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'I wanted to present my own impressions alongside solid facts'


Kamin Mohammadi is a freelance journalist, author, broadcaster and public speaker. Born in Iran, she moved to the UK during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. She is a prolific journalist and travel writer who has written for the British and international press including The Times, the Financial Times, Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire, Psychologies, Men’s Health, The Sunday Times (UK), The Mail on Sunday, Virginia Quarterly Review and the Guardian as well as co-authoring The Lonely Planet Guide to Iran and numerous other guide books. She has also authored a book, The Cypress Tree: A love letter to Iran. In the following interview with Saurabh Kumar Shahi, Mohammadi talks on a range of issues related to journalism and writing.
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, June 2, 2012 18:45
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How important do you think is it for a journalist committed to a single beat for long years to venture into the world of non-fiction?

Well more than anything, after specialising in a subject for years, a non-fiction book provides the opportunity to delve deeper into a subject as journalism, even longer, narrative journalism, is woefully superficial when it comes to explaining anything well. After a while you realise the limitations of journalism in that it is relatively superficial and the urge to write a more profound version can be what pushes us into writing books.

The art of long-writing in journalism is gasping for breath in many countries. Journalism has become all about crisp and small pieces. Do you think that the revival of long writing is in the offing in the near future?

We can only hope! There are still journals that publish longer pieces such as the New Yorker; I myself was last year nominated for an Ellie (a prestigious award from the American Society of Magazine Editors) in the long essay section for a piece that appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review at 9,000 words. It would be great if the longer  form of journalism didn’t become the domain solely of the web which can provide opportunities but is still not as well-edited or of as high a quality as print. Ultimately the readers have to make their preferences known for editors and publishers to react against the dumbing down and summarising of everything. The world cannot always be reduced to pithy stand-first and short pieces.

You have given us such a wonderful piece of work, The Cypress Tree, that is not only informative but immensely readable too. As a journalist, how do you strike this balance between overload of facts and readability?

Thank you! My aim was not to write a journalistic piece but a sort of personal history in which, as a journalist, I wanted to present  my own impressions alongside solid facts. I hope I was successful.

One of the traps where journalists tend to fall is giving short shift to truth by conforming to the biases and preconceived notions of the readers. For example, the biases of an average reader in the West against Iran does not correspond to several of the incidents you have referred to in your book. Is it tough to take a decision under these circumstances?

Usually the decision rests with the editors not the journalists. In my own experience I find the prejudices come from the broader agenda which is decided by newspaper proprietors and carried out by editors. Journalists do not always have final control on what gets printed.
The logical progression for a journalist is to move towards writing a non-fiction title. However, there are people who have penned brilliant pieces of fiction too. I guess this transition is not that seamless. What is your opinion?

Whatever works! There are stories that are better told as fiction, as exercises of imagination. With fiction, you can take the reader into the heads and experiences of characters directly and forge an emotional connection. In non-fiction this is much harder to achieve.

It is often said that in the circumstances where journalists are alone or there is no one to corroborate to whatever has happened, it often becomes difficult for them to resist the urge to make up things. Even celebrated journalists like Ryszard Kapuscinski could not escape this criticism. How tough it is to dispel this urge?

Of course it is hard as sometimes telling a broader truth may not always fit in with the facts themselves! But a great journalist can work with the facts as well.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017