What did I write in 2015? This.

Last week I was nominated for Best Writer at the Scottish Comedy Awards. It was nice to get recognition for something that’s earned me my living one way or another for the past dozen years.

The thing is though, the Awards are voted for by people around the Scottish comedy circuit. As I bowed out of the stand-up side of that world around 2 years ago, I realise that it might be tough for any of my comedy peers to know what I’ve actually been doing on the writing front.

The award nominations relate to work taking place between Jan 1st and Dec 31st 2015, so I’ve put together a rundown of the writing work I actually produced during that period. That way, whether people would like to vote for me or not, they know what they’re voting on.

Writing for Television

I didn’t do any credited writing for TV programmes during this period, but I did do some writing for comedian appearances on BT Sport.

I also provided material for npower’s TV ads using stand-up comedians, including the adverts featuring Omid Djalili and Jason Cook.

Writing for Radio

In 2015, I was a commissioned writer on three BBC Radio Scotland shows:

Breaking The News. During 2015 I wrote for both series 1 & 2 of this BBC Radio Scotland production, contributing material for host Des Clarke’s jokes. Prior to that, I also wrote for the pilot episodes of the show and appeared in the studio run-through, doing material I produced.

The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected. I wrote for this series, produced by Richard Melvin’s Dabster Productions, and was also a guest on one episode recorded in Inverness during the Celtic Media Festival. This meant writing for both others and for myself to the show’s specific brief.

The Fame Game. Another show produced by Dabster Productions, another writing commission.

As well as these programmes, I also appeared on BBC Radio Scotland’s MacAulay and Co in their Five Things feature – which involved writing topical material around 5 topics plucked from that week’s news.

Writing for comedians / presenters

Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, I can’t list who I wrote for or what appearances I wrote for them on. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that TV shows, Radio shows and the hosting of do’s were involved.

Writing for newspapers

Until July I was writing a weekly (non-comedy though) football column for the Dunfermline Press but I gave it up due to being – as I hope this post explains – understandably knackered. In December, Andrew Learmonth got in touch though and asked me if I’d be up for writing an article for The National about the Forth Road Bridge closure from a Fifer’s perspective. Something I was happy to do.

Writing for my day job

Some of you probably know that these days my living is made using my writing skills to assist brands with their social & content needs. Some examples of my writing from the awards-eligible period include
entries (designer: James Reilly) for my then employers into the The Drum Magazine’s Chip Shop Awards (awards for shocking/spoof or other forms of ad that will never see the light of day as part of an actual campaign).

This entry was featured in The Drum Magazine

This entry was featured in The Drum Magazine

I might be be working with businesses these days... but I haven't entirely lost my edge ;-)

I might be be working with businesses these days… but I haven’t entirely lost my edge 😉

With my current employers, the award-winning The Lane Agency, I also work with clients like Graham’s Dairy on their social content. This involves exercising many of the same comedy muscles I’ve used throughout my career, albeit using a tone of voice appropriate to the brand and the audience.

For instance, how to flip Black Friday:

I also still need to be able to tap into the laughter of recognition, for moments like the inevitable New Year’s Day hangover:
(it was written in 2015!)

Design credit to Ollie Hooper.

Design credit to Ollie Hooper.

Writing for @ScotComFC

As some of you will know, I set up ScottishComedyFC.com a few years ago, along with the accompanying podcast and Twitter account, @ScotComFC. I should also give credit to Owen McGuire who is the mainstay of the podcast and Michael Park who has taken over the day to day editing of the site and now also contributes greatly to the Twitter account.

Here are some tweets written by me during 2015 though.

When Mike Ashley sent Rangers 5 Newcastle players on loan and told Kenny Mcdowall they had to play:

At the General Election, pondering the impact of having had a self-confessed “Fascist” in charge of your football team:

The problems of James Forrest’s baby face:

As spotted by Iain Todd, this summing up earned ‘Tweet of the Week’ from Scotland on Sunday:

Writing for my own Twitter account, @RossTeddyCraig

I’d love to use Gavin Webster’s “I took the rest of the day off after writing this one” line… but I just stayed at work:

MIddle East Tweet

I joined in with the #FiveWordsToRuinAJobInterview hashtag and earned myself a mention in The Metro.

In February, I noticed that #BritishSexPositions was trending and decided to rebrand it as #ScottishSexPositions. This resulted in that hashtag topping the trending topics and earning me a mention in The Sun.

I was also able to position myself as a psychotherapy consultant to the great and the good of Hollywood:

Come the General Election, Twitter’s most famous self-searcher was out of a job. Something I chose to commemorate:

I also put this together for future Labour leadership elections:

Later on in the year, the TV documentary Angry, White and Proud hit our screens. My take on the people being followed by it seemed to strike a chord and earned me a mention in the Daily Star.

