Featured post

A Q&A about my books and why I wrote them

My two books, God's Triangle and The Mortal Maze , are now available in epub format for those who prefer this to Kindle or paperbacks. ...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

How true are "true stories" on TV and at the cinema?

      Jonathan Oates, the highly-respected local history organiser and researcher at Ealing Library in London, has written to the Ealing Gazette challenging the accuracy of the current BBC1 drama Rillington Place.
      As some of you know, I have an axe to grind over the way television and cinema dramatists often use "based on a true story" to play fast and loose with the facts -- usually for no honest purpose -- and in the process, re-writing what is the accepted historical record. I recently turned my back on the prospect of a large payment when I refused to extend the film rights to my book God's Triangle because one of the producers was promoting a script that outrageously and farcically ignored the true story.
      Anyway, here is Jonathan's letter:


In the interests of balance, here is the BBC blog on the background to the series:


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A PHOTOGRAPH THAT NO-ONE WAS SUPPOSED TO SEE

As a keen genealogist I have many family photographs that I regard as “special”, but this one is particularly so because I wasn’t supposed to see it. Nor were any other descendants of the bride and groom.
      The couple were my great aunt, Florence “Florrie” Cox, and the Rev. Frank E. Paice, on the day they were married in the Circular Road Baptist Chapel in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in December 1914. Both were Baptist missionaries from Melbourne, Australia, and went on to be stationed in East Bengal (now Bangladesh).
      The marriage, which began with high hopes in both families, fell apart in scandal. This was partly because Frank had developed a fondness for a fellow Australian missionary, Olga Johnson, but the greatest contributing factor was the discovery on the honeymoon that Florrie had no vagina.
      Florrie had what was identified after her death in 1950 as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). She looked and felt that she was a woman, but had male chromosomes and no internal female organs.
      The marriage took place in an age when sex was a taboo subject in strict Christian families. It was quite common for females never to be told in advance about menstruation. In Florrie’s case, she was never aware that mature women should be having periods. Nor did Frank know this until much later.
      In my years of research into why the marriage ended in a covered-up annulment divorce, I found few photographs of Florrie and no photographs of the wedding. That is, until I met a distant cousin who had been researching a different branch of the Cox family.
      The cousin showed me a postcard copy of the photo accompanying this article, but had no clue who was in it, other than the words “Florence and Frank 1914” written on the back. We came to the conclusion that this was probably the only copy in existence because all the others had been destroyed by the more immediate family members of Florrie and Frank.
      After the divorce went through in a secret session in the Supreme Court in Melbourne, Florrie led a quiet life, often battling depression, and regarded by her family as an embarrassment. Frank went back to India, married Olga, became a pillar of the engineering world in Calcutta, then returned to Melbourne years later to be prominent in local government. Both he and Olga died in the 1960s with very few people – not even their only child – knowing about the scandal or that they had ever been missionaries.
      One question that is frequently raised by those who see the wedding photograph: “Why is Frank sitting while Florrie stands?” The best answer so far is that he didn’t want it to be obvious that he was shorter than his bride.

The diary of how Ian Richardson uncovered what happened to
 Florrie Cox and Frank Paice is available here:

Monday, 31 October 2016

A modern thriller set in the Middle East

Comments & Reviews


"Ian Richardson has written a page turning thriller that screams to be turned into a blockbuster film. It has all the ingredients and characters to make a box office success. A flawed foreign correspondent, troubled by a gambling addiction, a penchant for exotic escort girls and drinking whiskey from the bottle; his old, avenging school chum, who becomes the world's most wanted terrorist, and a duplicitous, immoral spymaster who manipulates the reporter with devastating consequences. Their personal epiphanies come far too late. To say any more would spoilt the plot." Amazon review by Malcolm Brabant.

"A fast paced novel, full of authentic journalistic references and fascinating detail about the Middle Eastern setting. Richardson weaves a complex plot with dexterity, interweaving carefully crafted characters' subplots and storylines to a thrilling climax." Full review here. Beth Pevsner, Durham University, County Durham, England.

"A labyrinthine tale with a blinder of an ending. Heart stopping stuff. I am glad you didn't tell me how it ended before I began reviewing it." - Jan Woolf, editor, London.

