Top tips for Interviewing

By January 1, 2019 Books, Interview Skills, Jo Bailey Author, Writing, Writing Memoir, Writing tips

The New Year is a great time to set new intentions and and try new things, so why not dust off that writing project you’ve had on the back burner or in the back of your mind for ages, and start to make some progress?

Whether you plan to tackle a memoir, family history, biography, or even a short form personal essay, there is a high chance you will need to corroborate some facts with someone else, or even glean a large part of your narrative from them.

Perhaps you want to speak with a grandparent or Great Uncle George about some events in your family history? Or maybe discuss some childhood events with a sibling? If you are writing a piece of non-fiction, your whole story might be based around a chat (or several chats) with an interviewee.

In some cases you might only have one chance to gather the information you are looking for, so it’s important you are well prepared before any interview. To help, I’ve come up with some top tips to ensure your interview goes smoothly, and you get the best out of it.

Tip 1 – Preparation and Conversation Starters

Once a person has agreed to be interviewed by you, preparation is the key. The first thing to think about is the angle and purpose of your interview. Do you want to discuss a person’s life or events in general terms, or drill down to a particular time period or specific event? Once you have established this, it’s time to do your research. Gather all the information you have about the person you are going to interview, and the events and themes you want to talk to them about. Use existing written information, search online, and ask others what they know. Then come up with a list of open-ended questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This will spark conversation. It is a good idea to have some follow up questions about each topic you want to cover ready too.

Tip 2 – Recording the interview

It is critical to put some thought into how you are going to record the interview. I’m a speedy typist, so type notes into a Word document during my interviews. However most people probably can’t type that fast, so it’s critical to have other ways to record what is being said. I recommend recording the interview on a Dictaphone, or using an audio or video recorder on a Smartphone. Then you can listen back later, write down the key points you want to use, and transcribe any quotes (which you must capture verbatim). It is worth practising with your equipment before the interview so you are familiar with it, and also check regularly during the interview to ensure it is working properly. I recommend taking written notes on paper during the interview as well, just in case the technology fails.

Tip 3 – The Interview

Here is a list of tips that will ensure your interview runs smoothly:

  • Confirm the date and time with your interviewee beforehand. It reminds them, and gives them time to prepare as well. In some cases, you may want to send them your list of questions beforehand.
  • Try to create a warm, welcoming interview environment. Arrange to meet somewhere you will both feel comfortable. That could be at the interviewee’s home, or even a local café (if you are not talking about a contentious subject!)
  • If you are interviewing very elderly people, it can be a good idea to have someone else to sit in on the interview, as they can also help to keep the subject on track.
  • Don’t ask questions that prompt a YES or NO answer! If you have planned well you should have a list of good open-ended questions ready to ask.
  • One of the great joys of an interview is when the conversation detours into unexpected but amazing territory. Be prepared to ask questions on the fly as the conversation progresses. Your question list is helpful, but don’t be afraid to veer off it at any time. You can always come back to it later.
  • Show genuine interest and be sincere throughout the interview. Your interviewee has agreed to give up their time to speak with you. Honour this.
  • Listen carefully, and give the person plenty of opportunity to talk. This is a key quality of a good interviewer.
  • If you didn’t hear something the interviewee said, or understand their meaning, don’t assume – ask them to clarify. Don’t write something down if you’re not sure.
  • Be confident and friendly. This will make your interviewee more relaxed and at ease.

Tip 4 – Writing up the interview

Listen back to your tape or recording, and review your written notes. You don’t have to use all the material you’ve captured in your writing just for the sake of it. Choose only the information you’ve gathered which is relevant and will move your story forward. However it is still a good idea to archive any information you don’t use, as it may be useful for another project.

Tip 5 – Proofing the story to the interview subject

It is critical to show your interview subject the part of your story that relates to them. Gaining their approval saves problems later, and enables them to correct any factual errors for you. They might also have second thoughts about including some sensitive material once they see it written down, so it gives them the opportunity to have it removed.

Tip 6 – Have fun and enjoy the process

An interview can be a positive and fun experience for both the interviewer and the interviewee. The interviewer has the privilege of learning about someone else’s life, or listening to their perspective on life’s events, while the interviewee has the opportunity to share their story, views, or wisdom.

