I have taken the existence of John Simmons for granted. 

Sorry, John.

I first met John about a decade ago. I’d started working at The Writer, and he was often at their offices. (I was never really sure what he actually did at The Writer, but it was abundantly clear that The Writer’s take on tone of voice was directly influenced by John’s work.)

I went on one of John’s Dark Angels courses, read his Writer’s Materials books and joined the writer’s organisation 26 that he co-founded. His writing and teaching helped me find my feet in the world of brands and ‘business writing’. 

But having come from a ‘literary’ background in publishing and magazines – and having zero experience of the world of agencies, clients, brands and whatnot – it also seemed entirely normal to me that books about writing for business would reference Milton and Shakespeare and that tone of voice workshops would involve exercises based on 19th century gothic horror, Greek myths and contemporary poetry. 

It was only later that the penny dropped: this depth of thought, breadth of reference, and level of creative seriousness was extremely rare in the world of brands and business writing. And wherever you found it, the influence of John Simmons was almost sure to be present.

It was only later that the penny dropped: this depth of thought, breadth of reference, and level of creative seriousness was extremely rare in the world of brands and business writing. And wherever you found it, the influence of John Simmons was almost sure to be present.

Anyway. I was talking to John recently about Voicebox, and it occurred to us both that it might be useful and interesting to capture a conversation about the ‘early years’ of tone of voice – especially as Dark Angels have just published a book, On Writing, in which John has written a chapter about tone of voice.

So that’s what this is. A recorded conversation. (And definitely not a podcast. God knows, there’s enough of those already.) We recorded it in his rather beautiful writing loft, with magnificent views across North London, and the sounds of lawnmowers in the distance. John talks about the origins of the whole idea of tone of voice, some of the earliest tone of voice projects, how tone of voice has been abused, how novel writing has influenced his business writing… and a whole lot more.

The recording is on Soundcloud:

And there’s a complete transcript here.