Ep 220 Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con’ by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano.

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In Episode 220 of So you want to be a writer: We go behind the scenes of The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano. Plus, there are 3 copies of Rooms with a View: The Secret Life of Grand Hotels by Adrian Mourby to be won.

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Show Notes

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live2write gal from New Zealand:

Oh my! Binge watching in summer move over. I’m binge listening to the back catalogue of So You Want to be a Writer. In the gym, doing housework (my cleaner’s on holiday but I don’t care!), the bathroom. Love the mix of craft advice, interviews with writers, social media insights, word of the day even! This is motivating and topical. And did I mention the humour? And rapport? Just saying. Thank you, Valerie. Thank you, Allison. Don’t ever stop!

Writer in Residence

Beau Donelly

 

Beau Donelly is an author and multi-award-winning journalist with sharp news sense and experience creating stories for print, broadcast and online.

Beau has had work published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times, Brisbane Times, Good Weekend, The Sunday Times, The Walkley Magazine, News.com.au, Crikey, The Courier Mail, The Jakarta Globe, APN publications, The Weekly Review magazine, and Fairfax community newspapers including The Melbourne Times.

He is the co-author of The Woman Who Fooled The World: Belle Gibson’s Cancer Con with Nick Toscano.

(If you click through the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Beau.

Beau

Thank you for having me.

Valerie

Now, I have read your book cover to cover. It was a page turner. I devoured it. It’s The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson’s cancer con. I know the title says it all, but just in case some readers aren’t sure what it’s about, can you just tell us briefly what the book is about?

Beau

Sure. The book is about a young woman from Brisbane called Belle Gibson. She really emerged from nowhere on social media in around 2013. And she rose to prominence as a young wellness blogger on Instagram who claimed to have cured herself of terminal brain cancer with a healthy diet. The problem was that Belle Gibson never actually had cancer, and she was exposed a couple of years later for having lied about this. And eventually she was prosecuted in the Federal Court of Australia for misleading and deceptive conduct.

The reason this case became so high profile was because her story was not just picked up the mainstream media, but she was also embraced by Apple, the world’s most valuable company, and Penguin, the world’s biggest publisher. And what emerged later on was that Penguin, who published her first book, and apparently were gearing up to create a second book with her, never actually fact-checked any of the claims that she’d made about her health or diagnosis or prognosis, or these extraordinary claims of having beaten a terminal disease with healthy eating.

And also Apple, likewise, never bothered to fact check any of her story. And they really partnered with her quite heavily, and were set to feature her smartphone app as a standalone app, one of only 12 in the world, on their new Apple Watch prototype.

So it was a story that really captivated a lot of people in Australia and around the world, and it crossed many different areas – of health and wellness, and cancer, and technology, and publishing, and fraud. It was a very sad and… It was a very sad story really, in the end.

Valerie

Now, before we get into the incredible research and the process of writing this book, can you just give people a brief potted history of your career so far and what’s led you into this space?

Beau

Sure. I was originally interested in documentary film making, and started a film and television degree at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane. I didn’t finish the degree, and I ended up moving to Melbourne, and going to Monash University and taking up a Bachelor of Journalism. Throughout that course, I was freelancing a little bit. And when I say freelancing I mean writing for free, as most young aspiring writers are doing when they’re trying to get their foot in the door.

And then after I finished my degree, or at the tail end of my degree, I started working at SYN radio station, which is run by RMIT in Melbourne. That’s where I met my co-author on this book, Nick Toscano. We were both reporters on this current affairs radio show called Panorama. And we ended up running the show after about a year or 18 months with a group of reporters.

And by the time we had both finished university, Nick and I both ended up going on and working at Fairfax Media’s stable of local newspapers, which have since shut down. And these were the free weekly magazines that you get in the letter box. So we were covering local news and local politics. And eventually we started also working casual shifts at The Age in Melbourne.

And after a few years, that led to a job at The Age for both of us, within about a few months. So we’ve had very parallel careers. And we were both at The Age, had both been at The Age for about four years. Nick is still there, and I left earlier this year to move overseas with my family.

Valerie

So can you remember the first incident that kind of made your brain tweak and go, I’m going to pay attention to Belle Gibson?