A similar programme later followed, We Want Our Country Back. One foetus who was interviewed on it seemed to get confused as to what a generation was:

Another thing that concerned me politically in 2015 was the support that seemed to be generated in favour of Jeremy Clarkson when he was sacked by the BBC. Clearly, this was a job for a slightly tweaked Malcolm X quote (which seemed to bamboozle some…).

Still, at least Clarkson wasn’t threatening to run for London Mayor, as Sol Campbell was:

Probably the biggest political shock of the year though came in the Labour leadership election, when Jeremy Corbyn won by a landslide:

If Andy needed to sit down after the shock, maybe he could have paid a visit to Leith?

And a few other bits of hashtag fun from the year:

Then we reach the horror of the bridge closure:

Speaking events

OK, so I’m stretching what we can class as writing, but I still had to put together a powerpoint (including some of these very Tweets as slides) and talk that led to this result at last year’s Expo Scotland event at Hampden:

(And I’m back there this year on April 13th)

Not convinced?

No probs. Also among the nominations is my mate Steven Dick who is an incredibly talented writer and likely to lead all concerned on a far more entertaining post-awards victory booze up!


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My top tweets since Feb… and more!

Earlier in the year, I put together a compilation of what I’d been up to on social media as I’d had a pretty good start to 2015. I’d racked up mentions in The Scottish Sun (for starting a UK top trend on Twitter), in The Metro and in The Daily Star.

How have things gone since then?

Pretty well I’d say. It’s one thing to babble on but it’s probably easier just to show you what I’ve been up to since February:

I published my most popular tweet so far:

I devised this entry for The Drum magazine’s Chip Shop Awards, for my employers, Caliber. It earned a place in the magazine:

This comment (borne out genuine frustration at having called this outcome) became Scotland on Sunday’s ‘Tweet of the Week’:

Andrew Charlton of Exposure Events was familiar with the Scottish Comedy FC podcast and my own social media background. As a result, I was invited to speak at the company’s Social Media Expo at Hampden (and we got to record the podcast in one of the suites!). Incredibly, my talk became the most subscribed talk at any of the events they’ve put on across the UK!

As you’d expect, I was up on election night and monitoring what was happening…

That gym tweet was picked up by The Herald’s diary column

Football still got a look in on election night though:

The next day also provided fertile ground:

This reaction to Ed Balls losing his seat earned me a welcome retweet from The Poke:

But life can’t all be politics:

Of course, there’s no reason why just being out and about can’t lead to Twitter content. Heading out during my lunch break yielded this result. (And the council refuse dept getting in touch via Twitter to arrange for the couch to be removed!)

Everybody loves Eurovision, don’t they? Well, not everyone, obviously.

Another thought that crossed my mind while being out at lunchtime and caught in the Scottish weather. This was another tweet picked up by The Herald’s Diary column.

I noticed the #makeamoviepregnant hashtag and decided to join in:

It earned me the favour of U.S. website, The Chive

Sooo… I’ve been fairly busy.

But I’ve also managed to fit in appearances on 3 BBC Radio Scotland shows:

MacAulay & Co

Call Kaye

The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected

As well as writing on 3 BBC Radio Scotland shows…

The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected

The Fame Game

Breaking The News

My friend Richard Melvin recently joked that I was “Scotland’s most in-demand comedy writer”… I’m hoping to remove the levity from that statement 😉

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Creative Dinners

So… I’m 35. Through my 16 years as a stand-up (retired from that side of things last year) and around 11 years of writing for TV and Radio, I pretty much know or know of (to some level) most people writing comedy in Scotland.
However, having only made a move into the digital marketing realm in the last couple of years, I’m not still not so familiar with the great and the good of the creative community working in advertising, PR and other related industries in Scotland.
I would like to be though.
I’ve been reading books by the likes of Dave Trott and Sir John Hegarty, as well as reading up on the glory days of the Mad Men era. I’m eager to soak up as much knowledge as I can to help me use the skills I’ve honed over the years in comedy in the new arena in which I find myself.

I know I'm not going to be the new Don Draper. But is that a humble acknowledgement of my own limitations or a hubristic proclamation that I'm going to avoid alcoholism?

I know I’m not going to be the new Don Draper. But is this a humble acknowledgement of my own limitations or a hubristic proclamation that I’m going to avoid alcoholism?

