A Curious Career by Lynn Barber (2014)

Wish I’d been intimate with Lynn Barber. Got in the offie queue by mistake.

Perhaps some of the how-to-interview magic might’ve rubbed off.

While we’re at it, let’s get that stunning run rate out of the way. From Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.

[Barber] “…I did sleep with an awful lot of people in about two terms…”

[Young] “… How many?”

“Oh, probably fifty.”

“Right.”

“It was quite good going.”

“And they’re quite short, those Oxford terms, aren’t they?”

“Absolutely. I was jamming them in.

Nicely done, Young, asking about the term lengths. So let’s have some tips from Barber. About interviewing.

I wish I’d read A Curious Career before the eyebrow-raising encounters in Mostly Men (1991) and Demon Barber (1998). [List of interviewees below.] I would’ve loved savouring how she does it before reading them.

If you don’t get to read A Curious Career first either – do read a copy when you can, it’s good fun – here’s why her interviews are so yummy.

Funnily enough, they’re mostly don’ts. So, six top tips to interviewing…

Don’t write in anything but the first person.

Don’t wing your prep (I used to do that all the time at school). Research to know what hasn’t yet been talked about before.

Don’t interview boring people, wives, husbands, lovers or victims. (Might be some tautology in there, somewhere.)

Don’t express your own opinion – in fact, try not to talk much.

Don’t always believe everything people say. If they say they’re not snobbish, not racist, not sexist, and that they love their children they’re probably fibbing.

Don’t forget that best interview question is always, ‘Why?’.

Don’t look at me, guv’nor.

Thanks for being here.

Buy A Curious Career (free delivery, in cardboard)

Buy Mostly Men (free delivery, in cardboard)

Buy Demon Barber (free delivery, in cardboard)

Mostly Men: Barber grills Richard Adams, Margaret (Duchess of Argyll), Jeffrey Archer, John Aspinall, Tony Benn, The Beverly Sisters, Ronald Biggs, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Bolt, Melvyn Bragg, Roald Dahl, Kirk Douglas, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, Zsa Zsa Gabour, J Paul Getty II. Bob Guccione, Richard Harris, David Hart, Barry Humphries, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Sir John Junor, Barry Manilow, Howard Marks, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolph Nureyev, Ken Russell, Sir James Savile, Muriel Spark, Lord and Lady Spencer, Freddie Starr, Jackie Stewart, and Auberon Waugh.

Demon Barber : Barber barbecues Eddie Izzard, Alan Clark, Damien Hirst, Julie Burchill, Jarvis Cocker, Lord Rees-Mogg, David Hockney, Julian Clary, Kelvin MacKenzie, Neil Tennant, Major Ronald Ferguson, Gilbert and George, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Calvin Klein, Rachel Whiteread, Joseph Heller, Rupert Everett, Gerry Adams, Lord Rothermere, Alexander McQueen, Boy George, Micheal Winner, Jonathan Ross, Felicity Kendal, Redmond O’Hanlon, Stephen Fry, Lord Deedes, Dale Winton, Harriet Harman, and Richard E Grant. [This is the order of the book’s Contents.]

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I, Claudius; Claudius the God and his wife Messalina by Robert Graves (both 1934)

There’s a lovely connect between these and the TV series Fawlty Towers (also known as Farty Towels).

Any idea? Go on, have a go.

A clue? Okay.

Hag.

Do you remember that wonderful, wonderful moment in Fawlty Towers where actor John Cleese’s Basil, battered, bruised and put-upon by his nagging wife Sybil [played by Prunella Scales], foresees the end of his short, miserable life?

Zoom! What was that? That was your life, mate. Oh. That was quick. Do I get another? Sorry, mate, that’s your lot.

And while we’re about it, let’s savour some of his epithets for her. Golfing puff-adder. The dragon. Toxic midget. Sabre-toothed tart. My little piranha fish. My little nest of vipers.

Rancorous, coiffured old sow.

Now let us accompany Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus to Cumae, in Campania, about, erm, one thousand nine hundred and fifty years ago.

We’re off to see the oracle, for Claudius to question Rome’s fate and his.

Before being permitted to visit… I had to sacrifice a bullock and ewe there, to Apollo and Artemis respectively.