 I hope you have found these tips helpful, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at jo@jobailey.com

 

 

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Never Forget Launch Party

By November 10, 2018 Books, Jo Bailey Author, Never Forget, Writing

The Never Forget Launch Party in the stunning Centennial Chapel at St Andrew’s College on Thursday 8 November 2018 was such a fun and fabulous event!  I am so grateful for the support of Rector Christine Leighton, and College staff, who made it all possible. It was wonderful to have Ronnie Sabin and Eva Mulken (nee de Konning) as VIP guests, along with the late Naylor Hillary’s lovely daughter Pam Bissland, her husband David, and their extended family. Pam and David donated Naylor’s French Legion d’Honneur medal to St Andrew’s College, which was unveiled and blessed by College Chaplain, Paul Morrow during the launch celebrations.

Ronnie, Eva and Naylor’s stories all feature in Never Forget.

Click the image icons below to view full size.

 

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Shine a light on the truth

By October 4, 2018 Uncategorized

Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The truth will set you free.

Truth hurts.

Yep – when it comes to the good old truth, things are definitely not black and white.

The importance of telling the truth has been drummed into us since we were kids. However as we get older, we start to realise not everyone tells the whole truth, all of the time!

Truth is one of the most important and trickiest subjects to tackle when writing memoir and life stories, given that our experiences are deeply subjective.

Our memories are not always reliable, particularly when recalling events that happened a long time ago. However it is important when writing memoir that we be as truthful as we can, and write ‘our’ version of the story as it happened.

Writing about our lives inevitably means talking about the people we love and have relationships with. This is when things can get a little tricky, as our perception of events cannot possibly fully match theirs. The best approach is to honour this, be kind and do no harm where possible.

But what if we’re planning to write about a life trauma, or a difficult person we have encountered, and telling the ‘whole’ truth might be a little too confronting, both for us, and for the other person or people involved? Is it ok to bend the truth, by omitting details from our story, condensing timelines, or changing peoples’ names to protect ourselves and others? Can we write the story this way and still maintain its integrity?

There are hardliners out there, who say if you write a memoir you should tell the whole truth, in all its messy glory. I think this is an incredibly risky approach.

My take is that it is ok to ‘bend’ the truth a little, as long as we are not breaking it all together.

I don’t believe there is any harm in ‘fudging’ some details, for example not revealing the exact time or place events occurred, nor writing personal details about other people involved. Instead we could take a broader view of the events and people (without revealing their identities) and focus more on the personal impact, the lessons learned, and our resulting growth from these experiences.

This process does take careful handling, and it is important to ensure our story retains its ‘essential truth’ – so we are not carelessly or intentionally distorting the facts, telling ‘white lies’, or creating fictional elements because they create a better story. This is a huge no-no!

To sum up, as we tackle memoir writing, we have a responsibility to tell our truth. It’s ok to bend it a little here and there, but we mess with it at our peril!

Below are some things to consider when finding our truth in memoir writing:

Write what we truly believe to be true in our hearts

Although truth can’t be reached by consensus, it can be helpful to talk to family members and friends to get their take on events of the past. This might help to jog our memory on aspects of the story we have forgotten or missed. However we should only consider this process to be ‘information gathering’ and continue to write only ‘our truth’ from our perception.

When writing about others, honor the fact their perceptions will be different to ours, and wherever possible, be kind.

Keep these questions in mind as we write to keep us on the truth train: This is what happened to me. This is how it affected me. This is how I felt. This is what I thought about it. This is how I grew.

We must also remember the stricter rules when writing a biography of someone else. In this case it is critical we record the details exactly as they are told to us, without adding our point of view to the story. We should still, however, fact check all the details where we can, to ensure the general information is correct. But that’s another story for another day!

A final quote to leave you with…

“Remember, there are always three sides to a story; yours, theirs and the truth.”

 

Jo x

 

The personal essay – a great place to start writing

By August 29, 2018 Books, Jo Bailey Author, Writing, Writing Memoir

Writing a memoir or family story is a great way to preserve your unique and special history for future generations. But what if the prospect of tackling such a big project seems too daunting?

I recommend you start small – and write a personal essay (short form autobiographical non-fiction) instead. This is a great way to work your writing ‘muscle’ and practice writing about an event close to you or your family, without thinking too much about the bigger picture.

So just what is a personal essay?

A personal essay captures a ‘slice of life’ moment, an event or experience that affected your life, or took you on an emotional journey. Share your thoughts and experience on the page, and show how you have changed or grown as a result. There are no rules when it comes to writing a personal essay, which makes it a fantastic place to start. You simply create your story in whatever form you choose

Our lives contain a myriad of experiences from which to find a compelling topic.