In life though, I think that the best ways to get anywhere are to do things and to ask questions.
What am I proposing to do?
I’d like to meet up and have a chat with some of Scotland’s top creatives from those fields – Creative Directors, that is.
What am I proposing to ask?
What was your path? What inspired you? What still inspires you? What’s the most useful mistake you’ve made? And so on.
How can you help?
Basically, if you can hook me up with somebody who you think I could be inspired by and develop even just a smidgen more by being in the presence of, then I’ll buy you a pint.
Them? I’ll buy them dinner and pick their brains for a bit about all of those topics that I just mentioned.
I realise that some people are probably reading this and thinking, “Nobody’s going to give away all their secrets to you…”, but I like to think that creative people of whatever type are generally a little bit more driven by ‘the common good of the craft’.
Also, I’m aware that there are no secret formulas to anything, there is only experience. Even if other people let you be privy to theirs, what you do with it will never be exactly the same as what they would. I’m looking to grow, not to purloin.
With the permission of whoever I speak to, I’d like to write up bits of our chat as part of what I’m proposing to call… Creative Dinners.
You see? Titles like that are an example of why I need to be inspired.
If you can help me to broaden my mind then please drop me an email: info@ascottishwriter.com
Oh, and if you’d like to know, “who’s asking?” then you can, of course, have a browse around this website or have a wee swatch at my LinkedIn profile.

Oh, and I know it can get confusing but I answer to either Ross or Teddy. Teddy was a nickname at school and was my stand-up stagename… but it wasn’t a character. Even the missus calls me Teddy so take your pick.

Don Draper image by amira_a and used under Creative Commons licence.

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Professional Comedy Writing 101

Something that I’ve been asked a lot over the years when people see/hear my name come up in the credits for something or ask what I’ve been working on is, “How did you get that?” Of course, having spent 16 years performing as a stand-up comedian, the question is usually from a stand-up and the undertone to it is a definite, “Why you and not me?” Just the same as it is when I ask other people that question!

Anyway, I thought that I’d put together as simple a guide as I can. My ‘Professional Comedy Writing 101’, if you will. Will it help you? That’s hard to say. Talent can be nurtured through practice… but if it’s not there then nothing’s going to improve the situation. However, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.



This is the simplest but most important piece of advice that I can give. If you want to be a comedy writer (or any kind of writer), write! Imagine saying to a taxi driver, “I’d love to get paid to drive a car”, then follow it up with, “Although I don’t actually have a driving licence.” One of the common misconceptions people have is that you start doing something once somebody pays you to do it. Wrong, you do it because you want to, you keep doing it to get better and eventually you build up both your abilities and the body of work that you have behind you to act as a portfolio. Then somebody might pay you to do it.
‘Writing’ can sound very daunting but it doesn’t have to be. I wrote a play script last year (it didn’t get picked up, but hey) and a few years ago that would have seemed like a very daunting prospect to me. However, I looked at it this way.

• Have I written jokes? Yes.
• Have I written sketches? Yes.
• Have I written (on spec) a sitcom script? Yes.
• So could I write something a length up from that – a 50min play script? Yes, why not?

So whether what you have bouncing around in your head to start with is a joke, a limerick, a real story that you want to edit to make sharper and funnier… get it written down. Then the next format up in length that you try to write won’t seem so daunting.

The normal day of a comedy writer. See? I'm already giving you examples of joke writing...

The normal day of a comedy writer. See? I’m already giving you examples of joke writing…

Understand that writing for money will mean writing to a brief other than your own.

Writing for stand-up was simple, I just said what I wanted to say. Of course, I had to take into account the audience’s likely reaction, then the audience’s actual reaction and keep re-shaping things from there. Well… actually, I didn’t always have such a good record on that. It depended on my mood. Anyway, let’s gloss over that part.

If you’re serious about writing professionally then you should be used to writing for pleasure but very few people will be able to go straight to fully realising their own dream in a paid capacity. Or to ever get to do that. Generally, you’ll be writing to briefs laid down by producers for existing or upcoming shows (or to the parameters of a comedians’ style and requirements if you begin writing for comedians).
That’s something that you just have to get your head around and get on with. What you need to consider is, does what I’ve written match the parameters of the –

• Cast
• Broadcaster
• Timeslot
• Format

Generate comedy ideas through perspiration when inspiration isn’t working

This is the other difficult part about writing comedy professionally. If you have a commission, you’ve made an agreement in advance to produce a certain amount of material of a certain quality. Hence, you can’t just write whatever you generate through inspiration alone, send that in and hope for the best. You have to produce at least (and usually more – to allow leeway for the producer’s take on that material) the agreed amount of material.

What are some tips to generate ideas? Well, sometimes, geekily, I think of jokes at their most basic form as being like a chemical reaction. a + b = joke. So perhaps if you were writing for a sketch show, character + setting = funny sketch. You could do something as basic as draw up a list of different types of person/job and a list of different locations and then go down them seeing if the thought of each combination sparks an idea.

Nope? Then try raising the stakes a little. Think about extremes. That list of characters, some of them were perhaps no more than job titles – so who would be the best or the worst person who could have that role? This may help you to come up with a character that can more easily be used to generate comedy in different situations. Equally, you can have a look at that list of locations/settings – who would be the worst person that could be present? Think of the old phrase ‘A bull in a china shop’, it’s used so much because it really paints a vivid and extreme picture. It works. Can you come up with something similar?

