As a young girl, on shopping trips with my mum, I was intrigued by the number of times she would stop to have conversations with people, as we made our way through town. Some I would recognise as old friends, but often there would be unfamiliar faces. After they had left, I would ask Mum who the person was. Invariably, her answer would be “I’ve no idea. I’ve never met them before. I’ve just got one of those faces that makes people want to talk to me, and tell me their life story!”
Bearing a strong resemblance to my mother, it is no surprise that I have since found myself in similar situations. Whether I am stood alone or part of a crowd, I will often find myself drawn into conversations with random strangers. During my teens and young adulthood, it was not something I was particularly comfortable with, but as I have got older, it is something I positively embrace. Being privy to others’ histories, and having an insight into their lives is not only interesting on a personal level but, as a writer, offers invaluable understanding.
Besides listening to what is actually being said, I have learnt to read between the lines, getting a fuller picture of what someone is trying to relay to me. It is something I endeavour to practice whenever I am interviewing. Coupled with recording the interviews (essential when quoting verbatim), I attempt to convey exactly what my subject wanted to communicate. So, I’ve sometimes struggled to understand why interviewees might feel a bit tentative when speaking to me. An article in this week’s Woman’s Own magazine, featuring me representing the Eighties, has enlightened me.
The article was written by a journalist from the magazine, following two half hour telephone interviews with me, and a number of subsequent emails, during which I explained why I am so passionate about the Eighties; the music, the fashion, the politics, and how it was a decade of global change. Now, I realise it is only possible to include a fraction of what I said in an article of this size, and it is a lovely piece, which conveys the fun I had growing up in the decade. However, it is different from what I expected to be written, given the depth of our discussions.
The experience of being the interviewee rather than the interviewer (no need to ask which I prefer) has given me a little taste of what some of those on the receiving end of my questions may be feeling. The concern that what you are saying may be misinterpreted, or the parts of the conversation you consider most important will be overlooked, in favour of some throwaway comment made during the discussion. I hope my trip to the other side of the story will make me more empathetic to any reticence my interviewees might display. One thing I can guarantee with undoubted certainty, there will no shortage of little old ladies in the post office queue, waiting to take full advantage of my newly found empathy!