"Oh how I enjoyed it! I could just see it all happening. I could hear the chaos. I could smell the horror. I cried for Felicity and the children. It's been my New Year's reading pleasure. I will read it again." - Christine Bett, Ballarat, Australia.

"The Mortal Maze is entertaining, fast paced with well drawn believable characters, and is well worth a few hours of anyone's time. In fact, it's something of a page turner and difficult to put down; I read it in two sittings. Written by an author not unfamiliar with the troubles and tribulations of TV journalism in foreign lands, it has a genuine feel for the sometimes problematic relationships between journalists and diplomats as well as the demands of the editors back home and the realities on the ground. I had to smile at the groans from the journalist 'hero' and his irrepressible cameraman when HQ in London sends in the self important 'heavyweight' as the story develops in significance. I look forward to a follow up." - Ben A. Amazon review.

"I thoroughly enjoyed this well researched & very well constructed fast moving topical thriller. It is full of twists & turns & had me gripped from the start to the climactic finish. I would love to see it made into a film!" - anon, Amazon Customer

"A well-plotted novel packed with incident and featuring sharply drawn relationships between some convincing characters, this lively and topical thriller fairly zips along from the start, gathering pace until the dramatic finale. The author makes the most of his journalistic background without overdoing the use of an insider's knowledge of technical detail and jargon." - T. Luard, Amazon review.

"A terrific fast-paced read! I was well and truly hooked from the start. I loved the feisty characters and loved loathing one or two of the BBC high-ups. A great insight into what goes on behind the news in dangerous territory. I recommend." - Carole Bentley, Amazon review.

"Excellent thriller: rattling good yarn. Works on several levels; critique of hypocritical foreign policy, skewering of BBC bureaucracy, portrait of Middle Eastern country, deft characterisation." - Amazon review by Stephen Jessel, Paris.

"Just finished reading your book and thought it was a rollicking good yarn. The present tense added to the fast pace. The aspects of foreign posting journalism I found especially interesting. I'm sure it will be a great success." - email from Paul Mullins, Sydney, Australia.

"Fantastic. I absolutely loved it [The Mortal Maze] and found it hard to put down. I read it in three days and had to ration myself to how much I read at a time. Will there be a sequel?" - David McClure, Brill, England.


"The author's knowledge of broadcasting and of the Middle East sets the novel against a colourful and authentic background, making the startling twists and turns of the plot all the more believable." - Colin Emmins, University of the Third Age (U3A). Read full review.

"I really enjoyed it [The Mortal Maze]. Having no knowledge of news agencies working in foreign countries, it was quite eye opening for me. Not having a HERO as such, rushing in to save the day was a nice change. The ending threw me, not used to that sort of thing happening in novels these days." - email from Max O'Callaghan, Alice Springs, Australia.

"The Mortal Maze was part of my holiday reading - and a very good part it was! I particularly enjoyed the frictions and conflicts between the resident members of the BBC's news bureau team and the special correspondent followed by the relief manager who were flown in to work at the bureau. I also very much enjoyed the way the relationships between the members of the bureau team itself were portrayed. As well as these, I found Ian Richardson's storylines were most compelling... though some were more than a little sad." - Amazon review by Peter Udell, London.

"Fast moving and thoroughly enjoyable. An excellent insight into the way news works, some of the unpleasant people who work in it and the strong professional rivalries. Plausible plot - who are the Government spooks in the broadcast organisations? I was so hooked that I got through the last 20 minutes according to Kindle in 12 minutes because I wanted to find out what happened." - Amazon review by JRExelby.

"It was a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. Jacko is a plausible and endearing character and despite his human weaknesses you want to know that he'll be safe from the dangers he seems to be hell-bent on putting himself into. It was hard to put the book down and turn off the light!" - email from Gail Jones, Crickhowell, Wales.

 More comments on The Mortal Maze here

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Why readers are attracted to this true detective story


I do not think that I have thanked you for your excellent book. I read it in two days (which is very good for me as I am not a reader as such). Within our genealogy group your book is in such high demand that I ordered one from the library and both books are doing the rounds, with high praise from all who have read it so far. We are looking forward to watching the movie. -- JW, Wonthaggi, Victoria, Australia.

