When I took part in the ProCopywriters member spotlight interview last year, the question I found easiest to answer was “What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?”
I imagine they were expecting me to say something like, “The ultimate driving machine” for BMW or a similar classic line. However, the piece of writing I most admire is not advertising at all, but the words that attracted me to the power of writing in the first place. And as we reach the festive season once again, it’s worth repeating what I said in that interview.
My favourite piece of writing is the description of the Victorian festive street scene from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol :
“There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe.
There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.”
I can remember it from school and it was one of the things that inspired me to be a writer. I can still close my eyes and be on that street with all its incredible colours and amazing smells. It is just so evocative.
For me, this passage sums up Christmas perfectly, not because it is full of rich foods and excess, but because it captures the magic and wonder of the season; a magic and wonder that seems harder to find every year.
These days, with luxuries available all year round, there’s little left that feels special at Christmas. I wish I could do my shopping on a street like his, instead of struggling round the supermarket to by uniform fruit and veg, in soulless plastic bags, before paying at the self-service till without talking to a single soul.
So this year, tear yourself away from the telly, with its endless ads compelling us to start the materialistic madness all over again in the Boxing Day sales. Switch it off and step back to a simpler time with A Christmas Carol.
Better still, gather the family around and read it out loud. Dickens knew what Christmas was all about, and what was truly important as we celebrate the festive season.
I hope you and yours have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!