Category Archives: Interviewing

Let’s hear it for libraries

This week, not for the first time, I was a beneficiary (with many others) of excellent support from a local public library.

Too often we tend to undervalue these institutions. We all know, of course, that public libraries provide resources to serve the general information needs of their citizens. We assume that any literate society has plenty of them. We may be aware that free lending libraries in Australia date back to the mid-19th century. Since then they have become part of our taken-for-granted social environment.

It’s easy, if we don’t give the matter much thought, to regard them merely as storage facilities for printed publications, electronic data and archival materials. But along with those basic functions and various other valuable services, they also give direct support to writers and readers.

The example foremost in my mind is the generosity of the South Perth Library in regularly organising events that bring together an author and a crowd of potential readers to celebrate a new book.

A couple of evenings ago it was my turn (once again) to have a novel launched in that congenial setting. It was part of the Library’s “Words with Wine” series. A large audience listened to local history librarian Anthony Styan interview me about The Madwoman’s Coat, my fifth work of historical fiction. His subtle and stimulating questions ensured that our conversation flowed well. Afterwards a good number of attendees lined up to buy copies of my book.

I’m grateful to Anthony, epitome of the Ideal Reader; to Tamara Lampard, the Events Officer, who did a great job of arranging the whole show; and to the dozens of people who came along to hear about (and purchase) The Madwoman’s Coat. On such occasions, all the hard slog of creating a book seems wonderfully worthwhile.

The art of interviewing an author

What makes a good media interview? I’ve been chewing over this question lately in the light of some pleasant encounters with expert interviewers. Since my new novel appeared a few weeks ago I’ve had conversations about it for a radio program, for a newspaper article, and now for television. They have all gone pretty well (from my point of view, anyway), thanks largely to the skill of my interlocutors – Tony Howes for Capital Radio. Will Yeoman for The West Australian and Meri Fatin for Westlink TV.

Recording with Ian 1 copy

There many sorts of interviews, and the tone varies according to their different purposes. At one extreme the language may be adversarial and even aggressive – e.g. when a political journalist tries insistently to cut through the defensive barrier of a parliamentarian’s formulaic phrases, creating a kind of tension that sometimes reveals (in the public interest, supposedly) more than the interviewee wanted to disclose.

That’s very different from the kind of interview in which I’ve been involved. The point of being asked to chat in a public way about something one has written is presumably to engage the attention of people who have read it, or potential readers. So the interviewer’s role is to win the interviewee’s trust, make him or her think hard about aspects of the writing process and the finished product, and elicit reflective responses that have will have some value when conveyed to others on the page or the airwaves or the screen.

By its nature, a literary work is likely to have enough complexity to lend itself to animated discussion – that’s one reason why book clubs are popular. So comments from the person who wrote the book usually have some interest, to judge from the fact that I’m getting invited as a guest to converse with various groups whose members are reading The Mind’s Own Place. An author’s remarks can’t control the way others interpret a piece of writing, but will often provide particular insights.

A well-conducted media interview helps extend that kind of conversation to a wider readership. What does “well conducted” mean in this context? For one thing, I’ve been fortunate that each of the interviewers mentioned above has been thoroughly prepared: they’ve not only read the book but also thought about it intelligently, and so their questions have been shaped in a perceptive and stimulating way. It’s no surprise that Tony, Will and Meri are adept at the art of interviewing an author, since  all have extensive media experience and a deep knowledge of the creative arts.

Engaging the confidence of an interviewee isn’t something that happens by chance. For instance, a few days before the most recent of these recorded conversations Meri Fatin spoke with me informally and at some length, by arrangement, about her impressions of the novel, about some issues it had raised in her mind, and about things she’d like to ask me when the cameras were rolling – so by the time the studio session arrived I knew generally what to anticipate. Thanks to her professional attention to detail, I was able to talk with her in a relaxed way – at least that’s how it felt to me; you can judge for yourself (courtesy of WritingWA, which makes the video available in this way) by clicking here to view our conversation on Youtube.