Focus interview with freelance journalist Melissa Holmes
This week, FeaturesExec interviews freelance journalist Melissa Holmes. Melissa writes on a variety of human interest subjects, including parenting, disability and education.
Here she tells us about her award winning piece, the blog Perez Hilton and wanting to interview Spike Milligan.
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
All sorts – parenting, disability, education, history, environmental issues… it could be said I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I really do value the variety of my work. If I was forced to lump my work into one category, I’d say my focus is human interest stories, but I always think that sounds a little naff.
Where are we likely to see your work?
My most regular work is with Primary Life magazine, a publication for parents of primary school children in North Lanarkshire, which I edit and contribute to. In addition, I frequently contribute to Able magazine, the UK’s most widely distributed disability lifestyle publication, and a selection of other magazines which cover a vast variety of issues. I also do a fair amount of press release writing and web copy to keep the bank balance in the black.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
Throughout the course of my four years as a professional writer I’ve had the chance to interview some amazing people, including lifelong disability rights campaigner Lord Jack Ashley, comedienne Liz Carr, artist Alison Lapper, 7/7 survivor Gill Hicks, tennis ace Andy Murray, quadriplegic sailor Geoff Holt and underwear queen Michelle Mone. But I’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing a great number of ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things. This has not only resulted in some great features (such modesty!) but has also given me some lasting and valued friendships.
I guess one of my most memorable features was the piece I won an award for. Entitled Once You Fall Off You’ve Got To Get Back On, it featured profiles of and interviews with sportspeople who chose to return to the sport that caused their disability. It was a real eye opener for me personally and also led me to be awarded the Young Journalist Special Prize in the European Union’s ‘For Diversity, Against Discrimination’ Journalist Award in 2006. I returned to the competition the following year as a member of the UK judging panel which was a real honour. I was also shortlisted as Feature Writer of the Year at the PPA’s Scottish Magazine Awards in 2007, with the judges commenting on my “can-do” approach: “Melissa covers even the most potentially sensitive subjects with a style that blends information with inspiration. She is a compassionate journalist who fully appreciates the importance of taking a positive perspective on life.” Considering my age and experience, I was really moved by their positive praise and, when I’m stuck on a feature or finding myself losing focus, I like to remind myself of what others think of my writing with a quick flick through the awards brochure, which is always close to hand in my study.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
Impossible now, but I would have loved the chance to sit down and have a chinwag with the late, great Spike Milligan to discuss his many adventures in life and his experiences with bipolar disorder. From an early age I’ve been fascinated by him – we also share the same birthday, although 64 years apart. Alternatively it would be a piece on Helen Bamber OBE, the lifelong human rights campaigner who set up a foundation for victims of torture. I guess anything history-related with a human angle really floats my boat!
Where do you source ideas for articles?
Most of my inspiration comes from what I read in the news, but sometimes it will be through a conversation I’ve had or via an issue which has been getting my goat (such as a lack of support for young carers, or the representation of disabled people in the media). Thanks to the nature of my work, I can find my inspiration in the strangest of places.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
In previous vocational incarnations I’ve been a college lecturer and also an arts co-ordinator working with children with special needs. I find it rewarding to work with and help other people (strange given I now sit at home all day typing away!), and I love to pass my knowledge and interests on to others.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
Ideally, on clothes, shoes, handbags and Moleskine notebooks. Shallow? Yes, but also fun. Or perhaps it would go on a holiday, since I’ve not managed to squeeze one in this year. Realistically, £1,000 would come in very handy right now since I’m about to move house and return to Glasgow tenement living after a couple of idyllic years in the countryside – a prospect I’m really excited about!
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I’ve just got started on Callisto by Torsten Krol which was a birthday gift a while back, but I’m not particularly enamoured with it yet. In terms of magazines, I’m devoted to Bust (a US publication) and I also subscribe to Mslexia, a wonderful journal for women who write… unfortunately I rarely get the chance to read it from cover to cover these days! In terms of blogs, I have to hold my hands up in shame and admit to being an avid fan of Perez Hilton. I find a bit of sarcastic celeb-baiting helps relax my brain at the end of the day.
[lnk|http://www.journalistdirectory.com/pr/XXmTT/Melissa-Holmes|_blank|FJD: Melissa Holmes]
[lnk|http://www.journalistdirectory.com/pr/XXmTT/Melissa-Holmes|_blank|Melissa Holmes on the FJD]