How can you create topical humour?

Sometimes, either for a programme or for your own purposes, you’ll want to use topical humour. A simple tip for writing jokes (which you may then be able to extrapolate into longer sketches) is to look at a headline and think, “If this is the set-up, what’s the punchline?”

Tabloids are probably easier to use for this than broadsheets, for two reasons. Their headlines tend to be more succinct and they also tend to be more extreme. So while you might feel a little grubbier (literally, given the way newsprint comes off in your hands) using them, there is a reason behind it. Jokes – certainly one-liner jokes – work best when there’s no flab on them. When every word is crucial to the joke and the excess has been stripped off. That’s the same kind of succinct approach that the tabloids take. With a joke, you need to convey the premise as clearly and succinctly as possible so that everybody understands it… then deliver the punchline.

Also, if you happen to hear a snippet on the TV or radio that works as a set-up...

Also, if you happen to hear a snippet on the TV or radio that works as a set-up…

The exception to that ‘clear and succinct’ rule would be if you’re watching an after-dinner speaker. Having liberated a joke from its creator, they’re usually keen to take ownership of it by having a lot of faff at the start setting up how this was something that really happened to them, before eventually delivering what should be a relatively simple joke that in fact has nothing to do with them. I think of this as being like the misdirection used by magicians. Anyway.

Another tip for using topicality is to try to work out how you can combine two of the major news stories of the day in one joke to ‘double the impact’ if you like. Again, think of it as a + b = joke.

Relax… then apply stimuli for comedic inspiration

Mind won’t work at all? Take a little bit of time out so that you’re not just staring blankly at a screen or a newspaper. Take 15 or 30 minutes or an hour… or whatever you can. Go away and do something else. Come back to things and try to keep your mind relaxed. Look up ‘random word generators’ on the internet. Have a click on them, look at the words being brought up and see what they make you think of. It’s a good way to quickly run through a lot of possible stimuli try to find something that sparks an idea and gets you back into creative mode.

Showcase yourself AND seek out comedy writing opportunities

You need to be producing content and you need to be getting it out there. The good news is that the latter part has never been easier, thanks to the explosion in social media. My background in comedy gave me some opportunities as my ability to craft a joke was being demonstrated in comedy clubs in front of whoever was coming to watch and also in front of peers who went on to situations in which they required the back-up of writers to produce enough content.

At the same time, you have to pursue things. In 2004 I entered a Channel 4 competition to write a short film / long sketch script. Mine was one of 20 selected to be put through Masterclass workshops and it was then one of 4 eventual winners. Through the process, I met people at The Comedy Unit production company.
They suggested that if any of us wanted to, we could submit sketches for the upcoming series of The Karen Dunbar Show. Determined to get a writing credit under my belt, I sent around 80 sketches and got a few used. They also offered the opportunity of a week’s work experience. I took this working on the football show, Offside, wrote gags for it during my work experience that got broadcast, then continued submitting gags on a paid-if-broadcast basis.

This combination earned me a small writing commission for the Radio Scotland series Watson’s Wind-Up and being able to hit my commitments for that eventually led to me being taken on full-time. I left after a couple of years to go freelance but made sure to still make use of the contacts and connections I’d made, but a new showcase was looming.

Around 2009 I began using Twitter fairly prolifically to showcase my gag-writing abilities and build a following. This led me to some regular paid work writing for somebody. Unfortunately, at this point I took my eye off the ball a little and lost that freelancer’s mentality for a while. I got comfortable. My content went to that one (uncredited) source, I coasted. Then they stopped doing the work that required that content.

Thankfully, since then, a (fear-fuelled) frenzy of activity has seen me re-invigorated and back in gainful employment, making use of both my comedy and acquired social media skills. Being able to write funny content for social media these days is no longer a way to show-off, it’s a way to earn money. Create the opportunity and take the opportunity.

If you’re looking for TV/Radio or similar opportunities then the BBC Writer’s Room is a great place to start. Keep an eye on it for programmes coming up that are looking for material. In the meantime, do your own writing and get it out there (credited) by whatever means you can. It’s your calling card. Make it work for you.

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What Can Slovakia Teach Us about Scottish Independence?

During any visits to my wife’s home country of Slovakia over the past 18 months or so, I’ve been asking about the Slovakian take on Scottish independence. This in itself is flawed. Like any other country, people’s personal experiences are too varied and my sample too small to draw any real conclusions. However, what is a country if not a collection of its people’s stories?

I have, at least, heard contrasting views on things from different members of her family, so hopefully there’s enough in this to make this piece interesting.

The information that I present in here hasn’t been fact-checked. Partly that’s out of (I think, understandable) laziness as I’m on holiday but partly also because I think that in this case what matters is not so much the truth as what the people of a country perceive the truth to be.

