Day 3 In-depth: Hairline fractions

Thoughts before an interview  

One of the more difficult things about this project is the need to balance a number of thoughts at the same time, and balancing these against the reality of what needs to and can be done.

Today I have an interview with Shaun Johnson, a South African-born Chinese man who attends my sister’s church. Shaun, I found out in a short conversation yesterday, also has aunt who was born on the boat trip from China to South Africa sometime in the early 20th century.

The issue I am battling with is preparing for the interview.

In more than seven months writing for the Wits Vuvuzela, a sense of ease and relish has accompanied nearly every story I have pursued and written.

Every story has also been garnished with anxiety as the logistics of writing the story mount as deadline approaches.

The most gnawing anxiety for me is the itching desire, a deep desperation, to write a genuine story, a story told “as is”, seen and recorded with clarity and respect to the people and events in it.

Often, faced with a deadline for copy, insufficient notes from interviews and research, and a fickle memory, the true thread of the story gets lost. In its place, journalistic clichés and drab shadows of the narrative you intended.

The biggest factor though, is a thin conceptual understanding of the story. Not giving yourself time to imagine what you want to get from your interview often means not having enough questions to ask during the interview.

On the other hand, you have to be able to let the interviewee speak for himself or herself.

In the Paris Review, Italo Calvino in Thoughts Before an Interview complains that “rarely does an interviewer ask questions you did not expect”. It is an important point because if you cannot keep the interest of your interviewee, your own interest will flag and in the end, it will show up in your copy.

I have thought about this interview for a long time. Longer than most interviews I have done. I’ve imagined the different alleyways and short streets it could scuttle along.

The hairline cracks that could emerge from the neat plan.

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