MOTHER NATURE: Nature photo blog marks 5th anniversary


Mother Nature, the nature and photographic diary blog of Croydon-based blogging enthusiast Alex Smithson, has marked five years of being online this past week.

Alex has been a long term friend and supporter of HEM News Agency for the past four years, from when it was called the Half-Eaten Mind Blog. Based in the suburban town of Croydon, just south of London, Alex first started working on Mother Nature (under its former simpler title, ‘Photography – Nature’) on the 6th of June, 2013 when he uploaded a number of photography projects taken with a Samsung ST200F camera he carried around with him.


Alex began to use the new blog to explore his passions of gaming, technology and nature photography and show his imagery to a steadily growing audience.

Five years on, Mother Nature has gone from strength to strength, chronicling Alex’s pictorial journey around his hometown, his commencement of an A-Level photography course at a local college and even him getting to grips with the graphic design software, GIMP.

While the design and look of Alex’s blog has shifted much over the years, he still uses Mother Nature as a creative venue for his photos of colourful flowers and wildlife. For Alex, photography is a stimulating vocation that has motivated him in the hard work of maintaining his website and keeping the interest flowing.

In addition to his photography and writing work, Alex Smithson has also taken on the mantle of mental health advocate, publicising various issues and neurological conditions,  such as autism, mental health stigma and the impact of social media on youngsters’ minds. The blogger had lent his support to various mental health charities like Depression Alliance, the Samaritans, Mind and others. His advocacy for mental health and neuro-diversity has already won him praise from actor Oli Regan, who collaborated with Alex on one of his articles. Alex plans to further his campaigning for mental health issues through the medium of photography as part of his blog’s fifth anniversary celebrations.

Mother Nature


“Celebrating 5 Years of Mother Nature!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (6 June 2018)

“Mental Health Organisations” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature


Alex Smithson/Mother Nature.


BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS: Authors in business invited to contribute to inaugural event

London – VIJAY SHAH via

Authors of books geared towards business are being invited to submit their work to the first ever Business Book Awards in the United Kingdom, reports.

The awards, which take place for the first time at London’s Grange City Hotel on the 16th of March, 2018, were founded by long established mentor and publisher for hundred of UK entrepreneurs, Lucy McCarraher. She will be working with event organisers ThinkFest on the event. McCarraher is also a prolific author, with eleven books under her name, and is also the co-founder and managing editor of publishing firm Rethink Press. She has seen stints as a writing coach, journalist and a public speaker in a varied and exciting career that has taken her from the UK to Singapore and Australia.


The Business Book Awards aim to celebrate business book authors and the expertise, life experiences and knowledge they help bring to a wider audience, as well as increase public awareness and appreciation of the work business writers do, in a world of niche publishing that is largely ignored by the mainstream reading economy. The role of business authors has been slowly thrust into the limelight thanks to the popularity of business-oriented TV programmes like The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, as well as the UK’s government’s encouragement of entrepreneurship and small/medium enterprises as a whole.

Many major ‘celebrities’ in the business book publishing world have pledged their support, including one of the UK’s most successful business authors, Shaa Wasmund MBE, and co-founder of Dent Global, Daniel Priestley, author of four bestselling business books. Other key attendees expected are Heather Townsend, author of The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking, and Bridget Shine, the Chief Executive of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG).

A panel of top judges has also been selected, including head judge Alison Jones,  founder of Practical Inspiration Publishing, a partnership publishing company. She is also the host of The Extraordinary Business Book Club, a podcast and community for writers and readers of extraordinary business books, and author of This Book Means Business. She worked for twenty-five years with leading book companies such as Chambers, Oxford University Press and Macmillan and was director of innovation strategy at Palgrave Macmillan. Joining Jones at the judge’s table will be John Williams – founder of The Ideas Lab and accomplished business author, and Sian Prime – coach and facilitator in innovation and creative entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Founder Lucy McCarraher told “Every business author should enter for these awards. The high profile ambassadors, the well qualified judges and the integrity of the judging process means the Business Book Awards carry high kudos in the business world and further afield. Short-listed and winning authors will be able to take advantage of the publicity and promotion.

‘The Business Book Awards welcomes every good book and every method of publication. I want to recognise business book publishing and authorship in all its forms, and bring the best authors to public recognition. This is a truly egalitarian initiative, we welcome those who self-publish and have a broad outlook.”

The awards are open to authors with work published in 2017, and the deadline for submissions is 31st December 2017. The shortlist of nominees will be announced on 17th January, with one business author being selected for Business Book of the Year 2018, the highest honour to be bestowed at the ceremony.

