A few weeks ago I received an email and a phone call from the producer of Philip Adams' Late Night Live programme on national public radio. Would I be available to be interviewed about my new essay collection, Medievalism and the Gothic in Australian Culture? This was a chance to put to the test some of the issues raised by the Breaking the News conference on the humanities held in Canberra in May. How good are humanities academics at explaining themselves to a general audience? Of course I agreed, and then tormented myself with nerves for the week or so to come. They had also approached Adina Hamilton, one of the contributors to the collection, so at least I would have company. Adina and I agreed to meet for a drink beforehand; the programme is live to air, and we were scheduled to appear about 10.30 p.m.
I had done a little radio work before, but it has mostly involved reading from scripts. This was different. I have great respect for Adams, but don't often listen to his programme. Sadly, I'm usually working away at my computer between 9.30 and 11.30 most nights.
I had tried to prepare a little for the interview, re-reading my own introduction to the book, and trying to come up with a few reasonably simple formulations. It's not all that easy, when the book is arguing that 'medievalism' and 'the gothic' are fluid, contested and variable terms in Australian culture. Adams began the interview by asking about modern Australia, so all the book's interest in C18 and C19 Australia culture just fell away. It took me a while to get into stride, but I don't think it was too bad.
He is a pretty aggressive interviewer, though. Like many such, he had clear idea of what he thought the main issues were, although he, or his producers, had read the book, or bits of it, pretty carefully, and he asked some good leading questions about my own co-written essay on the survival of medieval rituals in Australian parliaments.
If anything, Adina was given an even harder time. As a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, she is a practitioner of medievalism, but she is also a hard-nosed analyst of the movement, and gave back, pretty much, as good as she got.
Adams then returned to me and asked if I too engaged in such recreation. And here I delivered my one good line: some liked to do; I liked to watch.
When the interview was over, Adina and I burst out in laughter at the oddness of the whole thing.
A few days later, I finally plucked up courage to listen to the broadcast, which was available on the web for a few weeks. I heard Adams, at the beginning of the programme, anticipate our interview with much hilarity, so it was clear that we were being set up as light comic relief. Like a coward, I didn't listen to any more. And I am only posting this blog now that it is too late for anyone to download the broadcast from the ABC site. Family and friends who listened were very kind about it, but I felt an inevitable sense of anti-climax. It's an imperfect experience, being interviewed, but I'm also glad I did it. There's no doubt; one reaches a very different kind of audience.
Tomorrow, though, it is back to my own 'real' audience. I'm off to the New Chaucer Society Congress in New York. This is the community of scholars I mostly have in mind when I write. I'll be away for a week, and will report back then. The conference dinner is being held on a yacht that circles Manhattan. The medievalists are already dubbing it "the ship of fools"....