I’ve been asked a few times in Scotland about the take of people from the former Czechoslovakia on the Scottish independence question and I also tried (unsuccessfully) to pitch a docu-piece to Radio Scotland about it a year ago. The first thing that’s important to clear up in discussing it would be the differences between the two situations.

The Historical backdrop to Slovak identity

Scotland and England have a history of invasions, counter-invasions and general enmity. This is something that is definitely not the case for Czechs and Slovaks. Instead, they have spent much of their history under the rule of others (most notably the Austro-Hungarian Empire), giving them a sense of kinship; two Slavic peoples under the rule of other groups. In the Austro-Hungarian era, Czechs came under the authority of the Austrians, Slovaks under that of the Hungarians.

Bridge across the Danube between Slovakian Sturovo and Hungarian Esztergom.

Bridge across the Danube between Slovakian Sturovo and Hungarian Esztergom.

If anyone, it is the Hungarians who would come closer to filling the role of the English in the story of the Slovakian people rather than the Czechs. Hungarians ruled the Slovaks and banned the Slovakian language. Even today, there is a large ethnically-Hungarian population in the south of Slovakia… and, more worrying for Slovaks, a right-wing sabre-rattling government in power in Hungary that is keen for chunks of ‘Greater Hungary’ to be returned to it. As well as parts of Slovakia, this would also include swathes of Romania. Hearts fans may remember that their former manager, Csaba Laszlo, was geographically Romanian but ethnically Hungarian.

Rather than a memory of independence being quelled, Czechoslovakia could be remembered as being a period of relative independence for both peoples. No longer under Austro-Hungarian rule, bonded in a Slavic brotherhood, with two similar languages becoming 100% mutually intelligible through shared film, TV, literature and so on. This automatically bilingual nature is something that is still evident in those educated during the Communist era.

I remember watching a TV interview between the Slovak PM and a Czech interviewer and asking my wife which language was being spoken. The Czech was speaking Czech and the Slovak was speaking Slovak, with both sides perfectly happy with the arrangement.

These days, people of the younger Czech generation will still have a large passive grasp of Slovak due to the similarities of the language but that fully bilingual nature has been lost. The larger size of the Czech Republic means that young Slovaks still have a stronger passive understanding of the Czech language than vice versa, due to the greater cultural influences available.

With Scotland and the rest of the UK sharing a majority language, this loss isn’t something that has to be considered. After all, it’s not as if splitting risks losing a proud tradition of Gaels being understood on the streets of London. Or even speakers of dialects like Doric being fully comprehended in the shops of Birmingham.

A country of approx 5.3m people, known for its natural beauty and love of a drink. From that caption, you can choose whether this a photograph of Scotland or Slovakia!

A country of approx 5.3m people, known for it’s natural beauty and love of a drink. From that caption, you can choose whether this a photograph of Scotland or Slovakia!

Even when Czechoslovakia became a communist state, any resentment against authority wouldn’t have found its main focus in anti-Czech sentiment, it would have been found in anti-Soviet sentiment. Though never a part of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia was still one of the Eastern Bloc countries that came under the indirect control of the USSR. Alexander Dubcek, for example, found out that his softened version of communism wasn’t acceptable to Moscow in the 1960s when Soviet tanks hit the streets of Prague and Bratislava to re-assert more hard-line communist power.

The modern context of Slovak statehood

When communism fell across Europe in the late 80s and early 90s, normal people most likely saw it as an opportunity for a free Czechoslovakia, not for a free Czech state and Slovak state. There were two separate parliaments, with a President (Vaclav Havel) acting as the unifying figure for the two.

This is another area in which the situations of Slovakia and Scotland diverge; the people of Slovakia were not given a vote on independence. Instead, independence was carved up between the Czech and Slovak leaders of the time. Independence finally arrived in 1993… though my wife’s family were telling me of anecdotal evidence that separate Czech banknotes were being printed up as early as 1991, before the notion of splitting the Czechoslovakia had even been mooted to the people.

Whatever people in Scotland want to take from the example of Czechoslovakia, the most important factor is that in Scotland we have been given a choice. One of the points most frequently raised by the Yes campaign is allowing people in Scotland to feel fully enfranchised and engaged. The decision in Slovakia was simply another example of a decision being made for people by a political elite. Carrying on a tradition born in the Austro-Hungarian era and carried on through communist times.

Currency is another controversial issue and is one that caused problems in the initial post-independence era for Slovakia. The Czechoslovakian Koruna was effectively split, with the establishment of two separate currencies – the Czech Koruna and Slovak Koruna. Unfortunately for the Slovaks, the relative weakness of their economy compared to that of the Czechs meant that the Slovak Koruna was valued lower than the Czech Koruna. Effectively, prices would have been higher in Slovakia than the Czech Republic (They were two distinct currencies though).