The cavern was a terrifying place, hollowed out from solid rock: the approach steep, tortuous, pitch-black and full of bats.

Sounds like my bedroom.

I came into the inner cavern, after groping painfully on all-fours up the stairs and saw… more like an ape than a woman, sitting on a chair in a cage that hung from the ceiling, her robes red and her unblinking eyes shining red in the single red shaft of light that struck down from somewhere above. Her toothless mouth was grinning. There was a smell of death about me.

Got it yet? No?

Okay, guess this seer’s name.

Sibyl.

Well, I thought it was funny anyway.

Thanks for being here.

(Well-spotted: yes, Sybil and Sibyl – different spelling.)

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The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (1945)

It’s the hokey-cokey. (Behave, hokey-pokey is an ice cream.) And before you go there, Looking for Nookie lacks gravitas.

How apt that it should start with a chase.

“Child hunt tomorrow, Fanny.”

What a boring life I lead. Walked through the market in the rain today.

This caused the most tremendous stir locally, the Kentish weekenders on their way to church were appalled by the sight of four great hounds in full cry after two little girls. [aged about eight, I think] My uncle seemed to them like a wicked lord of fiction, and I became more than ever surrounded with an aura of madness, badness, and dangerousness for their children to know.

Neat nest of nesses. And here’s another, more insidious.

“It is unfair” was a perpetual cry of the Radletts when young. The great advantage of living in a large family is the early lesson of life’s unfairness.

Linda Radlett wants so badly to love and be loved.

It starts with animals. When protagonist Fanny’s mouse Brenda dies, the family tiptoe around Linda.

… enormous tears were pouring… Nobody cried so much or so often as she; anything, but especially anything sad about animals, would set her off, and, once begun, it was a job to stop her.

“Where’s she buried? Linda muttered furiously, looking at her plate. Her mother, who lived in a perpetual state of surprise at having filled so many cradles, tries to change the subject, “Now, Linda darling, if Fanny has finished her tea why don’t you show her your toad?”

“He’s upstairs asleep,” said Linda. But she stopped crying.

Oh boy, only page ten and the charm’s kicking in.

The Radletts were always either on a peak of happiness or drowning in black waters of despair; their emotions were on no ordinary plain, they loved or they loathed, they laughed or they cried, they lived in an world of superlatives.

I fiercely concur. I mean, here’s a later Linda on her wailing newborn.

“Poor thing'” said Linda indifferently. “It’s really kinder not to look.”

The wails now entered a crescendo, and the whole room was filled with hideous noise.

“Poor soul,” said Linda. “I think it must’ve caught sight of itself in a glass. Do take it away, Sister.”

Which segues sweetly to the lordly lingo of the upper classes (known, don’t you know, to Nancy acolytes as the ‘U’ and ‘Non-U’). Makes it a fun and funny read (as well as a charming, sad, and lovely one).

Did you spot ‘glass’ above? If you’re U, you don’t say mirror. And notepaper‘s a no-no, perfume prohibited, mantlepiece damned. Lunch? No fear. Envelope is frowned upon.

Always wondered why I’m sent round the back.

Oh, and don’t, dulling, ever put your milk in first.

And, and, okay, okay, back to The Chase. If you’re still awake.

Two key passages for you. (Don’t panic: one can’t really egg a spoiler on a book entitled The Pursuit of Love.)

But first a funny. Linda again.

And they say we are an uncontrolled family – even when Fa [dad, to us plebs] has never actually murdered anybody, or do you count that beater?’

So. Key passage number one on Linda’s quest for love.

… Linda had once more been deceived in her emotions… this explorer in the sandy waste had only seen another mirage. The lake was there, the trees were there, the thirsty camels had gone down to have their evening drink; alas, a few steps forward would reveal nothing but dust and desert as before.

Bummer.

Blow your nose over to key passage number two.

Whatever quality it is that can hold indefinitely the love and affection of a man she plainly did not possess, and now she was doomed to the lonely, hunted life of a beautiful but unattached woman.

Double bummer.

Look out, is that rock bottom looming?

Ha. You’ll just have to read it.

I’m off to luncheon.

Thanks for being here.

Buy The Pursuit of Love (free delivery in cardboard)

Have you read the sequel, Love in a Cold Climate? If so, is it as good?

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