This CD cover design for ‘Dap Dippin’ with… Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ definitely falls into the category so bad it’s good. The type looks like its been done by someone who’s found some dodgy old Letraset and had to make do. They layout is all over the place, with a huge patch of black space taking up most of the front section. Sharon is slightly out of focus, and the only other member of the band in shot has been half cropped out. On the back, the black-and-white cut-out is truly awful and you can see the screen on the photograph. And, yet… the whole thing is utterly brilliant. A perfectly realized pastiche. Unfortunately, no-one owns up to it in the credits.

New Yorker Sharon Jones is a class purveyor of retro 1960s and 1970s soul – although that description doesn’t really do her justice. I caught some of her scintillating grooves on the excellent Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show on BBC 6Music, and immediately fell in love with her tonsils. But when I ordered the CD from Amazon, I had no idea I’d be in for such a fine graphic treat too.

My 50-word piece on Shahrnush Parsipur was featured on the 26:50 site today. Here’s the thinking behind it.

I came across an interview she gave to an Iranian journalist when she was in London a few years ago. Apparently she stopped off at M&S on the way and bought a red dress. She liked the idea that it was OK to wear something a bit bright and garish, that made her stand out a bit if she chose.

This seemed such a simple liberty, but nevertheless it was one that had been denied in her home country, where women are expected to stand in the shadows. So I used this idea to start my 50 words.

Finding out more about her writing, I discovered that her work is surreal, dreamlike and often myth based, verging on magic realism. I decided to contrast her colourful imagination with the black pen of the censor that tried to repress it.

Parsipur is not an overtly political writer, she doesn’t even consider herself to be a feminist. But by exploring female sexuality and class in her society, she was seen to have stepped over a line. The red dress seemed to sum up both her bravery and her creativity.

Here’s what I wrote:

In exile she can wear red,
If she chooses.

At home all is black.
Black veils;
Black lines that strike out her words;
The abysmal black terror of another cell.

But still she writes in colour;
Bright, burning colour that knows no bounds
Free to fly wherever fancy takes it.

In our time we’ve written dozens of mission statements, ‘about us’ sections, and promo materials for design companies. There’s no getting away from it, these are tricky beasts. Branding specialists spend so much time defining, positioning and articulating other folk, that more often than not they neglect themselves. While some have a very strong idea of who they are and what they stand for, others need to have something thrust in front of their noses before deciding perhaps that’s not really them. 

Either way, there tends to be a lot of self-analysis, head scratching and soul searching involved. And invariably plenty of drafts after every last person in the company has had their say. One particular consultancy who commissioned us took six months to agree a single (short) paragraph. There were ten rewrites. In the end they felt it lacked bite, but they were prepared to live with it. 

Clearly, it doesn’t have to be like that. Working with Nottingham-based Cubic went like a breeze. They wanted a series of three books – the first one a teaser, followed by two chunkier volumes. They encouraged Jim to develop his own tone and never took themselves too seriously. They created their own charming illustrations to support the writing. And for a short-but-sweet overview piece, the results are – we think – really lively and have plenty of bite. 

So thanks Cubic for asking us to help out… and being prepared to stick their necks out a bit. Oh, and you can download the whole book here if you're so inclined.

26 have had a longstanding relationship with International PEN, an admirable pressure group which supports suppressed writers all over the world. This year, we launched the 26:50 project to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of PEN’s Writers in Prison committee.

PEN had already linked 50 writers with 50 campaigning years. We took the next step by randomly pairing each of the PEN writers with a writer from 26. The brief? Write 50 words, no more, no less, inspired by the life and work of your writer.

My subject was the Iranian writer Shahrnush Parsipur (right), the year 1974. That’s when her first novel The Dog and the Long Winter came out, and when she first went to prison – for protesting about the torture and execution of two journalists (she was working as a TV producer at the time). She spent 59 days in jail and then fled to France, returning to Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1980. However, it was a case of ‘meet the new boss, just like the old boss’. Once back on home soil, she was immediately arrested and incarcerated for four and a half years without trial or charge.

She continued working on her third novel Women Without Men after her release, but its frank depiction of women’s sexuality didn’t go down too well... she was rearrested in 1989, and at that point decided it might be wise to quit the country for the US. She hasn’t been back since, and all her books have been banned in Iran.

My fifty words should be out any day now on If you check in now, you can read how other 26 members have responded to their writers. One effort a day is being published until 18 April.

Picked these beauties up in my local Oxfam shop last weekend. The reason I couldn’t resist them was twofold... PG Wodehouse and Penguin Classics. These are 1962 reprints, by which time Penguin had ditched the strict three-part horizontal typographic layout of their original offerings and gone vertical, incorporating simple illustrations. These sketches by Geoffrey Salter are perfect – economic yet evocative, a near match for Wodehouse’s easy, mellifluous writing. I have most of the great man’s canon in some form or other, but I’m always on the look out for more of these orange and white gems.