The changeover was managed by people being able to swap currency in banks or shops taking in the old Czechoslovakian currency and giving back change in the new currency. Eventually (start of 2008, I think) the Slovaks opted to become members of the Euro zone. The Euro’s woes of recent years mean that’s not a decision you’ll find great enthusiasm for in Slovakia.

The current mood in Slovakia

It’s in the Czech authorities handling of the split of Czechoslovakia that you’ll find the greatest division in attitudes across Slovakia (by my own meager studies). Whether it’s backed up by facts or not, the notion exists that the Czech authorities had begun planning for the split in advance and that industries traditionally located in the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia began to be moved to the Czech part, further strengthening the economy of that area and weakening the future Slovakia. Some Slovaks regard this as a sign that they were always an afterthought for the Czech leaders so independence has been a positive, while others regard the economic inequality at the time of the split and since as being evidence that the position of the Slovak people was stronger as part of a union with Czechoslovakia.

My wife’s relatives quoted to me a few days the starkly contrasting current figures of 6% unemployment in the Czech Republic and 14% in Slovakia. Again, I haven’t checked these figures. I’ve no reason to dispute them but what matters to me is that they are how people perceive and experience their situation.

You can make another case for Slovakia’s experience being different from that of the UK. This isn’t just a case of one side wanting to break away from the other, politicians of both countries were involved in bringing about the split. It’s tempting to assume that it came down to politicians’ ambitions meaning that they wanted to lead one country, not half a country.

Many Slovakians have probably yet to reach a situation where they feel fully served by and engaged by their own politicians. At least in Scotland the debate over independence has fully engaged a nation and allowed them to question, support or oppose plans, models and individuals alike. Engineering the split of Czechs and Slovaks without going to the people didn’t allow the population to engage with either the process or the arguments for or against.

The Slovak attitude towards Scottish independence

In general, the attitude that I’ve encountered towards Scottish independence is a negative one. As I’ve pointed out, however, this is far from a scientific level of survey and the context of the two nations’ experiences is hugely different. Whatever happens in Scotland, it will be a process that the Scottish people have chosen. In Slovakia, it was just another decision imposed upon them by a ruling elite.

Also, Slovakia has been hugely impacted by the global financial crisis, the Euro zone’s particular woes and is now being affected by the Russia/Ukraine situation impacting gas supplies/prices and employment – something I touched upon in my last piece. Slovakian self-confidence had already been ground down by hundreds of years of authoritarian rule and the current situation does not help. Whether Scots feel that we have been adequately represented or not over the centuries, I would argue that our experience has been less traumatic than that of the Slovak people –

Habsburg rule was followed by a brief between-the-wars flourish, then a Slovak puppet-state of the Nazis existed during WWII, then a reunited Czechoslovakia was effectively held at Soviet gunpoint before another brief moment of freedom saw a split being engineered in smoke-filled rooms.

Whatever the result in Scotland’s referendum, we’ve already won something that Slovakia didn’t. The independence to decide on independence.

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Writing to Reach You

I started performing on stand-up comedy stages in 1998, moved into writing for TV & Radio in 2004 and this year (2014) I retired from live comedy to focus on working in copywriting and social media. I’ve recently been appointed as Content Account Manager at Caliber Marketing, with responsibilities across social media, copywriting and interactive marketing projects. Moving from comedy writing and performing into these areas may seem like a strange move but to me it’s not really. In both areas, I’ve had to pose and answer the same questions.

Who are the audience that you’re trying to reach?

It’s amazing how difficult this question can sometimes be for individuals and companies or organisations alike. The temptation is always to say “everyone”. However, trying to achieve this will only lead to producing something so impersonal and untailored that it instead connects with nobody. If you have a niche who form your core audience (or market) then don’t be afraid to reach out to them. If anything, be afraid not to.

OK, so this may be stretching dress-down Friday a little bit...

OK, so this may be stretching dress-down Friday a little bit…

How do that audience think and speak?

You wouldn’t write for an English-speaking audience in French, that’s the most obvious and broad-stroked example I can come up with. The more nuanced version would be to take into account that people’s language, tone and frame of reference are shaped by a number of things; age, gender, geographical location, income and so on. Just as not all comedy material will work with all audiences, nor will all web or social content.

You don’t want to take the risk of sounding patronising or inauthentic in your attempts to ‘speak the same language’ (a bank advertising accounts to teenagers would hardly elicit a positive response by starting an advert with “Yo!”) but at the same time there’s no harm in being aware of your audience and taking the time to find a way to reach them that remains authentic to the client (or in the case of comedy, the performer).

What platform is it for?

Again, there’s a big overlap between my past in comedy and my present line of work. There’d be no point in me writing or editing a script that has been commissioned for TV only to cram it full of ideas which can only be exploited to their full potential on radio or vice versa. Equally, if charged with coming up with the correct tone and content to suit Twitter, there’s no point in presenting a campaign that would work on LinkedIn but is doomed to failure on the intended platform.

