I had a scary experience recently – one that had me quaking; one that had me doubting if I was capable of stringing a sentence together and left me wanting to hide under the duvet for an entire week. My terrifying experience? I was interviewed.
To be fair, it wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill kind of interview. No. It was an interview in which I had to speak in Welsh.
I do speak a bit of Welsh. I grew up in west Wales and I went to Welsh classes for…well, let’s just say ‘a number of years’. An embarrassing number of years, it turns out, because I obviously didn’t learn enough.
This interview was with S4C, a Welsh-language programme maker. They were making a film about my home town and a wonderful group of people I’m proud to support – the Kidwelly Book Hunters. During the interview I discovered two things – that my command of the Welsh language isn’t nearly as good as I thought it was, and being interviewed isn’t quite the exciting experience I was hoping it would be.
To be honest, I was in a huge rush – I had a book signing event I had to dash off to. And there was a camera and bright light near my face, and a sound boom dangling over my head. My vocabulary just deserted me. So I switched to English – but by then I couldn’t speak that properly either. Oh, the shame…I turned as red as the cardigan I was wearing for St David’s Day!
The very friendly team doing the filming reassured me that the end result would be fine. And, thanks to their skilful editing, my interview was included in their programme. It was ‘blink & you’ll miss it’ though. But at least they used my Welsh attempt, so hopefully I had made some sense after all.
Whether I’d said what I actually wanted to say, who knows? Not me. The interview had gone past in a blur. And even when I watched it back (through my fingers) I couldn’t understand what I was saying because I was nervous all over again. One thing was blatantly obvious – I needed to improve my interview technique.
So when I saw the Society of Authors was running a course on exactly that, I couldn’t resist. I signed up, packed a bag with chocolate bars, Quavers and the latest edition of Mslexia (my favourite reading on long journeys) and headed off on the train to London for the day.
The course was held at the SoA’s offices in a large, old town house in the rather well-to-do area of Kensington. There were just four of us that afternoon, all writers as you’d expect, and we gelled straight away. I won’t name-check the other attendees as we had a pact that the course was confidential, but they all had exciting projects on the go. It was an all-woman group. Our tutor told us it’s rare for a man to sign up for this course. (It’s good to know that so many of them have such complete confidence in their abilities.)
Claire Walding, a TV producer of many years, was our tutor. She was very relaxed and put us all at ease immediately. She would talk us through interview technique, she explained, then interview us individually while filming on her iPad.
You’d have thought it would have been nerve-racking, being filmed in front of three total strangers, but actually it was fun. Claire had already explained the principles of getting a message across in a short interview. She told us there were three things to remember –
identify three main points you want to make (there’s that three again);
keep them in mind constantly;
& mention them early in the interview.
If you have a longer interview, she said, like at a literary festival (‘Chance would be a fine thing,’ we all commented) just go into more depth about your three main points.
But do you think we could actually manage it? We were all reasonably relaxed as Claire interviewed us (a bonus for me after my S4C experience) and we all really enjoyed watching each other’s interviews. Once we were being filmed, though, our three main points went right out of our heads. Even worse, we forgot to mention –
the title of our books (essential, obviously!)
the names of our main characters (also essential, Claire told us, to make people feel connected to the book)
& generally everything else we were hoping to promote.
We analysed the films, pin-pointed where we went wrong, made notes and determined to do better. Then Claire filmed us again.
This time she dropped in interesting facts she’d sneakily found out beforehand on our websites. She asked me about my children’s book, ‘Welsh Cakes & Custard’, and sent me off on a complete tangent about St David’s Day and school projects. I had managed to remember to mention my new novel for adults, ‘Not Thomas’, right at the start of the interview, but she quickly and successfully led me away from my other main points.
Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one she derailed. None of us managed to get more than one of our three main points across. Claire said that was fine – it had been her intention to throw us all off track. We learn by our mistakes. We’d got it wrong when it didn’t matter so we would remember to get it right when it did.
And what did I learn from my afternoon with Claire and my fellow authors at the SoA?
Well, the number one thing I learnt was that it’s all too easy to get distracted in an interview and not mention the really important points (like the title of my novel!). Concentration and determination is key.
I also learned that laughing isn’t so bad after all. I was worried that if I came across as too cheerful it would be at odds with the content of my novel, which could (most definitely) be classed as ‘dark’. Laughter lightens the mood, Claire reassured me, and reminds the audience that, along with the difficult subjects of child neglect and drugs, ‘Not Thomas’ also has a lot of hope. (I’m secretly very relieved about the laughing bit. It’s something I do a lot of.)
And lastly, I learnt the power of three – I must have my three main points about ‘Not Thomas’ all ready and uppermost in my mind. So here goes –
#1: it’s a novel about drug addiction, child neglect and murder;
#2: it’s told from the view-point of five-year-old Tomos;
#3: Tomos is an amalgamation of children I taught / heard about when I was teaching.
And I must actually mention the three points. Yes, actually mention them. See, I’ve mentioned them! OK, so I didn’t mention them at the start, or all the way through. But next time I will.
Anyway, I really enjoyed my afternoon at the Society of Authors, and I’m all prepared to be interviewed. Chances are I won’t get a sniff at another interview now.
Where’s S4C when I need them?
What are your experiences of being interviewed?
Is it something you’d actively seek out, or do you shy away from the limelight?
Do you have any tips to share on how to survive being interviewed (pretty please!)?
Thank you so much for reading this blog post – double the length of my usual posts. I wrote it on the ferry home from Ireland so had three whole hours to devote to it!
Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press on 19th July 2017 and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.