Tuesday, 19 March 2013

My Interview with Journalist, Writer and Broadcaster Christopher S Dixon

Today I will be interviewing Journalist, Writer, Editor and Broadcaster Christopher Scott Dixon

Chris, first let me thank you for agreeing to be my guest, it’s both an honour and a privilege to have you here.

Hi Fiona, thanks very much for the kind invitation, it’s good to be here!

Would you like to tell the readers exactly who Christopher Scott Dixon is?

That’s a very tough opening question! It’s rather like some actors, who when they suddenly have to explain themselves become rather coy and look around helplessly and then say can I not ‘be’ someone instead! Okay, I’ll stop waffling and say I’m very much like my Twitter profile. In this case the ingredients really do match the label on the bottle! I was born in a small town just outside Morpeth in Northumberland and lived and worked for many years in the fine city of Newcastle.

I was only a moderate student throughout my school years, although perhaps unsurprisingly my favourite subjects were English and History, but I did develop an early interest in writing and words and my sister and I would always look forward to being read bedtime stories by my mother. I remember logging the titles of the tales I heard in a little note book and my early attempts at scribbling down random sentences which I somehow weaved together into more coherent passages! That absolute, love for language is still deep and continuous that’s why I do despair of the frequent overuse of the same words, for example anything of import and especially in sport seems to be ‘massive’, why not significant, crucial, vital, or the need to employ the old Anglo/Saxon four letter oath even on Twitter, yes we all get upset and stressed out, but English is glorious, there is such a wealth of adjectives and adverbs to describe feelings, so why not apply them! The f word certainly doesn’t shock me. I’ve been ‘around the block’ as they say. In my view it just reeks of a lack of imagination and class and there’s no need to display it on a social platform. In the context of a play/novel/film etc, I’ve no issue there.

My various careers in the media/education and retail and a wide range of cross-cultural experiences, do I feel reflect my Gemini character and my diversity of interests! I’ve also worked as an HR manager for a branch of Safeway and spent years in market research, sales, retail and customer service positions in a number of call centres. I’ve been a youth advisor and also briefly a professional actor.

I’ve always been a restless soul, keen to learn new things and take on fresh challenges, be that here in the UK or in other countries! I made the move to Taiwan in 2001, then later to live and work in Greece and the Czech Republic, before most of the past eight years in Bangkok.

I thrive on interaction with others in a variety of forms and a social network like Twitter has been hugely enjoyable for me! I only wish I’d discovered it earlier!

Such a life has of course brought me many fascinating contacts and a range of enjoyable and interesting situations in teaching and my writing and I am grateful to have friends around the world. However, the downside to this nomadic existence has been the total lack of security, which is something most, if not all of us strive for in some shape or form! This was to a large extent the reason for the return from Bangkok with my wife only a few months ago. We really need to settle down and find some peace and quiet after a hectic, expensive and stressful few years of travelling.

Work has always been so important to me, I am proud of what I have achieved in various fields. A strong work ethic has been at the core of my life for many years, added to a need to be busy and my professionalism in whatever I have done. I’ve always been energetic, creative and proactive, I like to think my passion, personality and honesty are also enduring qualities. On the flipside I’ve been guilty of some horrendous life decisions and downright stupidity over the years professionally and personally and the impulsive and indecisive part of my nature has proved costly on too many occasions to recall without me wincing, but regrets as we all know are futile. It’s dangerous for me to be bored and I shudder to think of the wasted time! I hope that novel of a response, answers the question Fiona! Please feel free to edit!

Regarding editing and copy editing can you explain to the readers the difference between both and how important editing is in the world of publishing, especially in the new digital era with a rise in writers/authors turning into entrepreneurs and independently publishing their own work.

Another good question! I’ve always enjoyed the editing arm of writing as much as the creative side! In terms of the difference between both, as far as my interpretation is concerned, copy editing, is more often about an editor looking for ways to improve and enhance the style, format and accuracy of a particular text, but not necessarily, amending the actual substance of what has been written. Proofreading something else I like to do, is usually the final step in the process.