Beau

Yes. I had a former colleague over at my house for dinner one night, and she was about to leave, and she mentioned this woman called Belle Gibson. And she said, “you’ve got to look into her. I’ve heard that she’s out there cancer scamming and she’s got this huge profile online.” And I thought, okay, great story. And I told my friend to send me the details and she did.

And a couple of days later she sent through a text message with Belle Gibson’s name and a link to her Instagram profile, and it said something like, this is the girl who’s cancer scamming. And I went on and had a very, very quick look at Belle Gibson’s Instagram page, and it was like most of all wellness bloggers. It was a very carefully curated selection of photos, and it was this apparently wonderful life. But I didn’t really… There wasn’t a lot there that I could use, or really look into at that stage.

And working in a newsroom for a daily newspaper, it’s kind of impossible to go down the rabbit hole with every lead like this, because there’s no obvious… I mean, in hindsight, there was an obvious news hook there, but at the time, you know… We get tip offs like this all the time, and most of them amount to nothing. And it’s normally a friend or a former business partner who’s got an axe to grind and who wants to bring someone down.

So I didn’t really do anything about it, and this friend of mine kept hassling me and hassling me, and texting me and calling me, and telling me to pull my finger out. So one day at The Age, I was running downstairs to get a coffee at the cafe, and she texted me again. And I thought, okay stuff it.

So I called the contact that she had given me. And this was the person, supposedly a friend of Belle Gibson’s, who was supposed to be our source on this and expose everything. And I called her while I was ordering a coffee, and I didn’t have a notepad or pen or anything. It was really unprofessional. And I ended up on the phone to her for an hour, sitting out on the steps out the front of Media House in Melbourne. And just listening to her and talking to her and asking her a bunch of questions, and trying to get to the bottom of what was going on, and what her motivation was.

And at the end of the phone call, I was pretty much hooked on the story, and I believed what she was saying. Her whole, what she told me at the time, was that her mother’s friend had just died of cancer, and her mother’s friend had been talking about stopping conventional treatment. And she had said to her, “oh you should, I know Belle Gibson and look what she’s done, she’s saved her own life.” And on it went. So she felt a tremendous amount of guilt. Even though her advice didn’t lead to her mother’s friend changing her treatment plan or anything like that. And it didn’t lead to her death or anything like that. But this friend of Belle Gibson’s just felt terrible about promoting what she thought was a false story, and being sucked in herself. So she was very upfront about wanting to stop Belle Gibson.

So that was really what piqued my interest. And at that point, I mentioned it to Nick, and Nick was straight away on board. And we started looking into the story and pulling everything there was on the public record about Belle Gibson. And nothing really seemed to make sense or add up. And a lot of her statements about her health and her medical dramas, and also her fundraising activities, her age, her qualifications, where she lived, it all was very muddled and in places she contradicted herself.

Within I think a week or two we had about half a dozen people in Belle Gibson’s inner circle all telling us that she did not have cancer, and that she was cancer scamming. But not one of those people were willing to go on the record and put their names to those allegations. So Nick and I had a chat to our editors and the lawyers for The Age. And the lawyers came back to us in about 30 seconds and said, you can’t run this story.

And we, to be honest, at that stage we didn’t want to run that story. And I don’t think we would have, even if we were given the green light. Because I can’t think of a story in history where a journalist has called someone out for not having cancer. But at that point, before all this blew up, we didn’t really know enough Belle Gibson and her history. And I mean, what if she had another medical condition, and we said she wasn’t sick? Or what if she had a benign tumour? It could just be so damaging, for her and for us.

Valerie

So they told you not to run it. So what happened then? You sat on it, did more research? What happened then?

Beau

I think our editor used the term, something like ‘go and find a low-hanging fruit’. Which is something that editors always say. It’s kind of, when you’re on a big story and you’re spending a lot of time on it, and they just want to put a story out and get the ball rolling. And in this case, it was really the right advice.

So we figured that if Belle Gibson is lying about cancer, she’s probably lying about other aspects of her story. And we knew that the obvious place to start would be the fundraisers. So she’d held various fundraising appeals, both in person and online. And she had publicly claimed that she had given away thousands of dollars to these charities both in Australia and overseas.

