Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Flying Editor: Emma Woodhouse

When did you start writing? I only started to really love writing in my late teens when email, instant messaging and sms came along. Suddenly writing was less about thesis statements and essay structure and more about spontaneity, anecdotes and interaction.
Do you think print will eventually go into extinction, the way cassettes and videos have been made obsolete? In Nigeria and other African countries where the internet can be extraordinarily slow and not everyone has access, there is still huge scope for print media. Luckily Wings is a free inflight magazine so we don't have a problem with distribution. I'm not completely skeptical about the industry on a global scale.  A stopped clock is right twice a day. When the novelty of i-Phones and Kindles die down, we will use the new technology but we'll fall in love with books and magazines again. Magazines are there to be dog-earred, circled, have pages ripped out and be read in the bath. There is a romance about print media you will never get from a screen.

Share with us your favourite blogs. - The coolest thirteen year-old on the planet. - Appeals to the geek in me.  - the hilarious things people eavesdrop

   And of course Bookaholic!

Apart from your day job which involves writing and editing, is a book in the making?
I don't think I have it in me. My attention span is suited to feature articles. I have so much admiration for novelists, especially the new breed of Nigerian talent like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. To write a long and captivating novel that moves people is an extraordinary skill.

Tell us about your experience  on some of the books that you have worked on.
I've worked on a few but my all-time favourite was, ironically, almost free of text. It is called Nigeria, Through the Eyes of a Passerby, a photography book by Victor Politis. It’s not a perfect collection of glossy lifestyle shots nor is it ground-breaking or controversial photojournalism. It's a book showing people on the streets in Nigeria, mostly at work. He took a lot of the photos hanging outside of his car window so it's as pure a representation as you can get. With minimal interference the book shows how amazing Nigeria is. Like with most of the best creative work, the beauty is in the simplicity.

How has your educational background affected your chosen career?
I specialised in lifestyle journalism in my degree. I learned a lot about the magazine industry through practical internships but more than anything, it gave me confidence that I could do it. But I don't think you necessarily need a degree to have that confidence. If you have a keen interest in people, trends and subcultures and you have an idea of what people might like to read, you can be a good journalist or editor. It's about having eyes and ears. So much market research goes in to magazines. At the end of the day, a good book or magazine should be like a good friend. If you yourself are interesting, so will your writing be.

Do you have any embarrassing moments in your career?
When I went to interview James Brown I expected a larger-than-life figure to emerge from the dressing room. He was the Godfather of Soul after all. The person who opened the door was a short man in a red suit with an enormous hairdo. He grunted “Whatchoo lookin’ for?’ I got the giggles big time. He was so completely different from what I expected that I could barely speak. I could only bite my lip to keep from laughing.

How much has living in different parts of the world affected your view on humanity?
No one is special and everyone is remarkable. The mainstream media focuses so much on inconsequential celebrities and politicians. Some of it like the UK Daily Mail is downright racist. Every single person has a story that would blow you away but the media is lead by stereotypes and people who are famous for being famous.  When you travel you find out people’s stories. Even though I'm not Nigerian or even African (though I was born in Harare ;)... I wasn't too nervous about starting Wings. My job is to try and find the best local talent and stories and to scope out the remarkable...not create my own narrative from my own perspective. 

What are you reading now?  Emma by Jane Austen. The protagonist is also called 'Emma Woodhouse.' When I landed in Lagos a while ago, I stood in the customs queue at 5.30am waiting for the grumpy official to interrogate me. Instead, he opened my passport and exclaimed "Ah -ah! Emma Woodhouse! Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse! Where is Mr.Knightly? Welcome to Nigeria!"  It was such an unexpected and hilarious moment I felt obligated to finally read the book.

What do you do for fun?
Socialise. I'm obsessed with meeting people. After that, power-walking or rollerblading through the park with my headphones playing loud hip-hop, soul or dancehall. I'm fully aware I look like a New Jersey soccer mom mouthing the lyrics to  LL Cool J but I don't care!

What should we expect from Wings in the future?
Between London, Lagos and New York, we have a small and passionate team. Expect irreverent, informative and slightly offbeat articles and interviews, and jaw-dropping photography. We couldn’t be luckier with our destinations. Arik Air flies all over West Africa, and to New York, London and Johannesburg. The scope for great content is huge and we are reveling in it.

How can people contribute to your publications at Voyager Media?
We are always looking for content. Send an idea for a feature, interview or column,  or news of an interesting project or person you think should be publicised to:

What advice do you have for writers and editors out there?
1. Make the Effort. Don't say  "Let me know if you want me to write for you." Send a list of  feature ideas with a brief synopsis of the angle and the people you will interview for the piece. It is those who make the effort to present solid angles that will get work.

2.  Be topical Unlike writing books, magazine writing is all in the timing. Find an event, statistic or trend and have that lead your article or be the angle. Editors are more likely to choose work that has a reason to be published ‘now.’

3.  Everyone loves an expert.  With so much competition it’s important to find a niche as a writer. Your niche could be Lagos street fashion or French food reviews. Have it on your website or blog. Even spectacular idiots get to lofty heights through rhetoric  and self-promotion. Some of them even run countries.  

In one word, you are? A flibbertiggibet!

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