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Focus interview with freelance journalist Iain Aitch

This week, FeaturesExec interviewed freelance journalist Iain Aitch.

Iain covers the arts, travel, architecture and eccentricity. Here he tells us about interviewing Chas and Dave, and his new book We’re British, Innit – An Irreverent A-Z of All Things British.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
I will write about anything if it interests me, though it generally boils down to the arts, travel, architecture and eccentricity. I write about British culture and character a lot too, which can be anything from our love of certain biscuits to an indepth discussion of the class system. Everything that I see or do holds potential for a feature, as, like many freelances, I am always looking for inspiration. My only rule is that I don’t write about football, as that is my one pure pleasure and a time that I don’t have to think about what I am going to say about a game or my day.

Where are we likely to see your work?
I have written for all the broadsheets and still do. I also write for Coast, Art World and Dwell, which is a US architectural title, somewhat akin to Grand Designs-meets-Wallpaper. I love to have the time and space to write lengthy features, which is why I enjoy the Telegraph Magazine. I like being able to put some of my character into work, but am happy just bringing home the facts where needs be.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
I think it is about the people for me, so perhaps a piece about the Eastbourne artist George Musgrave for Art World magazine. It was one of those pieces I had tried on endless editors and all had said no at various stages. I am so glad I got a chance to write his story. He is in his nineties yet still runs a museum/gallery about his life. He is also an obsessive, and I do love obsessives. Another that sticks in my mind is interviewing Chas and Dave for the Guardian and having them give an impromptu performance to an audience of one (ie me) in a chain hotel just outside Stevenage.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I used to answer this question by saying I would like to interview Ronnie Barker or Johnny Cash, but sadly neither is around now. I am hoping that someone will one day give me the budget and access to write a piece about the American artist Thomas Kinkade, who is fascinating. But what I would really like is a column that allows me to show my humorous side and the chance to be something akin to an English David Sedaris.

You have a new book out – We’re British, Innit – An Irreverent A-Z of All Things British – tell us about it:
It is a lexicon of Britishness, which both informs and pokes fun at all that we are and do. There are over 300 entries and they range from Winston Churchill to Jordan and Rich Tea biscuits to dogging. I have tried to capture what it is that makes us who we are at this point in history. There is a website to go with the book at . It is really a funny gift book, but I think there are some serious issues slipped in there too, reflecting some interesting things about society.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
From everything around me, be it other media, foreign media, sights and sounds in the street and, yes, even PRs.

How can PRs be useful to you?
Firstly by putting the date of the event/launch in the email header so I can file it and know when something is happening. But I do source stories from PR material sometimes. If they have an angle for a story then let me know what it is. I may not use it, but it saves time umming and aahing over a release wondering what may best be done with it.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Email is by far the best. As early as possible too.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Not always. I used to shun press trips, as I am somewhat independent-minded. But I have found that they can be useful. I am not one for turning up to the opening of a crisp packet, but something with a chance to network or meet interesting people is always welcome.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
They could make sure that they get both ‘i’s in my first name. But that is a small thing really. Leaving endless voicemails about their exciting new band or lawnmower is generally pointless. If I am not answering then send an email. Oh, and remember I don’t drive.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Maybe a postman or a bookseller. That is if the novels I would have time to write weren’t selling. I used to work in a dole office and I am certainly not doing that again.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I could do with a holiday, so probably a trip to see friends in the US. Though sitting on a beach reading sounds appealing right now. I could do with a new MacBook as well, as mine seems to be disintegrating; so that sum may get me an upgrade and a new iPod.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I just read the latest Mark Steel book, which I thought would annoy me but was actually very good. I also finally got around to reading The Damned United, which was excellent. I keep dipping back into Flat Earth News too. I always read Private Eye and grab the New Yorker when it catches my eye. I have just started to blog myself at, so I have been reading more than usual. I have always liked Boing Boing, which is one of the older blogs, but I have also been enjoying Fwd This Link and I like Bad Science as well I always find myself back at Annie Mole’s London Underground blog

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