Authors or publishers wishing to enter the awards can do so through the website:


“Call for business authors to enter the Inaugural Business Book Awards” – Famous Publicity Ltd, Media Ltd (16 November 2017)

“Business Book Awards – Celebrating the Best in Business Books” – The Business Book Awards/Lucy McGarraher/ThinkFest


“Free stock photo of books, business, coffee” – Pixabay via Pexels (8 March 2015)

MY JOURNEY THROUGH A LENS: New photography book by Alex Smithson

Alex Smithson, the blogger behind news, photography and music blog Mother Nature has now celebrated nearly a month since the successful launch of his latest published photography project, a book entitled “My Journey Through A Lens”. It is the third such book created by the Croydon College photography student, a firm supporter of the Half-Eaten Mind, and follows the success of his earlier works “My Journey Through Photography” and “A Year in Photography”.

Alex’s third book of his amazing nature and scenery photography had been many months in the making, combining both pictures and articles published on the Mother Nature site, as well as external projects Alex worked on in his free time and also as part of his photography and art course at Croydon College, a further education institute located just south of the UK capital, London.

By March 2015, Alex was already putting the final touches to My Journey Through A Lens, a book chronicling his career as a budding photographer and graphic designer. Like any author, Alex spent much time ironing out spelling and grammar mistakes as he sought to make his third book just ripe for the picking and reading, as well as tackling the inevitable umm and aahs of getting a suitable set of photographs prepared. He also spent considerable time designing the front and back covers of My Journey. He at first went for a simple and minimalistic, yet visually powerful format in design, with his favourite nature photo taking pride of place. Alex prepared two such designs, one featuring plants silhouetted in a sunset sky and the other depicting exploding fireworks taken over the New Year period of 2014-2015. Alex however decided to fire up his graphic design skills for the final choice of cover concept, dispensing with the photography altogether. Alex’s final design is a proud homage to his proficiency with the open source graphical software GIMP. Reflecting a recent re-haul of Mother Nature, Alex chose to adopt the blog’s new colour scheme for the final front and back covers, opting for bold squares of blue and bright orange bordering a white square with the book’s title in bold black capitals. The new cubed logo of Mother Nature, with its slogan ‘Life at the touch of a button’ neatly tucked into one side, also makes an appearance.


By March 2015, Alex had crossed the 400-page barrier and was excited at getting the book up-and-running, offering it for free download via cloud service Dropbox. Not only would My Journey showcase Alex’s photography, but also case studies he wrote on key personalities in British history, such as the once prime minister Winston Churchill and notoriously oft married monarch Henry VIII, and musical tributes to Madonna, a favourite singer of Alex and to Ben Haenow, a fellow Croydon resident, who had won the final of UK musical talent show The X Factor in 2014.

By the beginning of this month (July 2015) and after nine months of groundwork and editing, My Journey was ready to hit the virtual bookshelves. In a blog article on Mother Nature, Alex narrates how he was ‘extremely pleased’ to be finally launching the book on July the 4th, American Independence Day. He had originally planned to launch his third book in May, but demands from college studies and exam revision for his GCSE finals put paid to that, forcing Alex to reschedule. By then, the young blogger had now included six historical case studies for educational purposes, detailing historical icons from the 1500s onwards, as well as additional information of Alex’s learning experiences as a fresh-faced A-Level student on his career journey to becoming a professional shutterbug.

On the 4th July, as our cousins across the Pond exploded fireworks, waved the red, white and blue, and generally made merry, My Journey Through A Lens was officially launched at 6:00 pm London time and made available completely free of charge on Alex’s website along with his previous editions. To celebrate the special occasion, Alex published an elated blogpost sharing the good news with subscribers and visitors. In this book, Alex celebrates historical icons such as Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, Guy Fawkes, Mary Queen of Scots, Winston Churchill and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the assassinated US President. Alex also paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, former South African president, humanitarian icon and victor against government-sponsored racism and hatred, who tragically passed away from illness last year. Alex also penned tributes to Croydon lad Ben Haenow, along with musical legend Madonna, the Italian-American ‘Queen of Pop’ whose top slot career in the charts has been going strong since the 1980s and had recently released songs and albums, including ‘Rebel Heart’, ‘Living for Love’, ‘Ghosttown’ and ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna’.


