Face to Face

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For fifteen years, I had one of the best jobs in the world. I was book news editor at The Bookseller, and most weeks I included in my pages an interview with an author. I talked to celebrated novelists, including several of my literary heroes. I talked to biographers and science writers. I talked to creators of blockbusting best-sellers. All sorts of people write books, or at least get their names on to book covers: I talked to movie stars, sports heroes and supermodels, and to people who had fought in wars or been shipwrecked.

I knew it was a great job, but I did not spend most of my time glowing with self-satisfaction. I spent most of it feeling anxious: ‘Kingsley Amis is going to think I’m an idiot, and he’s not going to disguise the thought’; or, ‘Before I phone Peter Carey in two hours I’ve got to get through 300 more pages of The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, I’m not enjoying it, and I haven’t read any of his other novels’; or, ‘What on earth am I going to ask Kate Moss?’; or, ‘I spoke to Lennox Lewis for three and a half minutes, and the longest sentence he uttered contained six words – how am I going to get a piece out of that?’

I enjoyed interviewing. I felt privileged to be able to do it. Mostly, though, I was able to say to myself that the interviews were enjoyable only after they were over. While they were in progress, I felt as I imagine professional tennis players do during the course of a match, or opera singers during a performance: you’re doing something you love, but you’re not exactly having fun. (Neither are the authors, I’m sure.) I wanted my questions to impress – in part for egotistical reasons, but also because I thought that the better I performed, the better the author would respond. I rarely prepared questions in advance, believing that interviews worked best if they were spontaneous. The disadvantage of this approach was that I had constantly to worry about what

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About the contributor

Nicholas Clee was book news editor of The Bookseller from 1984 to 1999. He then enjoyed the different pleasures of editing the paper for five years. He is now a freelance writer, and the author of a cookbook, Don’t Sweat the Aubergine.

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