Florrie's story certainly deserves a wider audience, as it is gradually revealed how a congential problem combined with the sexual prudery of the age and a terror of scandal to cause a major upset in Australian Baptist mission circles, and to ruin the life of a gentle and dignified young women. Now her great-nephew, in a sympathetic portrait, has finally put the truth on record. - E. Blunt, Amazon review

God's Triangle is a fascinating account by a former BBC journalist of a missionary marriage in the early part of the twentieth century that went mysteriously and scandalously wrong. - Mike Popham, TheInterviewOnline, UK

Ian Richardson begins to unpick a web of deceit spun around the failure of his Aunt's marriage and stumbles upon a family secret. His research reveals the tragic cost of a little-known syndrome and also throws light on the failure of the Australian Christian missions in Imperial India. - Anita Coulson, Amazon review

It's a very, very strong love story, and it's got a great setting. - Lauren Mitchell feature, Bendigo Advertiser, Australia.

Richardson was ruthless in his pursuit of the facts and uncovered a horrifying account in which no one came out favourably. - Full review. Beth Pevsner, Durham University, County Durham, UK.

What you have in this book, in fact, are two stories: one, the sad, harrowing even, tale of a woman fatally let down by her church, her family, her society, and her gender, the victim of ignorance and prejudice; and two, the addictive story of how a determined journalist overcame unexpected obstacles and finally ferreted out the truth. He took on family sensitivities, ongoing prejudice and ignorance and even the courts - and won! - TG Full Amazon review

A tale of tragedy and circumstance in a personal family history. Heartfelt and considered. - Review by Tracy Burgess, The Australian Atheist.

This is a very personal narrative where the author sets out to uncover a perceived injustice perpetuated on a distant relative by the Baptist church. The author honestly discloses that he is an atheist (fair enough) but his harsh critique of the Christian faith is at times gratuitous and ill informed. His theological knowledge is just sufficient to inoculate him from the reality of Christianity. His dogged research is highly commendable, but it becomes obvious that he comes to the subject from a pre conceived position. I found it interesting to learn about Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome which is the key to unravelling this mystery. The book is well worth reading as it goes part way in explaining the complexity and variety of human sexual identity. - Claudia Sterling, Amazon review

A remarkable true story that has much relevance today - Charles, Amazon review

What a tale! - Tim Ferguson, author, comedian, TV presenter, Australia.

God's Triangle: A Missionary Tale with a Twist: One would not expect to read about a sex scandal and intrigue in a book about missionaries in India. Yet, God's Triangle by Ian Richardson, an ex-BBC journalist, is an unexpected page-turner. - Rita Payne, President, Commonwealth Journalists Association

Just finished reading God's Triangle and I really enjoyed it. I had NO idea the complexity of your research even though we have discussed it over the years and I should have known. It was a fascinating detective story. It was so interesting to see it slowly uncovered. I particularly enjoyed your trip to Bangladesh. And was amazed that the son had no idea his father had been a missionary and you had to show him the only photo of his dad's first marriage. - RA, London.

God's Triangle deserves a much wider recognition as I believe it to be a very important piece of work. - Review by Graham Mytton, Dorking, England. 

I've just finished God's Triangle. I hadn't intended to read it till I'd finished David Copperfield but I started to read the introduction and then couldn't put it down. It's a great piece of work. - RE, London.
Buy God's Triangle here: http://www.godstriangle.com/    

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

PRESERVING OUR FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY


A question: how many  family photographs will survive our digital age?

There was a time, not that many decades ago, when taking a photograph was an event from which the results were treasured. Families would have a Kodak Box Brownie or maybe, as I did, a clunky East German Praktica 35mm. Most of the photos would be in black-and-white or sepia, although with the growth of 35mm cameras, a treat would be to buy a roll of Kodachrome colour transparency film.

Special events, such as weddings and the birth of a child in the family, would occasion the services of a professional photographer or perhaps a visit to a photographic studio with its massive lights and camera. The photographs from these sessions were archival quality and became proud possessions to be passed on from generation to generation.

