On Interviewing

I’ve spent a fair portion of the last two days preparing for an interview that, in the end, consisted of eleven minutes of footage.  You can view the results here.

This is a more complicated process than you might imagine.  About ten emails, five hours of reading, four hours of research, three hours of travel, one hour of waiting for a media-release form and untold hours of panic and musing have gone into it.  And I’ve got it pretty easy from the technology and personnel perspective – no camera-person, no sound-person, no lighting to worry about: just me, a video camera, a microphone and the subject.

Interviews scare the pants off me, mostly because they provide endless opportunities to make a prize prat of myself on film.  

I envy print journalists.  All those sods have to do is take someone for a bite to eat and a few drinks, and chat genially in the presence of a tape recorder.  Then they get to shape the whole experience just as they wish on the page.

Endless glamorous possibilities present themselves: ‘chuckling, he lit his twentieth cigarette of the night and smouldered at me over his dry vodka martini…’


I, on the other hand, fuelled only by cheap gin and an insatiable desire for signed copies of free books, without a stipend for my labours (that’s community television for you…), toil like a slave with the ever present risk that I’ll cock it all up on the day.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

Well, ok.  Fine.  I was complaining, but I shouldn’t have been.  I get to meet authors, who are some of my favourite people.  I get my mug on TV (As Noël Coward so rightly pointed out, ‘Television is for appearing on, not for looking at’), and I have, in hindsight, a tremendous amount of fun with it all.

Two days ago, the lovely folks at Text Publishing asked if I’d like to interview Tom Rachman, whose first novel The Imperfectionists is now available in fine bookstores everywhere.  Naturally (and with, I’d like to think, considerable debonair élan) I said I’d be delighted.  Then I started to sweat.  With the best will in the world, I wouldn’t get the book until twenty-four hours before the interview, and I had no idea who Tom Rachman was.

I needn’t have worried, of course.  Tom was all charm – articulate, passionate about his work and interesting on the subject of the decline of the newspaper.  Seated in a swish hotel (lucky swine – if there’s any justice the tab is coming out of his royalties) he was, despite this being his first ever interview for television, poised and pitch-perfect.

Often authors you interview have a glazed and slightly hunted look: it’s surely the natural result of having the same conversation about sixty times with sixty faces that are turning into pastel blur.  Tom, perhaps because his first bout of interviews is just beginning, looked as fresh as a daisy.  Unpardonably so, since I’d been up until two o’clock that morning reading his book before rising at five to collect the recording equipment and polish off the last couple of chapters.  And he should have been jet-lagged.

I’d like to think I won’t be in such a panic for the next one, but… In the mean time, The Imperfectionists is a novel I recommend wholeheartedly, and you can catch Tom Rachman (looking, I hope, somewhat more careworn) at the 2010 Writers at the Convent Festival.


3 responses to “On Interviewing

  1. Wow, how honest! “a chance to make a prize prat of myself on film”… I’ve felt this way often; more with journalism stuff, making bad impressions on important people and whatnot. Making a prat of yourself on tape still counts, because it stops someone from talking… or they just regard you as a prat.
    I’d never have guessed it from yourself though – the interviews of yours that I’ve watched are conducted so well.
    Sounds like it all went smoothly though.

  2. Hey — interviewing isn’t easy — else everyone would do it! In any case — you ask good questions, and then let your subject do the talking. This is a point I try to make with my students over and over again…

  3. Ted and Sam, you’re both very, very good for my ego.

    *sniffle* I love you guys…

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