An Interview With Sarah Oliver - Writer, Journalist & Biographer | Advice On Becoming A Journalist

Monday, January 11, 2016

We have a super exciting post on Clarke Couture today as the lovely Sarah Oliver has kindly offered to share with you all her advice on getting your foot in the door of the journalist industry. Journalism is definitely where I see myself officially working within the next 10 years and so Sarah's advice has been very insightful for me. 

Sarah has published several celebrity biographies including the Sunday Times bestsellers One Direction A to Z and Robert Pattinson A-Z. Other celebrities include Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and even a rescue donkey called 'Pollyanne'. Her books have been translated into seven languages, I think it's safe to say she has become one successful woman. I remember actually reading the One Direction A-Z book when I was around 14 so it's crazy to think I've now had the opportunity to speak to the lady behind the book herself. Without further adieu, let's get straight into the interview!

Would you recommend studying a course directly related to journalism at university?
Whether you decide to do a journalism qualification or an English/History/Media/ degree – you need to want to write outside of your uni course. I did an English degree at Manchester Met and then a Masters in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth. Before I went to Falmouth I had it in my head that I wanted to be a scriptwriter and had to decide whether to do a Masters in Scriptwriting at Bolton or the Professional Writing Masters. I chose the course at Falmouth because it offered units in scriptwriting, writing for business, creative non-fiction, novel writing and writing features for magazines. The whole aim of the course was to give you the skills to make a living from writing. I think lots of ‘creative writing’ Masters don’t do this, they just look at the fluffy stuff and not how you can get a job at the end of the day.

Is it really that important to work for free? Does having a blog count?
You need to get experience so you’re going to have to work for free. It’s great fun. I wrote for a cinema magazine and a wellbeing magazine and learnt so much. I also wrote all the web copy for a website and had my own blog too. Every year thousands of people graduate and you need something to make you stand out from the competition.

Besides writing outside of your course - What other skills should you try and pick up whilst studying?
If you want to be a journalist you should also try to learn about PR, social media and copywriting. Not many people manage to just do journalism, especially with cutbacks everywhere. When I finished my Masters for instance, one of my local papers closed down and the other was pretty much written by three people. You need to build contacts so when jobs come up, they think of you. Submit articles to your local paper, offer to work there free for say 2 days a week and get a paid part time job to keep you going. (If you can, why not live rent-free in your parents for a year and work for free for loads of newspapers/PR agencies?)

How important is it to stay true to yourself and your morals? Is an opportunity worth doing if you have to write for something you aren't passionate about?
As well as being a journalist and celebrity biographer I do freelance copywriting for companies. I don’t like gambling so I would never write for a gambling website. I’m a Christian and when journalists contact me when they’re writing a negative story on Miley Cyrus or Rihanna to see if I’ll give a quote criticising their behaviour, I refuse.  I always think ‘who am I to judge them, they’re just human.’ One verse of scripture that sticks in my mind is ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ Too many journalists write trashy articles based on lies and I’d really encourage budding journalists to steer clear of this kind of journalism.

And your final words of advice?
If you want to be a journalist it’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination on your part. Work your way up. Decide what area of journalism you want to specialise in and start following relevant people on twitter. Write about things you’re passionate about and practice, practice, practice. Above all, be true to yourself. Decide early on what you will and won’t write about.

Why not check out Sarah's blog, here

A huge thank you once again, to the lovely Sarah for sharing her words of wisdom. I hope that some of you may have found this interview useful - Are you a budding journalist? Which area of journalism are you hoping to specialise in? I'd love to hear all about in the comments below! I personally am hoping to become a fashion and beauty journalist which is why studying International Fashion Promotion seemed like the right option for me, in gaining broader skills about the fashion industry and promotion rather than just simply studying fashion journalism. Until next time,

Have you ever read a Sarah Oliver book?!
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