A taxi ride with Dea Birkett

11 May

“People tend to fill a void.”


“If you leave a silence then people will ramble & give you more to write about than your questions ever would.” Said Dea Birkett.

So that’s the form my interview took with Dea Birkett, arts & culture writer for The Guardian & Founder of Kids In Museums.

Dea Birkett

The best advice I can give you is this sound “uh?” [raising the inflection of her voice]
ShinyShoeClaire: “How do you mean, uh?”
Dea Birkett: “If you make that noise when interviewing you don’t take up much sound time, but the person you are interviewing will oblige & expand on what they’ve been saying, you can steer the interview, but the best stories come from very little involvement from the interviewers.”

Our conversation turned to talk about Dea’s current work, a Radio 4 programme called “A Good Read”, and then to her favourite book (which she couldn’t choose for the show, because it is currently out of print in Britain).

DB: “Well of course, I wasn’t allowed to choose my actual favourite book, “Return To Laughter” by Elenore Smith Bowen.” A pen name for the 50s anthropologist who spent time in Africa and wrote a frank account of her travels (but couldn’t publish under her real name for fear of professional ruin).
“She would get dressed up in her finery, step outside her tent and read Jane Austen, to remind herself of the culture and moral values she had come from.
“In the west, we believe we can dip in and out of another culture and understand it. But we can’t. And in fact to deny the morality and culture you grew up with when ‘immersing’ yourself with another culture shows a weak moral core, and you are abandoning yourself.
A “Splinter of Ice”, which is another theme in the book, is a technique which she adopts, although you may be attached, you must detach yourself to write.”

I ask Dea how she achieves this practically,“One in, one out”, is how Dea describes her approach to writing. Some knowledge along with a degree of attachment is essential, but it is also important to be detached, like having one foot in the door.

I sometimes have trouble writing about things that I am really excited about & feel passionate about, and Dea gave me some advice:
“Either imagine it from a another person’s point of view or Imagine you are another person”, then the detachment, and so the writing, will come.

Dea and I met at the Devon Museums Group Forum in South Molton, Devon. She was presenting about her Kids In Museums initiative, and you can read my account of that on my Devon Life Blog.
Dea is presenting the new radio 4 programme, “A Good Read” with actor Bill Patterson, for which she has chosen ‘Footsteps’ by Richard Holmes (she couldn’t choose ‘Return To Laugther’ because it isn’t currently in print in Britain (but you can buy it on Amazon).
Dea Birkett writes for The Guardian, her profile: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/deabirkett
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