Come Back Soon

Henrietta LacksThe adage that you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone rings incredibly true. But I’m not sure what the apt adage is for knowing and appreciating what you’ve got when you’ve got it and then knowing and appreciating it even more when it’s gone. Whatever it is, it should be applied to Richard Fidler, the former Doug Anthony All Star and current ABC Radio host.

He’s only gone temporarily—I feel I should get that in early lest I freak anyone out—but even temporarily is too interminably long. It appears Fidler’s taking a research sabbatical courtesy of a hallowed Churchill Fellowship and is visiting some of the top radio shows in London and New York. Melodramatic as it sounds, his absence is, for me at least, a giant, gaping, nothing-comes-near-to-replacing-him hole.

Conversations with Richard Fidler is, hands down, the highlight of my day. Five days a week (I’d like to make it seven), he interviews a guest for an hour and manages to draw out some of the most fascinating, compelling tales I’ve ever heard. The show’s motto is ‘things you’re interested in and things you don’t know you’re interested in’, and his guests are incredibly varied. Some are famous, but many more are not. It makes them no less interesting. Sometimes their ‘ordinariness’ and the fact that we’d otherwise not hear their tale makes them more so.

Fidler has a lot to do with this, of course, and the show in anyone else’s hands wouldn’t work as well. We see this with the Conversation Hour in Melbourne, which sells itself as being a similar product, but is actually an unstructured hour of nothing much that drives me batty.

The Good SoldiersFidler (ably supported by his behind-the-scenes team, of course) is effectively the radio version of Andrew Denton. His interviewing skills have reduced me to tears on more than one occasion—in a good way, of course.

There’s a real and nuanced skill to interviewing that I’m coming to increasingly appreciate. Fidler manages to get people to open up and tell the stories without getting in the way. He’s incredibly clever and well read, but never comes across as a know-it-all. It’s something that I think neither Ramona Koval, host of ABC Radio National’s The Book Show, nor Jennifer Byrne, host of the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club, manage to do. They too, I’m afraid, drive me batty.

For me, they get in the way of the interview, imposing their thoughts and opinions on it. I say that not as someone being hypercritical, but as someone who hasn’t anywhere near yet mastered Fidler’s interviewing skills, but who hopes and dreams of one day doing so. I also can’t help but think that Koval and Byrne wish that they were the ones being interviewed.

ConfessionsAnd yes, I couldn’t help but note the irony that Koval, held up as an authority on the area, released a book about interviewing techniques and then had a mega interview debacle with Bret Easton ‘Delta Goodrem’ Ellis at the 2010 Byron Bay Writers Festival.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write that I can barely wait for Fidler to return. No really. My weeks without him just haven’t been the same. He’s also a magnificent book recommenderer (that’s a technical term). Through him, I’ve discovered some truly incredible books and/or authors. Say, for example:

You’d think his absence would have given me some time to tackle the tower of unread books teetering precariously on my bedside table, but sadly no. That pile just seems to continue to lean and grow. Fidler should be back in early November and there should be a new stack of books for me to salivate over and acquire. I cannae wait!

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.