There are interviews and there are interviews. I don’t think anyone likes going for the job related ones, necessary though they are. I think they can be some of the most stressful situations most of us will face at at some point (or have done).
In my line interviews are wonderful. When I interview authors for CFT, I like to discover what inspires their writing and for guests to share tips. The writing community is a supportive one and we all learn from one another.
Interviews are also a a great opportunity to give “shout outs” to writers whose work we love. Every writer has to do their own publicity and marketing. As a certain supermarket would say, “every little helps”.
Interviews can show readers what influences their favourite authors (and I love reading writer interviews on those grounds alone. Every writer is also a reader. We all have our favourite writers. Finding out what inspires them is always fascinating to me. I also end up expanding my To Be Read list!).
Many thanks to all who have interviewed me (and yes I am available for bookings but not for panto. I leave the latter to the wonderful people at The Chameleon Theatre Group!).
One thing most writers learn early on is we never stop learning and you never know when a particular tip is going to prove to be useful to you too. I’ve discovered new competitions and markets thanks to colleagues both directly and via interviews they’ve given.
Being On The Receiving End of an Interview
Sometimes I’m on the other end of the interview, which is always great fun (see links at the end of this post), and have been again this week. The crime writer, Wendy H Jones, who writes, amongst many other things, the DI Shona McKenzie series, has interviewed me about flash fiction for her podcast, The Writing and Marketing Show. The show will go live next Wednesday, 12th February and I’ll share further details in a short Local Author News post sometime next week.
It was great fun to take part in this and many thanks to Wendy for inviting me on to her show.
My big worries for being interviewed by Wendy? I was recovering from a cold and was hoping my voice wouldn’t give out! Secondly, I’d given Lady her big Kong toy with treats to find in it in the hope it would keep her quiet for the duration of the interview which was done over the PC. Technology is a wonderful thing but it does nothing for woofing dogs!
I don’t know how many authors have to worry about keeping their border collie quiet during an interview but I am one of them! The great irony is Lady isn’t a big barker as such, she usually saves that for the postie etc, but I know how Murphy’s Law for Writers works and I wasn’t taking any chances here!
Was I successful? Yes, Lady was a very good girl BUT Murphy’s Law for Writers did kick in. Just as Wendy and I were getting on with the recording, I started coughing! Now I had thought to drink plenty before the interview so my throat didn’t dry out but lesson learned here: always have a glass of water to hand during the interview should you need it.
I was talking with Wendy, about my great love, flash fiction, and it was such a pleasure to do so. The secret when talking about something you love is to show why you are keen. It remains my belief that, regardless of what type of writing people do, flash fiction should come into it somewhere. Why? Because it teaches you so much about the craft of writing, especially editing and placement of words, but for more on that, do give the podcast a listen next week
When I Set the Questions
I’m looking forward to sharing more interviews with authors later in the year but for those, and ones I’ve already carried out, what I aim for is to ask a series of questions that will encourage my guest to talk and expand on the topic I’ve set them. What you don’t want are simple Yes/No answers.
So this is where the research into your guest comes in! Most authors have an Amazon Author Central page now (and I am going to be very cheeky and put mine in here).
So it is easy enough to check out an author’s back catalogue and get a feel for their writing from that. Naturally you are very welcome to browse mine!
The best research though, certainly the most fun part, is reading some of your guests’ books and stories. All writers know you need to read well to inspire your own imagination, it is literally feeding your mind, but where I had been falling short is in reading contemporary fiction. I don’t have that issue any more!
Indeed it is a great pleasure to have a shelf full of books at home written by friends and I look forward to expanding on that collection in due course! If said books are not on my physical book shelves, they are on my my electronic ones. No worries about overloading your shelving capacity on the Kindle!
The research itself will inevitably trigger ideas for further questions. What I try to achieve is make it feel as if a reader is eavesdropping on an interesting conversation between interviewer and interviewee. For writing ones, this is a great opportunity to share information and, sometimes sound warnings against dodgy competitions and the like. I am aware now of how much I would’ve liked to have known when I was starting out so it is a great pleasure to pass useful information like that on. I am a great believer in paying it forwards and backwards. I’ve had the benefit of this and know how useful it is.
I am always happy when I find out a new writer has been warned off vanity publishers, rip off competitions and the like. The trouble is when you are starting out you really don’t know what to look for, yet alone where. Writer interviews can be a great help there.
Also I know, as I’ve done this, enjoying an interesting writer interview makes it far more likely you’ll check their Facebook page out. A scroll down their posts may well also reveal useful hints and tips – I do on mine and loads of authors do this, but again when starting out you need a way in to finding what you need to know.
Further along the writing road, writer interviews give people ideas as to the sort of questions they might face one day, when they too have books out etc., and you can start preparing for that. It is never too early to do that kind of prep incidentally.
What I think makes for a good interview
A good interview is never about the interviewer. The interviewer’s job is to encourage their guest to open up and share interesting insights as to their work. A good guest will respond well to those questions and expand on them.
For example, if I’m asked to say how I discovered flash fiction writing, I can give a straight factual answer, but I would then lead on into saying why I love the form and what some of its advantages are.
Why is a brilliant question for an interviewer to ask. You can’t give a Yes/No answer to that one. There has to be some sort of explanation and that should trigger further questions and lo and behold you have a great conversation going.
When Interviews Go Wrong
Of course interviews can end up going horribly wrong. I suspect many of you will remember this one.
I strongly suspect neither Jeremy Paxman nor Michael Howard expected this would become a comedy moment in interviewing!
Having said that, this one was meant to be funny!
One of James Herriott’s wonderful books was It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet. There is a case to be made, I think, for having something called It Shouldn’t Happen to An Interviewer!
I loathe it with a guest is rude to their interviewer. Likewise, I loathe it when the interviewer is clearly trying to get their agenda across and doesn’t give their guest a chance to speak properly. (It is one reason why I avoid political interviews. The day I want my blood pressure to go up significantly will be the day I tune in…). As for guests, you should try to answer the interviewer’s question. It does say more about you if you don’t, as Mr H no doubt discovered.
Getting the balance right in an interview isn’t easy. I like interviews that open up a window into the world of the interviewee and I should enjoy what I see there. Ideally I’ll learn something interesting too. Is the day of the interview over given so much is done online these days? No. The style and format might change but that’s all.
Podcasting for example is becoming ever more popular. The mission to entertain and explain is a good one to follow, whether it is in print, using audio or video etc., and not one that should go out of fashion. Nobody can know all that there is to know and interviews are a great way of expanding your knowledge.
Where I’ve Been Interviewed
A big thank you to Jacci Gooding, Jennifer C Wilson, and Val Penny for their interviews of me. I share the links below.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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