A journalist I look up to once advised me, ‘If you get stuck writing a feature, borrow someone else’s.’ She might have just put away a bottle of wine and a few G&Ts, and be slumped on a bar stool when she said it, but she has a point.
Plagiarism is wrong, of course. But reading the published words of an interviewer or feature writer you admire – and mirroring their opening lines, syntax or even structure – can be a great help if you’re having trouble getting started on your own article. Just remember to go back and edit or rewrite those borrowed sections when you’ve finished drafting your own piece.
Here are five brilliant feature writers I look up to and often turn to when I’m stuck.
Godwin is the only writer who could make me laugh out loud in an article about green juice detoxing (Vogue, April 2014). Actually, he’s probably the only writer who could make me read 3,000 words about green juice full stop. Currently senior writer and the ‘go-to boy’ at the Evening Standard, Godwin excels at turning personal experiences into tight, informative, witty copy.
Barber’s new autobiography, A Curious Career, is the ultimate self-help book for feature writers. And it’s refreshing to learn that even the toughest interviewers (and ones with five British Press Awards under their belt) get pre-interview jitters. Barber’s recipe for a strong profile? Copious background reading and refusing to be dazzled by her subject, no matter how much other journalists love them. Look no further than her interview with tennis’ golden boy Rafael Nadal for proof of this.
Gold’s willingness to put herself in precarious situations and lay herself bare in the name of journalism knows no limits. She has reported from group therapy, followed Sir Philip Green to the Sandy Lane hotel for Christmas, and charted with searing honesty life as a recovering alcoholic. The subject matter might not be Pulitzer-worthy stuff, but what’s brilliant is her forensic eye for detail and her doggedness at getting to the root of any subject her editors have set.
Such is her ability to get under the skin of every over-interviewed Hollywood actor she meets, Ariel Leve not only forms unusual intimacies with them, but manages to impart some of that intimacy on the reader too. I still haven’t shaken my crush on Viggo Mortensen after reading her forensic profile of him in a Sunday Times Magazine back in 2003… Leve’s secret? She often meets up with her subject a number of times or in an unusual place, and refuses to be just another interviewer on the conveyer belt that is the press junket.
If you read anything from this list, make it Danny Wallace’s article about the Ukrainian billionaire, Mohammad Zahoor (GQ, March 2014). He packs it full of carefully-selected dialogue, which tells you everything you need to know about Zahoor and is terrifically cutting without being overtly cruel. True, his subject matter isn’t especially high-brow either (the Zahoors are stars of reality TV show, Meet the Russians, and his other GQ interviewees include Noel Gallagher and Charlie Sheen) – and Wallace’s copy isn’t perhaps as worthy as the wonderful reportage by fellow GQ writer Ed Caesar – but Wallace’s interviews are telling, brilliantly original. And very funny.
Laura Powell is deputy editor of economia magazine
Visit Content Cloud to sign up as a creator, or commission the content your business needs