Blackstone Towers

The Ashley Lister Blog Tour – Day 8

Blackstone Towers

First, I’d like to thank @TheTweetOfColin for allowing me to bring my blog tour here today. This is day eight of the blog tour and I’m very excited because I’ve written a really fun horror novel and I want to tell you a little bit about it.

(I’ll be honest and admit I’m introducing myself in the same way each day, in case these words encounter someone who doesn’t know me or who hasn’t been following the blog tour. If you’ve already read my introduction on one of the other blogs, or if you simply don’t care who I am or what I’ve got to say, skip to the bit under the picture of the book cover).

By way of introduction, I should begin by saying my name is Ashley Lister; I write horror fiction and some of the crudest poetry known to mankind; and I’m here talking about a horror novel I’ve written which will be published on August 22nd. It’s called Blackstone Towers and this is what the story is about:

The talismans of the magi control seven realms of the mortal world. One can grant the bearer immortality; another gives its owner unfathomable wealth; a third gives the holder unerring foresight. There is a talisman to control reality, success, the deliberate and the accidental, and a talisman that governs the balance between love and hate.

The planets are now aligning, and one worldly resident of Blackstone Towers knows the talismans urgently need collecting and destroying before they fall into the wrong hands.

The only problem is establishing whose hands are the wrong ones.
Look at that cover. Isn’t it brilliant? I have to rate this as one of my favourite covers of all time, which is why I owe a huge thank you to Colin Davies for creating it for me. Everything about it from the full moon and the mackerel clouds, right down to that imposing sinister building, give it an irresistible sense of mystery.

Colin, as I’m sure everyone reading this knows, is not just a superb graphic designer. He’s also the author of some pretty incredible books, including the unputdownable Blood Ink. And, within the pages of Blood Ink, you’ll find mention of Raven and Skull.

I mention this because Raven and Skull is the title of an earlier horror novel of mine which is all about the horror of working in an office job. Personally, I’ve had far too many dull office jobs where life is squeezed from you as you sit in front of a PC and shift information from one program to another. The words ‘soul-destroying’ don’t even hint at the crushing ennui, although they are surprisingly apposite.

I’ve also had other jobs that qualify as ‘soul-destroying’. I worked for several years for an odious little penny-pincher who kept a dog that bit staff and customers. I’ve worked as a cleaner and found the way other people treat a cleaner is actually pretty shitty. And I tried door-to-door sales for exactly 22 minutes before I realised I wasn’t cut out for door-to-door sales.

All of which is my way of building to my question for today: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? And why?

Try not to be libellous in your response but please, I’d love to know what working situation you considered to be the epitome of a living hell.

Answer on Twitter using the hashtag #BlackstoneTowers. If you don’t use Twitter please feel free to email me at me@ashleylister.co.uk. I’ll be collecting all the answers and, on the day of publication, I’ll choose my favourite response and send one lucky winner a free copy of one of my novels.

This is day 8 of a 9-day blog tour and, each day up to the launch, I’ll be on a different blog, as detailed below. And, each day, I’ll be asking a different question. Please feel free to follow me, answer as many questions as you like, and if you’ve got any questions about the book or anything else, I’ll be happy to answer.

Also, if you fancy coming to the online launch, where I’ll be reading from Blackstone Towers and sharing some of my ribald poetry, drop me an email and I’ll send you an invite.

Thank you again to @TheTweetOfColin and to all your readers. I look forward to hearing about your jobs from hell. And, if you want to pre-order a copy of Blackstone Towers, this link should take you through to the Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08F2T2K5M/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1596278235&refinements=p_27%3AAshley+Lister&s=digital-text&sr=1-1&text=Ashley+Lister

Blog tour
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Gormless: a book of poems by Rich Davenport

This blog is a review of Gormless by Rich Davenport (ISBN 987-1-913256-14-2). But first, some history.

My first encounter with Rich Davenport came by way of a poetry slam. I was in the middle of touring my collection ‘The Book of Colin’ before an official launch. My good friend, Big Charlie Poet, had recommended I have a go at the Spotlight Slam in Lancaster, so myself and my partner Heather decided to make a night it. We book a lovely little B&B close to the venue and, armed with a comedy poem entitled ‘The Sexual Olympics’ ventured forth to see what all this poetry slam thing was about.