Alex certainly has not run out of steam with his sideline hobby of creating and marketing his work as a ‘indie author’ and aspiring professional photographer. On the day of his third book’s release, Alex also hinted that he will be working on a fourth title, although he has not yet revealed any further details at this early stage. While his third instalment will be made available as an e-book, Alex also teamed up with book printers DoxDirect to release a limited run of physical copies of My Journey, which he tweeted.

Alex dedicated his third book to some very special people in his life who have supported and influenced him along the way. The dedications, which appear on the back cover, include a tribute to Ajay Mody. Living in Mumbai, Mody was a passionate member of the WordPress community under the nickname ‘Ajaytao’. Like Alex, he also photographed the natural and bustling side of his hometown, India’s cultural and commercial capital, and was a keen blogger. He sadly passed away on the 10th August 2014, after a cardiac arrest and declining health. Tributes were also paid to actor and presenter Lynda Bellingham, the UK’s much beloved ‘OXO Mum’ who died in October of that year from colon cancer and to cricketer Philip Hughes who passed away after being struck by a ball during play on the 27th November 2014.

Alex also pens a dedication to this blog’s writer, a close friend and supporter, who in Alex’s own words, has “guided me along the way since I began my blogging journey”.

If you would like to obtain a copy of My Journey Through A Lens, or any of Alex Smithson’s previous titles, please visit  and scroll down to the ‘Free Books’ section on the blog’s sidebar on your screen’s right, directly underneath the social media and contact buttons. You will see the title pages of the books and clicking on them will take you direct to the download site.

“My Journey Through a Lens | Out Soon!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (29 March 2015)
“My Journey Through a Lens: Out Independence Day!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (3 July 2015)
“My Journey Through a Lens: Out Now!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (4 July 2015)
Alex Smithson.



BOOKSGOSOCIAL: Writers conference in Dublin this June

New and upcoming authors and writers hoping to make it big in the literary world will soon have the chance to reach for the stars thanks to a special conference to be held in Ireland this June.

The BooksGoSocial Writer’s Conference is being held at the Irish Writers Centre in the heart of the Irish capital Dublin from the 26-28 June 2014. The two-day event will see a team of experts and writing instructors guide authors in how to be discovered and to help them achieve their potential as a writer in the 21st century, according to the conference’s organiser, a book promotion service which helps authors spread the word on their latest books and e-books. Marketing advice will also be on hand for writers of fiction and non-fiction works to promote themselves via social media and advertising. There are numerous trainers who will be passing on their skills and advice, originating from not only Ireland, but also the United Kingdom and the States.

Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland
Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among the writing and marketing experts expected to be keynote speakers at the event are Laurence O’Bryan, an Irish diploma teacher of digital marketing for authors. A keen blogger and published author, O’Bryan‘s work has been published all over Europe and major Anglophone countries by Harper Collins and is said to have spent a decade trying to break into the publishing industry, before making it in with the help of a blog and Twitter account. Also featuring is Margaret Murphy, who has published nine critically acclaimed psychological thrillers and teaches creative writing at several UK universities. She has won numerous awards from her crime fiction and previously worked as an educator for thirty years before her writing career took off.

Other participants getting involved at BooksGoSocial include the writers Jean Gill and Catherine Ryan Howard, journalist and public relations professional Debbie Young and editor  Jessica Page Morrell. They will be hosting special themed events and workshops on subjects such as penning emotive fiction and gripping dialogue; as well as developing valuable knowledge of areas like digital marketing, self-publication and other useful skills necessary for budding wordsmiths in the technology age. The conference will end in a prestigious awards ceremony where writers will be invited to submit examples of their work. The ceremony will take place on the Saturday. Writers will also have opportunities, within and outside the event’s schedule to read their work and receive feedback from the panel of writing experts.

Dublin has proved to be an ideal location for the BooksGoSocial conference due to its prestigious and renowned history of writing prodigies who have become literary personalities both within Ireland and beyond its shores. The capital of the Emerald Isle, fabled for its legends of Celtic warriors, giants, mysterious fairies and leprechauns, is a UNESCO City of Literature, cradle of the classical Irish writers Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Wilde, Synge & Shaw as well as the modern masters Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and a dozen others.

