Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Featuring special guest...Christina Patterson

So that special guest I talked about back 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 CafĂ© 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 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 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.


deemikay said...

Very interesting!

Q19 has a link to a Poets Cornered I haven't posted yet (but will tonight...)

deemikay said...

Oh, and I can believe it about Werner Herzog... :os

Rachel Fox said...

The interview with Herzog is worth a read (and the link on his name in the post will take you to it). He says some very funny things (funny in every sense). I'm glad it wasn't me interviewing him though!

It reminded me a bit of the Izzard interview we were talking about back at the first interview post...sometimes the interviewee just doesn't want to play ball, as they say, and you can kind of respect that (and why should people behave and perform as expected...hell, I rarely do) but at the same time you have a job to do and a piece to write and it has to be a certain length and so on. You just want to say to them 'well, why did you agree to do this if you're just going to be a pain in the arse and make me feel like a fool?' But you can't...not often anyway.

I don't think I've ever seen one of Herzog's films...for some reason I've seen very few German films - possibly because it was the language I enjoyed learning the least (of the 4 I tackled at some point as a youth). I think I saw some Wim Wenders whilst a student but not much else. It's a bit of blur.


deemikay said...

I like Herzog (seen several of his films and one of them is one of my favourite films) but given the nature of them I can imagine him not playing ball. I'll have a read of the interview later. :)

I can imagine that it might be "fun" to not co-operate. And there was that thing recently (I think you posted it?) about artists not havign to be good at interviews, just at being artists. Likewise for directors. And actors. And writers. Etc.

Not much use for the interviewer and editor though...

(On the subject of German, I learned it at school... I always love the way it sounds constructed. Romance languages always seemed a bit watery to me... I wanted to crunch something instead! And I still love hearing German spoken.)

Rachel Fox said...

Such different tastes, we have, D! Romance languages watery...watery! No, no, no!

I didn't dislike German...just didn't love it. It might have been to do with teachers partly (I always had brilliant Spanish teachers, for example). Also I am a hedonist and I never had the same fun in German (very dull Koblenz pen pal exchange at 15, fairly dull Austria au pair experiences at 17 and 18, dreadfully dull interpreting at Frankfurt conferences job at 22). Whereas in Spain...time of my life!

So which Herzog film should I watch first?

And yes, there is no reason why anyone should be good at being feels like there should be other options for them promoting their wares though if that is case. But then saying that the Herzog interview is still a great read (even if it was hard for Christina to endure, I'm sure). I guess they can't all be fun.

deemikay said...

Oh, but often "watery" is a good thing! The wateriness of a mountain stream as opposed to the rockiness of a, well, rock. :) (Spanish has a good mixture or water and rock... a Latin and Arabic mash-up.)

And some of the best nights out I've had have been in Germany while gorgeous German women talk their convoluted language. *Sigh.* ;)

I just read the interview and I love the end:

So, can films be great? There's a long pause. "Yes, there is such a thing as sublime." And has he made sublime films? Werner Herzog, giant of German cinema, film-maker of genius, or something like it, shrugs. "I don't know. I don't care."

What does it make me if I love that sentiment?

Of his films, I love "Heart of Glass". But most folk wouldn't. "Fitzcarraldo" is a good one, and probably the most likely-not-to-be-hated.

deemikay said...

Oh, and I think English has that water/rock mix just about right as well... a creole of germanic and latin sources. :) (So are English and Spanish the "best" languages in the world? Fight to decide!)

Unknown said...

Ooh, thanks for that Rachel. Great questions and good answers too. It reads as though the two of you were f2f!

I think interviewing someone for an article, especially a reviewish type article can shed a whole new light on their work. Last year I got to interview Cole Moreton of the Indy and I liked him a lot. I already liked him from his work, so it was easy to do.

You've made this a pleasure to read. Nice job.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, whatever it makes you, D, you're not alone..I liked that line too. Of course, just because he says it doesn't mean he completely means it (or even that he knows whether he means it or not!). It's a complicated business...simple and complicated.


Rachel Fox said...

Do you have that interview online or on your blog, Barbara?

deemikay said...

I've said it before about stuff* I do... and I think I mean it. And I think he thinks he means it.

* see? I can only call it "stuff"...