I had been up and performed my piece with the tittering response from the audience I wanted then returned to my seat, feeling quietly confident at placing in the top three for the night. Then stepped forward, Rich Davenport. H.G. Wells would probably describe him as a ‘Hulk, bigger than a bear.’ I would then add, but twice as cuddly.

As soon as he stepped onto the stage, it was his; delivering quickfire poems filled with nonsense and wit. The audience loved him. I loved him. Laugh out loud, smart and wonderfully performed. His work appealed to me in the same way as Spike Milligan’s poetry does.

That night, after he picked up his winnings, I booked him for the book launch. His work had the same effect that night as well. It was a fun year attending the same nights as Rich. A lovely generous soul and a brilliant performer. The only problem was, Rich Davenport has M.E.

It is a cruel disease that strips people of all their energy and leaves them unable to pursue their passions. This affliction caused Rich to drop out of the poetry and comedy scene for too many years. In this hiatus, I tried to get him to publish some of his work, but it never came to pass. Time moved on, and I lived in the hope that Rich would feel well enough one day to venture onto the boards once again.

But then something amazing happened; he announced the publication of a small book of poetry. Chin Beard Books had achieved what I had failed to do; they had got him into print. With a limited run of just 100 copies (unless it sells faster than Usain Bolt dashing to the toilet because of the sudden onset of the squits), I was quick to the ‘here, have my money’ button.

And thus it arrived, forty-three pages of daft poetry that had me laughing at over breakfast, much to my partner’s annoyance. ‘The Ballad of BLOODY NORA’, about a nit nurse who just loses her mind one day and goes on a killing spree (honestly, it’s BLOODY funny), ‘A Flutter Of Petticoats (or Cop This Jane Austen)’, which is a collection of three fart oriented couplets, and ‘Pantalones De Amor (Trousers of Love)’ with a direction for it to be read with the voice of Antonio Banderas, all had me spitting my Linda McCartney sausages across the table.

These wonderfully funny words are complemented with some beautiful artwork from Minty B. His drawings, published in colour throughout the book, add a cheeky smile to the work. The painting of ‘Bloody Nora’ is an image I would love to wear on a t-shirt. 

To sum up, I loved this book, but then I am a massive fan of Rich. However, I am also someone who doesn’t just blow smoke up someone’s botty. It is a thin book, he doesn’t write long poems very often, but the stuff that is in these pages is hilarious and something you will go back to again and again; especially when you need a cheering up.

For me, Rich Davenport sits alongside other great comedy poets: Spike Milligan, Pam Ayres, John Cooper Clark, Ashley Lister, and John Hegley.

If you manage to get a copy of Gormless, you’ll be one of the lucky ones, and if you manage to catch him live ever, you will be in for a treat. The following is a limerick taken from Gormless with kind permission of Rich Davenport. Enjoy.

An ambitious young gymnast called Fritz
Tried to force himself into the splits
But he pushed down too hard
Ruined his leotard
With a violent attack of the squits

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The Day I Met Here

As ‘Blood Ink’ is a book made up of short stories I thought I’d share one from a while back. I hope you enjoy it.

The Day I Met Her

It was a sunny day when I met her. I’d been wandering about in the overgrown fields adjacent to the council flats, on the South Downs, that I called home. Deep into the six weeks of school holidays my friends were either away with their parents or staying over at elderly relatives houses to give their tired guardians a break before the ensuing madness that accompanies the start of every school year. This September would be the beginning of the end for my friends and me. The last year of Middle School before the big step up.

Coming from a household where the family holiday included the visit to the previous generation, our away time was now done. Now, seemingly the only child on the estate, I freely explored the surrounding area, which to be quite frank, was boring as hell. Though the sunshine was beautiful and the truly amazing experience of meeting a slow worm in the long grass was the stuff my dreams would typically be full of, without my band of brothers and sisters, time just ticked away so slowly.

Keeping time was not my strong point. You could go as far as to say I was as good at keeping time as a Rally Grifter was at being a mode of public transport. My dad had tried to get me to wear a watch once.

