As a young reporter, I stubbornly stuck to the questions in my notebook, I rarely listened to what was said to me before I opened my mouth.
I think many broadcasters fear silence. Silence is a sign that something has broken down. Now I use my questions - which are printed out and attached to my beloved clipboard - as a guide only.
Sometimes I barely refer to the questions.
If I’m caught in the moment of the guest's story, I think I’ve done my job well.
If you like a particular style of interview, read/listen or watch a lot of them.
I’m drawn to interviews that are a bit like mine; I like to feel I’m taken below the surface chat. I think a good political interviewer is someone who systematically works his/her way into a problematic issue which they’ve found by carefully circling their prey subject.
I recently went to the 2018 Byron Writers Festival as a guest moderator. I planned to use my downtime to write. A children’s novel. Very early stages.
The hotel had a resident dragon to keep us entertained and two of my favourite things for breakfast: sourdough bread and peanut butter.
But something in me shifted. Maybe it was the magnificence of the lighthouse. Or the encouraging warmth of the air. Something was telling me NOT to shut myself in a room and tap away on a laptop.
It wasn’t the time to be a hermit. I was meant to connect with other people and take in their wisdom. This was no time to hide.
Here are some of my Byron encounters:
Selina had the best job title of anyone: New Zealand Poet Laureate. We talked about finding time to write. She talked of gifts, or objects that tell us stories. She left me with ideas and two recommendations:
I met another poet. His name is Lemn Sissay and he took my breath away performing his razor-sharp poem Hanging On, to an audience under the marquee. I like the way he pronounces the 'g' in the middle of 'hanging'.
Alas, I didn’t write my novel, but I met 97 year old Nina who’s a One Plus One fan… she told me that if there’s a stem of roses covered in thorns, she only ever sees the roses. I’m glad I listened to the universe.
Twenty years ago, Linda Shum did something radical.
She defied, yes, defied, the person she loved most and let her curiosity take her to a small Chinese city named Jiaozuo. In 1998 she was a early childhood teacher, using her precious school holidays to see what she could do for Chinese orphans whom she read about in a church newsletter.
Today she is back in Jiaozuo, not to mark an anniversary, but to do what she's been doing with little or no fanfare: adding value to the lives of children living in the city orphanage.
Conditions are so very much improved. There is no longer a One Child Policy although because of Chinese attitudes to disability (and the social security available) the orphanage still has much work today.
Linda's health isn't great. In fact, on her return from China earlier this year, she nearly died. Everyone who knows her worries about her, constantly.
When her email arrived yesterday to tell me (and her many loyal supporters) that she'd arrived safely, I shook my head in amazement.
Her local Gympie newspaper recently published this about her anniversary. I'm so honoured I got to follow her and observe her for more than three years to write her story in China Baby Love.
Congratulations Linda:) Please look after yourself!
And it's brilliant that China Baby Love will be available to buy in the U.S. and U.K. later this year.
This morning I reading two profile pieces which held my attention and moved me profoundly. One was an appreciation of Professor Stephen Hawking, the physicist who died this past week (Cerebral Celebrity, The Australian by Dennis Overbye - paywalled).
The other article was a profile (by Jane Cadzow) of journalist and author Cynthia Banham. Her new book, A Certain Light (which I haven't read), in part details the terrible 2007 plane crash in Indonesia in which she nearly died. More importantly, it details her recovery from severe injuries including the amputation of her legs while she spent three months in a Perth burns unit.
I did not have the opportunity to interview Stephen Hawking. I would like to interview Cynthia, although I'm not sure at the time of me writing whether she's agreeable. I can imagine how difficult it would be to talk about her experiences, so the profile may be the closest I get to her.
What moved me about the stories was a sense of wonder about survival and and an acknowledgement that life doesn't always go the way you want it to.
Earlier this week, I read how Hawking lost his ability to speak more than three decades ago after a tracheotomy. This was related to complications in his condition, motor neurone disease, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 21. He told the BBC that after the operation he had considered committing suicide by not breathing, but he said:
the reflex to breathe was too strong.
Cynthia Banham says in the Sydney Morning Herald profile that she often imagines seeing the two Australians sitting on either side of her, who perished in the crash. They were journalist Morgan Mellish and diplomat Liz O'Neill.
It's like they occupy those places on either side of me permanently now." She keeps in touch with O'Neill's husband and daughter. She often imagines she sees Mellish's face in the street.
And then this about the nature of tragedy.
Actually there is tragedy everywhere you look...you can find it very easily in certain countries overseas but even when you look in your own very privileged country, it is there in every family. Whether it's cancer or mental illness or misfortune of some kind. Losing a child. Whatever. It's everywhere. And actually that's the way life is.
Life as I knew it took a vibrant twist when I left Hong Kong and became a communications student at Mitchell College (Charles Sturt University) in the 1980's. Bathurst was a long way from Hong Kong. At first I kept the curtains in my room firmly shut, because the wide-open field outside my dorm window was too confronting.
Within a few weeks, however, I had friends and that made all the difference to the girl from Hong Kong.
Without a doubt, the most terrifying person at Mitchell was our writing lecturer Peter Temple.
Peering from behind his glasses as if he were gazing out of a window, he had this soft South African accent and a laugh that was more a whinny. Likeable yet fearsome, he was by far the toughest of our lecturers.
Peter Temple used to leave our corrected assignments outside his office. The door was always shut. One day, I arrived to see a student named Tim pick up his assignment. He searched for the mark on the back page of the assignment and then began to shout abuse and kick Peter's door. Clearly, his assignment had failed to impress our writing lecturer.
"You bastard!" Tim cried as his foot pounded the wood, echoing down the hallway.
Suddenly, the door opened. I don't know why, but it had never occurred to me that when Peter's door was closed, he was actually in there.
Tim was taken aback too. He was a tall man, but Peter stepped forward, unafraid.
"Fuck off." Peter said, as if Tim was an annoying fly.
And then the tutor retreated into his room, closing the door behind him.
Years after I left Mitchell College, I started to see Peter's name in the headlines. He quickly rose to become a brilliant crime writer. Many of his books became TV series. I particularly enjoyed The Broken Shore. He was so economical with his descriptions and his stories kept you on the edge. Imagine having to suffer students like me.
It's at this point I have to post some of the pertinent and hilarious comments he wrote on my major writing assignment (on my favourite subject: chocolate) at the end of my first year:
I didn't get a brilliant mark (65% when 55% was a pass, if I remember correctly) but I passed and without that, I wouldn't have moved into Year 2 of my degree.
In 2014, I blogged about the chocolate assignment after reminiscing with my first Mitchell College friend and now crime and romance author Jaye Ford.
A few days after my blog, incredibly, I received an email from Peter Temple.
The subject heading was "chocolate box".
Just when you thought you'd got over it, someone mentions that first assignment ...
I think about it every time I see you on the box.
I was gobsmacked. At the time, apart from presenting my interview show One Plus One, I had embarked on my second book China Baby Love, but wasn't sure I'd make it to the end. This is how I replied.
Great to hear from you Peter.
I’m still a struggling writer, but it’s becoming more important for me to write. I’m not sure why.
Always grateful for the first 65%
All the best, Jane
And then he wrote this drops of magic.
Imagine being remembered only for your face or your voice?
Writing is a puny lunge at immortality.
Nice word, puny. PT
That was our one and only exchange after Mitchell College. I will treasure it. #ValePeterTemple.