Discounted and early bird tickets for all or part of the conference can be obtained from the BooksGoSocial website for the event:

Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
Laurence O’Bryan, Twitter, Twitter Inc.
“BooksGoSocial Writers’ Conference June 26-28th 2015” –
Ggggg “File:Dublin Castle.jpg” – Mike Peel, Wikimedia Commons (11 August 2005)

NEWS STORY: How to organise one

In this next article in the Half-Eaten Mind practical journalism series, we move on from how to interview to what happens when you return to base to begin writing your story or feature. Like any sort of story, a news story needs to have a structure. You must have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Traditionally in journalism, students were taught that news stories followed a structure best summed up as an inverted (upside-down) pyramid. All of the most important facts and parts, such as the ‘who?’, ‘where?’ ‘when?‘, ‘how?’ and sometimes ‘why?’ which lend the most weight to the story would appear first with background information and other hierarchically lesser items appearing further down. This is not always set in stone, especially for feature writers, but in ‘hard news‘ and human interest stories, it is inexcusable.

The Chumby running a widget that is displaying...
The Chumby running a widget that is displaying a Google News story, with human hand for size comparison. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s article will focus on how to organise your  story. It is based on lecture notes received by myself at my old university during a course module on newswriting and reporting skills.

1. Every news story needs a good intro, or beginning. Aim to write a concise,engaging intro that gives the major news points of your story. In other words, the most significant facts and hook of the story need to appear here.

2. Following on from the intro, write a second paragraph providing the other major points that cannot be fitted into the intro.

3. Use the third, or perhaps another paragraph early in the story, to give background and explanations for your readers to understand.

4. The order of news elements in the article should be presented in descending importance. It does not have to be in chronological order.

5. Use quotes early on but also drop them in throughout the story. It is better to sprinkle your direct quotes throughout the copy rather than stringing them together or bunching them up in one paragraph. Quotes are useful in that they let news subjects speak out to the reader; communicating directly with the audience.

6. Make use of transitions during the story to ensure good reading and subject flow. Simple words like ‘but’ and ‘however’ can work well.

7. Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to editorialise. A news story should be free from any deliberate bias or opinion from the journalist writing it. As my lecturer wrote “No comment from you, please!’.

8. Ending a news story can be a bit of a brain-wracker. However, please avoid simply rounding off with ‘The End’. The final paragraph simply reports more news. In some cases, a quote can make a good ending point. Some other news stories will end with news elements revolving around the continuation of the story. For example, in a news report on the arrest of a drug dealer, the last paragraph may mention that he or she has been remanded in custody for a hearing at a given date and place. There is no room or indeed context in a news story for “they all lived happily ever after”.

“HOW TO ORGANIZE A NEWS STORY” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster – class handout/information sheet.
“File:Chumby in hand.jpg” – Edward Yanquen, Wikimedia Commons (30 November 2007) LINK
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INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do (Part 2)

Today we bring you the second part of the first article on journalism advice for the fledging reporter. Last Sunday we covered the dos and don’ts of preparing for and carrying out an interview, including the all-important requirements to behave professionally and support the journalistic ethics of impartiality and accuracy.

These articles are based largely on notes distributed by a lecturer during newswriting and reporting seminars I attended over ten years ago on my journey into this exciting, fulfilling and noble career path. One of the most enduring memories I have of this lecturer, Mr. Geere, was on one occasion when he told us about having a ‘nose for news’. He admitted to us that every morning while commuting to work, he would strike up a conversation with a complete stranger/fellow traveller. Although some of us students started giving each other worried and perplexed looks upon hearing our lecturer’s little confession, it did sort of make sense to me. As a journalist, you will often speak to many kinds of people, from many backgrounds. Each with their own story or perspective to narrate. It certainly must have made his journeys a tad more interesting than just sitting there staring at tube adverts for car insurance. 

Mr. Geere taught us for one semester and module. Eventually he left the University of Westminster to pursue a job as an editor working for a newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago.

Taking notes

* When noting down direct quotes from your interviewee, distinguish them visually from the rest of your jottings. You can do that by using circles around the sentence, quotation marks, stars or underlining. Taking down notes on one side of the paper sheet or pad can actually help you rearrange the material in fitting into a viable story structure.

 * Pay attention and listen carefully. Do not waste time noting down unimportant or irrelevant details. You may be able to use them to add background or flavour to the story but do not forget that you may have a word count to worry about.

* As mentioned in Part One, be careful with the spellings of names and titles. It would be a headache to have to call back to just re-confirm a spelling or job function, or even worse, end up getting it wrong when your article goes out in public.

* Get direct quotes, especially on the major points of the interview/agenda.

* Do not spend all of your precious time just looking at the source and your notepad. Have a look around, and take in your surroundings. Especially when writing features, the surroundings can add context and atmosphere to the story. This also applies to the physical appearance of the source themselves. Do you notice any particular garments or jewellery they are wearing? Any interesting features or objects in the interview location?. If you find something noteworthy, then scribble down your impressions.