“This will stop you coming home late,” he said, strapping it to my wrist. But the bulkiness of the thing felt uncomfortable and, within the first hour of wearing it, the poor thing came to a rather abrupt end. Though I must admit, had I not had it on, my wrist would have taken the full impact of the collision with a concrete fence post as I fell out of the tree.

So on this bright, warm, sticky day, as time moved slowly across the sky, I was disconnected from the world of people, and lost in the lonely, dull life of no one to play with; that was until I met her.

I’d wandered across the field, down the concrete steps leading to the noisy grey factories of the industrial estate, across a yard full of discarded wooden pallets, and up the hill on the other side. Being as it was the school holidays, the road was quiet and crossing over to the Stammer Woods was relatively risk-free. The small path, made by years of walkers, was overgrown, only the slight balding of grass at its start gave away the entrance.

As an experienced adventurer, I found myself a suitable swishing stick and headed into the dark shadows of the trees. Under the canopy the sun’s heat, though significantly reduced, still warmed the thick sticky air. In these shadows I was no longer on the South Downs, now I was in the Orc infested forests of Doomladen from the Rune Quest adventures run by my best friend, Dylan.

He was away in Cornwall, so the campaign was currently on hold. My Dwarf character, Thorach, along with his party, the majestic elven wizard Trintus, the fierce barbarian hunter Maxim and a curious scholar thief Grangdon, searched the lands for treasures of legend so that their feats would be written in song.

Now, separated from the party, it was up to me to find adventure and get out of this dark and mysterious place, handsomely rewarded and alive. My swisher was now my double-headed battle-axe, which I held with both my hands. I was ready for any battles that might befall me. With great care and bravery, I ventured forth to take on evil.

Time was even more removed from my conscious mind as I moved deeper and deeper into the belly of the woods. The trees whispered around me, telling stories of times gone, and battles fought. I had no time for idle chit-chat: there was a wrong somewhere that needed righting. Suddenly my attention was taken by something white poking out of the undergrowth.

The closer I got, the more I could see. A girl, older than me but not an adult, was lying on the ground. Most of her body was hidden from view by branches and torn up bushes that looked like they had been dragged there. I could see her white blouse was soiled and torn, her shoeless feet marked by the brambles, her flowery skirt mixing with the foliage to hide her legs. I approached with caution. Her eyes were closed. Softly I reached forward with my axe and pushed her shoulder. There was no response. I did this a second time.

“Are you OK?”

She opened her eyes and breathed in deep with the shock of being woken up. In turn, I jumped and let out a loud yell. The moment passed. It was a combination of valour and curiosity that gave me the strength not to run away.

Without using the axe as a prodding stick, I asked again, “Are you OK?”

She glanced around at the forest, “I can’t move my legs,” her eyes moved towards her body. “Or my arms.”

She started to cry. I quickly moved across to her and took her in my arms, offering comfort.

“I need to go and get help.”
“No!” She was frightened. “Please don’t leave me.”
I brushed my hand across her muddied, matted brown hair. “Shhhh, it’s ok.”
“But the Orcs, they…”
“They can’t hurt you now.”

Killing Orcs was my speciality. I told her tales of castle raids and massive battles. How once, using my magic reloading, five-bolt crossbow, I cut an Orc clean in two with a single shot.

“Oh, the gods were smiling on me that day.”

She smiled. The presence of a hero, albeit a short, wide, very hairy bearded one, had made her feel safe. I knew the song that would tell this tale over many a tankard of ale would be joyous indeed.

Her attention became sharply taken by the snapping of a twig not far from our position. I looked up to see many men, some with dogs making their way through the trees. The thick trunks broke the lights of their torches as they scanned the area. When I looked down to tell her everything was going to be alright, she was no longer in my arms. She was again under branches, barely visible in the dark. I was crying and screaming, “Help!”

Once the people got over to me, I was quickly taken away from her. My mother was waiting when the police returned me to the flat. She held me in her arms so tightly that it felt like she never wanted to let go ever again. I could hear her crying, and every so often, her grip would tighten. Soon my father returned from the search party, which allowed my mum to relinquish her hug, allowing me a moment of breath before he similarly embraced me.

That night I spent in silence. My brother asked a couple of time if I was OK, to which I just nodded. I didn’t sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was her face.

