Another experiment. This one’s about stripping the story right back to dialogue and using a something other than straight description to let the reader know what’s not being said.

Aside from that, it was quite a cathartic piece to write. Years ago, I used to work in the studio of an advertising agency where we had to deal with a lot of Karens. Every one of her requests really happened – but they were from various different people over a period of about eighteen months. I just rolled everything together into one nightmare phone call.

I remember another request from the same time – someone who wanted a picture of a monkey with a wooden tail. I didn’t include it in here though as I thought it would seem too far fetched.

The phone rang. Steve saved the brochure design he was working on and turned away from his screen to pick up the receiver.

‘Good morning, DPR Creative.’

‘Hello, it’s Karen here. We need an advert.’

Steve closed his eyes and winced.

‘That’s what we’re here for,’ he said, opening his notepad, ‘fire away.’

‘The deadline’s in half an hour – the newspaper’s holding up the presses for it.’

‘No problem,’ said Steve through gritted teeth. He wrote ‘11.30am!!’ at the top of the notepad. ‘Which newspaper is it for, Karen?’


‘Is that the Liverpool Echo or the Liverpool Daily Post?’

Steve wrote ‘NEWSPAPER?’ on his notepad. Then he doodled a little picture of a woman with bobbed hair. Karen had bobbed hair.

‘One of those, yes.’

Steve added some googly eyes and a lolling tongue to the face of his doodle. ‘Do you know the dimensions of the ad?’ he said.


‘The width and length in millimeters.’

‘Oh. It’s A5ish, I think.’

Steve stabbed the little bobbed haired woman in the eyes with his pencil. ‘It’s just that every newspaper has a different layout and they’re very specific about sizes. Do you remember the email I sent about it last week?’

Steve went to his inbox. He opened the email titled ‘RE: Advertising Dimensions’. There was the text he’d written which gave a detailed explanation of the sizing system used by newspapers. Above it, Karen had replied: ‘Thnks. Will beer this in mind.’

‘No, I didn’t get that email,’ she said. ‘Will you send it again?’

Steve sent the email again.

‘Which way up is the ad? Is it portrait or landscape?’ he said.


‘And is it full colour or black and white?’

‘Errr…. full colour.’

Steve went back to his doodle. He drew a wolf eating the little bobbed-haired woman’s arm. ‘What would you like on the ad?’ He said.

‘Well, we were having a chat in the office earlier. Elephants are quite nice aren’t they? I’d like to have a picture of an elephant on there. Could he have something in his trunk, like a fountain pen or a copy of our brochure?’

Steve sketched an elephant on his pad. Its trunk disappeared up the skirt of the little woman with bobbed hair.

‘We don’t expect to be charged for the image though, we want to keep the costs down.’

A chainsaw ripped through the little woman’s head.

‘OK, I’ll see what I can do. What text should I use?’

‘Just take the text from page two of the brochure.’

‘I’m not sure that will all fit into an A5 ad, Karen. There are 750 words of copy on page two.’

‘Can’t you just drop the font size or make it thinner or squeeze it up or whatever it is that you do? Also, can we do something about our logo? Can you jazz it up a bit and make it bigger? I don’t like the font either. I really like this font called Comic Sans, do you know it? Can you use that instead?’

‘Oh, for fu…’ Steve took a deep breath and glanced over at the file containing the corporate guidelines for Karen’s company. The file was fifty pages thick and contained very specific details about how the company font and logo should be used. ‘Yes, I know the font,’ he said. ‘For the moment though, do you think we could stick with the current style? I can re-design your brand identity later if there’s something you’re not happy with.’

Karen sighed. ‘Look, Steve, I don’t really understand what the big deal is; it’s just a simple advert, it shouldn’t take you very long. I’m going to get a copy of the software you use then I won’t have to pay you for little things like this anymore.’

‘That’s true. It’d be much easier for you to do this yourself.’

On his pad, Steve drew a picture of a monkey holding a machine gun.

‘Right, well, I’ve got to go now – I’m late for a meeting. Send the ad straight to the newspaper when you’ve done it, they’re waiting.’

‘OK, Karen. Just a quick recap: an A5 portrait ad in full colour featuring a new logo, an elephant holding your brochure and 750 words of copy in Comic Sans. It needs to be sent to somewhere in Liverpool anytime in the next 30 minutes.’

‘Yes, that’s right. Why does everything have to be so complicated with you? Got to go, bye.’

‘Bye, Karen,’ said Steve, standing up. He threw the receiver back into its cradle.

‘Useless waste of skin!’ he shouted at it. ‘If you spent less time getting stupid haircuts and chatting about elephants you might actually find a few minutes to do your job. It’s all right for you, floating around in your magical, fluffy little world – all you’ve got to do is flash your cleavage and brush up against the CEO’s crotch at the water cooler once in a while, but some of us have to live in the real world where there are deadlines and sizes and rules. You pointless, mindless, feckless little –’

‘Steve? Steve? What the hell –’

Steve yelped and straightened the receiver to cut Karen off.


He stared at the phone as though it had bitten him.

‘Shit on toast.’

The phone started ringing again. Steve picked it up.

‘Hello?’ He said.

‘Hello, is that DPR Creative? This is Mike from the Liverpool Daily Post. I’m chasing up an ad – A6 landscape in black and white. Have you sent it yet?’

‘No idea what you’re talking about,’ said Steve and hung up.