The art of interviewing

I was interviewed this week about the tvdetective books and my work as a journalist, and one particularly thoughtful and resonant question came up - what's the secret of carrying out an effective interview?

It certainly made me think, as I suppose it's something I do more or less instinctively now.

Well, part of the answer can be found in that original question.  It's a clever one, because it's open ended, gives scope for a whole range of responses, and it's short and sharp. I've seen far too many interviews where the questions are long and rambling, and it's entirely unclear what sort of answer may be required.

For me, the best questions are those which penetrate far deeper than a simple factual response. The old; who, what, where, why, when and how can be revealed by just about anyone working to a formula (see Kipling's "I Keep Six Honest Serving Men").  But it's the uncovering of a sight of the soul which is much more memorable.

In essence, it's the old "how do you feel?" question which is key, but hopefully expressed in a rather less clumsy and cliched way.

Interviewing is such a fundamental skill, as we all use it every day - to find out what's bothering a friend, what's required from work, whether we do really need to buy some gadget etc.  But because it's so commonplace, the elegance of the art can be overlooked.

Much of the reason for Dan's success as an amateur investigator in the tvdetective books is that he's a perceptive interviewer.  He has that great gift of being able to read people and get a sense of what it is they're really thinking, the story behind the story, if you like.  And that can take someone a very long way in life.

A final thought about interviewing, and it's this; one of the greatest tricks is silence.  It leaves a great big space for the other person to fill, and we're so afraid of silence as a society that it can often be filled to startling effect.  That goes as much in everyday life as any professional sphere.

I think I shall curtail this blog here, before I give all my secrets away!

One last thing to mention - as I said last week, I'll list a favourite song in each entry, as my taste in music is one of the areas I'm most constantly questioned about.

For this week it's Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat.  Because it was of my era, of course, but also because the song is a powerful summary of the sad intolerance of the time, something which thankfully we've (at least mostly) left behind.