This is the first of two sets of interview questions. I know I owe questions to a number of you; if you wish me to owe interview questions to you as well, say so in the comments.
There is at present a particular leading politician who has been lying outrageously to his own people and the international community to an appalling extent, and has not been called on it by wishful-thinking international officials because his future constructive participation is reckoned more likely than his continued obstruction of the local peace process, despite his past record. Actually, that applies to several people in my area of operations, so I’d better leave it there (at least in a public post).
Of those I’ve met, Paddy Ashdown. Of those I haven’t, Nelson Mandela. Of those I haven’t who are still active, hmm, much trickier; I think at the moment I’m impressed with Al Gore for not letting defeat get to him and continuing to push inconvenient truths.
Good question. The internship system is truly extraordinary – young people hoping for a professional career agree to work for almost no financial reward in a high-powered environment, hoping that the experience the gain from rubbing shoulders (and, notoriously in the case of Monica Lewinsky, other body parts) with the people already working in their dream jobs will stand them in good stead. In Brussels, the interns are usually called stagiaires, and those working for the European Commission are notoriously supplied with a timetable of parties to go to before they are instructed in their official duties.
I run a tighter ship. My own interns are under strict instructions to keep me supplied with coffee (Nescafe, two sugars, milk) at all times, and are in charge of my daily calendar of meetings, but also get to come along to almost all of those meetings, be they with students, activists, European Commissioners or presidents, and are a constant sounding board for me in discussing the latest news from the countries we work on; plus I often send them to conferences happening in Brussels which vaguely interest me but which I can’t make time to go to myself. They seem to enjoy it.
I was never an intern long-term myself, though I was a conference gopher in similar circumstances several times, and most of my work for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was unpaid (though at a more senior level than the average intern).
I do enjoy cooking, especially trying out Georgian recipes and my annual Christmas efforts to deal with wild boar. But I have to say that what I enjoy most about cooking is when I prepare something for my eldest daughter, B, who is nine and cannot talk. Communication with her is often difficult, but if she enjoys something I have specially cooked for her, be it egg on toast or something slightly more sophisticated with pasta and meat, I feel we are making a connection, and she seems to think so too.
- Were you an ambitious child?
Yes, I think so – I wanted to be famous, preferably as a rocket scientist. Didn’t work, of course.
- What do you think people get as a first impression of you when meeting in a social situation?
I think I come across as intellectual but also humorous. I have been looking for on-line evidence of this; not quite sure if I have found any (Paul Cornell: “a man of tremendous learning and a great European”: “has a large supply of fascinating insights and anecdotes“, for example). At least there are not too many statements out there to the effect of “avoid
like the plague and pray you are never stuck in a lift with him”, which I guess is all I can ask for.
- Sub-question: Do you think it’s different in a work encounter?
Yes. In a work situation I have to appear not only intellectual in general but also very well informed in particular about the topic under discussion. Most of my senior professional interlocutors are supported by large bureaucracies who funnel them the best information available. I spend a substantial amount of time each day catching up with open sources (and fairly often touching base with my own contacts – see answer to
in next entry) to make sure I know what the hell is going on.
- Do you sew, knit or do anything else that’s stereotyped as a female pastime?
Only cooking comes close, I think…
- Why do you have a livejournal?
A combination of record-keeping, showing off and self-gratification. Same with most people, I suspect.
- You may well have answered this here, but how much of your SF/fantasy purchasing is based on recommendations/reviews from friends, reviews online, award-nominee lists and random browsing?
It’s almost precisely the reverse order from your list. Random browsing in bookshops (real rather than on-line) is the biggest single driver of my book purchasing. Occasionally I do give in to particular programmed purchasing, though, most obviously in my purchase of the Hugo shortlisted works and past award winners, but also with other things like the great works I haven’t read, or to try and chase a particular author (such as Frederic Whyte, or my current Speshul Prodjekt). Recommendations from friends, and newspaper reviews, are also important. I confess that I read very few on-line reviews of books I haven’t read, and they play very little part in my purchasing strategy.
- Why are you so fascinated with shagging fictional characters?
I’m happily and monogamously married, so shagging real people other than my wife is out of the question!
- How did you get into fandom?
See my answer to
in next post.
- Did you like Dan Simmons’s Endymion books, and if so why (or why not)?
Didn’t read either Endymion or The Rise of EndymionHyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, but was advised that the next two got a bit silly. Having read both Ilium (which I enjoyed) and Olympos (which I didn’t) I suspect that Simmons may have difficulty sustaining his great ideas to the length he plans for them.
- What do you think about secret history novels (eg: books by Tim Powers and Tom Holland)? A worthy genre or misappropriation of historical figures that should be left in peace?
I think that provided the reader remembers that these things are fictional, it is definitely fair game. They can be done very badly, of course – both Robert Graves and David Drake have written very bad novels featuring Belisarius, for instance. I have slightly more hesitation if the characters are still living. But I think that the principle in English law that you can’t libel the dead is a good one.
- Which Gaiman work/project are you most looking forward to (or least trepidacious of)?
While I like Gaiman’s work, I’m not following it so closely that I wait with anticipation before publication date; I’m happy to wait until it is published and then see the reviews. The only writer whose work-in-progress I do try and stay au courant with is Gaiman’s fellow resident of Minnesota, Lois McMaster Bujold.
- What is your opinion of Louis MacNeice? I have been reading him recently, and am curious as to how you find his work.
Again, sorry to disappoint: I have precisely one book by MacNeice, his posthumously published work on astrology, written to contract with no real enthusiasm for the topic. I did once take an interested friend to his gravesite in Carrowdore, though I was more interested to discover that the graveyard was also the ancestral resting place of the astronomer Andrew Claude de la Cherois Crommelin (though I think he himself is buried elsewhere).
- Do you favor, in an ideal world, the parliamentary or presidential system (providing the legislative and executive branches remain coequal and competitive)?
I actually think the second point is more important than the first. The British system of members of the executive being also legislators seems to me wrong-headed. The Belgians and Dutch, to name but two, have a perfectly decent system where ministers must resign from parliament on appointment. It seems to me axiomatic that the job of governing is different from the job of representing, and crazy to insist that to do the one you need not only experience but ongoing responsibilities in the realm of the other.
However, I do also have a preference for parliamentary rather than presidential systems; it seems to me that a more broadly distributed system of authority is going to be able more easily to resolve mistakes, and in particular, it is less traumatic to get rid of the person at the top when the time comes.
- When did you realize your parents were mortal, and how did it make you feel?
Both my parents had lost one of their own parents long before I was born – my mother’s mother died of a pulmonary embolism soon after giving birth to my uncle in 1944, and my father saw his own father drop dead of a heart attack beside him in church one day in 1949. So whenever we visited/were visited by the remaining grandparents it was something we were very much aware of.
- Would you meet one, and only one, person from history?
Oh gosh, yes!