Friday, 21 October 2011

Others' experiences

One of the best things about the Mapping The Change course has been meeting all the guest speakers.  In just five weeks we've met an awful lot of people:
Each one of these people has shared their knowledge and enthusiasm with us in a way that has been very motivating.  As a result of all these meetings, I feel less like I am an imposter in someone else's world, and more like somebody with useful ideas to contribute.  They have all suggested possibilities of working with my writing in the future, and for that I am very grateful.

I've also loved going back to the City and Canary Wharf, where I worked in finance for so many years, and seeing these places with a different perspective.  They were physically such inspiring places to work, and although I knew that at the time I appreciate them so much more now that I am based at home.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge, close to The Financial Times' offices

Today I've been talking to various Press Offices, and introducing myself on the phone as a journalist.  I could not have imagined doing that five weeks ago, but now it seems perfectly reasonable.  Others' experiences in journalism and writing are supporting me in my own.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


I've been interviewing this week, and finding it outrageously difficult.  I have to fight my natural shyness and my somewhat phobic attitude to telephones. There's no point trying to interview someone if you're too shy to speak to them.  But there's no point being a writer if you can't interview people.  So I gritted my teeth and did it anyway.

Photo from smiling-da-vinci on Flickr

For my Mapping the Change assignment I had to do a 15 minute interview with someone I know, and then write up the transcript and turn it into a 350 word article.  I decided to interview my brother-in-law about his experiences as a troop commander in the British Army, serving in Iraq.

I was shy about asking him if he would be interviewed - and I needn't have been because he was very happy to do it.  I was nervous about speaking to him on the phone - and I needn't have been because we've known each other for years and he's very easy to chat to.  So the lesson there is to not be so ridiculous about using the telephone and just do it anyway.

The preparation for interviews can be quite lengthy, because you need to think up more questions than you'll need and plan a little how you want the conversation to go.  This preparation really paid off when I was talking to my brother-in-law.  I had enough questions, and I found out what I wanted to know, but I also learned some things that I wasn't expecting (annual appraisals must still happen, even when you're serving in Iraq!) and the conversation went off in unexpected directions which I felt I managed to respond to well.

I was very pleased with how the interview had gone, until I came to write up the transcript.  I quickly learned all the phrases I constantly repeat: "Oh, that's so interesting!" "So, in some way..." and "" (this last one all the time).  I also talk far too much for an interviewer - so perhaps I should use my shyness to my advantage and just try and shut up a bit more?

Once I had finished squirming at the transcript I started to write the article.  This was even more frustrating as I had such a low word count so couldn't possibly include everything I wanted to.  It was a very good lesson in restraint and editing.  I ended up going with a topic we talked about that was perhaps not the most interesting one, but the one that I thought had the best quotes and the best story with which to frame it. 

Thoroughly bad-tempered after all this word-wrestling, I emailed the article off to our tutor with mixed feelings. The darn thing was done and dusted, but I was frustrated that I had probably not submitted one of my better pieces of writing.

Interview recording equipment
Picture from tlg_interviews on Flickr

Yesterday I went to the LOCOG offices at Canary Wharf with the rest of the Mapping the Change groups to talk to Jonathan Edwards.  It was an interview in a press conference format.  We each went with some questions to ask him, but only had time to ask about one each.  I loved this, and really enjoyed hearing other people's questions, but found it hard to pick which one of my fifteen-or-so questions to ask Jonathan. 

In the end I asked him how he personally would judge if the London 2012 Olympics had been a success.  He gave a full, but rather standard, answer and I wished I had pushed him further to narrow down his response and be more precise.  So that made me think again about that balance between polite and pushy.  It will be difficult for me to find a balance I am comfortable with.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Still writing

The tricky chapter of the Sheffield book is coming along nicely.  Not finished, but looking less tricky all the time and with just one more chunk of about 1,000 words to write.

After yesterday's day with Mapping the Change though, I have decided to put the book down for the next month or so and just concentrate on the journalism.  There is much to do and even more to learn.  We had a guest speaker from The Guardian this week, talking about interviewing and writing.  I do love to meet actual writers - it makes the whole process of trying to become one myself seem much less ridiculous.

So this week I am heading off to the local museum to research lidos, ordering a digital voice recorder and a voice pick up cable, doing an interview, writing full outlines for four articles and starting a fifth one.  This new busy-ness of writing is starting to feel normal.  And that is a very good thing indeed.

Tin of biros
My tin of blue bic biros - I am slightly addicted to them