Editing by definition embraces a much broader area and can include various media forms like cinema/radio/music etc. Editors can wield great power and a frequent lament amongst the creators, is what they perceive to be unwarranted savagery and ignorance on the part of editors, at cutting and destroying their precious work, be it a movie or their writing! A case in point, Orson Welles never forgave his studio for ‘interfering’ too much with his brilliant film ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’

It’s a sensitive topic and I can think of one occasion, I actually said I wanted my name taken off a feature as I felt what remained after the ‘doctoring’ was too far removed from the way I would have written the piece! I emphasise it’s never about ego, but rather due credit and recognition.

You make a very valid point about the rise of self-publishing and e-books, I have to say that’s opened up many more opportunities for writers and that has to be a good thing! Critics will turn up their collective noses and moan about the lowering of standards, but I would argue the reading public aren’t fools they’ll purchase what they find interesting/stimulating/entertaining in whatever format they prefer. As to the importance of editing, I still feel it’s a crucial part of the whole writing process. It’s about professional pride in what you are doing. I’ve seen many good stories and features ruined by too many typos and not enough care and attention given to the editing process! The content might be interesting, but people are not going to fight their way through a jungle of error strewn words to get there! That’s not being fussy, it’s basic communication. I understand people are trying to keep to tight budgets, but if you must cut corners, find that somewhere else, not in a lack of proper editing or proofing!

I’ve taught a number of presentation skills courses and again it’s not only what you say, but how you say it, unless you deliver your message correctly, then the audience will be lost! If you’ve taken the time to research and write your story, then surely you owe it to yourself, as well as your potential readership, to produce the best work you can!
As a journalist, what advice would you give to an author who wants to create attention to their work from the main stream media- newspapers, radio and television? How does this compare to self- publishing, where authors are using the likes of Twitter, Google+ and Facebook to promote themselves?

In terms of the mainstream media, generating that attention and interest is not easy for a relatively unknown or possibly first time author. If you’ve managed to secure a publishing deal and have the help of a literary or publishing agent, then that can assist quite significantly in promoting the writer and their work. You can approach local newspapers/radio/television stations and talk to the editors or programme heads etc and offer to send some sample chapters of your book. There’s often white space in a paper, or air time to fill and they might just want a quick interview with a local writer or have one of their presenters read excerpts from your book, or better still if you can go along and read yourself!

Again, it may be worthwhile going to your local library and contacting writing and book clubs/societies etc, as they may well be keen to get a published writer along to give some tips and answer questions.

The various social networks are assuming much importance now and as you know messages can be sent globally within seconds! There’s no doubting the power to communicate on a vast potpourri of topics across the world rapidly, but, what I’m not sure about, is just how many books or e-books you can actually sell via Twitter/Facebook, I’d be very curious if anyone has any stats on that! I go back to the old maxim, there is no such thing as bad publicity, any portal which raises awareness and interest in your book/story should be exploited in the best sense of that word!

What is your own literary taste and if you were approached to edit someone's book is there a particular genre that interests you.

As you might expect, I have eclectic tastes, some of the books I grew up with include The Hobbit/Great Expectations/Treasure Island/Wisden (The cricketer’s bible) Enid Blyton stories/ Count Belisarius, a Robert Graves novel and others. That’s still the case, I can move seamlessly from the brilliant F. Scott Fitzgerald into gothic fiction or fantasy epics/movie star biographies/cricket books/ military /ancient history or thrillers and Chandler noir.

As with my writing I flourish with variety, a number of editors have said to me-“What do you specialise in?” I reply in all honesty, I don’t. I’m wary of labels and have listened to many colleagues who only write about food or lifestyle and nothing else. That might be ok for them and good luck, but I find that limiting. The more versatile I am, logical reasoning is I’m available for more potential work! Similarly, that applies to editing. I’d relish the chance to work with authors in different genres!

Sport has played a huge part in your career what would you say has been the highlight so far.

That’s true, certainly for the first part of my writing and broadcasting career. I spent from 1982 to 1984 working for BBC Radio in Newcastle as a sports reporter/presenter and a deputy sports editor. I also contributed, to many more BBC and commercial stations and local and provincial newspapers doing live reports and providing copy and stories on sport for the next ten years. However, I then moved into business and arts writing later, for a number of magazines. Riding in the press bus, ahead of the field for the Great North Run in 1984 was a highlight. I had done a series of radio features on a particular family over the preceding weeks and it culminated in me following them on the day of the race and doing several interviews! Another was one of my first radio interviews with three of the Harlem Globetrotters and also the week I spent in Phuket in Thailand, in 2007 covering the Johnnie Walker golf tournament for a magazine was very rewarding!