The rot began to set in when cheap cameras, 35mm colour print film and one-hour processing began to dominate the market in the 1970s and 1980s. Colour photographs became the norm and began to lose their value as a means of permanently recording our lives pictorially.

Extra prints were sometimes ordered for friends, then the negatives would probably be binned. Worse – and this is something few people realised – these colour prints were prone to discolouring and fading and had little or no long-term archival quality.

It is safe to estimate that billions of digital photographs are now taken around the world each day, the majority of them on smart phones, but how many will survive to take their place in a family’s historical record? Almost none.

Some of these photographic efforts end up being emailed to friends and family, or are posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and other social media outlets, but are very rarely turned into prints that can be held in the hand and admired, or put in a frame or even a photographic album.

The irony is that the technical quality of the pictures taken on digital cameras and smart phones is exceptionally high, but not by the time they are transferred to the social media. They may look good on a computer, but they can’t be printed in good quality.

From time to time, I get interesting family photographs emailed to me, or they are posted on Facebook, and I ask for high-definition copies so that I can produce good quality prints and add them to my family history archive. I rarely get them, either because they have been deleted, or the photographers can’t figure out how to process them in top quality.

A friend of mine fires off the camera in his iPhone at every opportunity, but when I ask him what happens to all the pictures, the short answer is that they are mostly lost whenever he upgrades his mobile phone or computer, something that he does quite frequently.

This takes me onto another bugbear: identification of photographs. Almost since photography was popularised by the likes of Fox Talbot and George Eastman, there has been a failure to identify the who, the where and the when on a photograph.

It is sometimes a tedious task, but all my saved photographs are identified, usually with a caption added when I process them through my Photoshop, or similar, software.

This often prompted ridicule on the part of my family and friends, but I am delighted to report that I am gradually winning them over. Initially, when I showed them a photo with a name, location and date on it, I would be told “But we know all that!”

My answer is “Well, you know that now, but I bet you won’t remember the date in a matter of months. You will be a bit hazy about the location in a few years, and a few years after that you won’t be entirely sure who all the people are. This has proved to be true in many cases.

Some years ago, during a visit to my mother in Australia, we found a box of old photographs in the top of a wardrobe. It was a goldmine of family memories, but not without its problems. The colour prints were mostly faded, and while the black-and-white and sepia photos were generally in good condition, almost none bore any identification.

We spent hours working our way through the photographs, using a soft pencil to write names, and where possible, locations and approximate dates on the back of each one.

As we worked our way through the collection, my eye was caught by a family group photograph taken in a studio in Melbourne in 1914 around the time the First World War was getting underway. The group included a woman I had never seen before.

My mother identified the woman as my Great Aunt Florence “Florrie” Cox, and under my cross-examination, she very reluctantly revealed that Florrie had been a Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and had innocently been caught up in a terrible scandal that had shamed the family in Melbourne.

I had originally thought this would be a marginal family history episode, but the more I learned the more I realised that I had a book in the making. This was published as God’s Triangle. Had my mother not had such a clear long-term memory, that old photograph would not have been identified and the fascinating story of God’s Triangle would have remained untold.

While I fear for the future of our family photographic history, new and cheap printing opportunities have emerged in recent years as a benefit of digitisation. It is now possible with fairly basic computer skills to design a photobook that can be printed by a commercial company for as little as £10, although £40 is a reasonable expectation for larger books with hard covers.

Photobooks have an advantage over the old photographic albums in that the photos do not become unstuck and fall out over time. So, while I fret that so much of our pictorial history is being lost, never to be recovered, it is not all depressing news.


