You’ve been a journalist for several organisations now. What is your first memory of writing, and of being interested in reporting the news?
To be honest, I wasn’t as interested in news reporting as you might think. Journalism appeals to me because it involves writing, which is (warning, cliché coming) something I always felt I was born to do. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember. One of my first pieces was a review of my school’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which went in the school newsletter. I think I was 13.
Like me, you wrote for your student paper. What kind of articles did you write? Are you still connected with the paper or University?
I started off on music reviews, and covered a few university events — then, to my amazement, I was given my own column. I had the freedom to write about virtually anything that took my fancy, so long as it was of interest to students. CouchSurfing, freeganism, “smart drugs”, this cool police box where I worked… it was great fun. But all good things must come to an end, and I’m not connected to the university at all any more. I’d like to think I’ll live in Glasgow again sometime, because it’s a great city.
After your Masters in history, how did you wind up working in arts and entertainment reporting?
After graduating, I was so unprepared for work. I’d written a few articles for Metro while a student, so I naively assumed they’d at least strongly consider taking me on as a full-time member of staff as soon as I became available. They didn’t, so I went travelling in North America for three months. When I came back, I had a very stressful winter looking for a route into journalism (that’s when I wrote He Was Raised to Believe These Things Were Possible), but I eventually got a break in Manchester at a company called Adfero, where my job was to write 25 tailored news stories per day for various business websites. I learned a lot, but the writing wasn’t really up my street. From there, I went to Press Association, and thank goodness! I now write arts and entertainment features for PA’s clients, which include TV listings magazines and national newspapers, and with that on my CV I was also able to get some work with The Arts Desk, reviewing plays and festivals.
Sounds like a great start! How would you advise any budding journalists who were after a tip on getting started?
Just write, write, write. Definitely set up a blog. The more people you can get to read your material, the better, and having it online brings its own advantages. For example, if an editor wants to see samples of your work, it’s much easier to link him/her to a blog post than it is to email a Word document, or send a hard copy in the post. It’s really easy to set up a blog, and you can use it to build a portfolio. I would also say that developing a social presence is a good idea. Get a Twitter account, and use it to connect with professionals and generate exposure to your articles. Don’t be shy about it.
One thing to remember is that there’s no regular path into journalism. No formula for success. Sure, some people study Journalism or Media Studies at university (Sheffield, City College London and Sunderland are institutions to consider for this), but bear in mind there are more media students than media jobs. I know a girl who writes for Huffington Post — she has a degree in English Literature. Then there’s this other guy who never even went to university — and just focused on acquiring experience over the years — and he now writes for The Independent. Take a look at online forums and see how others are developing their journalism skills and experience. Wannabe Hacks is an excellent resource that provides a much better understanding of where to go next.
Journalism is a very competitive industry. You’ll need to persevere and draw on everything you have to stand out from the thousands and thousands of people you’re competing with on every step of the ladder. It’s worth it, though. In the end, you either succeed or give up.
The media have been, err… in the news quite a bit lately. How do you think this has affected trust in the printed daily word?
It’s been in the news because it concerns the news makers. I think that the Leveson Inquiry, however important the issues it has raised are, is something the media obsesses about more than the people who actually read the papers. I think ordinary people were pretty shocked when the Milly Dowler story first broke, and when News of the World got shut down, but now the dust has settled I really don’t think trust in the tabloids has been affected all that much. Most people already knew not to believe everything the papers say.
So true - there's even a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat reference there! Potiphar: "Don't believe everything you read, dear!"
Where do you find your inspiration for your prose?
Ordinary people, mundane routines, the drudgery of work, small talk, hope, tragedy, comedy, prejudice, envy, innocence, cups of tea, whisky, insomnia, awkward moments, heartache, euphoria...
You review a lot of albums on your blog. What is your all-time favourite album?
That’s a tough one. How about I tell you my favourite album to write to, which is Everybody Digs Bill Evans. It just makes me pretend I’m a writer living in a dingey flat in 1950s New York, rather than a writer a dingey flat in 2010's East Yorkshire.
If you were off sick one day, what crappy daytime TV would you watch now you’ve gone off Jeremy Kyle?
Did I actually say I’d gone off Jeremy Kyle in that piece? (I have.) I got the feeling - Lou. I watch property shows if I get time during the day, so probably something like Homes under the Hammer or Escape to the Country — even if they remind me that I’ll not have a mortgage for a long, long time…
Did meeting Westlife bring out the inner boy band fan inside you?! I was kinda jealous…
I certainly got off the phone (yes, it was just a phone interview) more of a fan than I was before. They were nice lads, and surprisingly honest. It took ages to transcribe it from my dictaphone, though, because of their accents and how quickly they spoke!
In your recent blog post ‘The Next Big Thing Blog Hop’ you mention you’re writing a collection of short stories and poems. Is there a theme in mind or is it a general Steve Clarkson collection?
I’m trying not to think about things on that scale at the moment. I just take each story as it comes. They each tend to start with a line or an image appearing in my head. Looking back at what I've written so far, I think the throughline is one of a generation lost, anxious, and confused. Cheery stuff.
What do you think are the best ways which indie writers like ourselves can gain more exposure for our work?
This is something I don’t have much authority on. Although I've been writing creatively for some time, I feel quite new to this game. At the moment I’m just Tweeting links to short stories on my blog and hoping for a few hits, but I do think that authors who’ve gone it alone benefit hugely from interacting with each other. It’s clearly a changing industry, and pooling our knowledge of marketing techniques, writing competitions, literary agents on the prowl etc. etc. will be instrumental in any publishing success we can ever hope to enjoy.
I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s "Infinite Jest" for months and months now (the clue’s in the title), but before that... It was actually something not too literary and probably more of a toilet book — I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan. It was hilarious.
Quick fire: Coffee or tea? Tea.
Ebooks – yes or no? No.
Ski or sunbathe? Sunbathe.
Thanks for speaking with me today, Steve, and merry Christmas to you!
Steve Clarkson works for the Press Association in East Yorkshire, UK. He writes features for the Metro newspaper, the Arts Desk, Sabotage Times, and “indulges in creative projects sporadically”.
Steve is available for hire for production of high-quality content, for web or print. Interested companies or Editors can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s his Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Steve’s blog “clarkspeak” is updated regularly, so take a look.
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