So that special guest I talked about back here...is Christina Patterson who writes for the London-based 'Independent' newspaper.
To begin with here's a potted work history of Christina's that I found online (here):
Christina Patterson read English at the universities of Durham and East Anglia before going on to work in publishing. From 1990-1998 she worked at the Royal Festival Hall, programming and presenting hundreds of literary events. From 1998-2000 she ran the Poetry Society’s Poetry Places scheme, a lottery-funded programme of poetry residencies and placements, while also working as a freelance writer and consultant. From 2000-2003, she was Director of the Poetry Society, overseeing activities ranging from the publication of its magazines to its education programme and the Poetry Café at Covent Garden. As a freelance literary journalist, she has written regularly for the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Independent. She has contributed to a number of books, including The Cambridge Guide To Women’s Writing and the Forward Poetry Anthology 2001, and has chaired literary events at festivals around the country. Christina was Chair of the judges for the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2000, of the Forward Poetry Prizes in 2001 and has been a judge for the poetry Whitbread Award. She joined The Independent in 2003 as deputy literary editor and is now a full-time writer and columnist for that paper.
Interesting career so far, don't you think? And I really like some of her writing as a journalist - there's an honesty and a selflessness to her interviews, in particular, that I find really appealing. For example ages ago she interviewed English poet Wendy Cope and I liked the piece so much I cut it out and kept it (you can still read it here). Then more recently she interviewed the former poet laureate, Andrew Motion, and almost made me interested in him (tough job...he's really not my type...but that interview is here). Lately she has been doing more and more 'big name' interviews (of all kinds) in the paper. A short while ago she interviewed writer Martin Amis (here) and whilst I'm about as far from being a Martin Amis fan as it is possible to be I really enjoyed her interview with him and even thought maybe (one day) I might try another book of his (I said 'maybe' – no promises). Also recently she spoke to author Zoe Heller (author of 'Notes from a Scandal' – read it here) and poet Benjamin Zephaniah and they were another great couple of interviews (I've read lots of interviews with Zephaniah but her piece still had interesting new stuff in it..).
As I've been thinking about interviewing of late I got a sudden urge to ask a good, successful interviewer some questions about her work...so I emailed Christina and asked her if she might take part in this little piece. And what do you know? She said 'yes'...and straightaway (so she's nice and not up herself too...how lovely...). Anyway, here are my questions and her answers, delivered straight to you undoctored (because I'm far too rusty as a journalist to do anything more than Q and A at this point). Because of her time at the Poetry Society I took the liberty of throwing in some poetry-related questions too and there are some fascinating, what I would guess to be characteristically honest, answers throughout. Of course I haven't met her so I might be wrong - she might be a monster behind those beautiful blonde ringlets...but I doubt it.
Your comments, as ever, invited and graciously received.
1. Was interviewing something you actively wanted to do...or something you fell into doing?
CP - I’m not sure I could say it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve always been fantastically nosy (curious is the polite word), I love nothing more than a nice chat and I’ve always seemed to have a bit of a knack for building up a rapport with people I’ve just met. So when I was asked to start doing interviews (now more than ten years ago, at first just for the books pages of the Independent) I was delighted. Since last September, I’ve been doing one a week (the ‘big interview’ in the Indy’s Arts & Books section) and it’s fascinating.
2. Which bits of the job of interviewing do you enjoy...and which do you like less?
CP - I have to get an arts ‘household name’ every week, which is extremely time-consuming, and can be a nightmare (and something that some other papers see as a full-time job). I have to do this, and research the interview, do it, transcribe it and write it up, and do two columns a week and other pieces for the paper, as requested. So the endless round of deadlines can mar the pleasure – and I can’t say I’m mad about transcribing tapes, which takes hours. But however much work is involved (however many books I’ve ploughed through, or whatever) meeting the artist is nearly always stimulating and nearly always a pleasure.
3. Other press interviewers - whose work have you enjoyed/admired? Do you have a favourite interviewer?
CP - Well, I think Lynn Barber was a real pioneer in the field. I don’t try to emulate her, but I always enjoy her interviews. I like Rachel Cook’s and Decca Aikenhead’s, too.
4. Do you think the job of press interviewer is something a writer can keep doing for a long time?
CP - I don’t see why not. The day I stop finding people interesting is probably the day I should shoot myself.
5. Do you see yourself staying with this kind of writing?
CP - Yes, if I can. God knows what’s going to happen with the Indy, or with the newspaper industry generally, or if anyone will ever want to pay anyone to write anything again. But I love doing it and would like to do it for as long as I can.
6. Do you think press interviews have a future or has the standard interview format been done to death?
CP - I don’t really think there is such a thing as a ‘standard interview format’. It’s just about an encounter with someone, which is also a kind of essay and also a kind of short story. I don’t see why it should become any more obsolete than the short story or the poem.
7. Which do you enjoy more - interviews or column writing?
CP - I think the interviews are more satisfying because you have to do so much work to make them work. I rarely have time to prepare for a column, and would probably find them more rewarding if I did. But it’s nice when people contact you to say that they agree with something you wrote. When you write it, and the minutes are ticking by, it quite often feels like just filling up the page.