You are also a qualified lecturer/teacher what advice would you give me, a woman in her forties who has recently been diagnosed with Dyslexia. What do you know about learning disabilities and are there any coping strategies you know of that you can share with both me and anyone else who may be faced with such challenges?

I’ve taught classes with blind students and others who were hard of hearing and in my experience I always believed in treating them exactly the same as everyone else! It’s going back to the labelling again. I wanted them to feel part of the class and I would interact with those students as with the others. Other times with learners, who were developing at a slower pace, I did try to pair them up with a stronger student, which showed the more able student I trusted them with the responsibility to help their colleague and encourage with group work and assignments etc. This in turn, would act as an incentive to the lesser skilled student and they would ‘raise their game’! There are various methods you can employ as a teacher. I’ve always favoured as much class participation in whatever subject I’m teaching, get the students involved in discussing and researching and questioning as I move around the room! I’ve never been the chalk and talk type!

Although we do have a family friend who has dyslexia, unfortunately I don’t have any direct experience of teaching dyslexic students, but what I would say in terms of coping strategies for that and other conditions is and it might seem an obvious point, is to let that issue be the launching pad for you to strive to conquer the obstacles which may be ahead, rather than allow them to limit and therefore defeat you! Just as some people when they lose a particular sense, can develop and become stronger in their other senses, so I would humbly suggest that dyslexia in your case acts as a means to galvanise you into living your life without dwelling on the negative aspects of your issue but building on and accentuating the positives you have, such as other more improved skills. Again you are well aware of the spelling and grammar checkers to help with writing, but hey, no one is perfect! As in most aspects of life it’s about fostering confidence and being self-motivated and dollops of good old fashioned hard work, I hope those help!

How do you write?

The actual process of writing is extremely subjective. I imagine we all have different methods and if it works for you then great. The disciplines vary in my opinion from magazine/newspaper writing to stories. When I was sports writing, I could be almost half way through my piece while the football game for example was still being played. Intro and teams done, opening moves from both sides noted and waiting for perhaps a dramatic incident to begin the report and top up with quotes from the manager or key individuals. For me in magazine writing that can involve transcribing an interview, then trying to find the title or hook for the reader. Also in many cases the opening paragraph which outlines what’s to come, once I have that, then hopefully the bulk of the feature follows chronologically.

As for story writing, I bow to published authors here as to what they might suggest, but in terms of the stories I am in theory, working on now, I tend to write in bursts. I keep notepads and pens in every room of our apartment and that includes the bathroom! This is in case I am smitten with inspiration as to dialogue or a plot development, then I can hastily put the words on paper. I wish I could say I’m going to write x amount of words on any given day, but life and other issues get in the way and that is not a viable plan for me. I do leave gaps away from my characters and I find on my return to them, it’s a getting to know you session, I go back and read over, then begin the writing again.

I do generally like quiet when I write, I don’t mind some unobtrusive background music or the television volume low, but I personally need to focus with as few distractions, as possible. I like the deadlines which magazine editors give, this does concentrate the mind much more and I do really need to devote that attention to my stories, rather than the current haphazard way I work!

What are your writing ambitions?

I came very close to having a ‘ghosted’ biography of an international cricketer published more than 20 years ago! I actually sent a synopsis and several sample chapters to a publisher. However, the cricketer wasn’t deemed ‘controversial’ enough for them to go ahead and publish! On another occasion I had a sword and sorcery novel ‘accepted’ by a publisher, only for them to change their mind suddenly! I am dabbling with three different stories at the moment, fantasy/noir and erotic fiction, but I don’t really know where I am going with the narratives and character development! I would dearly love to get at least something published by whatever means open to me-conventional publishing, or e-book. My sister Karen @TheTapestryFarm I can recommend you following her on Twitter and not just because of a family interest, has co-written two military history books, I was so proud she did that and it remains a powerful incentive for me to follow her on to the bookshelves or kindle pages!

Many thanks Chris, drop by again soon.

You can follow Chris on Twitter @Crickchris