stage…


… and as we opened this roundup with Bagpuss, maybe we should finish it with Rainbow.

Thanks as always to anyone following along. I’ll write more when the website completes its slow trudge towards the internet.