It’s new book season! And I’m delighted to have Clarissa Ward, chief international correspondent for CNN, back on the Spike. Her last appearance here was hugely popular and Clarissa has now written a book about what led her to report from the front line and her experiences thereafter. I read this a while ago and it was terrific and very engaging; war reporters are often incredibly bad and pompous writers and Clarissa is kind of the exception that proves the rule.
If you enjoy narrative non-fiction and really finding out and learning about someone else’s crazy daily job, this is for you. Since we last saw Clarissa she has had not one but two children, which I kind of hoped would put an end to her massively successful career, but, alas, she continues to shine.
And now some tricky questions from me.
1 HOW CAN U POSSIBLY DO THIS JOB WITH KIDS, HUH? HUH?
IT IS REALLY BLOODY HARD. Most people, when they ask about doing this job as a mother, fixate on the danger part. I really go out of my way to avoid putting myself in stupidly dangerous situations and I do an enormous amount of prep work with experts to come up with a good security plan. For me, the hardest part of this job is never knowing when I am going to get a call in the middle of the night telling me to get on a plane to Iraq in three hours. It’s trying to juggle my sons’ schedule on a satellite phone in Northern Syria while Turkish artillery shells are falling around me.
2 What was the most challenging aspect of lockdown for you?
I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy which meant I was sort of on de facto lockdown anyway. I think the toughest part for me was seeing how hard it was for kids (not mine specifically) not to be able to play with their friends or go out to the playground or school. It pains me particularly to think of children who were cooped up in abusive situations.
3 Do you think the hardships of life on the road and in war zones prepared you better for motherhood than those of us who had pretty easy lives before kids?
In one sense, absolutely. Sleep deprivation? No problem. Cleaning up poo and vomit? I got this. Annoying West London mummies fretting about organic fruit? Talk to the hand. But here’s the thing that war and life on the road don’t prepare you for: having kids turns you into an emotional wreck (or a least that’s my experience). It’s like your heart is ripped out of your chest and is now exposed to the elements, quivering with the slightest movement of air. I always found it hard to see children suffer in war zones. Now I find it agonizing. I cry A LOT. But in a sense I think that’s also healthy because it means you’re really feeling and processing and I hope that makes my work richer and more impactful.
4 Quentin Tarantino sounds from your book like a big, scary creep. Do you ever think about that time generally, now informed by Me Too, and think “Wow” and the crap we all put up with? Or maybe you never put up with it? Discuss.
I feel a bit bad about the section with Quentin Tarantino, because he really was a lovely guy and he never pushed himself on me. He’s clearly got some kinky tendencies but I do think we have to be careful as a society about judging people’s actions in the past by the standards of today. Having said that, I do think it’s good that things are changing. There was another mega Hollywood director who visited the set of Kill Bill who masturbated on my hotel room floor in front of my roommate and then walked out without apologizing. We laughed about it at the time but women really shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of nonsense.
5 Your mum is kind of the breakout star of On All Fronts, did she like the book? Did she have any notes on it?
Ha! My mother is a character to be sure. After she read the book she said “I didn’t recognize myself at all,” which is hilarious because everyone who knows her agrees that it’s pretty spot on. She is, however, hugely proud of me and the book and very chuffed that she got the dedication she had demanded. She did say that she didn’t like the bits where I was sad though because it made her sad. That’s the extraordinary thing about my mother. She has a withering tongue and is insanely critical but she’s also incredibly loving and sweet. It’s a bit annoying because it means I can never be angry with her for long.
6 What’s next for you?
Good question! 8 hours of solid sleep? I don’t know when it will happen but that’s about as exciting and imaginative as my life goals are at the moment.
7 Tell us about a thing you bought recently that you’re excited about
I bought a skirt from B&SH that is still way too small (I gave birth 2 months ago) but I like to fantasize about a time in the future when I will be able to wear it and feel like myself again.
8 What are you having for dinner tonight?
Ask my husband. Seriously, he is the cook in our family which is a godsend because I can’t even make a decent spag bol.
The book is available here.
For more, Clarissa talks to the New York Times’s Michael Barbaro here.