The Questionnaire: Emma John

The winner of the Ian Wooldridge Award for the best young sports writer of the year, EMMA JOHN, revealed at the presentations last week that as a child, she kept cuttings of Woolers’ work on her bedroom wall instead of pop posters.

Confronted by’s Questionnaire, John reveals all about gaffer tape, thongs and an Olympic gold medallist

Where else did you work before OSM?
I started my sports journalism career at Wisden Cricket Monthly, which later became The Wisden Cricketer magazine; after that I was freelance for a while, writing for The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The New Statesman among others.

How did you get your first “break” into sports journalism?
When I was a teenager, I spent my school holidays working for a cricket video “magazine” called Cover Point. It was produced by a lovely man called Paul who was the first person to encourage me in sportswriting, and I went from transcribing reels of interview footage to actually writing and editing some of the programme’s scripts – he even let me present to camera too.

Then, a year after I had left uni, I had written my first couple of articles for The Cricketer magazine and Wisden online and Stephen Fay, the editor of WCM, invited me to El Vino to discuss an assistant editor’s job. I made a decent impression, probably because I stayed off the wine.

What was your first sports assignment?
It was almost certainly putting together the ground equipment guide for WCM, which has now become a rite of passage for the young ‘uns there. I learned a lot about rye seed mixes.

What has been your most memorable assignment during your career?
Well, it’s not been a long career yet. But I’m never going to forget interviewing Victoria Pendleton for OSM. Partly because we’re similar in age and grew up in the same area and it was more like chatting to a close mate than a world champion sportswoman. And partly because I had to help gaffertape a thong to her thigh for the photoshoot.

What do you consider to be essential abilities for a good sports journalist?
I’m still trying to work that out.

What sports book would you recommend?
I love L Jon Wertheim’s writing and his book on a pool hustler, The Legend of Kid Delicious, is absolutely compelling.

What sports do you specialise in, and why?
Cricket’s always been my first love, because my mum is fanatical about it and whenever a Test was on, she had control of the TV. But she’s a huge sports lover so she gradually corrupted me with rugby, football, and everything else. The only thing she wasn’t into was motorsport. Happily, my dad loves cars, so I got the full house.

What part of the job do you find most challenging, and why?
The blank page. Scares me every time.

Who has been the biggest help to you in your career so far, and how?
My mum: if you met her, you’d know why… But I’ve also been very lucky to have mentors and editors like Stephen Fay and John Stern at Wisden, and Jason Cowley and Tim Lewis at OSM – all four of them consolidated their encouragement and support with helpful, constructive criticism, and most of all they’ve been kind enough to give me their time, to show me how and where I could improve.

What aspect of the business do you really dislike?
I couldn’t possibly say; not only because it would come back to bite me, but because I’ve not been around long enough to appreciate the industry from all angles. Ask me if I’m still writing in another 30 years.

If you did not work on sport, or journalism, what else might you have worked in?
I desperately wanted to be an actress at one stage – but my sister had that talent, not me. Still, I do love to write about the theatre.

How difficult have you found it, as a woman, to work as a sports journalist?
Personally, not at all, and I’m sure that’s thanks to pioneers like Julie Welch, Sue Mott, and Eleanor Oldroyd. But how I look forward to the day when no one asks this question any more.

Being a young person trying to break into a competitive world like sportswriting is tough for anyone.

Who has been your toughest interviewee, and why?
Andy and Jamie Murray together were a pretty intimidating double act. Knowing how Andy dislikes the press, and the fact that they’re so tight as brothers… I walked in expecting a tag team of sarcasm and stonewalling. It took a little while for us to warm up to each other, but once Andy got started on Jamie’s love of Britney Spears, I knew I was home and dry.

Which sports journalist’s work do you look for first (and why)?
Mike Atherton – his Times column is the place I’m most likely to find original thinking and vital reading.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the profession?
Smile a lot. You’ve got plenty of years left to look jaded.

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