I always wanted an older sister.
My childhood best friend had an older sister and while she wasn’t always that nice to her (or me!), they did have a special sort of girly bond that shows in their shared interest in clothes, music and girly play.
I do have an older brother, who was brilliant when we were kids (and still is!) and he would even play dollies and barbies with me (until he was about 11 and realised how girly it was!), but it was never the same as the sisterly relationships I saw other people enjoying.
When I started working in magazines, it was on titles aimed at women, and one of the first and best bits of advice my editor gave me about style was to write articles and reviews as if I was the reader’s ‘older sister’.
Having never had or been an older sister, I found it really difficult to form this ‘older sister’ tone.
I had to be knowledgeable but not a show off, give good advice without being patronising, offer ideas for improvement without making others feel stupid, be friendly but also authoritative.
Eventually, with a bit of practise and kind feedback from my editor, I think I got there (although I’m always aiming to improve).
And it’s just as well because I’ve been using this sort of tone and attitude ever since – not just when writing articles, but also when training up new members of staff and managing teams of creative people.
The ‘older sister’ manner treats people with kindness and respect, helping them to learn without feeling stupid and so boosting their confidence. The ‘older sister’ earns respect from others.
My most recent ‘older sister’ challenge has been writing for The Knitter magazine.
The Knitter is the ‘big sister’ to Simply Knitting magazine, designed to appeal to more experienced knitters who really know their stuff.
So, to write for a readership that’s made up of ‘older sisters’, I’ve had to shift my ‘big sister’ tone up a gear!
Aside from doing more in-depth research, I’ve found that the key ingredient in these features is to be genuinely fascinated by the content yourself. An older sister is too wise to be fooled and will spot a fake from a mile off!
Of course, it helps that I really am interested in all things knitting and all of my features’ subject areas have been truly fascinating. At times, it’s not really felt like work, it’s been like writing a letter to an old friend…
If you’re interested in the details, I’ve included specifics on the features below and some low-res teasers of the layouts…
I’ve written about Rare Sheep Breeds and why knitting with their wool will help to preserve these rare and precious creatures (issue 37, on sale 3rd October 2011); I took a trip back in time to write about the traditions of Swedish Knitting, and looked at some modern Swedish knits (issue 38, on sale 2nd November 2011); I got in the holiday spirit and wrote about some of the wonderful Knitting Holidays you can enjoy around the world (issue 42, on sale 22nd February 2012); and I looked at some of the wonderful Knitting Projects around the world that help disadvantaged communities to improve their lives (issue 43, on sale 21st March 2012).