The first interview I ever did was with Welsh playwright and director, Greg Cullen, back in 2003 when I pitched the idea of an article about him to the editor of New Welsh Review, and to my delight and surprise I was commissioned to write it. I had met Cullen before, when I was a drama student at the University of Wales, Aberystywth and I did a drama workshop with him. (In fact there’s a photo of Cullen and me in the book, State of Play: 4 Playwrights of Wales, edited by Hazel Walford Davies.) I also played Frida Kahlo in a student production of his play, Frida and Diego – A Love Story.
This first interview was a steep learning curve. Being tasked by New Welsh Review with actually writing an article about Cullen, I then had to get him to agree to be interviewed. Contacting Cullen was less daunting for a first time interviewer like myself because I had met him and talked to him before, plus I had the added authority of writing the article for a respected literary magazine on my side. Cullen of course said yes – we all know any kind of promotion is vital for a writer – and I got busy researching and preparing.
Along with the interview I did with Cullen and subsequent interviews I did with other directors and writers, I’ve learned a fair few things about the preparation needed for a successful interview, so here goes:
My Interview Preparation Top Tips
- Consider how to approach the person you want to interview. Are they someone you can talk to in person or will you need to send an email, write to them, or give them a call in the first instance?
- Clearly explain what you’re planning to do, why you want to interview them and what it’s for. (It doesn’t hurt to flatter them about their fascinating life, expertise etc.)
- Sound professional, confident and friendly and remember that unless they’re going to get publicity from the interview (e.g. if they’re an actor, writer or director), then they’re doing you a favour. Having said that, many people will be flattered to be asked to talk about their life, work or passion.
- Be flexible – the person you want to interview may lead a busy life and not have much time to fit in an interview. If you’d prefer to do the interview on a Tuesday morning but they can only fit you in on a Saturday afternoon, then Saturday it is!
Do Your Research
- Particularly if you’re writing about a subject you know little about, then do your research before approaching the person you want to interview, and certainly before undertaking the actual interview itself.
- Consider the type of research you need to do and whether it can be done online, at the library, by visiting a specific place, or a combination of all three.
- From the moment you first approach your interviewee, it helps to know – or even rehearse – what you want to say.
- Have an idea of how long the interview is likely to take – 30 minutes/an hour – to give the interviewee an idea of how much time they will need to put aside.
- What if they say no? Ask them if they know of anyone in their field (another nurse on a psychiatric ward for example) who’d be interested in being interviewed.
- Test your recording equipment before the interview. Decide on what you’re going to use, e.g. an app on your phone or a dictaphone. How long does the device record for? Can you still hear what’s being said when there’s background noise, e.g. in a café? Test it out with a friend before the actual interview.
Not only did I survive my first interview (which was over the phone) but I enjoyed it too, and it certainly helped that I’d done my homework beforehand. The article, Welsh Passion, was published in the Winter 2003 issue of New Welsh Review. The following extract is the opening paragraph from the article.
Greg Cullen’s enthusiasm is infectious. Just listening to his voice, you can sense the passion he has for his work. ‘I’ve always believed art has a transforming role within our society, whether it transforms the inner life of an individual or whether it affects a whole society, and working with young people is a very graphic way of realising that, because you literally see people grow and develop in front of your eyes,’ he says, as he sits in the sunshine on his lunch break outside Aberystwyth Arts Centre and chats on his mobile to me. He’s just started rehearsing Frida and Diego: A Love Story with the National Youth Theatre of Wales. ‘You know that the ideas you’re talking about and the techniques you’re using are transforming them. It’s a very real, very vital and very revolutionary situation in which to work.’