Lesley Garner
Lesley Garner
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Who Am I?
Who am I?

Where do you get the ideas for your books?

I got the idea for my first book, “ Everything I’ve Ever Done that Worked” inside my own wardrobe. I was worried about something and couldn’t sleep and I knew I’d once learned some technique that helped and that it was somewhere in a pile of old notes and journals in the wardrobe. As I was looking for it I thought, wouldn’t it be a good idea to gather all the stuff that works into one folder so I could find it in the middle of the night. And I did and now it’s a book and anyone can keep it by the bedside – I know many people who do.

The lovely thing about writing these books that are a mix of reflection, philosophising, practical advice and memoir is that everything counts. A trip to a refugee camp, an interview with a famous man, a sunset in Greece or an English field in the rain – everything triggers ideas and connections with me and if this produces an idea that I can explore in a thousand words then it is grist to my mill. I say about ideas what the American composer John Cage said about music. He said it was what he heard when he put himself in the frame of mind to be a music listener. I say ideas come when you pay attention and are receptive. If you practice focus and openness at the same time you will be rewarded.

I want to be a journalist. How do I start?

It’s never too soon to start. When you’re at the stage of being interviewed for jobs, your interviewer will want to know what commitment you’ve shown to journalism – the school magazine counts, so does student journalism. I was fashion editor of my student paper and that was enough to show a bit of enthusiasm and promise. The fact that you invented your own newspaper or set up your own website shows enterprise. Talent for writing is important, curiosity about everything helps, but enterprise is crucial. Good journalists are the people who ask the extra question, fix up the difficult interview and generally refuse to take no for an answer.

Personally, I’d take a first degree in whatever interests you most rather than do media studies or journalism. History, politics, science, literature, languages – all of these will stretch your mind and give you depth. Contacts are hugely useful, even if it’s your uncle’s business partner’s dentist’s wife. Contacts get you meetings get you work experience get you work – in time. Persistence, lateral thinking and as a famous journalist, Nicholas Tomalin once said, “ a plausible manner, a little literary ability and rat-like cunning” will do the rest. Enjoy it. It’s a fascinating life.

I want to write. What do you recommend?

If you want to write, well - write. It’s the most wonderfully low-tech activity. Paper and a pencil will do it. If you want to know what to write, then read. Read everything – poetry, plays, politics, novels, the back of cereal packets. If you want the inspiration of other people, and it does help, join a local writing group or go on a residential course. If you want inspiration at home, read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and start churning out those morning pages. Or read Dorothea Brande’s classic “Becoming a Writer.” Above all, persist. And finish things. I once told my friend Allan Mallinson that nobody could call themselves a novelist until they’d actually finished writing a novel. He’s about to publish his tenth.

Who is the most interesting person you have ever interviewed?

This always stumps me when I am asked it at parties because I’m not ready for it, but here goes. Leonard Bernstein, the American composer and conductor. You can read about my encounters with him in my books. Dr. Seuss – yes, he signed a copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” for me. David Hockney, the artist. He talked to me about drawing and inspired me to start back at art school. Jake and Dinos Chapman, the artist brothers who famously eat journalists for breakfast. Jake started by threatening to throw me out and then gave me a book of their etchings as an apology. The beautiful and direct Audrey Hepburn. The stylish and wary Lauren Bacall. Sometimes it’s the circumstances of the interview that are memorable as well as the people.

I had a private tour of the Elysee Palace with Mme Mitterrand. I accompanied the Everly Brothers on a gig in Southend. I’ve drunk champagne with the comedian Eddie Izzard at two in the morning in Montmartre. I’ve gone shopping for chickens with Luciano Pavarotti in Pesaro. I’ve interviewed the President of Zanzibar and thirty members of his Revolutionary Council, simultaneously. As a rule of thumb, many politicians and actors are disappointing – they are too practised at putting on a performance. Artists and musicians, the clever ones, are fascinating. And un-famous people, who have a human story to tell, are the most interesting of all.

What qualifies you to do what you do?

A journalist is only as good as the last piece they’ve written so a career is like an endless job interview. As long as people like what you do you will get asked to do it again. If you mean what qualifies me to answer peoples’ problems I refer you to my introductory Lifeclass piece under Journalism. Firstly what qualifies me is life experience. I’ve had relationships, been married, had children, looked after sick parents, been a member of a wider family of relatives and friends who all have problems of their own.

None of this would count at all if I hadn’t done the extra work of thinking about all this, sometimes in the company of other people, therapists, workshop facilitators, fellow human beings, who take the time out to make sense of and find meaning in the way they live their lives. In courses and workshops you meet other people who are trying to make sense of their lives and you benefit collectively from each other’s experience.
I have also travelled widely on different continents and in different cultures and that has taught me that, while the basic passages of human experience – birth, love, loss, work, death – are the same, there are different ways of coping with them. I try not to be parochial. And finally, the act of writing these things down and trying to make sense of them adds an extra layer of thought to the process. As I said, you are only as good as your last piece so if, despite all this, what I write doesn’t make sense to people, then I would lose my readers. My readers, by the way, are also my teachers. We’re all in this together.

Writing Pen
Writing Pen
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