It wasn’t until the next day that I found out who she was; a girl named Lisa Turpnal from a council estate over the hill. She had been missing for three days. It turned out that I had also been reported as missing having not been seen since 10 o’clock that the morning.

I met her parents a few days later. They thanked me for finding her. I apologised for not being able to save her. These words seemed to make all the adults cry, so I never said them again. The rest of the holidays I spent in adult company.

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We all share a universe.

Since Marvel went all crazy on the whole fictional shared universe thing, it has become a point of interest with many people. So much so that clues and easter eggs have been hunted down to establish links between already created works. Search to see the evidence that Bladerunner and Alien share the same universe. There is also an easter egg the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, which shows the alien race from E.T.: The Extraterrestrial has a seat on the council. Maybe E.T.’s ability to make Elliot’s bicycle fly was due to his Jedi powers and control of The Force?

I love these links, these little nods to other creators as a way of showing your admiration for their work. That is why in my book Blood Ink, the mysterious Ms Nikita‘s legal representation comes from the firm Raven and Skull. A law firm so full of evil intent that it would seem folly to have her affairs handled by anyone else.

For those of you who are unaware of who Raven and Skull are here’s a little review. Raven and Skull is the title of a book by the fantastic British author Dr Ashley Lister, though most of the time he seems to drop the Doctor part on his books. It tells the tale of six colleagues from the legal firm’s offices and how they all meet up in a pub to discuss each other how bad, horrible, evil and darn right nasty their week had been. Each story is full of adultery, theft, betrayal, murder, cannibalism, black magic and death. Twisted encounters that play out like an old hammer movie. An anthology of short stories all tied together by the narrative that they all work at Raven and Skull. And it is brilliant.

I am such a fan of old school horror like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and the Tales from the Crypt comics. This way of publishing an anthology appealed to me and was very much in my thoughts as I started to compile my collection of short stories together.

The stories I was presenting had a much broader thematic. I have stories covering going into space, time travel and the horrific outcome of when apps go wrong in the future. Raven and Skull, while having a lovely variety in its horror stakes, was less out there and thus the leitmotif of everything happening to these employees of the law firm worked exceptionally well. Blood Ink had to pull these very different stories together, hence the creation of Ms Nikita.

She is the mysterious protagonist that links all the stories. A very powerful agent/producer, her story is told by short interludes that bookend each of the tales. Even the writers of the stories are characters in the book, in her story. As each short story is ‘pitched’ to her, we the reader learn more about her true nature. So when it came to setting up a meeting between one of her writing stable, the London based Duncan Brashill, and Ms Nikita, for me there was only one place it could happen, the London offices of Raven and Skull, her legal representatives.

When I thought of this idea I smiled, t made so much sense. When you read Raven and Skull, you realise how evil and twisted this law firm is, and so it really couldn’t be any other firm. So I sent an email to Dr Ashley Lister to ask if I could do this. Remember, by saying yes, he would be placing my agent/producer in the same universe as his law firm. I was delighted with his positive response.

So that’s how it happened, the reason Ms Nikita has a meeting at the London offices of Raven and Skull. Because I liked a book and thought a link between the two other than it is an anthology that holds together like a novel would be cool. That by using this simplest thing like the name of a company, this new universe of horror has expanded and become much more extensive than we envisaged.

Raven and Skull also appear in the next novel from Ashley Lister, Doll House. It is in the background of a street scene and works well to establish the environment of the location. It’s another good read and well worth your time. 

I have started planning a sequel to Blood Ink, mainly because the few that have read it so far have been rather excited about it and have already begun to badgering me for one. So Ms Nikita will be back, and maybe she will frequent the offices of Raven and Skull again. Perhaps she will make an appearance in one of Ashley Lister’s novels, or perhaps both Ms Nikita and Raven and Skull will turn up (as long as permission is sought) in some other works. Wouldn’t it be incredible to see a universe shared by new, exciting horror authors?

Here are the important links:

Raven and Skull

Doll House

Blood Ink

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Blood ink.

What would you give to be a famous writer?

With her soft Kansas accent and fat Cuban cigar, Ms Nikita is always on the lookout for the next great story. Six writers, some new, others she has worked with for years, all with new stories she wants to hear. Tales of horror and science fiction, if Ms Nikita is happy, she’ll work her magic. All they have to do is sign the contract with Blood ink.