What are the client’s wishes and requirements?

The one who pays the piper picks the tune. That’s a reasonable sentiment to bear in mind, though not slavishly so. If the client felt able to put everything together themselves then they wouldn’t be turning to you for assistance – whether that client is a comedy production company or self-storage firm. You have a responsibility to factor in the tone, image and intention that suits them and to work within those parameters…but you also have a responsibility to advise them on any tweaks to those parameters that could/should be made to get them the best results.

In comedy terms, if I write a script with a tone that suits Channel 4 at 10pm but I’ve been commissioned to write something for BBC1 Scotland pre-watershed – I haven’t met the client’s requirements, however artistically satisfying or not the piece may be. However, if I put together something that’s more on the borderline of acceptability, I should be prepared to put together a logical argument explaining the relevance/importance of getting so close to the line. It may yet come back to be altered once more but it’s still shown more of an effort on behalf of the client than always taking the path of least resistance.

What’s the most important thing?

To get it done.

I have to ask the questions that I’ve listed above and get as much information to answer them with as possible… but no amount of ‘showing working’ is going to get you off the hook in the real world if you don’t come up with the end result. I’ve worked to deadlines throughout my comedy career, whether for TV or Radio programmes or just to avoid the embarrassment of dying on my a*se in front of a Fringe audience with a show that hasn’t yet been fully put together.

What does all this tell us?

Looking for somebody to handle your company’s web presence? Start hanging around comedy clubs and TV production companies… 😉

(Jester image from Johnny Automatic used under Creative Commons agreement)

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Ukraine – Attempting a Summary | Ross “Teddy” Craig

Hello and welcome to my first blog on my new website. I’m sorry that it’s taken so long but it’s been as a result of a positive – I’ve been very busy. Recently, like many people, I’ve been following the worrying developments in Ukraine. Over the years, I’ve taken a bit more interest than most people in the UK, due to a combination of a fascination with the country stemming from my appreciation of the skills of the former Rangers player, Alexei Mikhailitchenko (apologies if that version of the English transliteration of his name offends any readers – more on that later), writing my dissertation (MA History hons from Edinburgh Uni) on Britain’s role in the development of the Cold War, and having visited Kyiv (Ukrainian transliteration of the name this time) in 2009. From following things on Twitter, I can see that the context of the situation is very confusing for people, so I thought that it may be helpful to put together an explanatory guide.

I’ve tried to make this fairly neutral, but I’m sure it will still manage to offend people who are among the affected parties in the situation, for that I apologise in advance.

Ukraine and Russia – the Early Historical Context

The origins of Russian (and Ukrainian and Belarusian) culture actually lie within Ukraine, stemming from the creation of the Kyivan Rus, in the late 9th century. Kyiv (Note: Kyiv is transliterated from the Ukrainian language version of the name – the official one. Kiev is more common to us, but comes from the Russian version of the name, which would have been more commonly seen in the West during Soviet times.) was the centre of this coalition of tribes which grew in power, until power and influence gradually transferred to Novgorod and then eventually to Moscow.

The Modern Context of Russian and Ukrainian Relations

We are all aware in the West of the horrors of the Holocaust conducted against the Jewish people by the Nazis, and many of us also have some awareness of the Armenian Holocaust, suffered by the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Less well known in the West is the Ukrainian Holodomor, in which millions of Ukrainians starved to death at the hands of Stalin’s programme of collectivisation. At the start of the 20th century, Ukraine’s huge swathes of agricultural land meant that it was known as ‘the bread basket of Europe’. Stalin was determined that agricultural production should be taken out of the hands of individual kulak producers and all produce should be going to the state to be redistributed as the state saw fit.

Production fell, local producers weren’t allowed to keep their own produce and those trying to do so were under orders to be shot by Soviet troops to serve as an example to others. The result was the death of millions. An insight into how grim this period of the early 1930s was is that it was the only aspect of Sovietisation that Stalin ever conceded to Churchill had been difficult. From a man used to portraying a glorious image to the Western capitalists he had such distaste for, this is significant.

This memory of ‘Russian’ rule remains within the consciousness of the Ukrainian people and has to be taken into account when assessing the reaction of many Ukrainians towards Russia. On the other hand, much of the Ukrainian population are either ethnically Russian or Russian-leaning in their world outlook.

Crimea – Why is it a Special Case?

Crimea represents a complex part of the current tensions between Russia and the Ukraine. Historically, Crimea has been Russian or within the Russian sphere of influence. It’s strategically hugely important to Russia because it provides a Black Sea port for their navy. Geographically, it is cut off from the main land mass of Russia by Ukraine. During the Soviet era, the administration of Crimea was given over to the Ukrainian section of the USSR. When Ukraine became independent, Crimea remained part of it, angering some Russians.

