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John-Paul Flintoff

Talking to my therapist about writing | JPF MONTHLY

Published 21 days ago • 4 min read

Hello hello!

Yesterday, I spent a whole therapy session talking about a book proposal I'm trying to write. It was quite helpful, actually.

(To be clear: I'm not a psychotherapist. I was the client / patient.)

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The book I want to write is about interviews. Not about dialogue, as such, but about what happens when dialogue is shared with some kind of audience. That's what makes it an interview. If it's not shared, it's just a conversation.

("Just"!)

--

Obviously, this definition isn't watertight. Police officers may interview someone and the material (recording, written notes) may never be used in court, but it's still an interview. You might go for a job interview, and unless you are shortlisted, nothing is likely to be shared with others, but it's still an interview.

But I'm interested in the network effects of interviewer + interviewee + audience.

And the different levels of engagement for the various people involved.

--

Imagine something like the Graham Norton chat show on BBC TV (much like any other celebrity based chat show):

There's the host, Graham Norton.

There are guests, sitting together opposite him on a sofa, taking turns to talk to him and occasionally talking to each other, to make it look more natural.

Then there's the studio audience, sometimes directly acknowledged by the people on stage, and even sometimes shown on camera.

Then there's the audience at home.

Nowadays, you also have TV shows like the British show Gogglebox, which films people watching TV and talking about the people they are watching. So you might have people at home watching the people on Gogglebox watching the studio audience on Graham Norton watching the guests on stage watching each other talking to Graham Norton.

On top of that, you have camera operators and TV producers and directors watching the show as it unfolds, and watching each other too.

My guess is that the intensity of the experience is greater at the centre. At the periphery, everything's a bit gray, and fuzzy. But every part of that human mass is capable of making judgements about the others. In fact: I'd go as far as to say they're incapable of not making judgements, because we all make judgements, all the time.

I'm really interested in how the judgements can be so starkly different, from one person to another.

--

And that's just a live TV interview format.

In other contexts, an interviewee may not even realise an interview has taken place. As a journalist, I sometimes worked under cover, and the people I spoke to didn't know I was interviewing them until they saw it in print - or perhaps they never saw it. They may be happier that way.

Other conversations may be highly structured and carefully framed as confidential - only to be published later. Therapy, for example. Many therapists and coaches have published accounts of their work with clients. (One or two may be reading this!)

Typically, the therapist-author will change names and other identifying features, perhaps also seek explicit permission to publish even this anonymised account. But still, it's interesting to me that a conversation or series of therapeutic or coaching conversations that work precisely because they're confidential can subsequently be published.

What have they got in common, these three examples I've just given (Graham Norton, undercover reporting, therapy)? Good question! I'm not sure I know the answer, but I do know I'm excited to find out by writing the book.

Would anybody want the kind of book I'm interested in? I don't know.

--

I do have plenty of good stories to tell about interviews I did as a journalist. These can be helpful illustrations of general principles, as well as being rather ghastly / funny or whatever. Of course, I wouldn't share the interviews themselves, because the half-life of an interview is very short.

As is the half-life of fame, to be honest.

A lot of people I interviewed were extremely famous at the time, but I doubt that my 20-year-old daughter has heard of most of them.

I have a theory about fame that I want to expand on in the book: it rubs off, fame.

If a relatively obscure journalist gets an interview with the most famous person in the world, that person's fame rubs off on the journalist. By which I mean: it adds to the status of the journalist but also (alas?) probably detracts from the status of the famous person. ("Why be interviewed by someone so obscure?")

I talked about this with my therapist, W., too.

At the time I was interviewing all these famous people, I guess it boosted my status. But I haven't interviewed famous people for ages, so my status as interviewer is not what it was.

Ho hum. Better not mention that in the book proposal.

--

Over April, I spoke to some of my former editors: I interviewed them about interviews.

I was quite surprised by the mindset that had once been so familiar to me. I confess I found it a bit unsavoury when one described interviewees who are so-called ordinary people (as opposed to celebrities) as "civilians".

Maybe it wasn't meant badly. I don't know.

--

As well as stories about my own interviews, I've got plenty of technical tips I could share in this book, if it ever happens.

But those aren't exactly secret, or hard to find. You could get a decent list in minutes, by asking AI.

Don't interrupt. Ask awkward questions towards the end - that kind of thing.

--

I'm interested in something deeper, though I can't yet put my finger on what it is. Why do we even want to watch / listen to / read interviews? What does it do to the people involved? How can interviews affect society as a whole - the interviews we do have, and the ones that never happen?

But as I type this I worry my interest in the topic is too philosophical, even spiritual, for the target reader who (as I put it to W., my therapist) "probably just wants to know how to create a podcast, interview loads of famous people and build a huge audience and become world-famous and rich etc etc".

--

I had absolutely ZERO intention to write to you about this today. I was going to write a round-up of recent news and upcoming events and perhaps bung in a couple of drawings.

Oh well.


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Till next time.

JPF

John-Paul Flintoff

Hello!, thanks for popping in. I'm a writer, illustrator and performer.

📖 7 Books in 16 languages 📚 including: How To Change The World A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech.

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