Ask yourself these questions if you’re having trouble generating some ideas:

What are the major life events that have changed my (or my family member’s) life?

What struggles or challenges have I overcome?

How has an event or experience changed my perspective about something?

What is something miraculous that has happened to me?

How could my experience inspire or help others?

See if you can come up with four or five answers for each of these questions, then pick one to write about!

The writing bit

A conversational, intimate tone is best. If you struggle to get started, or find your voice, I recommend speaking your story into your smartphone recorder, rather than writing it down first. Imagine you are telling the story to a friend over coffee. Then translate your story on to the page, and you’ll be amazed how far along you are!

Here are a few other tips to think about when writing:

  • Start with a compelling first sentence or paragraph – you want to hook the reader straight into the story.
  • Stick to one event or experience – have a narrow rather than wide focus.
  • Follow the tried and true rule – show and don’t tell!
  • Try to ratchet up the tension in the story as it goes along – don’t give everything away in the first few paragraphs.
  • As you wrap up the story, reflect on the lessons learned, or changes to your life or understanding of it. Try to leave the reader with an emotional response to your story.

I hope you find these tips for writing a personal essay helpful, and if you would like some feedback, feel free to email me your completed piece.

Jo x

 

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Introduction to writing memoir and autobiography

By July 24, 2018 Books, Jo Bailey Author, Writing, Writing Memoir

Every single person on this planet has a story, and you are no exception!

All the twists and turns, successes and disappointments, joys and challenges of every second, minute, and hour of your life thus far have brought you right to this moment. It’s your story. And why wouldn’t you want to write some or all of it down?

There’s no time like the present. Imagine how excited future generations will be to learn about the events that shaped you, and how you responded?

Are you ready to start capturing your unique perspective of this amazing ride called life? I’ve put together some top tips to get you started!

 

  1. What am I writing – memoir, autobiography or biography?

Let’s start by defining the differences. If you are writing about yourself, you will be writing either a memoir or an autobiography. The distinction is not too difficult to understand. If you intend to chronicle your whole life story from birth until now, you are writing an autobiography. However if a specific aspect, event, or time period of your life (which could be several years) is the major focus of your writing, you are creating a memoir.

A memoir puts you front and centre as the ‘hero’ of the story, and usually has a bit more ‘drama’. You don’t need to tell every detail of your life – just the things that are relevant to the story, the events, or the theme you are writing about. If you write a story about family events or a period of family history from your perspective and in your voice, this is also a memoir.

There are fewer rules when writing memoir, which means you can take a bit of creative license with things like timelines, changing the names of people to protect their identity, and compressing events for the purposes of your story. However the truth must still be at the heart of everything you write.

What if you are writing about someone else?

 If you are examining and writing about someone else’s life in the third person, you are writing a biography. It is also possible to write someone else’s autobiography as a ghostwriter, which captures the subject’s voice, but is actually written by you. There are much stricter rules when writing biographies and ghostwritten autobiographies, which I’ll cover in a future blog.

 

  1. I’m ready – what are the first steps?

If you want to write your own story, the first thing to consider is whether you will create an autobiography or memoir.

Think about your goals for writing your story.

Do you want to record all of your life history or aspects of it for your family and future generations? Do you have a compelling story you think will inspire, educate or entertain people? Are there lessons you have learned during your life that you think will help others? Will writing your story be therapeutic or help you to process some challenging or traumatic life events?

Defining the ‘why’ will help you to gain clarity about your writing project, so you are not wasting time gathering irrelevant information.

If you plan to write a memoir (which I recommend) start to think about which period of your life or events you intend to record and the reasons for choosing it.

If you are new to writing, I suggest drilling down to a fairly narrow time period, or series of events, to get you started.

Breaking it down in this way makes the task seem a lot more do-able and provides you with some valuable practice when it comes to recall, research and writing.

 

  1. Do I have to be an experienced writer, or have kept a diary, notebook, or scrapbook in the past?

Nope! Once you have defined what you are going to write about, the secret is to simply dive into your subconscious, take a bird’s eye view of your life’s events so far, extract all the relevant details and write them down. Trust in yourself and the process. Remember that no one in the entire world knows your life story like you do. You are truly the authority, and it’s so much easier to write about what you know.

If you struggle with writing in the beginning, a great tip is to start by speaking your story into your smartphone or dictaphone instead. Speak the story just as you would tell it to a friend over coffee or dinner. Then transcribe the audio onto the page. This is also a great method to find your ‘voice’ in super quick time.

