I’d just finished my degree in BA Ancient History & Social Anthropology from UCL in 2001. I had a burning desire to be a reporter. I fancied the Guardian ultimately, but was content getting experience shadowing at my local paper, The Worksop Guardian, instead. I did a little piece on local river pollution and edited a restaurant review. That sort of thing. Then, after my ad touting for a junior reporter trainee position was seen on HoldTheFrontPage, I was offered a job at The Lincolnshire Echo.
I was a Junior Reporter on £10,000 a year. Industry standard I guess. Rotational weekend working. 8am starts or earlier. Four deadlines a day. Not too supportive but lots of grumbles at you if you got stuff wrong. I got two front page stories while there: a road gritting diatribe, and a ‘woman dies in horrific garden fire’ piece. Lots of news in brief bits too all the time. And usually two page lead bits a day to boot.
One story I enjoyed covering while there was being asked to go and interview Terry Pratchett when he turned up to do a book signing session at the local Ottakars store. I hadn’t a clue what I was meant to ask him. Id read a few of his books but this was the first time Id had to interview someone who was even mildly famous. I asked the deputy sub under news desk editor in charge of making my life a misery what she recommend I ask him. I knew it would be her who would give me grief if I got it wrong.
“Ask him what his three greatest achievements were, or something like that” she said.
“Right…” Enamoured, I left. Notepad and pen in hand.
I turned up as the queue to get to see Terry had snaked up to the third floor from the ground. He was sitting on a chair at a desk to the left hand side as you walked in the shop. He had his trademark hat on, as did many others in the queue to see him. One woman had fainted on the third floor, due to heat and queuing fatigue rather than excitement to see Terry I think. I found out later she had made a full recovery.
Terry was a bit reluctant to talk. I don’t think he enjoyed being interviewed. It seemed like he played hard to get, as though he didn’t want to tell me anything at all if he could possibly help it. He kept trying to deflect questions back at me, rather than letting me interview him. I stood chatting with him in between his signing of people’s books. A member of staff from the store was a bit irritated by my presence, as were those in the queue whose time I was stealing away from them talking to him.
Terry tried to get the measure of me. He looked me up and down, and complimented me on my shiny shoes. I smiled. I reverted to the inane “what are your greatest achievements?” question. He thought it was the daftest question ever, you could tell. So he chuckled and said he had once grown a three and a half pound carrot. I decided not to show disbelief or question it. I thought it more fun to accept it playfully.
He revealed he used to work at a newspaper once upon a time. So my closing question was, if you were a reporter, what question would you ask yourself?”
He smiled and said: “Id ask if I *really* ever grew a three and a half pound carrot!” I smiled and made a note. Then I got bustled away by the store assistant who thought Id really outstayed my welcome now.
Then, a year or so later, I read an interview of Terry in the Sunday Times. He had been asked about the questions he had been asked in interviews in the past. He said “I was once asked what my greatest achievements were, so I said I’d once grown a three and a half pound carrot”. I laughed my head off. I’ve still got copies of both articles. Mine and the Sunday Times one.
Pic below. I like Terry. He made me laugh and smile, as did his books.