A career as an award winning writer and creative director isn't easy. And then there is a career as an award winning writer and creative director, in a second language. Meet Stephania Silveira. A native of Fortaleza, Brazil, she has lived and worked on four continents based in Sao Paulo, Paris, Los Angeles and London. She has created work with global brands and creative companies like AKQA, 72andSunny LA and Grey, and believes writing in a second language can be a super power for creativity. She proves it too. We spoke with Stephania about creative life as a Brazilian, Parisian, Angelino and now a Londoner for the second time.
ON WHERE YOU’RE FROM
I’m from Fortaleza, Brazil – a place famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, for being home to some of the funniest Brazilian comedians, amazing seafood and for its local craft.
ON CITIES YOU HAVE LIVED
Fortaleza, São Paulo, London, Paris and Los Angeles.
ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LONDON
I’ve been through all the relationship phases with London. When I arrived here 12 years ago, it was love at first sight. I came to do a digital media arts course that lasted 5 months and after it finished, I desperately wanted to stay. But it was so hard to get a UK visa. So hard. And that made me love London even more. I threw my arms around this city – I used to be a member of most art galleries, attend music festivals every week, drink 6 pints of cider at pubs. But like in any long-term relationship, after I got a full-time job and a work permit I got a bit lazy. The weather and the slower pace of office culture killed my soul a bit. And then I really wanted to leave. I say that moving to Paris was like having an affair. I wanted more spice in my life, but when I got there, I regretted it. I missed the cosiness of London and came back. The same thing happened with LA. I fancied California mostly from Instagram pictures. I moved all the way there – it was a great experience – but it made me realise how much I love London, even more as I grow older.
ON WINDOW SEAT OR AISLE
Window seat. At the back of the plane. I learned from a Channel 4 show that it’s the place on the plane that you’re most likely to survive in the event of a crash. That’s how anxious I am about flying.
ON A SONG THAT CAPTURES LONDON FOR YOU
‘Come Back to Camden’ by Morrissey. I lived in Camden in my early days in London and the neighbourhood always brings me good memories. The song is very melancholic. It feels very London to me.
ON WORK X TRAVEL
I haven’t travelled since I came back from maternity leave, but I can’t wait to go away and finally have 8 hours of sleep uninterrupted by a baby.
My first creative partner was a Geordie (from Newcastle) and on the first day we worked together, I couldn’t understand a thing she said. I used to go home with a banging headache because it was so much effort to understand people in meetings.
ON HOW LONDON INSPIRES YOU
It’s the little everyday things – the signs in front of coffee shops, the football Terrace Chants (when they’re not racist or homophobic), the tube conductor making jokes over the tannoy. The most mundane things in Britain can be deeply amusing. The day before Transport for London banned alcohol and people organised an impromptu underground rave, I thought – I want to live here forever.
ON CHALLENGES MOVING TO LONDON
A huge adjustment. The main thing was the language. I learned English in Brazil from British films and music, but when I started working in an ad agency, there were accents from all over the country that I had never heard before. My first creative partner was a Geordie (from Newcastle) and on the first day we worked together, I couldn’t understand a thing she said. I used to go home with a banging headache because it was so much effort to understand people in meetings.
And then there’s the hidden language – the politics, the numerous meetings, who you can or can’t email. In Brazil, things were a lot more direct. I had to learn how to speak this language as well.
ON LONDON AND LOS ANGELES COMPARED
The main difference, in my experience, is that the culture in LA is a lot more collective than in London. There’s a strong team culture in America. Living over there, I felt the pressure to always be part of something: the agency’s volleyball team, a female writer’s group, a mentoring group. Although the sense of collaboration and that you’re part of a community was very fulfilling, it was sometimes a bit cultish. In London, there’s a lot more appreciation for the individual and for personal space. You can just get on with doing your own thing. It’s a lot easier to be yourself. And very liberating.
