2016 Snapshot: John Richards

Interview by Tansy Rayner Roberts

John Richards was co-creator/writer of the acclaimed 2012 ABC1 comedy series Outland (“Sensational writing, a great ensemble, and universal themes of love, loss, and friendship… a hit…” – The Weekend Australian) which became an international cult hit, playing in Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada and the USA.

In 2013 he had two plays running simultaneously in separate countries – Songs For Europe, a drama about the Eurovision Song Contest, played to rave reviews and packed houses at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, while the short work Found was featured as part of the London Design Festival.

In 2014 he became head writer on Night Terrace, a digital comedy series funded directly through a subscription model, which stars Jackie Woodburne (Neighbours) and a stellar guest cast including Alan Brough, Cal Wilson, Francis Greenslade, Chris Taylor, Collette Mann and John Clarke.

He has been featured on ABC TV’s Big Ideas (hosted by Waleed Aly), created sketch comedy for ABC television and BBC radio and written for publications including Encore, Mumbrella, Cult and DNA and text books Media Reloaded (Cambridge University Press), Queers Dig Time Lords (Mad Norwegian) and Whose Doctor? (Ford Publishing).

He was also part of the Boxcutters and Splendid Chaps podcasts, has presented lectures for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and was once nominated for a fraction of a Hugo Award.

Night Terrace! I love this SF comedy audio series, and the second season was released this year after another successful crowdfunding campaign. What did you do differently with this new season, to build on what you learned from Night Terrace: year one?

We approached it a bit more as a season, I think, than as eight separate stories. So there was a stronger thread through the adventures, although that might be something only we would notice! The biggest thing was just knowing those characters and how they sounded, which made it easier to write for them. We also asked Jackie what she would like from a second season and she said “I’d love to be a villain” so we wrote that for her! And she was AMAZING. The calibre of the season 1 cast made it easy to get such amazing guests for season 2. When we were recording the credits I started laughing at how random they seemed when put together. “Starring someone from Neighbours, someone from Prisoner, someone from Doctor Who… and John Clarke”. Collette Mann played a character who didn’t even have a name!

What’s next for you, creatively? Will there be more Night Terrace? Something new? (And if there’s nothing you can announce yet, what would be your dream science fictional project to make here in Australia?)

There will be a season 3 of Night Terrace! Which we hope will complete one whole series of adventures while setting us up for a new run. Night Terrace: The Next Generation (except not that, obviously). We’ve also started tentatively exploring an idea of an anthology audio SF series, but everyone’s so busy and our projects are extremely labour intensive so it’s all gently bubbling at the moment. We’ve also had approaches for further international distribution so we’re following those in the hope we can build on our current audience before we start looking into season 3. It’s so hard to be storytellers in Australia because – except for the rare few – there just isn’t the money to allow you to do it full time. So you’re always trying to fit it around other gigs.

This is completely not spec fic related, but you recently took on a job managing social media for Gardening Australia! What are some of the challenges with that, and do you have any funny stories about compost yet? 

We eat a lot of cake in the Gardening Australia office. A LOT of cake. It is the best show to work on, and as someone who – shameful admission – had never seen the show in the previous 26 seasons I was surprised to discover how entertaining it is. Our head researcher Millie believes that everything originates from plants – food, liquor, industry, clothing, entertainment – so Gardening Australia can cover EVERYTHING. We do a lot of sustainability pieces and profiles of people as well as how to re-pot your fuchsia, which I didn’t expect. So my job has the freedom to post terrible puns, pictures of The Goodies, videos of art pieces that play trees… there’s a park in Ohio that has recreated a Georges Seurat painting in topiary. How great is that? The world is full of brilliant insanity which I get to share with hundreds of thousands of people. I may have posted some Daleks at one point. Look for gardeningaustralia on facebook and instagram, people!  We also had Mad As Hell’s art department on our floor so there were a lot of Bladerunner props floating around, and Catalyst have an office here so I got to chat about the multiverse with Graham Phillips. It really is a top job. Did I mention the cake?

What Australian work have you loved recently?

While the execution perhaps wasn’t as good as the premise, I really appreciated Cleverman. To see an Australian genre production that ambitious and that original was an absolute delight. I’m really looking forward to the second season which I hope will build on the strengths of the first series while perhaps streamlining some of the story telling. But just the fact it exists at all amazes me.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I tried to see Quentin Crisp in New York but he was in the UK on tour at the time, and Kurt Vonnegut would obviously be up there. So a posthumous chat with either would be fun. I feel they’re too obvious, though. While I am talking to dead people, though, I was always a huge fan of Victoria Wood who perhaps wasn’t given her due as a writer of TV drama. Charlie Brooker, Rob Shearman and Narrelle M Harris could be good choices on the “not dead” side. But who wants to talk to living people? Urgh.


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