She’d also made public statements in her book and in media interviews about giving a percentage, portions of her profits to all these charities. And these ranged from 30% to 80% to 95% to 100%. And she’d also named all the charities. And we’d done some reporting with some of those charities in the past, like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and we had contacts there.

So we just called the charities up and asked them if they knew about Belle Gibson and if they’d received the money. And the answers that came back were pretty much unanimous. They hadn’t heard of her, and no they hadn’t seen the money. And they were pretty upset that their brand had been used in her fundraising appeals.

So we knew that we could run that story. And we ran that story with 100% confidence. And we knew that pretty quickly, we thought within maybe 12 hours to 24 hours, the conversation would turn on social media and people would start openly questioning other aspects of her story, namely the health claims.

That actually happened, the story went up online on a Sunday night, and it ran in the newspaper on the Monday morning. I think it went up online at about 9:00 on a Sunday night. And before 9:30, there was a torrent of questions about her health. And anything that was at all critical or asking for proof of her health claims, Belle Gibson was deleting. And then people were commenting about her trying to delete the comments and stay in control.

And then we were watching at the same time her social media profiles being switched to private. And she was purging literally hundreds and hundreds of photos from her Instagram feed, and comments. Effectively trying to cover her tracks, but it was definitely too late.

Valerie

Now, I want to talk about her Instagram feed, because in the book you make various references to certain posts that she put out over time on Instagram and social media generally. Which are now deleted, and you’re right that they are now deleted. Did you have some kind of really meticulous saving process? What were you doing at the time? Did you think, I’ve got to save this for now in case it gets deleted, even though you were nowhere near breaking the story at the time, supposedly?

Beau

Yeah. So before we wrote the first… In that period of us looking into Belle Gibson, over those couple of weeks, and then working and focusing just on the fundraising story, we were screenshotting everything. So we have thousands of screenshots of comments and photos and pages related to Belle Gibson. And also blog posts and endorsements from other people and companies which have also disappeared. Even some news articles have disappeared. You can’t find them anywhere. But we’ve still got some screenshots of those.

But there’s another great resource called The Wayback Machine that we used. And you can go in there and dig around and find things. It can take a lot of time, but you can find some great stuff using that resource.

The thing that really helped us with this story, and I’ve never experienced this with any other story I’ve covered, was that we were contacted by so many readers. We were contacted by hundreds and hundreds of people, cancer patients, families of cancer patients, doctors, nurses, people who were interested in fundraising, people who were just really, really pissed off at the idea that someone would fake cancer and steal from charity. And also some of her fans and friends and former colleagues and friends. And a lot of these people had their own concerns about Belle Gibson in the couple of years before we started looking into her, and they had taken screenshots themselves.

And so we were just inundated with messages, and the back story of Belle Gibson, and photos of her from her childhood, screenshots that we hadn’t even seen before, and screenshots of text message conversations between her and friends, or former friends, who had had concerns but didn’t want to speak to the media. It was really overwhelming, and really, really strange. Because so many people suspected something, but no one was willing to say anything beforehand. Because the thought of calling someone out for not having cancer, if they were wrong, was almost more unthinkable than faking cancer.

Valerie

So you were inundated with all of these hundreds of pieces of material, and stories. What kind of… I’m interested, I know a lot of listeners would be interested in your process. What did you actually do? Did you categorise it as they came in? Did you have some kind of… What system did you have to then access it later when you needed it?

Beau

We had a terrible system. And it caused… Yeah, it really bothered me later on. Because it took so long to go through it all.

But basically, Nick and I put our email addresses at the bottom of every story that we ran about Belle Gibson and her business The Whole Pantry. And as the emails rolled in, if we weren’t copied in with each other we’d obviously share them and forward them on to each other. And if it was something we could follow up immediately for another story – so in the aftermath of the first story we were trying to ultimately get to ‘Belle Gibson is faking cancer’. If it was someone claiming to have access to medical records, we would follow that up immediately. If it was someone claiming to be a family member or a close friend, we’d follow that up immediately. If it was someone saying that they knew her in grade eight and she was a bully, we’d thank them and put that aside.

We just basically had an email folder. Everything went into that. If we could follow it up, we would. If we couldn’t, we hung onto it. And so when it all died down and a couple of years later when we came to writing the book, we had the painful task of going through those hundreds and hundreds of emails, and contacting everyone and seeing who wanted to talk and seeing what we could firm up.