Effect of reinterviewing first source
Effect of reinterviewing first source (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Concentrate on what you are seeing and hearing

Once the interview is concluded and you and your source have parted ways, take a look at your notes. Review them and supplement them with any additional information you may have not noted down before, as well as any thoughts or ideas that come to your head as you review. The best time to do this is as soon as possible after the interview in your car, hotel room or wherever. The interview will still be fresh in your mind and that is the best time to recollect everything. Then arrange your notes in order of importance.

It is unnecessary to write in complete sentences unless you are preserving a direct quote. It is far better to write your notes in bullet points or maybe diagrams if you find that helps you.

Write down all specific information that you cannot trust to retain in memory. These include objective details like ages, names, addresses. statistics and sums of money. Try to get biographical information where needed and search the net or a clippings library for newspaper clips and other previously published articles which can offer further information on a person’s or organisation’s background.

Even here, accuracy should not be forgotten. If need be, conduct a follow-up call to double-check any unclear information. Do not be afraid or feel you are being a nuisance by doing so. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Exciting writing is fuelled by exciting anecdotes, so a good interviewer is always listening out for them. It is those stories and soundbites that are the spice that brings out the flavour in a solid piece of copy. A really sharp interviewer will also be an incredibly observant one, listening out for clues to experiences from the source that could lead the way to a good anecdote. He or she will pounce on those clues and direct the source to “give me an example” or “tell me about a time when that actually happened”.

Finding anecdotes

An anecdote is simply a small story, told in conversations as a means of relaying experiences in a person’s life. They are often used to entertain the listeners. In a journalistic context, an anecdote is a smaller story that nests itself within the body of the main story, which is the article you are writing. Often, an anecdote will illustrate something about the interviewee, such as his or her loyalty, bravery, persistence or some other quality that can add to developing the human context and background in your article. A good anecdote can really bring a story alive for the reader and will possibly hold their interest instead of flipping the page…or clicking another link.

Karma Foley Interview
Karma Foley Interview (Photo credit: kino-eye)

Watch your subject

Keep an eye out for non-verbal (unspoken) forms of communication, known in the industry as ‘non-verbals’. As humans, a lot of what we say does not come out as sounds from our lips. We often let our faces and hands do the talking. Pay attention to your source’s facial gestures, hand movements, tone of voice. Non-verbals also include things such as the clothes worn by the subject, their jewellery, their tics and seating position. Indeed, about seventy per cent of the interviewee’s total communication may well be non-verbal. So, to tell the complete story, you must give the reader the complete story. Remember, you are there in person with the source, not the reader. So you want to write the story in a way that the reader can feel that they are there in the room with you. Observation can really bring your story…and the subject of your story…to life!.

Study the environment

One of the perks of being a journalist is you are not chained to a desk or site all day. There usually is a lot of travel involved and you get to see many different environments and places. Journalism is very much about being observant and possessing a bloodhound like sense of curiosity. Indeed this is why American journalists are often nicknamed ‘newshounds’. When in surroundings unfamiliar in preparation for your interview, take a look around. Things like bulletin boards, desk items, pictures on the wall, file cabinets can all offer ideas that are gold dust for a well-told story. Even things as mundane and seemingly uneventful as how sunlight streams into the room can add that all-important contextual flavour. However keep in mind how these things relate to the interviewee or story subject. Avoid using description purely for the sake of description. Telling us that the interviewee uses a particular brand of washing-up liquid is pointless unless we can relate it to an aspect of the interviewee themselves. It is also helpful to add at this stage that while there is nothing wrong with visually observing things, it is not a good idea to rifle through your interviewee’s belongings or open up their drawers looking for story material. Keep hands to self. You can always ask the interviewee about objects in the room that will add that ‘zing’ to the story. They may even let you handle them for yourself.

Hopefully this article will help you strengthen your interviewing skills and make you into a stronger reporter. You can find Part 1 in the related articles section below this part. Next week, we will cover the nitty-gritty in organising a news story. Watch this space.

“INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster (November 2003) class handout/information sheet.
“File:HUMINT-Interview-Set1v1.png” – ‘Hcberkowitz’, Wikimedia Commons (2 November 2007) LINK
“Karma Foley Interview” – David Tamés, Flickr (23 December 2005) LINK
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INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do (Part 1)

Today I bring you the first in a series of articles on newswriting and reporting. These articles tie in with the Half-Eaten Mind’s objective to provide high-quality journalism and writing in general as well as its secondary aim as a means of education. They are based on handouts from a taught module on newswriting and reporting that I studied in late 2003 as part of my university degree in journalism and media studies. I had recently discovered the original handouts and have decided to digitally retype them for your reading pleasure, along with my own further commentary. The handouts were originally produced by lecturer Alan Geere at the University of Westminster’s School of Media, Art and Design in November 2003. All credit for the original information goes to him. The first part of the very first article is out today.

The series will be of particular use to people wishing to pursue journalism as a career, but who have no idea exactly what working as a ‘roving reporter’ entails. Also, it is hoped that the articles will also prove useful in an educational context for new journalism students at news schools or universities.

Journalism Notebook
Journalism Notebook (Photo credit: planeta)


For the vast majority of journalists, the most important means of obtaining information for their news story is by conducting an interview with a source. This is a dialogue between two people involving questions from the journalist being replied with answers from the source (the interviewee). Interviews are essential for obtaining facts, figures and comments that may not be easily found from official outlets or for certain types of reporting, such as crime beats or B2B journalism. Sources, apart from imparting valuable information to flesh out a reporter’s story, also can offer informational tidbits and quotes that can help ‘spice up’ an article and give it a more human and relational angle for the news consumer. Indeed in some cases, interviews may be the only way to get a suitable angle on a flashing news story and valuable or secret sources have been the make-or-break for many an exclusive scoop.

When conducting an interview, the best thing to do is act naturally. Do not feel stressed or feel you have to behave in a restrictive and stiff manner (unless the situation demands it). An interview does not need to take place in a formal atmosphere. Many interviewees are more than happy to be spoken to at their home or in a casual setting like a park or coffee shop. It is not a test of any sort, but simply a talk with someone about a specific topic. Think of your forthcoming interview as being only slightly different to a chat with your best friend about your favourite singer, football team or any other subject you are interested in. The key difference however, is that instead of merely hearing, the reporter is both listening and writing down what the source says, or using recording equipment to make a reproduction of the source’s conversation with said reporter. The important thing to remember at this stage, is that as a reporter, you are expected to remain impartial, so keep your opinions to yourself.

Preparing for the interview

Before setting out to meet up with your source, carry out some research first, both on the source (if they are a public figure) as well as the topic/s you will be speaking to them about. You want to show the source that you are in the know or at least have been thoroughly debriefed about the news subject. Think of what questions you intend to ask. So for example, if you are about to interview a person who sells furs and is agitated by animals rights activists, it might be interesting to find out if he or she owns a dog or cat. Likewise if you are interviewing an animal rights activist to get the other side of the story, you might ask them what life experiences influenced them to join the movement.

Make doubly sure you have your questions ready, either in written form or mentally noted down. Do not expect your news source to tell you voluntarily what you want to know. The whole point of having set questions ready and running is that they give structure to the interview as well as helping you organise your thoughts. Not only that, but having a good set of questions will get you all the information and quotes you will need to build up your news story once you return to the newsdesk or classroom.

Just like a job interview, you should show up properly dressed. Remember you are representing the news organisation you are working for, and a sloppy dress sense reflects badly on you, your employer and journalists in general. Taking care in what you wear and how you wear it also shows you have respect for the source.

An interview for television.
An interview for television. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conducting the interview

* Introduce yourself and the publication you work for. An official press card or identity card issued by your employer will help you negotiate security personnel or concerned relatives when visiting homes, offices or public venues.

* Look your subject in the eye. This may be hard for the more shy among us, but it shows you are interested in the source and what he or she has to say. Not maintaining eye contact can make you seem shifty and if the source is from a highly sensitive context, i.e. a crime informant or victim of a robbery, for example, it can make them uncomfortable. Do not fall into the trap of being so busy taking notes that all the source remembers from the interview are your flying fingers and the crown of your head. Some people may get nervous at the sight of seeing their every word written down. You can easily commit some things to memory, or to ensure accuracy, use a voice recorder. If you do use such a recorder, be sure to get the source’s permission first, and be prepared to press pause if the subject wants to say something ‘off the record’.

* Often, the first question you will be asking is the subject’s name and how to spell it. Even if you know the name and seen it spelled somewhere already, double-check as it could still be wrong. This is especially important for people with names from cultures other than your own. Even if it is a common name in your country, still double-check, as the person may use a spelling variation of their name, i.e. ‘Jon’ rather than ‘John’; ‘Suniel’ rather than ‘Sunil’, ‘Mhairi’ rather than ‘Mary’. Getting the spelling wrong can be the fastest way to lose credibility in the source’s eyes.

