Freelance Journalist Focus: Sandra Shevey

In today’s Focus interview, freelancer Sandra Shevey talks us through her glittering 45 years (ish) in journalism. From interviews with musical legends and old school auteurs, to documenting London’s ancient markets, Sandra gives us the lowdown on a lifetime’s work…

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
Commodification of culture. This includes people (celebs) and ancient street markets.

Where are we likely to see your work?
Read ‘The Other Side of Lennon’, ‘The Marilyn Scandal’….numerous essays, interviews, features, etc. Check out the Wikipedia entry. See the online entry British Film Industry website (Associate Tutors).

Currently I blog about ancient markets for Travelbite and film for Film and Festivals. I have previously written online for Artshub UK, Visit Britain, All in London, Qype, 50Connect and others.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
Memorable interview: Billy Wilder ambling along to the booth at Universal Studios commissary where I was interviewing Walter Matthau. ‘You have Marilyn’s smile,’ he said, and gave me a look…well it’s a look I’ll never forget.

Also Alfred Hitchcock…the same year I interviewed John Lennon for 12 hours. Curiously both British icons died the same year. Hitch was fabulous…bloody…and so was Lennon…salty.

Lennon was a great interview. All of it is contained in my biog of JL entitled ‘The Other Side of Lennon’. My interview with John was cross-cut with interviews with his friends, lovers, business associates, colleagues, etc. The book was published by Sidgwick and Jackson in 1990 and sold out. Rights have now been reverted and I am looking for a paperback publisher in the UK and to sell overseas rights for hard and soft backs.

I have just reissued via Sandra Shevey Books ‘The Marilyn Scandal’, my bestselling biog of Marilyn Monroe. This is the only authorised Marilyn Monroe biography and chronicles her Hollywood days with acuteness and insight. Inasmuch as I knew the principals in Marilyn’s life on my own terms – Milton Greene, Rupert Allan, John Springer – I was able to make judgements about what they say and whether it was provoked by envy, etc.

The reissue has a new cover, an updated introduction (i.e. Arthur Miller’s infidelities), and an appendix of letters from those interviewed (all letters with original notations, thoughts, opinions, queries at times of interview).

I have all original sound interviews to hand and want to hit the talk circuit to promote the reissue (playing soundbites from the interviews at signings, talks, conferences and lectures).

I have been freelance for over 45 years and have never ever been out of print. There always has been something of mine in print every month over 45 years. Quite a record!

Last year I think it was the British Council (or Haymarket Magazines in tandem with the British Council) which nominated Sandra Shevey in two categories: Best Editorial and Best Event. I run the Alfred Hitchcock Walk, London Street Markets Walk and the Agatha Christie Retro Walk.

The film which I produced, conceived, wrote, narrated and directed on London’s ancient markets (and needs of conservation) was nominated in 2007 for a London Metropolitan Archives award and was screened in 2010 at the London Festival of Architecture.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
Yes, a regular PAID column about ‘sociology of ancient markets’ for UK daily. I have been doing the blog for just under a year at Travelbite UK (online).

I want to do stories about commodification of street markets in the Far East….China….Bhutan…Laos and Cambodia and Vietnam…Nepal….Sikkim….

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
Can`t really say….commodification of culture interests….this is something that I follow in terms both of filmstars and ancient markets. I get an idea….I conceptually put things together and form an idea for something. Instead of 1 and 2 and 3 and 4…I`ll see 4 and 6 and 12 and 3.

How can PRs be useful to you?
PRs useful? Extremely. Feed me. Feed me. Feed me. I can always see some way of doing the trite in an unusual way.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Press releases pls via email daily.

How to contact me: I like to receive lots and lots of stuff….press conferences, press trips, fam trips, lunches, events, launches….inasmuch as I am freelance and do not used `canned` stuff I like to attend as much as I can. I never ever reprint a press release. I also do not write up launches and/or lunches. I use launches and lunches to acquaint and poss to follow up with a story.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Depends. When I’m on deadline I don’t even talk to my dog.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
….Well, the World Travel Market is an example of bad PR. Bloggers and journalists without appointments were virtually excluded. That said, on occasion we did receive the odd press release about meeting up with a particular destination/tourism board….but as there were hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors this did not happen in all cases.

All stands should have one unit earmarked for press and where press can come for info and a chat whether or not they have made an appointment.

Also press should be more welcome and engaged with….and offered food and drink.

I know I did about 5 or 6 blogs on one destination over the past year. The tourism officers with whom I dealt were not present. And thus when I wandered into that area I was a stranger. I was treated like an interloper. Disgraceful!

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
For years it was frantic and I had to chase. Luckily I was working in America where they paid badly but they paid. In Britain they don’t pay. The internet has made it easier to get stuff for nothing.

Also Britain, unlike America, is protectionist….bloody British…

I currently run educational walks around Alfred Hitchcock locations, Agatha Christie locations and London`s ancient markets about which I have produced a documentary.

Hitchcock Walks

Market Walks

London Street Market Documentary

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
£1,000…..£1,000 doesn’t go far these days. Costs about that much to live modestly for a month. Now if you had said £50,000, I’d say: Invest and live off interest. Again not much but it would pay some of the bills.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Books, mags and blogs I read…..Most of it is junk. It’s like walking into Marylebone station these days and seeing all the food kiosks. I can remember when there was just a coffee wagon.

Books, yes….biography….film theory…..I’ll tell you what I do do. I watch all the old British films at the Mediatheque (for free). These are films I’d never get to see because they never played in the States and don’t play in first run over here. They rarely hit NFT 1, 2 or 3. They are only in archive.

But boy, am I in heaven. I become age 16 in Britain (London) c1956 or whatever. And I’m watching Richard Burton for the first time in his first film. I am loving Jack Cardiff all over again. I am seeing a James Mason I have never seen. And I am seeing Pamela Mason in perhaps the most exquisite representation of a Jewess ever made (produced by her brothers at Gaumont British…the Ostrers).

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