When I first brought my recent profile of Dawn Riley to your attention, I failed to include a very important fact: it was part of the 500th issue of Seahorse! Most of the columnists took the opportunity to write something special, and it’s no surprise that one of my favorites, Blue Robinson, covered a completely unexpected topic: how to write a good interview.
Writing advice, in a sailing magazine—could it get any more in my wheelhouse?
Somehow, since 1969, the oddly-proportioned membership mag of the Royal Ocean Racing Club has become a must-read publication for serious sailors around the world. There are lots of reasons for this popularity, of course, including my favorite: “Seahorse takes the space to delve into the nitty-gritty, so writing for them inspires me to think both more globally and more deeply.” (Read more in Seahorse Byline: Sign of Success)
Apparently I’m not the only writer who appreciates the opportunity to dig deep into sailing’s nitty-gritty; Blue, a Brit now based in Sydney, Australia, is a master at it. I feel like I’ve gotten to know him through his columns, and—along with Rod Davis—I usually read his words first because of their unique voice and distinctive topics. Seahorse editor Andrew Hurst introduces Blue as a “polymath,” which explains two things: how he manages to make even the more technical articles understandable and welcoming; and his surprisingly wide range of subject matter.
Unexpected learning opportunity
Blue’s column for issue #500 was the biggest surprise of all: a master class in interviews. Inspired by the magazine’s milestone, he says, “I thought it might be interesting to document what is involved in the process of creating a column, and how it all comes together.”
I practically drooled—but also hesitated. What if I learned that my own seat-of-the-pants approach to interviewing sailors (which has so far produced nine profiles, and several shorter pieces) was all wrong?
Fortunately, out of Blue’s seven “keys to a good interview,” I only flunked one: I don’t record on two separate devices (though I do make notes that have saved me a few times). Great idea, though… because “what you have is way too valuable to lose.”
Small golden flakes
The very first key to writing a column, Blue says, is coming up with the idea. That’s followed by my favorite image of all:
“Secondly, I need to work on that idea so it is of interest to you. Current stuff is good, but if a story or a person is interesting it should last over time. Thirdly, I need to get the story down early in the month so that I can work on it long before deadline, and every story needs work—a lot of it, going over it again and again, letting it swish around the shallow pan of my brain until the small golden flakes begin to appear through the murk.”
Editing and rewriting is “very much like simmering down a good sauce,” he continues. “Easy reading is hard writing and vice versa.” YES!
Dear Blue, Thanks for sharing your golden flakes about a writer’s process; you’ve captured the nitty-gritty in such a global fashion that we can all take away at least one lesson. One of these days, I hope to sit down with you for a beverage—and maybe even interview the polymath himself? If so, I promise you: I’ll make sure to record our conversation on two devices. Because it will definitely be way too valuable to lose.
Read a teaser and see the lead photo (you’ll never guess whose hand Blue is shaking) in the Seahorse archive. Meanwhile, a belated cheers to this publishing landmark, issue #500! Many, many more.