Saturday 24 January 2015

A detective story dilemma

I have a particular problem with marketing and publicising my book God's Triangle. Briefly, the book is a chronological diary of my investigation into why there was such a mystery surrounding the break-up of my missionary Great Aunt Florence "Florrie" Cox's marriage. After a long battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Victoria, Melbourne, I discovered both the cause of the marriage breakdown and why the Baptist Church, the press and the Supreme Court colluded in a cover-up. Put simply, it is a true detective story.

The book reveals the cause of the marriage failure, but should potential readers be told this before they buy it? Before you react with "of course not", let me say that I fear I am missing out on a significant number of buyers with an interest and/or involvement in intersex issues by not explaining that Florrie was born with a very rare intersex condition and had no vagina.

When in Australian recently, I did a talk to a genealogy group and decided that I would reveal Florrie's problem -- the first time I had done so at a book talk. Despite this reveal, I sold all my books.

For various reasons not worth recounting, quite a few readers of God's Triangle did know about Florrie's problem beforehand. I asked a selection of them whether this had spoiled their enjoyment of the story. Most said it didn't because they enjoyed reading about it in more detail and because of the story's several other aspects. These included the explanation of how an intelligent and sensible person had been able to reach womanhood without knowing about menstruation or having any real idea how babies were made, how her husband and his second wife had been able to eradicate seven years from their troubled past while rising to become pillars of society, and how the scandal cover-up was organised.

God's Triangle is currently in development in Australia as a feature film and the producers have already decided that the audience should be told about Florrie's problem at an early stage. I think that is the right decision. It should mean that audiences feel emotionally engaged throughout, watching Florrie and her husband struggling to cope with a situation they don't fully understand. We shall see!

Feel free to offer your views, either on this page, or by contacting me by email at

If you wish to buy God's Triangle, here are the links for the paperback and the ebook.

Sunday 4 January 2015

Wonthaggi, Australia: fond thoughts of a warm welcome

Although I spent just the first four years of my life in Wonthaggi, I have a tremendous fondness for the former coal mining town in Gippsland, Victoria. It is where my Scottish grandfather, John S. Richardson, a mining engineer, put down his roots after emigrating to Australia following the First World War. I never knew him because he died about two years before I was born, but from all reports, he was an entertaining and talented character with an interesting history. His death was brought about at the very early age of 54 by illnesses he caught when serving with the military in the Middle East. He was buried in the Wonthaggi Cemetery.

My father, also called John S. Richardson, was 10 when he arrived in Wonthaggi and after completing his schooling, he became an apprentice printer and later a reporter with the Wonthaggi Sentinel.

I was recently invited back to Wonthaggi by the local historical society to give a talk about my book, God's Triangle, which is currently being developed as a feature film. I was surprised at the large turnout for the talk, and I had a most enjoyable interaction with the audience. This is how the local newspaper, now called the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times, reported the visit:

And here's a story written about God's Triangle published in the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times of June 20, 2012:


Thursday 1 January 2015

Cinema: how breaking the rules can work


For a creative industry, the movie business can be extremely conservative. From the time I became interested in writing for the screen, I was frequently told "you can't do that", often without any rational explanation. It seemed to be a simple case of rules being passed down as the received wisdom from one generation of writers to another without a recognition that these rules are often there to be broken.

One of the first things I was frequently told was that it was wrong to have a one-sided telephone conversation, because that would mean the audience would not be able to understand what was going on. In many cases, yes. But not necessarily so. These people have obviously not heard the hilarious telephone conversations that took place in the excellent American TV series, Hill Street Blues, between Detective Belker and his interfering and possessive mother. We never heard her side of the conversation, but we always got the drift because of the way he responded.

Another instruction I was given was that as the cinema and TV are visual, I must keep changing scenes, so that boredom doesn't set in with the audience. Reasonable advice, but again not necessarily so. Further, I was told that in structuring a film and drafting the scenes, I should insert the dialogue last, and the dialogue must be kept to the absolute minimum. Above all, the dialogue must not tell the audience what it can see for itself. In other words, "show; don't tell". That is good advice in most screenplays, but again not necessarily so.

This leads me on to heap praise on the British feature film Locke, which I have only just seen. This is a brilliant movie, but I wonder how difficult it must have been to pitch to producers and financiers: "So this is a story about a guy who is supposed to be pouring cement, but is going through a marriage-wrecking emotional crisis. He is the only person we see in the film as he drives along a motorway at night, constantly on his mobile/cell phone to workmates, family and his pregnant former one-night stand." Not a grabber, you must admit, but the end result is an outstanding film with a stream of flawless dialogue and never a dull moment. It is arguable the most wonderful, imaginative rule-breaking film I have seen in the past year.

Finally, back to the rigid advice often handed out to those hoping to become screenwriters. Your must-read is William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade. His message is "Nobody [in Hollywood] knows anything".  Just keep that in mind next time someone tells you what you can and cannot do in screenwriting.