“It’s a long way to come to interview me…..”

This was the first response I received to my request to interview Dorothy, an 82 year old former member of the Women’s Land Army (W.L.A.) now living in Yorkshire.  We have spoken a few times since and I get a sense that she is looking forward to our interview next Thursday.  I think her initial reaction sums up how many older people, particularly women perhaps, assume that their life story would be of little interest to anyone else.

So, my questions are written up; all nicely themed and chronologically set out.  Aside from a crash course next Tuesday from Graham on how to use the recording equipment, I’m all set to go.   However as Thursday approaches I have no idea if  I will even use the questions in the way I’ve set them out: Dorothy may just tell her story the way she wants to and I feel I should respect that.

She has already told me on the ‘phone that being in the W.L.A represented a chance to move away from her parents.  Her bitterness and resentment at having been bought back to Yorkshire by them a few months later is still very apparent.    I hope I can give her an opportunity to talk about this exciting time in her life, as well as  what I perceive she may still feel were missed opportunities afterwards and to what extent she may still feel defined by this experience.

I am slightly worried that she may not be expecting me to ask her about life before and after the Land Army and so I feel that those early ‘childhood’ questions will be quite critical in building up a rapport between us.  I really want it to be her story and not an account that satisfies my pre-conceived ideas of her life.

I know already that she is divorced; will my questions on her experience of married life prove too painful?  I am going to ask those questions later on in the interview once I hope we have struck up a rapport.  I have met Dorothy a few times in the past as she is the mother of my sister-in-law so I think she’ll be comfortable with me.

I’m reading Penny Summerfield’s work on women and the second world war and Kathryn Anderson and Dana C. Jack (Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and Analyses in The Oral History Reader).  I’m hoping, as they advocate, to ‘listen in stereo’ to both facts and feelings.



One Comment on ““It’s a long way to come to interview me…..””

  1. Graham Smith says:

    Thinking of the questions you might use in an interview is never wasted work, even if you don’t use them. It is part of the process of (a) exploring the area you want to interview about; (b) thinking about what makes good and bad questions. You’ve clearly thought a great deal about the person you’re going to interview and that is an important part of the preparation process. We all worry that we might ask questions that could cause difficulties, but we are seeking life histories that include the good and the bad of people’s lives (and most interviewees understand that). I sometimes think I avoid questions not because I want to avoid upsetting the interviewee, but rather because I don’t want to deal with their upset (and that is not a good enough reason for silencing other people).

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