This is my latest book. I had the idea of writing a number of short stories that would be completely different from each other yet somehow fit together so they wouldn’t just be a collection. I have always been a fan of anthologies, be it film, book or comic. The ‘Tales from the Crypt’, ‘2000AD’ and ‘Scream’ formats always appealed.

So I set about creating a character that can be used to link seemingly unconnected stories. Ms Nikits is that character. She has allowed me to create different writer, all of which will be presenting their work to her. So between each story, you the reader, get to learn that little bit more about her.

I loved writing this book and exploring all these different ideas, and from the feedback I’ve been getting from my test readers, it looks like you might have a lot of fun reading it too.

From the test readers:
“It’s Stephen King meets Black Mirror.” – Simon Jay
“It gave me nightmares. I literally woke up screaming.” – Heather Freeman
“Bloody good fun. Sign me up!” – Charlie Hart
“Remember Tales from the Unexpected? Well this is now!” – Tony McMullen

Interesting times

I have stayed way clear of getting into any debate regarding this period of lockdown we have been in. It’s had its positive effects such as giving me more time to write, and its negative sides. The audio drama I wrote, which was initially given the green light by the production company was then pulled as the difficulties of both funding and recording became apparent.

So I actually have a fully written audio drama that now sits on my “I must get round to making that, maybe a Kickstarter” pile.

On a creative note, I have been able to finish my book of short stories. Writing a series of scenes involving a producer called Ms Nikita and a number of writers who are all trying to sell her their story. This allows a link between the stories and turned this collection of horror and sci-fi tales into a unified piece. The book is called The Pitch and will be available later this year.

I have also been working on a dystopian sci-fi novel which has a working title of Fracture. This has awakened my discipline to the craft. I am now writing a minimum of 1000 works a day on this title. Who knows, maybe I’ll get 2 books out this year?

With so much uncertainty over my current 9 to 5, I have also been spending some time trying to push my talents as a content writer. Living in Blackpool and being able to work remotely gives me a price advantage over my competitors living down south. I’m hoping that many companies with an office in London or Manchester will be more willing to contemplate people working from home who live in areas with a lower cost of living as a way of making savings.

I’ve also been working on some very interesting over-dub work, but more on that next time. Be safe people and remember to love each other.

Just a Blog

It feels like it was another decade when I last bogged. Now I come to think about it, it was. So much has happened it’s been hard to think let alone write. So let’s update on the world…

John Wagner’s brilliant Kickstarter was a success! “Yipee!” This means the second Rok of the Reds comic “ROK the God” will be in my grubby little mitt sometime this year. YES!

Using the age-old political tactic of lying about everything, Boris Johnson managed to talk is way into the top job. For years he’s been fibbing his way to a “home run” with “the Ladies”. This time he’s worked his charms and now looks set to fuck an entire country. All it took was a rugged look, cheeky smile and that tried and tested chat-up line “Get Brexit Done!” Phwoar!

Corbyn’s time as the leader of the “couldn’t score in a brothel” party has come to an end. Once their leader has been selected by another country all accusations of hate crime will come to an end I’m sure. So no more fluffy pensioner reading out emails from his Allotment Advice website at PMQs.

So new year, new world crises. Because as if climate change, Australia burning, Irans Nuclear goals and Donald Trump still breathing wasn’t bad enough, we now have a new virus to contend with. Not only is this a medical emergency with research facilities working around the clock to find a cure, but it’s also all systems go for conspiracy theorists who need some way to blame this on one of the usual suspects of the Clintons, the CIA or the BBC.

Well, I’m determined to write a lot more this year. Need to publish some short stories and write more books. There will be news about an audio drama I’m working on soon so please do keep coming back, I miss you when I’m gone.

Oh by the way, what’s happened to the Liberals? Well, nevermind.

Comic Review: Rok the God (Chapter 1)

Everybody who knows me knows how much I adored Rok of the Red, the 6 part comic from British comic legends John Wagner and Alan Grant. For those of you who don’t, please read my previous blog here. Now armed with that understanding you will have some idea how excited I am to be in the knowledge of a pending sequel.

