Good and bad interviews

After two days at the Hay Festival of Literature, I found myself thinking about the difference in quality of the interviewers of the authors. The format is for each author to be interviewed by another writer, who then invites questions from the audience and chairs the discussion. One interviewer I thought very good and another very bad. I’m not going to disclose names, but the difference in quality of interviewers affected one’s opinion of the authors and the value one got from the various sessions.

A good interview, though not necessarily as formal as those at a literary festival, is an important part of preparing any substantial piece of writing. Asking questions that elicit the right information can make the difference between, say, a good report and a poor one. Asking the right questions requires you to find out about the person you are interviewing and, by being sympathetic to them, to get the best out of them.

Asking good questions is the foundation of most writing. So being sympathetic, while remaining purposeful, is a skill worth cultivating.

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