Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Getting to the bottom of it

I love talking to people and I think that helps, and is why I like interviewing. I like getting down to the bare bones of someone or something. I think people lead such fascinating lives and it's such a pleasure to find out about them. The first interviews I did were back in June last year when I attended the Wenlock Olympian Society games in Much Wenlock.  What an experience they were! I know I haven't yet had an article published from that experience but I will. For me it was an exercise in throwing myself in the deep end and seeing if I could swim! The overriding thing that has stopped me from producing an article about it is that the society have to vet it first and you have to tell them which specific magazine the article is for - so if you want to pitch it to a magazine you have to fill forms in and wait for the societies verdict before submitting it to the articles - so complicated and a bit like being back in school - so you can understand why I've been reluctant. Plus they ask for a 20% fee from the amount the article sells for! (I don't mind donating some of the fee to a charity like the wildlife center etc, though  -  that's the right thing to do).

I've interviewed people in a variety of way: Face to face (by far my favourite), over the phone (the one to the USA was brilliant), and via e-mail (the fastest way but so impersonal). It's good to get used to interviewing people in a variety of ways so you can be flexible and give the person you want to interview the choice. Some people are shy and would be uncomfortable talking face to face and would prefer to be 'faceless', a voice in the ether. Yet others insist on face to face contact and I'm sure a lot of that is so they can check you out and make sure you are who you say you are.

I love face to face interviews because you get to see the 'whole' person. I love the interaction. You can gain so much information from their body language, facial expressions, mannerisms and gestures and it's much nicer to be able to include the human element into your articles - something editors like. The person behind the face.  People are intrigued by other people - look at how popular the soaps and fly-on-the-wall documentaries are, Big Brother!

I'm not into digging out and dishing-the-dirt sensationalism.I like to write positive and uplifting articles where people triumph over adversity or engage in an interesting hobby, have an unusual job, or do wonderful things for society - and, of course, writing! My favourite interview so far was with the archery group - they were stunning! So very, very, funny and I'm so pleased my article about them will be in Shropshire Life soon, as I'm sure they will be too. There will be much mead drank when it comes out I should think!

So don't be afraid of interviewing people - they don't bite (well in my experience they don't). Just make sure you do your homework and are prepared before the interview- before you ring them to ask if you can interview them is ideal as if you can show the person you know a lot about them and tell them why you want to talk to them. They are more likely to agree if they know you are truly interested in them.

I also tend to dress smartly and carry all my bits for the interview in a smart black case so I look as professional as I can and give a good impression - this point cannot be stressed enough - you have to look the part even of you don't feel it! And put the person you are interviewing at ease - make them believe that they are in good, safe hands because they are.

Face to face interviews afford you the luxury of adjusting your questions in resonse to how the interviewee answers the last. On the phone you can't see the person's face (unless it's a video phone or via computer webcam link) so you can't see if your questions are upsetting or annoying them. You don't get the essence of the person. It's like interviewing someone through a brick wall.  It may be more convenient and is better than interviewing by e-mail. But if speed and immediacy are important these methods are better than face to face that can take a while to set up. I'm off to interview a head teacher and a teacher at an infant school (not my daughter's) on Thursday and I'm really looking forward to it as it's the last round of interviews for a current set of articles I'm writing - so once I've spoken with them I can finish the articles off and submit them to their respective magazines. Then it's time to start on the next lot! Hamster on a wheel springs to mind!

However you interview, enjoy it! If you appear genuinely interested and aren't scribbling on paper throughout the interview (I take my digital voice recorder and then just note down key words to jog my memory later) then the person being interviewed will relax and enjoy the process too.

Happy writing  - get out there and meet people - you never know where your next writing idea may come from!

Julie xx


  1. Hi Julie

    Yes, each interviewing technique has its pros and cons.

    Interviewing face to face is fun and immediate, but until you meet, you don't know how well you will get on with your interviewee, and you don;t know how they will take to being interviewed face-to-face.

    Telephone interviewing enables you to respond with additional questions should something juicy crop up - but it doesn't let you into the interviewees whole world.

    Email interviewing allows your interviewee to take time and think about the responses - but it does mean you can't very easily sneak in an extra question when something interesting crops up.

    But interviewing, definitely makes for far more interesting articles!

    Good luck!


  2. They certainly do, Simon! ]
    Julie xx

  3. A great post Julie and very inspiring. I spend all day interviewing people but it's so different when it comes to interviewing someone for my own need. It's such an odd feeling as I just do not feel confident, almost like I think why should they give up their time for me sort of thing. Well done, as ever, you have got me thinking.
    Love Di

  4. Thanks, Di

    I sometimes feel a fraud ringing people up and asking for an interview - it's almost as though I have to convince myself as well as them that I'm a 'real' writer! Some people are really suspicious, and rightly so - but it helps now I have had some articles published and I can tell them that, and email copies to them to check me out.

    We have to drum it into ourselves that we ARE worthy!!

    Julie xx

  5. Great advice, as always, Julie.


  6. I love to do face to face interviews, but as the people I interview tend to be here, there and everywhere it's rarely possible to do that. I think a combination of email and telephone can also work well.

  7. Hi, Helen!

    I tend to interview people within my locality, but this time, because the charity involved is London based with local offshoots, I've done a combination of e-mail, phone and face to face interviews which has worked very well. It was nice to see a face behind the charity but also great to have lots of info via the Internet sent to me to read.

    I think all methods have their merits and problems - but as long as the info gained is accurate and offers a true reflection of the person/place/subject the article is about, then it's a job well done!

    Julie xx