However, such is the nature of the comic book industry at the moment, the creators, now known as ‘Team Rok’ of ‘Red Rok Comics’ are having to run a Kickstarter to raise the necessary and fund the publication (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wagnerrok/rok-the-god). It does not need saying that I have already pledged and I am not telling at what level I have pledged due to the fact I have no idea who might be reading this and me getting into trouble for spending too much.

As part of this fundraising drive, Red Rok Comics has released chapter 1 of the new story ‘Rok the God’. 20 pages filled with Dan Cornwell’s glorious artwork all beautifully coloured by Abby Bulmer. I purchased my copy from Dan himself at WynterCon VI in Eastbourne.

One of the many things I love about Rok of the Red is the humour. There is something about its blend of sci-fi and sport that it so far out there, it sparks my imagination and makes me feel the child I once was reading 2000AD on a Saturday morning.

Let me tell you, this second series, so far, doesn’t disappoint. If anything, the love and joy the creators have when working on this project ooze through even more. These are characters that you know are making Wagner and Grant smile as they are writing the next crazy scene. Cornwell’s drawing skills are there in all his work but here they have a vitality that can only come from a place of happiness. Bulmer’s colour choices, so vibrant in the first story, fill each page with warmth and life that shows how much she cares. Even Jim Campbell’s lettering makes me smile in a joyous childlike way. His use of a different typeface for Roks Mother gave her an accent.

The script is sharp, funny and just nuts. The story begins some months after the cup final of the ‘Reds’ with the shrunken versions of Nigel Bull the Ref and the real Kyle Dixon coming out of stasis. Their escape is going to be a fun ride through this second volume I can tell. The dialogue is punchy and the ideas fun. The exchange between Rok and his Mother made me laugh out loud.

From what I have seen in this opening chapter, my excitement levels have gone up. ‘Rok the God’ looks like it’s going to be every bit as good as ‘Rok of the Red’ and then some. Not reading this comic because you don’t like football is a bit silly for me. What Team Rok has created is pure British comic book escapism.


Ostrich Demands

"...those are my demands. You have 1 hour before I start shooting the ostriches."

Words to describe, words to connect.

Copywriting, content writing, words to describe, words to connect.

It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most overlooked and misunderstood areas of sales. You have the products, you have the passion, but do you have the words to let your clients know this?

People buy from you once because you have the right product or the right service at the right price. They buy from you a second time because they enjoyed the shopping experience. The more someone feels connected with a company, the more likely they will become a repeat customer.

It is these repeat customers that every business wants and needs. Constantly pushing for new clients will eventually come to an end. The pool will run dry. If you can increase your customer retention by as little as 5%, the profitability of your business could rise as much as 75%. Repeat customers cost less to advertise to, they are easier to sell to, and they are 100 times more likely to recommend you to a new customer.

Making people come back is not as easy as it sounds, however, with some well-written copy it is far more likely to happen. People like to be informed, feel part of the growth, be included. They like to know that you care as much about the product or service they are buying from you as they do. They want you to be human.

The website is built, marketed, and your SEO is scoring high. So why are you only getting new enquiries? You’ve built a mailing list and have great offers. So why are you only getting less than 1% take up?

The answer may be because the copy text you are using is too SEO driven and not engaging enough. Keywords are for search engines, words are for people. Having a skilled writer develop a blog, write your product description, even write your newsletter copy, can be the difference between 0.4% click-throughs and 6% click-throughs.

You can increase the turnover by simple having web copy that asks for the business in a professional and approachable way. Would you allow your salesperson to stand in front of a client and just spout out a load of buzzwords in the hope that a lot of people will see your shop?

We all know the answer is no, but a lot of businesses are quite happy to allow their website, their online selling tool to do just that. A blog is not just a page for unreadable product description and obviously pushy over positive reviews. It is the human face of your online presence. It allows you to talk to your clients and show them you know what you are talking about. It proves you are passionate about what you do.

Get it right and your blog could be the number 1 reason people return. Popping in to read your latest well-written article, and buy something whilst they are there. With good content, comes great sales. With good customer relations, comes amazing repeat sales. Don’t neglect your copy.

A good copywriter is able to create regular, engaging web content. Giving you that human face, that personal touch, without taking you away from running the business. Get your copy done right, and the rest of the work you do will pay dividends.