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Interview: Richard Woolley talks about Detachment Theory

Richard Woolley is a screenwriter, writer, academic and former film director. He divides his time between the UK and New Zealand. Richard talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Detachment Theory.

An unusual, edgy story set in 2015, when successful Kiwi journalist Joy Manville is enjoying a fulfilling life in New Zealand, Aotearoa, together with her older English husband, Stephen, a Professor in Film Studies at the University of Auckland. An almost idyllic existence, until their peaceful path through life is crossed by an ominous shadow from Stephen’s past. An intrusive online shadow that leads Joy to question Stephen’s integrity and forces her into a disturbing and deadly investigation – first in New Zealand then at Stephen’s childhood home and school in England. Dark drama that pits the safe and easy going surface egalitarianism of New Zealand against the privileged, often perverse background of an English upper class family.

What inspired you to write this novel?

Initially inspired by the death of a rarely seen sibling whose funeral I could not attend in the UK, DETACHMENT THEORY took on further shape when walking with a friend who is a Counsellor and very into using John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory principles when helping clients come to terms with childhood traumas. The book deals with someone who hasn’t come to terms with a forgotten trauma, and the effect this ‘detachment’ (or block) has on his wife (the story’s primary narrator) when she is anonymously contacted by an online troll demanding that she dig up the trauma and investigate it. My past addiction to Twitter got the plot moving..

What research was involved?

Primarily around physical settings. Revisiting locations that I wanted to use: from Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand’s Northland to England’s smallest county Rutland, where much of the UK section is set, as well as a modern day private preparatory boarding school. As there is a crucial scene set on a World Cruise ship – I also did part of a World cruise. Research has its compensations.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

The usual boring but essential disciplined 5 to 10 pages a day, followed by a walk to review how the story is going and where it might go next – I often get lost on these post writing rambles.. As a screenwriter I am used to doing plot outlines and detailed treatments (no one gives you any money to write the script without them) but when writing a novel I do not like to be too tied down storyline wise and like to let the characters lead me on and see if their re/actions trigger unexpected events. The outline is there as a safety net should they (the characters) ramble too far afield.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Melanie Lynskey (Kate Winslet’s co star in Heavenly Creatures) as the female lead – a powerful screen presence with just the right tough but laid-back persona for Joy.

Colin Firth as husband Stephen. A suitably buttoned up Englishman, maturing screen actor and someone who’d work well with and complement Melanie..

Anthony Hopkins for brother in England, though I am afraid he’d be too old by the time we got financing for the movie – if he is not already too old!. A man for all parts.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Detachment Theory?

Letting the characters – especially Joy, the narrator and that older Anthony Hopkins brother back in the UK - grow the story for me. Observing and recreating life on a Round the World cruise ship was fun, too – the storm was exciting to reimagine, but not quite enjoyable at the research stage.. .

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Wrote a letter to my List MP asking if she could please get Jacinda to end restrictions so that I could celebrate completion of my book. I got a polite reply.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON by Daphne Du Maurier, an astonishing tour de force of the imagination and one of the few novels by Du Maurier that I had not read – in fact it does not always appear in her bibliographies. Du Maurier is one of my absolute heroes because she always walked the fine line between popular fiction and ‘literature’ carving out her own unique path regardless of the critics. Flight of the Falcon is her achieving this balancing act triumphantly, almost vertiginously:: readability but so much to make for you think about beyond the storyline, Writing outside of prescribed rules for ‘popular’ or ‘literary’ fiction is what I aspire to do, too – as I aspired to bridge the divide between ‘art’ and ‘commercial’ in my films..

What’s next on the agenda?

A novel called PEACE ON EARTH – my answer to our far too troubled times. Already plotted but just waiting for its (still in aspic) characters to surprise me. In our currently insane, stranger than fiction world, real fiction can perhaps provide some sanity and order, a more real reality than the fiction that is created for us on a daily basis (by increasingly over-weaning ‘powers that be’) and point to how things would be a deal better if we read less pre-processed news and made up our own minds!


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