talks about interviewing women for her book Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britain
(London: Virago Press, 1978). Her inspiration to begin writing came from one woman, and she also talks about making personal connections with the interviewees.
Have you ever interviewed anyone?
Do you think it is easier to interview someone if you can empathise with them on some level?
Amrit Wilson, Finding a Voice: Asian women in Britain (London: Virago, 1978) © Virago Press
I had gone to do some other work around one of my articles, got lost in, somewhere in east London, and I saw an Asian woman going down the street and I said, ‘Can you tell me where the tube station is?’ So she said, ‘No I can’t tell you but I’ve got a map at home, so if you want to come in I’ll show you.’ So I went into her house and she showed me the A to Z and then she asked if I wanted a cup of tea or something. So I said, ‘Okay’. I was very cold and – and we just got talking. She started telling me what she did, you know, what her day, how she’d been and, and about her husband who was not very understanding, and the work she did. And then I told her, you know, ‘I’m supposed to write this book about Asian women,’ and she said, ‘Why don’t you do it because, you know, I think it would be a very good idea if you did it because then I’d like my husband to read it’. So I got really inspired by that and I came back and the very next day I started writing. And the first chapter of my book, which I called Isolation then, I wouldn’t do that now, because I think there’s much more involved there. I just wrote it very very quickly, I mean I think I must have written it in a couple of days, you know. I sent it off – at last I’d got something to show, so I sent it off to Ursula, who said she really liked it and she was very supportive. Then I gradually and cautiously began to write the rest, you know. And she said that she liked the way I’d written it and that, you know, I had a good style there which I should keep to. And I realised that I was, perhaps just by chance, I had used a different style from what I did from my articles, which was quite easy for me to do. I did write it actually quite quickly and probably, I can’t remember, but probably just over a year maximum, maybe less, maybe much less. But all the interviews I did, then and always, I always got to know the women quite well, or I knew people who knew them. I tried to get them to direct me about what I should ask them. I made it a point to ask them about their ideas as well, not just what happened to them. And I tried to be sensitive to what they would feel happy about, all interviewers do that inevitably, you do try to link up a part of yourself with the other person, even if that isn’t all of yourself.