* Make sure to pronounce the source’s name correctly and use their first name from time to time. It helps put them at ease, shows that you care about what they have to say, and makes for a friendlier conversation and ultimately, more material for your story.

 * Not only should you double-check spellings of names, but also those of any company or town names, and any key historical dates. Do not ever be afraid to ask what you might fear is a silly question. It is better to look a bit clueless as so to speak, than get an important name, fact or date horribly wrong.

* Begin the interview with easy sociable questions to relax the interviewee. Many interviewees do not often find themselves speaking to the media as a regular course of their lives and may be somewhat at unease at what is an unfamiliar experience for them. It is your job to make them feel more comfortable. Save the tough questions for later. Steer clear of questions that appear to have predetermined or ‘closed’ answers i.e. ‘yes or no’ questions. The interviewee will not be able to express themselves fully and you risk the interview becoming a tick-box situation. You will not get any good quotes that way. Also remember to keep your questioning as impartial as possible. Do not let your opinions or biases determine the focus of your questioning.

* Ask open-ended questions that invite a lengthy answer and encourage the interviewee to speak their heart out and give healthy anecdotes and juicy quotes or opinions. For example “How did you react?” or “Why do you think that happened?“. While at the same time paying attention to what your source says, be sure to make a note of the juicier quotes and anecdotes.

* Do not ask negative questions. So avoid things like “No news, yet?“. You do not want to make it easy for the subject to just say ‘No’.

* Let the interviewee be aware that you know who they are, which is where your earlier research comes in useful. It shows you have done your homework and it saves time being wasted by the interviewee having to explain who they are, what their company does etc. This is called ‘priming’ the interviewee. So for example, it might go like this: “Mr. Jones, I understand you appeared in a movie about the takeover by people under 30. Do you believe this could actually happen?“. Other advantages of priming include helping set a context and angle for the interview, which will in turn help you select an angle for the news story. It also makes for a more fruitful and fun interviewing session.

* Accept all proffered facts and data given by the source professionally. Do not quibble, argue (even if you know the information to be inaccurate) or express shock/disappointment. Remember, your opinions on the source or who they represent are strictly private. Accept what the source tells you on the face of it.

* Do not make any promise to the source that you will promise to write or say remarks in a certain way. This will affect your journalistic impartiality. At the same time though, please respect the source’s request if they wish for certain comments to be ‘off the record’ to avoid causing offence or breaching any written/unwritten rules of confidentiality.

* Do not promise to let your source read the story before it goes live or published

* Leave the door open for another talk or follow-up interview. Many sources can have a long shelf-life in terms of newsworthiness as certain news stories are long-running and constantly evolving, such as the civil war in Syria or Anglo-Argentine tensions over the Falklands/Malvinas. Ask your contact if they would mind if you made contact later personally face-to-face or through a follow-up phone call. Obtain a phone number or Skype/IM ID for further discussions if you need to clarify any facts or gather further information.

Part Two of “INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” will be live next weekend.

“INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster (November 2003) class handout/information sheet.
“File:Interview.jpg” – Dennis Mojado via Kkkdc, Wikimedia Commons (22 August 2006) LINK
“Journalism Notebook” – Ron Mader, Flickr (25 June 2012) LINK
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ARCS: A way for indie authors to self-promote and get great reviews

For writers and poets looking to escape the cycle of a million rejections by mainstream publishers and who would prefer to go it alone, self-publishing can be a daunting task. Without the publicity machine offered by the big-name book publishers, it can be hard to find time, energy and money to get your work out there into bookshops and people’s shelves. Plus marketing skills do not naturally come to everyone. Thankfully the internet has made things much easier. Self promotion on ‘indie author’ websites, as well as social networks, has increasingly helped self-driven authors to bypass the suits and agents and reach their potential audience directly. Sites like Amazon are also incredibly friendly towards independent writers, with many niche categories such as vampire fiction, self-help and young adult (YA) being catered for with a sympathetic understanding of what makes their readers tick.

(c) Tsgreer/Wikimedia Commons

The portability and capacity of ebook readers gives authors another means of sending copies out to potential reviewers.

As the World Wide Web has revolutionised the marketing and distribution of prose and poetry, there is a small risk of authors and writers losing sight of the basic, well-weathered means of getting a book ‘out there’. The old-fashioned traditional means of getting one’s book in front of the noses of decision makers and supporters have not suddenly become obsolete several years into the digital age. Thankfully a website offering services to authors has published in plain English a useful and traditional means of enabling potential customers and agents a chance to really see, feel and read your book, as opposed to a quick bio on an online bookstore.