Russia has remained eager to retain its access to Crimea as a naval base and has negotiated agreements to this effect since Ukraine’s independence. However, the Western-leaning Viktor Yuschenko, who emerged as Ukrainian President following the Orange Revolution, was keen to see Ukraine taken out of Russia’s sphere of influence and moved into the EU’s sphere of influence – with a view to eventually becoming a member state. He announced that he would not be renewing Russia’s naval access to Crimea when the agreement ran out.

Having mentioned Yuschenko, I should go back and mention The Orange Revolution. In late 2004, Viktor Yanukovych (the recently deposed President) was announced as the winner of the 2004 elections. There was a perception of electoral fraud, resulting in Ukrainians taking to the streets to protest against the result. The Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered the election to be run again and this time Yuschenko took 52% of the vote to Yanukovych’s 44% and was elected President. It’s also worth noting that during the initial election campaign, Yuschenko was confirmed as having suffered poisoning with the substance Dioxin, which caused him disfigurement.

The protests leading to the 2nd election became known as ‘The Orange Revolution’ and the key figures in it were Yuschenko and his then ally, Yulia Tymoshenko. The linguistic/ethnic/political tensions within Ukraine can be seen in some of the rivalries. Yanukovych is from the generally Russian-speaking and leaning East of Ukraine, a powerbase that sometimes hears him being referred to as part of the ‘Donetsk Mafia’. This isn’t intended to be taken literally, it’s a reference to the business and political interests from that area that back him.

Anyway, back to Crimea. Though Crimea probably has around 50% – 60% of the population speaking Russian and politically aligning themselves with Russia, the rest of the population is mainly made up of either people considering themselves ethnically Ukrainian…or people considering themselves to be Tatars. The Tatars were another group of people persecuted by Stalin, seeing their populations moved en masse to the furthest reaches of the USSR. As such, the thought of once more coming under Russian rule, or even influence, is alarming for the Tatar population of Crimea.

There is a current precedent for Russia having a sea port that is geographically cut off from the rest of the Russian land mass. Kaliningrad is located between the EU states of Poland and Lithuania and was historically the Prussian state of Koenigsberg (Immanuel Kant is buried in the Cathedral there), it’s now a Baltic port for the Russian navy.

What’s Happening Now?

The current situation (VERY roughly) is that the Ukrainian nationalist / Ukrainian speaking / Western leaning people of the West of Ukraine have forced Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country and an interim government has been declared. This came about because they were unhappy at Yanukovych appearing to ditch plans for closer EU ties in favour of being part of a customs union with Russia.

The aim of Kyiv’s interim government will likely be to form closer ties with the EU. In the Russian speaking / Russian leaning East of the country (eg Kharkiv and Donetsk), people have taken to the streets to protest at the toppling of Yanukovych and to take over local political offices. The complication is in assessing the identity that they have chosen for themselves. Many are waving Russian flags…but this may not be an expression of Russian nationality, so much as an expression that they believe that Russia is more aligned with their interests than the EU-leaning Ukrainians taking power in Kyiv. Industrial areas like Donetsk have strong trade links with Russia, so fear losing them if Ukraine focuses on the EU at the expense of Russia.

In Crimea, Russian forces (officially or unofficially) are on the ground and securing local political offices and transport links (such as Simferopol airport). The precedent for this kind of action comes from Russia’s intervention in Georgia a few years ago. VERY roughly, what happened was that Georgian troops clashed with separatist South Ossetian troops. South Ossetia is/was within the borders of the modern territory of Georgia and the rebel troops tended to be Russian speaking / Russian leaning. The Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili mounted an attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali…which led to the intervention of Russian troops. Russian forces drove back the Georgian Army and proceeded through South Ossetia in the direction of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The Russians used the justification that they had a right to intervene as the people they were protecting had strong Russian connections. Russian forces eventually withdrew from their proximity to Tbilisi, but not from South Ossetia, which is now a Russian-recognised separate territory. This status is not recognised by many other countries. The presence of Russian forces in Crimea – and President Putin having secured the Russian Parliament’s approval to deploy troops anywhere in Ukraine – has raised fears that Ukraine will end up being split, with Russian military influence being used to secure a separation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country.

The deposed President Viktor Yanukovych is now in Russia, but continues to enjoy support in his home city of Donetsk, as well as in Kharkiv. The capital, Kyiv, is under the control of Western-leaning Ukrainians. However, to say ‘under the control of’ is an over-simplification, due to the diverse groups involved in the overthrow of Yanukovych. Some extreme right-wing elements have been identified as being involved and how much control they are actually under is open to question.

Basically, the situation is volatile internally – with different ethnic, linguistic, and political interests in conflict – but also externally, now that a foreign power (Russia) has deployed troops to a sovereign state.

I hope that gives people a rough overview of what’s currently happening and at least gives a platform from which to further research and understand the nuances I haven’t been able to properly expand upon here.

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