Ian Richardson’s book, God’s Triangle, is available here: http://www.godstriangle.com/

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Reasons to read the true detective story "God's Triangle"




By Ian D. Richardson

REVIEW
Ian Richardson, a former BBC journalist, was curious about his family history, and in particular his mysterious and rarely mentioned great-aunt Florrie Cox. He embarked on a journey in search of the truth. What followed was a shocking tale of what might most generously be described as institutional ignorance as he tracked down the truth. Richardson was ruthless in his pursuit of the facts and uncovered a horrifying account in which no one came out favourably.
      Richardson’s research took him through the Australian Supreme Court, the archives of the Baptist church and Indian missionaries and uncovered a shocking catalogue of betrayal and collusion by some of the authorities whose very responsibility should have been to protect his great-aunt Florrie.
      God’s Triangle resonates particularly today – a time when our understanding of androgyny is still developing and an era when we are discovering quite how brutally un-Christian the behaviour of church authorities has been. It will appeal to lovers of a thriller, those with an interest in Australian social history, and the role of the church, and anyone who has ever thought to question their own family history. It reads well, and Richardson is exhaustive in his detail and historical accuracy.

Beth Pevsner, Durham University, County Durham, UK


More reviews and comments  about God’s Triangle

Also by Ian D. Richardson: The Mortal Maze

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Keeping up with Strine, the language of Australia

Language difficulties: I scored just 6/10 with this test of Australian slang. No wonder there are people out there who think my Australian passport should be cancelled! http://nyti.ms/2bijoqw

See also my earlier posting on this challenging subject: http://bit.ly/1XaBX17

Friday, 8 July 2016

The morality of fictional journalists

Sarah Lonsdale's The Journalist in British Fiction book launch and symposium, City University, London, July 7 2016.
Why did Edwardian novelists portray journalists as swashbuckling, truth-seeking super-heroes whereas post-WW2 depictions present the journalist as alienated outsider? Why are contemporary fictional journalists often deranged, murderous or intensely vulnerable? As newspaper journalism faces the double crisis of a lack of trust post-Leveson, and a lack of influence in the fragmented internet age, how do cultural producers view journalists and their role in society today?
My contribution... 


My screenplay and book have undergone a name change since I first started work on them a few years ago. Originally, the title was The Moral Maze. I knew about the BBC radio programme of the same name, but did not feel that would be a problem until I realised that it would be a disaster when promoting the book on the internet. Do a Google or Yahoo search on The Moral Maze and up comes hundreds of thousands of references to the radio programme. Any reference to my book and my film would have been buried.

My wife, Rosemary, then came up with the suggestion that the letter T in red be inserted in the title, so that it became The Mortal Maze. This meant that a Google or Yahoo search would take potential readers straight to my book, always a great marketing plus, although I am still waiting to be made rich by being the author of a rocketing global best seller.

The change of name effectively gives the book two titles – both of which reflect how television journalists now face not just the moral challenges that have always been there, but nowadays much greater physical dangers.

Having settled the most-important matter of the title, I was then faced with a dilemma: should I set the story in the BBC or in some fictional broadcasting organisation. My concern was that I didn’t want to do anything to damage the BBC’s hard-earned reputation as the world’s foremost and most trusted broadcasting news organisation. As you will have detected from my accent, I’m originally from Australia. I grew up as a boy in the bush, working on small weekly newspapers owned by my family.  I loved listening to BBC news programmes, such as Radio Newsreel, relayed by the ABC, never for a nanosecond thinking that one day I would be editing some of them.

Although the BBC had – and still has – its faults, I remain immensely proud of having worked for it for more than two decades. There can hardly have been a day when I didn’t walk through the entrance doors of Bush House or Television Centre and be excited by what might lie ahead that day.

 After much thought and after consulting some journalist friends, I decided to go with The Mortal Maze being set in the BBC. As much as anything, this was because it would be widely known that I had been a BBC news editor and the story would really be about the BBC regardless of what I called the organisation. My friends assured me that the BBC was big enough to cope with any critical aspects of my story. They also reminded me that it would hardly be more damaging than the comedy series W1A, which the BBC had made about itself.

I knew that it would be implausible and extremely dull if the main character in The Mortal Maze, Jackson Dunbar, was a goody-two-shoes without flaws. So, I gave him a gambling problem that provided me with a vehicle for some of the ethical issues that journalists often face. In particular, I wanted to explore the often-grey question of when a journalist is spying or merely reporting. And how much pressure would be required to force a journalist to put to one side deeply-held principles?

I began taking a particular interest in this area of journalism while working abroad as a field editor for the BBC, then as head of newsgathering for BBC World Service in charge of around 200 staff correspondents and stringers.