Rachel Fox said...

As for languages, D, I love all of them (ever the liberal). I really do though - learning any (living) language was always one of my favourite activities from a very early age (so much potential, so many combinations, so many oddities and novelties). I've left it all alone for a while now (about 20 years!) and very much focused on English (is there anything more focused you can do in a language than write poetry in it?) but who knows when it will be time for a change back?


Rachel Fox said...

We seem to be tripping each other up in these comments, D! I'm one behind you (it's like a bad translation!).

deemikay said...

Saying you love all languages is maybe the same as saying you like the big thing: Language. And I can't say I don't. :)

But some, to my Scottish ear, have a more satisfying sound.

(On the subject of languages... have a read of this Language Log post from this morning.)

deemikay said...

Excellent point! Let's converge...

Titus said...

Oh, had a brilliant morning skiving off work and then came in to this. Well worth the wait after your teasers for it.

So good, in fact, that I am tempted to drop the Saturday Times for the Independent (I'm presuming the big interview is in the Sat. edition?) as I got hacked off when the Times dropped the "Books" section and mashed it into a lumpen "Review" section instead.
Good questions, good answers = good interview.

English for me please. I think we get the best of both worlds. Hurrah for the Norman Conquest.

Rachel Fox said...

She has interviews in at various stages during the week, Titus, (though most of the ones linked to here seem to be on Friday - which is the Indy's books'n'arts special day). I read things late a lot so am not sure...maybe if Christina looks in she can clarify.

Titus said...

Cheers. I'll check out Friday's.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I checked with her - Fridays are the day for her interviews (most Fridays, obviously, not every single one).

Rachel Fox said...

Though of course, the Indy does have interviews at the weekend too. I quite like the ones by Deborah Ross too (very funny).

Titus said...

Temptress! I shall not forsake my Times two days a week.
Though your excellent work has possibly persuaded me that Friday may be a-changin'.

Liz said...

Great job, Rachel. You haven't lost the knack...looking forward to reading her interviews that you cited.

And yes, I'm with you on the Spanish language...even though my spanish came after moving to Spain and my first word in spanish was connected with plumbing...fontanero! ; )

Rachel Fox said...

Oh, Liz, sometimes I forget how much I used to love that language! 'Would you like a plumber'? 'No! I'd like a fontanero, please (and it must be said in the appropriate OTT accent - no wimping out there). And don't spare the horses!'

Dick said...

What a great read. Thanks for this, Rachel. No danger of my giving Martin Amis another go on the strength of it, but I shall certainly read Christina Patterson with special interest.

Rachel Fox said...

I know. I did only say 'maybe'. There are so many other books in the world. And then there's the Radio Times.

Ms Baroque said...

Very interesting Rachel and well done! Great stuff. I was at that Donghy event..

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks, Ms B. In my fantasy perfect TV programme about books (and maybe some other arts too) you and Christina would be key staff members. It would be a huge project though...every type of book, every type of feature, all done carefully, no it would be very expensive, I suppose. We'd need millionaire backing.


deemikay said...

Millionaire backing? No, you just need a 1960s BBC production budget... just a time machine needed!

Rachel Fox said...

Or they could sack Jonathan Ross and use that money..not that I have anything against him in particular....but I do hate to see money misused. He's OK but he's not worth millions.

deemikay said...

Excellent suggestion... and gets rid of the whole Time Travel paradox thing.

Maybe Christina should (has?) interview Jonathan R and ask him if he thinks he's worth it? (I'd expect a Herzogian respons - "I don't know and I don't care.")

Rachel Fox said...

As I say, it's nothing personal. Not many people would turn down millions of pounds to drivel on (if offered) with a 'no, no, I'm not worth it!'

hope said...

So you can actually make a career out of being nosy...I mean curious? :)

Interesting read!

Rachel Fox said...

I thought you might pick up on that bit, Hope!

Anne said...

Very interesting, thanks! I always read CP's interviews and columns in the Indy so was very glad to see this.

As for Herzog, that interview does indeed sound a nightmare. I've recently seen Encounters at the End of the World (about people working in Antarctica - relentless, and tragicomic in places), and now I want to see all his others. Not a man to do things by halves.

Rachel Fox said...

Hello Anne...and welcome.