8. How long can a writer keep doing a column before they start to repeat themselves?
CP - Probably about five minutes. Sometimes I notice myself echoing phrases I’ve written before, and just hope that no one notices.
9. Whose column do/would you read regularly?
CP - Well, I sort of feel I have to read all of them, so I won’t pick out any individuals. Ploughing through the papers every day is rarely an unmitigated pleasure for a journalist. Obviously, it’s nice when argument is leavened with a degree of wit.
10. How much do you get to choose who you interview (if at all)?
CP - I always get to choose, but obviously am constrained by who’s got a new book/project/play/exhibition. Some weeks you’re so desperate to fill the slot that you feel that almost anyone will do – but you still have to get it cleared with the editor. I can’t say I was rushing to interview Jason Donovan, or Boy George, but actually they were both charming.
11. Which of your Independent interviews so far have you got most excited/nervous about?
CP - I was excited about meeting Alastair Campbell, and a bit nervous (although I’ve met him several times) about doing a formal interview with Martin Amis. As a general principle, the less I know about an art form, the more nerve-wracking it is – I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys feeling like an idiot. But it’s such a part of my routine now, that I’m usually just worrying about the next deadline. I nearly always interview people whose work I admire, and I go into the interview thinking that they’ve achieved something that I haven’t. I go in with respect and I often (but not always!) come out liking them, too.
12. Have you ever enjoyed yourself so much in an interview that you didn't want to leave?
CP - Most of the time. They’re nearly always interesting people, and I nearly always feel that I’d like to have longer.
13. And the reverse...couldn't wait to leave?
CP - Hardly ever, but Werner Herzog was a NIGHTMARE. Never again! And Candace Bushnell, who I thought I’d love, irritated me so much that I felt like walking out.
14. Who is on your interview wish list?
CP - I know it’s pathetic, but I just lurch from one deadline to the next, so I don’t really think beyond the next few weeks. I’m extremely lucky to have met so many interesting people over the years that I tend not to think about who I’d do in the abstract. There are an awful lot of talented, interesting people in the world. I won’t tempt Providence by naming names.
15. And who is on your completely-impossible-but-a-girl-can-dream wish list?
CP - Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela. And (for obvious reasons) Jane Austen.
16. Do poets make good interview subjects? Are the any generalisations you can make about interviewing poets?
CP - I don’t think poets make any better or worse subjects than anyone else. Strangely, you can’t guarantee who will give a good interview, even if you know them. It’s all about the conversation you have and where it takes you. John Hegley, for example, cried. But knowing someone a bit can be a disadvantage. You can feel inhibited, and also worry (which shouldn’t be relevant) what they think of the interview.
17. I think a lot of poets and poetry fans feel the national press does not feature as much poetry, articles about poetry or reviews of poetry books as it could/should. Do you think that is fair?
CP - Yes, poetry coverage in the national press is definitely shrinking, and it’s a terrible shame. All part of this ubiquitous (and tedious) dumbing down. I’ve no idea what can be done about it. I suspect very little.
18. Do you think people treat you differently when they see you as a journalist (as opposed to say the Director of the Poetry Society)?
CP - If they do, I haven’t noticed.
19. You were Director of the Poetry Society but I've never seen anything about you writing poetry? Do you write poems?
CP - No. Someone told me a few years ago that there were rumours that I wrote poems, and I was mortified. I thought ‘how bad would they have to be if, after all these years, I hadn’t published a single one?’ I’d love to write poems, but I only like good poetry and I wouldn’t be good enough.
20. Whose poetry do you read for your own enjoyment?
CP - Too long a list to name. Since I’m always lurching from one deadline to the next, I rarely get to read for pleasure these days, but I’m interviewing Carol Ann Duffy next week, and am looking forward to re-reading her work, enjoyed Andrew Motion’s recent collection, The Cinder Path (which I read for an interview) and also (for an event I chaired at the South Bank) the wonderful Michael Donaghy’s Collected Poems. Nowadays, poetry feels to me like a rare treat, like delicious chocolate or cake (not, alas, that that’s as rare as it should be).
21. What did you enjoy in the BBC Poetry Season?
CP - I rarely watch telly. The only thing I caught, in a B & B in Sussex, was the programme on Eliot, which I thought was excellent.
22. Do you think all your time spent in poetry world has affected how you write as a journalist?
CP - I don’t know. I’m not sure that I could say. I think that the rhythm, and cadences, of prose matters hugely, as it does in poetry – as, indeed, it does in all writing.
23. Is being an arts journalist an odd business?
CP - Probably no more than anything else. But I don’t really think of myself as an arts journalist. I do quite a lot of travel stuff, and book reviews, as well as the columns and interviews, so I guess I’m a Jack of all trades, but hope that doesn’t automatically mean that I’m not a master of one…
Many thanks to Christina for finding time to answer these questions.
San Juan and Masca
1 hour ago