Often, when about to embark on a ghostwriting collaboration, my client will want to know how the right kind of information is extracted from the interviews I’ll carry out. Well, the process normally starts like this: I’ll try and establish, prior to recording, what the spine of the story is, before scribbling down some questions pertaining to the text that will most fundamentally shape the manuscript.
When answering, the client almost always segues into adjoining material that helps build the overall narrative. It’s a bit like walking backwards from a main road to the paths leading to it; and, from there, I’ll ask, in subsequent interviews, questions that spring from the additional information. After a while, the story starts to assume a different shape – rarely a wild deviation from the original direction I had in mind, more often a far fuller shape encompassing greater depth and intensity; an entire body slapped onto the spine, if you like.
Naturally, there’s a fair bit of wastage along the way, though I don’t really believe that any of the material imparted to me is wasted. Given that as humans we rarely speak in a linear fashion, often diverging into other, closely related areas, some of what I assumed would be discarded material turns out to be useful in building other parts of the story.
And, of course, mining the right kind of information is a skill that’s developed over a period of time. It’s my job as interviewer to identify areas that can be more fully explored – the real heartbeat of the story – and run with them. Essentially asking the right questions and guiding the client in the right direction, refining the method I started out with when taking the plunge as a freelance writer, which was more of a loose, exploratory process that garnered some exciting results and others that weren’t so good. Like anything else, the more I do it, the better I get; and that goes for interviewees, too, who instinctively grasp, after several sessions, what assists the process rather than slowing it down, resulting in rich insight that can only assist the development of the story.
Of paramount importance is the interviewee’s comfort. I find that Skype/Zoom calls encourage a relaxed climate in which to speak freely, as did pre-Covid face-to-face meetings that weren’t held in noisy public places. Some – or much – of what is communicated will be emotionally-driven and potentially sensitive. Thus it’s essential that I treat it with the utmost respect and, as importantly, gauge whether it should go forward into the final copy. Not that it’s really my decision – ultimately, that’s down to the client; though it’s important I advise to the best of my ability and experience, for once a book is released, there’s no taking anything back. Which is why it’s imperative to get the balance right, so that authors look back on the experience with fondness and have a book that they can be immensely proud of, knowing just how much it took to pass the finishing line.