 

  1. Should I start to carry a notebook?

Absolutely yes! And you’re going to need more than one. I always have a notebook and pen in my handbag, and another on my beside table. Once you start delving into the events of the past, things will pop into your mind when you least expect it. Write them down immediately, because you won’t remember them later once you’ve been to that meeting, wiped the dog’s spew off the carpet, or cooked dinner. Trust me. You won’t. If you don’t have pen and paper handy (I’m old school and have a notebook obsession) then jot a note down on your smartphone, or record a message to yourself – all work just fine. You are about to become a bona fide reporter digging into your own life, and you’re going to have to start taking some notes.

Keep an eye out for my next blog, when we’ll explore some great brainstorming ideas to help you extract all those wonderful memories and information out of your brain, and get them down on the page.

 

  1. Show up

We’re all busy right? Life can get crazy. There’s work, maybe other people in the house to care about, kids to drop off and pick up, exercise to fit in, no time to rest, how the hell am I going to write a memoir you might say? Well, like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. Set aside regular time to work on your writing and stick to it. It might only be an hour a week from 8–9pm every Tuesday evening, but who cares? Stick to it and over the course of a year you will have spent 52 hours working on your memoir. You’ve made progress, and after a few months, you might have even bumped your work rate up to two hours a week. We have 24 hours in a day, and usually only sleep for eight or nine of them. How are you using your 24 hours? Could you spend half an hour less on social media or watching Netflix each day, and do some writing instead?

 

  1. Tell the truth

Whatever you write – make sure it’s your truth. Stay true to your recollections, your viewpoint and your take on the things that happened. There will always be someone else’s versions of events, but they’re not yours. The reader wants to hear your voice and trust in it.

Don’t be afraid to add dialogue. Of course we didn’t take notes when we were having that massive fight with our sibling when we were 16, but we can still capture the general gist of the discussion in dialogue, as long as we are representing the essence and intent of the exchange (and not screwing with what actually happened and trying to rewrite history!)

It is also worth remembering that just because something happened, it is not always interesting or relevant to the story, so if that’s the case, you might want to think about leaving it out.

 

  1. Writing about family stories and traumatic events

Thinking about that massive fight you may or may not have had with your sibling, brings me to the dangers of writing about challenging family situations and traumatic events. It is all do-able, but the process needs to be handled with considerable care. I’ll provide some hints and tips for things to consider and how to avoid the pitfalls in a later blog.

 

In Summary

In this blog, we talked about:

  1. The differences between memoir, autobiography and biography;
  2. How to define your writing project;
  3. Drilling down to specific events or time periods;
  4. How to record these events and write them down;
  5. Making time for writing;
  6. Telling the truth.

 

Stay tuned!

In upcoming blogs we’ll delve into a range of topics, including brainstorming tips; finding your voice and maintaining it; writing craft; tackling tricky subjects and traumatic events; writing family stories; and more!

Happy writing!

Jo x

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Never Forget has landed

By June 10, 2018 Books, Jo Bailey Author, Never Forget, Writing

What a week!

The first carton of my latest book Never Forget arrived from the printer in Singapore. It was such an exciting moment to rip open the box and finally hold a copy in my hand.

Never Forget is the result of several year’s work, and is very close to my heart. It features some dear, wonderful people, who have been so generous and brave in sharing their memories and stories of World War II with me. The trust they have shown in me has been truly humbling.

This book highlights the effect of war on ordinary citizens, who either made the decision to fight, or whose lives were completely turned upside down by its impact. In another generation, the people who lived through these terrible events may no longer be here to tell their stories, which is why it was so important to me to capture just a few of them in this book.

The other 970 copies of Never Forget will soon be making their way to New Zealand via ship, and are due to arrive in late July.

I can’t wait to share it with the world!

 

 

 

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16 insider tips for writing a compelling media release

By July 21, 2017 Content Marketing, Jo Bailey Author, Writing

In today’s digital world there is a common misconception that online marketing is the only way to go, and newspapers and magazines, like the dinosaurs, are headed for extinction. That is simply not true!

While the current climate may not herald good news for journalists, I can tell you there are many publications, particularly niche newspapers and trade magazines that continue to be ravenously hungry beasts with editors and journalists always on the look out for concise, compelling, well-written, and ahem, free content. That is great news for your business!

