The man who interviewed McEwan is a scholar, a most esteemed book critic and editor, was educated at Yale, and, as it turns out, went to high school with the Maharishi. More familiar with filmmaker Q&As than author Q&As, I've picked up a few clues over the years as to what makes for a good interview**. I'll outline them here for posterity:
(** I don't want to be unkind. The interviewer is clearly a very bright man who was trying to do a good job. What I'm suggesting is that perhaps, just maybe, he tried too hard because he was nervous. The result was deeply unsettling.)
- 1) Try to make your guest comfortable at the outset. That is, don't squawk at the man the minute he finishes reading a piece from his new novel with a gotcha. If the famous and beloved novelist wants to add a word when he reads, he's earned the right to do so. Pointing it out, and especially pointing it out so eagerly, will alienate him.
- 2) When you ask a question, sit quietly and listen to the answer. Do not shuffle your papers, your index cards, your dog-eared copies of your guest's books. Look him in the eye. Be a gentleman.
- 3) This isn't an intellectual competition. The audience doesn't care if you think you're smarter than your guest. They don't want to hear your views. They would like to listen to the man they've paid money to see.
- 4) If you're nervous, drink some water. Don't show the audience you're nervous by using long words and specialized language (heliocentricity) to confuse them. That's your guest's prerogative.
- 5) Look at the audience once or twice during the interview. That way you can guage the temperature of the room. Is the audience with you or are they shuffling uncomfortably?
- 6) If you ask for audience questions, pay attention to raised hands. Don't just barrel through your own questions. A majority of the crowd at a Library event is not interested in screenplays, but BOOKS.
- 7) Please don't ask about the Nobel Prize, even if it's the day the Pulitzers are announced. It will just embarrass your guest and make your audience twitchy.
- 8) Allow questions to spring organically from your guest's answers. If he's talking about the genesis of one of his books, where the inspiration came from, and telling a story about a ballooning accident with a zeppelin in Bavaria, and the audience is rapt, then encourage him to talk more about that subject instead of jumping erratically to something entirely different.
- 9) Relax. Your guest will relax if you do. A shot of tequila in a coffee cup may do the trick.