Nicola Baird: your interviewer

4 Feb

Student Sarah Graham on the 2012-13 Journalism MA course at City University wanted an interview with the interviewer of Islington Faces blog… So this is the interviewer’s story. If you’d like to contact Sarah, you can follow her on twitter @SarahGraham7 or have a look at www.sarah-graham.co.uk. And a big thank you to Sarah for this lovely interview.

Islingtonfacesblog interviewer: me and the dog.

Islingtonfacesblog; me, big cardi and sleepy dog.

Nicola Baird, author of Islington Faces blog, is just as you might expect an environmental journalist to be – an affable, suburban hippy, full of warmth and passion, and wrapped in a thick woollen cardigan.

Her blog, launched last summer, profiles the stories of ordinary locals’ lives and, driven by her fascination with people, Nicola can talk endlessly about her interviewees.

I find those first few moments, when you talk to somebody and they tell you about their life, very powerful,” she says. “It’s fascinating, and you kind of fall in love with everybody really.”

Yet Nicola is initially reluctant to have the tables turned on herself – modestly insistent that her own story is “not very interesting”.

A cursory glance around her kitchen suggests this isn’t true. It’s a rustic, homely room, cluttered with books and children’s handcrafted creations, and a scruffy terrier, Vulcan, is asleep on a chair.

This kitchen is a hub of fun, creativity and laughter, where the echoes of lively family discussions hang in the air long after Nicola’s partner, writer Pete May, has left us to ourselves.

Nicola indicates two old flat irons on the table, telling me her 11-year-old daughter, Nell, found them in the cellar and they repaired them together.

“She’s going to use them as bookends,” she says. “I think it’s lovely for kids to have a DIY project, but she had to want to do it, so I was really lucky she discovered them.”

Brought up in rural Hertfordshire, Nicola settled in Islington in 1986, after graduating with a politics degree from York University, and has been here almost ever since.

Having struggled to find journalism work in the bleak economic climate of the late 1980s, Nicola eventually landed a job at Horse and Hound magazine.

Despite a lifelong love of horses, Nicola’s equine subjects weren’t enough: “There’s a limit, if you’ve studied politics, to how much you can write about horses,” she says. “So after two years I really couldn’t do it anymore.”

Taking the skills she’d learnt at Horse and Hound, Nicola jetted off to a “very, very different” Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) job, working on a magazine in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands.

“There, to get people’s confidence, I had to learn a new language, so I did all my interviews in Pijin. But to get an interview with a woman I’d have to spend about two days peeling sweet potatoes before they would start opening up.”

Returning to Islington after two years, Nicola launched her career as an environmental journalist and went on to spent ten years editing Friends of the Earth’s magazine, Earth Matters.

She has written seven books, including co-authoring Save Cash & Save the Planet, and now works as a freelance writer, but “like most people now I don’t really have one job.”

Nicola teaches feature writing and blogging at the London College of Communication, she is a busy mum of two daughters – 14-year-old Lola and 11-year-old Nell – as well as a horse riding coach and a school governor at Highbury Fields Secondary School.

Blogging, then, is Nicola’s side project – she has three active blogs, including Islington Faces, http://aroundbritiannoplane.blogspot.com and http://homemadekids.wordpress.com. “It’s a desire,” she says. “If you like writing you can’t stop yourself.”

Islington Faces, she says, was inspired by The Gentle Author’s “really beautiful” blog, Spitalfields Life, while Highbury Fields School provided a second source of motivation.

“We got the money to make a short film about what some of the parents thought about their school experience, from all over the world,” she says.

“That was really perhaps the start of this idea of Islington Faces blog because we got 20 people talking about their education. There were so many extraordinary backstories,” she adds.

“Because I was working freelance I was getting antsy and wanted to do more interviews. I’m quite nosey so I was talking to people anyway and kept thinking, ‘that’s such an interesting life’,” she says.

Since September 2010 she’s posted one interview a week, and says she’s fascinated by people’s experiences of modernisation, subjects from different cultures, the changing face of Islington, and people with “a passion for something”.

“I’ve tended to interview people who have skills – people who could upholster, or talk several languages, or be great at catering. I think craft is a real something to be treasured and praised.”

Nicola’s blog can be found at: http://islingtonfacesblog.com/ or track down the full list of books at www.nicolabaird.com

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2 Responses to “Nicola Baird: your interviewer”

  1. Nicolette Jones February 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Sarah did a great job, and really interesting to have the interviewer interviewed.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Interview: Nicola Baird, Islington Faces blog « Sarah Graham - February 4, 2013

    […] I interviewed Nicola Baird, author of Islington Faces blog. This post was originally published on Islington Faces. […]

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