May media writing workshop warm-up exercises: Interview skills


This Thursday evening, then.

It’s the first in the triumvirate of summer writing workshops, taking place 7-9pm at the CHIC co-working hub in Chester.

The topic for the first session is interview skills, followed by one hour of individual tuition.

Bring a piece of work-in-progress writing with you for the second half – a blog post, a feature, a pitch etc.

But, thinking about the first session, I’d like to kick off a discussion about the nature of interviews. To get our thinking caps on, I’d like us all to read the following story and then post our thoughts:

Rhys Ifans gives ‘the interview from hell’ and exposes a journalistic farce

Why do we conduct interviews? What makes them a success? And what should we do if it all goes wrong?

And when you post, please also include a brief introduction about yourself, so we can get to know each other before the workshop and start a dialogue as a group.

Share your comments below and look forward to seeing everyone Thursday 14, 7pm.

Please call or email with any questions.


  1. Becky Sowray says:

    I’m Becky Sowray.

    My writing started with my creative writing and then, I guess, collided with the fact I struggle to be quiet or still.

    So I do some unpaid music journalism for the love of it, have been involved with Chester Micro Plays as both producer and writer and have the aim (still only the aim) of getting paid for some of my more journalistic writing.

    Somewhere in between that crashed the fact I’m managing a band. Where, oddly enough, there’s plenty of writing and pitching to be done and a lot of things come full circle.

    I’ve seen some pretty skilled live interviewing done, but I think that’s a very different thing. It would be something to see the transcript of the interview here. I think research is probably the root of a good interview; there has to be some reason for it being done now? As much as the PR (and I can wear that hat too) wants her charge to look good then there is a need to have an angle, a story to tell and that’s down to prep.

  2. Really looking forward to Thursday evening!

    I write a blog at

    Answering the questions:

    Why do we conduct interviews?
    I suppose it’s a symbiotic relationship. The interviewee gets their opinion published and the interviewer gets quotes/insights to add depth to their article.

    What makes them a success?
    Success is when both parties are happy with the outcome. That makes for a sustainable future.

    And what should we do if it all goes wrong?
    Don’t publish, its not worth it.

    Just to comment on the article I was happy to see the journalist expose the issue. That was ballsy even if it probably hit her wallet ultimately.

  3. Bill Webster says:

    I’m Bill and I am coming along to these workshops in the hope that the discipline of the course and/or David’s influence/bullying might push me towards producing and submitting a piece of journalistic scribbling that results in a payment (however paltry) of real money. (Preferably to me rather than from me.)

    I enjoyed David’s course on writing for online and I am hoping to derive some fun and enlightenment from this new series of workshops.

    With regard to interview skills, I have never conducted a journalistic interview in my life and as I write these words I can conceive of no reason why I would ever want to.

    So I clearly need to attend this session.

  4. Thanks for your comments so far. Great to see this got us thinking.
    Let’s try a different story next. Have a read of this article written in the style of a profile feature.
    Think about the use of quotes, the range of comments and the way this material was sourced. Are these primary or secondary sources? Which are better? And are the quotes used to best effect?
    Share your views.

    Afghanistan’s first female taxi driver

  5. Becky Sowray says:

    The quotes from Sara, and there are plenty of them, are basic and direct. They run straight into the telling of the story. There are plenty of hearsay quotes, things that others have said to her. These tend to make the story quite one sided in its outlook. If the quotes from her brothers had been primary source, for example, would have added weight to the direction that the writer has tried to give the story.

    It’s a very pyramid structure – it gets in the important stuff at the start and the rest is detail. I think, given it’s a conversation piece rather than headline that a more narrative style might have given this some of the guts, the pain that it actually lacks. This woman must have been through hell; very little of that shows. I’m left very much with a subtext of acceptance that this is how life is, and very little of the sensation of the challenging action that Sara’s life embodies.

    I’d have liked to have seen this up at the front:-

    “How long should women depend on men’s income, taking the men’s orders?” she asked. “I want them to be independent.”

    Then have a go at telling the story from the beginning – her brother killed, her role as sole provider, the attacks on her house and safety, her role as taxi driver, the asides about Afghan society needing to be spread through more gently, and then finally a light and yet subversive touch regarding the car dealership.

    None of it feels like the writer was actually there?

  6. I enjoyed the article and the use of quotes. It flowed well and kept me reading and I thought mixing it up with primary, secondary and maybe even tertiary sources added depth. Becky’s comments were very interesting with really good insights/angles that I wouldn’t have considered. I guess it is unclear whether the author actually met the taxi driver but in hindsight it mattered not to me. I felt like the author gave me a good insight into the issues and the perspective of the taxi driver. I think the quotes were used to best effect. Quoting the results of other people’s interviews worked well.

  7. Paul Diggory says:

    Hi there, I’m Paul. Sorry I’m late registering but it’s been touch and go this week, but I appear to have cleared my hurdles and look forward to tomorrow’s discussion. I work full time for a housing association and do various housing-related things alongside that, so working in too many hobbies is a challenge.
    I take any opportunities I can find to write blogs or articles in my trade journals as I really believe in the importance of housing and I want to be able to influence people! Otherwise I have a travel website and a hundred and one unfinished (and in some cases I started) ideas for books or features. I recently attended a comedy writing conference which I found to be fascinating and a real source of motivation looking ahead.
    The Rhys Ifans interview might he been better treated as a spoof interview and he’d have perhaps got what he deserved. I had a sense that the interviewer wasn’t entirely well prepared or equipped for her subject – a different way into his Welshness might have been his early membership of the Super Furry Animals, which he might have warmed to.
    There’ll always be a place for the celebrity interview as we’re desperate to go beyond the surface of the characters that we see. We mustn’t forget that there are genuinely interesting people out there who are illuminating and forthcoming. Is it the skill of the interviewer or the willingness and personality of the interviewee that makes a good article?

  8. Bill Webster says:

    I read the article and then I re-read Becky’s comments and then I scanned the article again… because I didn’t think that there had been that many direct quotes from Sara.

    And following the scan I still don’t think there were. Everything came across as very second or third hand and low key. Some of it almost came across as fiction / creative imagination. It had no authenticity for me.

    Like Becky, I am left feeling that Sara’s story probably deserved better than this arms-length, hearsay, vanilla treatment.

    I am not sure that any of the above is actually relevant to David’s questions.

    It is good that we can all see the weaknesses in this.

    But given that we are all so clever, why is it not one of our published articles that is being picked over here?

    A mystery indeed! 🙂 [Sorry David, I know you do not like exclamation marks!!!]

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