Advance Reader Copies (known in the publishing industry by their acronym ‘ARCs’ for convenience) are preview copies of an author’s work made available by a publisher, or even the author themselves. For publishers, they are routine means of field-testing a book and are made available to journalists and reviewers in order for them to promote and critique a work. ARCs are usually books at their rawest state of presentation – bound, uncorrected, plain-covered proofs. This is partly industry tradition, partly a means of reviewers appreciating and critiquing the book deeply without subconsciously judging it by its cover.

The article encourages authors to turn themselves into one-man or one-woman publishers and have an ARC of their work ready and running to show to friends, family, or anyone who can give them good advice on improving and fine-turning their project. Further afield, an author’s ARC can be useful for passing on to opinion makers and experts in the publishing and media industries. Aim for delivering ARCs to reviewers, media contacts and other influencers, preferably before the official launch of your book, as this will help you gauge response and opinion-based perception, which might give hints to how well the book will be received in public.

Authors who are self-publishing for the first time, at the beginning of a paid writing career, or with limited funds would do best to create an e-book rather than churning out physical copies at great expense. The advantage of e-books are two-fold. You can reel off as many copies as you feel like, and the recipient is not lumbered with a large tome to leaf through. Naturally, you will also save a fortune in printing, binding and postage costs too. Media contacts, and in some cases, bloggers are a good go-to source. If you do have a list of media contacts, the article advises you to send the e-book with a covering letter, just as you would if applying for a job. Remember you are trying to promote your book and get noticed by the journalists/reviewers in question. Always when contacting a news outlet to make sure your brief is addressed to a named individual, rather than addressing it to some faceless and anonymous ‘Book Reviewer’. If you do not have that trusty black book of contacts, then build one up. Search on Twitter for media persons and bloggers on Twitter and follow them. Find useful contacts for journalists in specialist author’s/writing magazine and local/national newspaper outlets and write up an email to gauge their likely interest. Speak with fellow independent authors and exchange contacts. Like in many careers, it is often who you know that gets the job done as much as, if not more, than having the knowhow to get said job done.

Another point worth mentioning that just like applying for a job, you need to make your covering letter stand out from the others in the journalist’s postbag or email inbox. Especially for those authors writing in popular genres like romance and sci-fi, you may well not be the only jobbing writer pitching to a busy journalist and there is only so many reviews they are able to pen in a day in addition to a busy schedule decided by their editor.

(c) Josip Vranjkovic & Tomislav Hengl/Wikimedia Commons

The cover letter should of course introduce the book, but also offer a brief one-page pitch explaining why the person you are targetting should read the book and review it, or even better, give you an interview about your new publication. The more reviews you can get the better. The article advises indie authors to collect reviews from readers on Amazon, and of course they should be strong positive ones. Contacting book bloggers who specialise in your genre is also a great help and it means that their blogs’ visitors will pick up on your book, read it and lend their viewpoint too.

Furthermore, you can discover potential reviewers on a site named NetGalley. This site will happily host authors’ ARCs (in electronic form) and ‘early reads’ (previews) for bloggers, librarians and media people. Alternatively be a bit more direct and approach reviewers on Facebook, Twitter, Google + as well as specialist book sites like Goodreads.

If you write in a particular genre or with a niche audience in mind, soliciting the opinions of experts in that field can also have the advantage of acquiring useful feedback and quotes that you can incorporate into the blurb or introduction of your final published piece. Effective use of ARCs can pay dividends to authors. You create a buzz around your book and more people will sit up and take notice. The end result: your book will have a launch to remember and you can very well make writing and self-publishing a viable and exciting career – which it should be.

For more information and useful links on ARCs, how to make them work for your writing career and further advice, you can find the article cited here by clicking on the link in this blogpost’s ‘Sources’ section below.


Vijay Shah { विजय } on Twitter LINK
Katherine L. Logan on Twitter LINK
“Use ARCs to Create a Buzz Before You Launch Your Book” – Biff Barnes, Stories to Tell (26 October 2013) LINK
“File:AmazonKindleUser2.jpg” – ‘tsgreer’/Wikimedia Commons (3 March 2008) LINK
“File:The Unofficial Guide for Authors (book cover).png” – Josip Vranjkovic & Tomislav Hengl/Wikimedia Commons (22 August 2011) LINK