ON CREATIVITY GROWING BORDERLESS
When I first moved abroad, I noticed there was a massive gap between what was trending in England and in Brazil. Creative movements that were rising in London took 3 or 4 years to become relevant in Brazil. And vice-versa. Now it’s all happening at the same time. Creativity is becoming a lot more seamless around the world.
Creative movements that were rising in London took 3 or 4 years to become relevant in Brazil. And vice-versa. Now it’s all happening at the same time. Creativity is becoming a lot more seamless around the world.
ON CHALLENGES OF WRITING IN A SECOND LANGUAGE
It has taken more than 12 years working as a copywriter to find my voice and write down 90% of what goes on in my head in another language. I had to expose myself to so many uncomfortable situations — so many shameful public typos, so many misuses of ‘in’ instead of ‘on’, so much pantomime during meetings, trying to bring to life script ideas with my stunted vocabulary. But as I got used to failing, I started to get better. And I’m so glad I kept going because I love what I do.
ON BENEFITS OF WRITING IN A SECOND LANGUAGE
Writing in a second language can be a superpower! If I back-translate something in Portuguese to English, it might not make any sense, or it might be a brilliant and unique piece of language. Another advantage of being an ESL writer is that because my vocabulary is less rich than other copywriters who have a Creative Writing degree, I never make the mistake of overwriting. I tend to watch native English speakers describing scenes with thousands of adverbs or writing manifestos that sound so poetic that they make you puke by the second line, and feel a twinge of gratitude for my limited vocabulary. Keep it simple is a powerful tool.
ON ADVICE FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE WORKING IN A SECOND LANGUAGE
Focus on the idea. I remember reading the script for the film Sony ‘Balls’ by Juan Cabral back in 2008. It was simple, not too many words, a few spelling mistakes. But it was just a really good idea. If you have a good thought, you can always ask native speakers to help you develop it. I know that being a writer in a second language can sometimes make you feel like you’re incapable – just remember companies hire foreigners not because they want good grammar, but because they want a diverse perspective of life.
ON SOMETHING IN LONDON YOU RECENTLY DISCOVERED
The Alexandra Palace theatre. The venue was first opened in 1875. Now, after 80 years of slumber, this hidden gem has come back to life. I discovered the place last month when I attended Letters Live, a live event where different performers read famous letters. Suddenly, Chimamanda came on stage. Seeing her perform in that beautiful Victorian theatre gave me goosebumps. London really masters the art of combining the new and the old.
Companies hire foreigners not because they want good grammar, but because they want a diverse perspective of life.
ON INSPIRATION IN LONDON
Walking around Soho. That’s where my creative partner Rachel Robinson and I believe we have the best ideas.
ON YOUR GO TO TRAVEL MUSIC
When I travel, I like to listen to the song ‘Float on’ by Modest Mouse. I discovered this track when I was backpacking around Europe in 2005 with my brother. It was my first proper trip abroad without my parents. I listen to it whenever I’m traveling because it brings back that sense of freedom. It always put me in a good mood.
ON FAVORITE LONDON ENTERTAINMENT
Theatre. There’s always so much good stuff on.
ON EXCEPTIONAL LONDON SPOTS TO SPEND TIME
V&A – Victorian and Albert museum. There’s a brilliant Tim Walker exhibition at the moment.
Palomar – modern-Israeli food, great for pre-theatre dinner in West End.
Primeur – It’s a brilliant little wine bar and restaurant in a stylish former garage space between Stokey and Green Lanes.
The Highbury Library – A cool and cosy bar located in front of the Arsenal Stadium. They have an amazing collection of vinyl and are always playing good music.
ON SOMETHING FROM BRAZIL YOU NEED A FIX OF IN LONDON
I meet my fellow Brazilian mates and organise a ‘Churrasco’ (BBQ) that usually involves buying ‘picanha’ – a special cut of beef you can only find in South American butchers.
ON LONDON IN ONE WORD
food and drink
food and drink
food and drink