So where to start? I’ve put together 16 handy insider tips, gleaned from my 30-year career as a journalist, to help you put your best foot forward and get your business noticed.Not only will you gain valuable publicity once the story goes to print – you can share links in blogs, email newsletters and social media, or easily adapt the story to suit each content management platform. Follow these tips for media release success!

  1. Your story must be newsworthy. Ask yourself – is this something people will want to read? Perhaps you have just launched an exciting new product or service, have won an award, or have some advice you can offer about an issue affecting your industry or customers? An insightful story that can provide readers with a direct benefit or help to solve their problems will increase your chance of success. It will also fit best with your online content marketing strategy.
  2. Aim for story length of 300 to 400 words, and no more than 500 words.
  3. Use the upside down triangle method to structure your media release, with the most important and juicy information in the largest third at the top; supporting information in the middle; and general background information about your company at the bottom.
  4. Create a compelling headline. It may be easier to come up with this once the story is written. Perhaps a few words in the story jump out at you?
  5. A snappy introduction that summarises the story is critical to capture the attention of editors or journalists. You might only have 20 words to create a great impression so make them count. Listen to how newsreaders introduce a story on the TV news, or see how journalists start a story in the newspaper to get some ideas.
  6. Use quotes in the media release where possible to provide insight and add a human element to the story, but don’t overdo jargon or technical language, as this will put readers off.
  7. If you have supporting data or facts, include them, particularly if you are describing industry trends.
  8. Never claim you or your company is the ‘best’ in your region or country unless you can quantify it by having won a national or regional award for a product or service, or you have some kind of formal ranking.
  9. Once you have written your release, proof read it thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors.
  10. At the top of the page write: ‘MEDIA RELEASE – for immediate release’, unless your story is embargoed. In that case write: ‘MEDIA RELEASE – embargoed until (add date)’
  11. Don’t forget to add full contact information at the end, including phone, email, web address and links to any other relevant information that may be useful to journalists. Remember they may use the release as a starting point for a more in-depth story so make it easy for them.
  12. There are no guarantees your media release will be picked up, which is why it is critical it stands out. A little research into the publications or other media you intend to approach can go a long way. Find out the name of the person you need to contact at each organisation and email them directly. This will usually be the editor of a smaller newspaper, specialist journalist at a major daily, or news producer at radio and television networks. Don’t forget to consider local, regional, and if the story is big enough, national media. Trade magazines can also provide great opportunities.Think about all the magazines you receive at your business and figure out if you could contribute to any of them.
  1. When composing the email, it is a good idea to personalise it to each recipient and write a strong introductory paragraph. Then paste your media release into the email, as well as attaching the file. Journalists can’t always be bothered to open attachments!
  2. Photos can be helpful, but rather than clogging up emails, it can be wise to send a low res screenshot as an example, or advise that you can send high resolution images later if required.
  3. Now you have created your content in your media release, it can be easily adapted to other marketing platforms, such as email newsletters, blogs, or for sharing on social media.
  4. Once your release has been published in print media, or picked up by radio or television, don’t forget to share links to your website and social media platforms.Good luck! 

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Speaking engagements

By May 14, 2010 Books
Ronnie with ladies from Avonside Ladies Probus Club

Ronnie & Probus ladies

Ronnie kept the Probus ladies entertained

Ronnie kept the Probus ladies entertained

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List of stockists growing!

By May 14, 2010 Books

We are excited to have a growing list of stockists for The Long Way Home – both here in New Zealand, and in Australia.
It can now be found in several Paper Plus stores throughout Canterbury and even Paper Plus Moteuka! People leaving or arriving in Christchurch may well spot the book at one of the three bookstores at Christchurch International Airport. Deb our Australian agent has also got the book into two large independent bookstores in Sydney. For a full list of stockists, check out the link on the home page.

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Book launched!

By March 22, 2010 Books

joronniefairbridgeWe had a fantastic trip to Sydney and central western NSW to launch The Long Way Home. It was great to see so many Old Fairbridgians turn out to support the book and the positive message it delivers on Fairbridge Farm School Molong and Mr and Mrs Woods. It was also wonderful to meet the four Woods children, Nyasa, Sir Robert, Memory and Raymund at the reunion. After 15 months researching and writing The Long Way Home, a highlight of the trip was our visit to the Fairbridge Farm School village itself, which is sadly in a state of disrepair these days. It is Ronnie’s vision to see it restored to its former glory to help today’s young people in need. Let’s hope that the Australian government, one of its agencies or a private developer could help this vision be realised.

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