This is an exciting week for me because my first non-fiction book, Interviewing for Journalists, is out. It’s aimed at journalism students and trainees but journalists of all ages and anyone who has to conduct interviews will be interested in it.
My husband runs a technology business and he’s picked up loads of tips from the book about how to interview customers, suppliers and prospective employees.
He now refers to the “Camilla Long rule” because in the book the brilliant Sunday Times columnist and film critic advises journalists to take the first interview slot they are offered – to avoid the interviewee changing their mind. She told me: “The temptation is to say ‘oh, can we do it a bit later?’ so you have more time to prepare – but don’t mess about. If they say ‘come and see me in an hour and a half’ you have to go.”
As we sat on the stylish terrace of a west London pub she gave me a fascinating insight into her career, from her early days as an editorial assistant at Vogue to moving to Tatler, where editor Geordie Greig (now editor of the Mail on Sunday) spotted her talent and sent her off to do her first interviews.
I got a real insight into her tenacity when she recalled how she spent months trying to fix a Tatler interview with Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines – before finally getting the go-ahead. When Camilla answered her phone early on Boxing Day it was Marcos, who instructed her to fly out there and then.
“I thought, ‘My God, is this a wind-up? Is she telling the truth?’ because it’s a 14-hour flight to Manila,’ said Camilla. ‘Anyway I took a punt and went and it was fabulous. She did a five-hour interview one day, a five-hour interview the next day. One smiling, happy and laughing. The next in tears…”
Camilla is just one of the highly regarded journalists I interviewed for the book. Others include Heidi Blake of BuzzFeed UK, Daily Mail film critic Brian Viner and freelance writers Cole Moreton, Sheron Boyle and Stephanie Rafanelli, all of whom were incredibly generous with their time, expertise and knowledge. They talked to me about everything from sending out interview requests to getting interviewees to talk, their most memorable interviews and their top interviewing tips.
I would have loved to have read advice like this when I started out as a journalist – so I hope readers, especially journalists at the start of their careers, find it useful.
Interviewing for Journalists by Emma Lee-Potter (Routledge, £21.99)