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Being interviewed by Peter Thompson

On Saturday, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Peter Thompson of ABC’s Talking Heads. It happened as part of the Noosa Long Weekend, which is basically a 10 day celebration of culture and the arts. Much to my delight, I was invited this year – in my role as a columnist and author. But, imagine my surprise when I discovered I was to be interviewed for one and half hours by Peter! I was overwhelmed and more than a little nervous.

I had the good fortune to run into Peter, and his lovely partner, Jane in, so appropriately, a bookshop the night before the interview. We sat down together, Jane, my hubby, Stephen, Peter and I and chatted and laughed and shared stories. Peter revelaed that one of the reasons he agreed to interview me was because I once went to the same high school that his daughter now attends: Hornsby Girls High School in Sydney (actually, I was Head Prefect – an honour that, I have subsequently found out, I share with the fantastic crime writer, Katherine Howell and Masterchef winner in 2009, Julie Goodwin! What an alma mater! It was and still is a terrific school). So, I have yet another reason to be thankful to my old school!

Anyhow, catching up with Peter and Jane like that was a great way to break the ice and the one topic that wasn’t mentioned was ‘the interview’. Though, when I did raise it just before we parted, Peter revealed that he liked to let the chat flow organically…. I gulped and smiled and said, ‘what a good idea!’ Thinking, ‘oh dear, I don’t think he means what I do when I say ‘organically’ (messy, natural, as it comes – which, like my eggs, means covered in chicken shit! LOL!). At the back of my mind, I was concerned that the audience, who were paying good money to come and see me, would not be bored or wishing they’d gone to the ‘other’ session (which, frankly, I was very interested in myself!).

I should have had more faith in Peter.

I already ‘knew’ him from his show and understood that he was both warm and charismatic but, it’s testimony to a good interviewer that they bring out the best (and worst) in their subject – that they willingly position themselves as a conduit through which the interviewee exposes themselves.  It requires a complete loss of ego and a readiness to take a back seat – something some interviewers refuse to do as they make every interview about THEM. Not Peter. Smooth yet someone with a great story of his own to tell and brimming with wit and intellect, he nonetheless allowed me to shine.

I sat there, for the entire hour and half (which felt like five minutes) and responded to Peter’s generous and insightful questions, his humour, and intelligent probing about my upbringing, the fact I was sexually abused for years, my stint in the army, my struggles as a single-parent, my love for my partner and children and found myself revealing things I never expected to (and also some I wish I now had, especially after watching Where Are You From? on SBS last night and the Ben Mendelsohn story. I am a direct descendant of Felix Mendlessohn the composer… REALLY! We are Mendlessohns….at least, that’s OUR family story but that’s for another blog!) Yet, I never felt what I was revealing was inappropriate nor, it seemed did the audience.

Those who had come to listen and be part of my conversation with Peter (for that’s what is was, like a catch up with an old friend), were so warm and engaged and just so easy to ‘talk’ to and with. They listened and asked great questions and were so responsive and kind – I can’t thank them enough either.

We discussed my work, my writing, my passion for social justice (though we didn’t call it that),  how I use my ‘voice’ though my words, to draw attention to social issues and challenge people to move out of their comfort zones.

Unfortunately, I know it’s worked when I get a lashing from the public, as I did recently over my Masterchef and twitter column (see http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/masterchef-simmers-with-bile/story-e6frerfo-1225880233622),

which has seen me denigrated in the Twitterverse and other fora (as well as supported).

It’s testimony to Peter’s style that, when he asked me about the cancer and I broke down on stage (something I never expected or anticipated), that he gently continued, with such compassion and patience as I collected myself and was handed a wad of tissues (thank you!). It enabled me to talk about my journey, but also my friend Sara’s and our shared, strong belief in talking about these things, on the negative effects of the positive thinking movement and how Sara’s blog on the silence of the dying (see http://nonsuchkitchengardens.com/wordpress/?p=606 “> or my reference to it in an earlier blog) has given voice to those who do not have one. How, amidst her own pain and grief, she has started such an important conversation.

The time ended on such a warm note – of which I was only really aware when the lovely members of the audience approached me – many wanting to hug me and be held. The feedback was humbling. It was overhwleming in the loveliest of ways.

I want to thank Noosa Long Weekend Festival organisers for inviting me, the staff the the Arts Theatre for looking after me and being so supportive and, most of all, I want to thank Peter, for steering our conversation through gentle and rough waters with boldness, expertise and generosity – and above all for being so kind with me and my story.

What an honour!

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