Richard Guilliatt is an author and staff writer at The Weekend Australian Magazine.
When it comes to the art of writing magazine feature stories, Richard is among Australia’s masters of the form. He has been writing magazine-length articles for more than two decades, and has won a couple of Walkley Awards along the way. His subject matter and profiles are diverse, which he admits is part of the job description when writing for a general interest publication like The Weekend Australian Magazine, where he has been a staff writer since 2006. He has also written two books about vastly different topics, which we explore in some detail in this episode.
I have a close relationship with Richard. Soon after we met for the first time at an investigative journalism conference in 2011, I asked if he would be my mentor. During those six years, his advice has been enormously helpful as I learned how to pitch, structure and write magazine features under his guidance. For the first few years, I would send him drafts of my work before filing to my editors, and his feedback always improved my writing. Richard has been one of the most significant influences in my career as a freelance journalist, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a generous and wise ally in my corner. We don’t discuss his mentorship during this episode, but I think it’s important to note here at the beginning.
In March, I visited Richard at his home in Sydney, and our conversation touches on how he comes up with ideas for magazine stories while juggling his own interests and his editor’s suggestions; how an editor at The Age pushed Richard out of his comfort zone as a young journalist, in order to improve his reporting and writing; how he worked as a freelance writer based in New York City for seven years; how he co-wrote a book about a German warship whose mission was to create panic among the Australian public during World War I; and how he became interested in writing about controversial subjects such as repressed memory, and more recently, the deception of public figures such as cancer hoaxer Belle Gibson.
Richard Guilliatt started his journalistic career in 1978 as a cadet reporter on The Truth newspaper, where he excelled at stories about disgraced pop stars and misbehaving headmasters. From 1980-86 he worked at The Australian and The Age newspapers, initially as a news reporter and then as a feature writer and section-editor. In 1986, he moved to New York and freelanced for seven years, writing features for newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times Magazine, The Independent, New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. In 1993, he returned to Australia and joined The Sydney Morning Herald as a feature writer, primarily at Good Weekend magazine. Since 2006, he has been a staff writer at The Weekend Australian Magazine. In 2000, he won the Walkley Award for Best Magazine Feature, for a story in Good Weekend about the Stolen Generations debate. In 2004, his profile of David Gulpilil was included in The Best Australian Profiles (Black Inc). In 2012, his feature on concussion in sports won the Walkley Award for Sports Journalism, and he was shortlisted for Scoop Of The Year in the 2015 Walkley Awards for a series of stories in The Australian which exposed the cancer hoaxer Belle Gibson. Richard is the author of Talk Of The Devil (Text, 1996), a book about the ‘repressed memory’ phenomenon. He is co-author (with Peter Hohnen) of The Wolf (Heinemann, 2009), a work of historical non-fiction which won the Mountbatten Maritime Award in Britain and was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
Richard Guilliatt on Twitter: @RMGuilliatt