BBC correspondents overwhelmingly are immensely proud of their journalism and would do nothing to discredit their work, but there were a few who I felt had two masters – the BBC and the intelligence services. One of these would spy for the money – because money was what mattered to him most – and another would do it for patriotic reasons. If I had taken that second person aside and accused him of spying he would have been genuinely aghast. For him, he was not spying. He was simply passing on information out of a civic duty.

And in fairness to the reporters in these two examples, the accuracy of their stories was never in question. There was, however, one BBC stringer who I and others were convinced was a spy for South African intelligence. He was not very clever with it and cast serious suspicion on himself by being able to get to places no-one else could with no visible means of support. I fired him -- not because I was able to prove he was a spy, but because he rarely delivered his promised stories. 

As most of you will know, one of the Cambridge Five Espionage Ring, Guy Burgess, spied for the Soviet Union while working for the BBC. And the author Frederick Forsythe, another former BBC correspondent, confirmed last year that he worked for British intelligence for 20 years.

Few would defend the traitorous spying activities of Guy Burgess, but was it okay for Frederick Forsythe to spy, as he was doing it for our benefit, or so he believed anyway? I don’t think so. In my view, journalism and espionage are totally incompatible. Journalists should always aim to be detached observers. Putting aside any moral questions, once journalists cross the line into spying, they put themselves and others in their profession at great physical risk. Already journalists find themselves increasingly targeted in the world’s hot spots and we should do nothing to make that bad situation worse.

As I checked a draft of this speech I realised there was a danger that The Mortal Maze might be seen as a rather pompous, self-righteous moral lecture – hectoring even. There are, of course, several ethical messages in the story, but I also wanted it to be exciting with lots of unexpected developments, amusing revelations about how television journalism achieves its aims – and, above all, a memorable surprise ending. I hope I have succeeded, but that’s for others to decide.

Here’s an extract from The Mortal Maze. It follows on from when the television reporter, Jackson Dunbar was given a tip-off by his one-time friend Thomas Fulham who blackmailed him into become a spy. The tip-off provided Jackson with a spectacular scoop when he witnessed a government minister’s convoy being blown up in the middle of a busy shopping centre. But Jackson is so appalled by what he witnessed that he told his cameraman Pete Fox to get lots of close-ups in an attempt to let the world know the full horror of what has taken place...

That evening, as arranged, Thomas Fulham turns up at the BBC bureau. He is in a hurry and has no time for pleasantries. “So what do you want to show me?”
Jackson goes to the video machine. “I take it that you saw my reports on the assassination?” he asks.
"Not an assassination, Jacko, a neutralisation, if you don’t mind. But, yes, of course I saw your reports and I was impressed, as always.”
“Right, Thomas, I now want you to see some of the scenes that my bosses felt were too dreadful to show.”
Jackson pushes the ‘play’ button and immediately the monitor shows a series of graphic close-ups of wounds and body parts. He winds up the volume, filling the room with piercing blood-curdling screams. Thomas flinches.
Jackson spools through to another section of the video. It shows wounded and terrified children howling at the top of their voices. Thomas angrily hits the ‘stop’ button, unwittingly causing the video to freeze on a close-up of the little boy trying to shake his dead mother alive.
Thomas is furious. “What the fuck is this all about?” he shouts.
“I thought it was just possible that you might feel some shame. I wanted to show you the full, brutal, unadorned result of the actions of you and your ilk. What would you say if those kids had been your children, Sophie and Sam?”
Thomas’s fury now has no limits. “We’re at war. The death of a few innocent women and children is the price that sometimes has to be paid for the higher good of democracy.”
It is now Jackson’s turn to lose control. “I’m out of this, Thomas. No more of your dirty games.”
“Sorry, Jacko, that’s not an option for you – at least not yet.”
Thomas leaves, slamming the door behind him. Jackson switches off the video editor and slumps into a chair behind his desk. He takes several large breaths to try to calm himself. After a few minutes, he hunts through the cupboards until he finds a half-empty bottle of whisky. He flops into a chair and drinks straight from the bottle.
Buy The Mortal Maze here. And The Journalist in British Fiction & Film, written by Sarah Lonsdale, is available here.