But at the same time, we were very lucky because we had all those leads to go on. It was very hard getting people to talk in this story. And to have had people contact us… Although many of the people who contacted us originally, in the heat of the moment, when the news story was published, didn’t actually want to talk when we did contact them for a comment. So that was interesting. And that was usually because they didn’t want to be associated with Belle Gibson in any way. They don’t want their names to come up in a Google search next to her and cancer scamming.

Valerie

Yes. Particularly the people from Penguin and Apple, and those sorts of organisations.

Beau

Yes. Particularly those people.

Valerie

When did you think this could be a book? At what point in the process? Or did you think that from the start?

Beau

No. Actually it was September 2016. And I actually just… It was kind of funny. I didn’t have a story that day to pitch to my editors. And I was sort of going through all my emails, thinking what can I do before I’m sent out to cover a fire or something that I didn’t really want to do. I thought I’d need to pitch something to get ahead of it. And I came across another email, some of the emails about Belle Gibson. And it reminded me of this treasure trove of information we had. And the idea just popped into my head – I thought this could be a book.

And I was having a drink with a couple of Age colleagues later that day, and I mentioned this to them, and they sort of had this lightbulb moment, too, and said, oh my god! How did we not think of this before? Yes, it’s a book.

And then I asked another colleague who had written a book with Scribe, who is our publisher. And I asked her for the contact details with who she was dealing with there. And she passed on the name and email address of Henry Rosenbloom, who is the founder and director. And I just fired off an email to him. And it was a two-liner. I just introduced myself and I said, I reckon there’s a book in this. Would you like to have a chat? Or would you like to have a coffee? And he wrote back, encouragingly he wrote back immediately, and said yes, come and see me next week. And Nick and I did. And that was pretty much it. And then 14 months later, 15 months later, and it was done.

Valerie

So you and Nick collaborated on this book while you had your day jobs? Or was it part of your day job in a sense? How did that work? How did you juggle it?

Beau

So we… Yeah. We juggled it. We were working fulltime, and then we took eight weeks off, we took eight weeks unpaid leave. And we used our book advance to fund that. And then we sat at Nick’s kitchen table at his apartment in Melbourne for eight weeks, and we just got into it and started pulling everything together. In our spare time and at nights and on weekends we’d do a lot of work. Mainly at nights, actually, after work. We did a lot of work on the book while we were at work at The Age.

Valerie

And… Go on.

Beau

No, sorry, that was it.

Valerie

And on a practical level, how did you divide it up? Because there’s two of you. You’re co-authors, and obviously co-investigators. But in the actual writing process, the voice in it is very clear, it’s very strong, it is unfaltering, and it’s very smooth and seamless. So I’m curious to know how two people did that. How did you divide it on a practical level?

Beau

Well, thanks for that. That’s nice to hear. Because we were worried about that at various points while we were writing the book.

Nick and I, as I said earlier, we’ve had parallel careers and we’re good mates. And we have a fairly similar writing style. And whenever each of us has ever worked on a big story, a big feature story or something like this, we’ve always gone to each other and just had the other person proof read it, and check over and make sure that we’re not about to embarrass ourselves by saying something stupid. So we have a good, we’ve built really good trust, and we rely on each other in that way.

When it came down to actually sitting down and writing the book, our approach was kind of like, we’d be sitting at Nick’s kitchen table, we’d have just finished a chapter and we’re looking at what we’re doing next, and we just say what we wanted to do.

So if Nick was interested – Nick had just read Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. And he wanted to write a book about the public shaming of Belle Gibson. So he said, look, I’m going to kick this off and get it going.

I had been in contact with a young woman in Melbourne who was a fan of Belle Gibson’s and who actually had cancer, and has very, very serious cancer. And I’d spent a lot of time with her, a lot of time talking with her, and had gone to quite a few appointments with her at the hospital, and felt a very deep connection with her. So it made sense that I started writing that chapter.

In the end though, her chapter turned into two chapters, a part one and a part two. And Nick ended up meeting her and coming along to some appointments as well. So he wrote part of that chapter as well.

And look, whatever each of us wrote, we swapped. We’d swap it over and the other person would take a red pen to it and scribble all over it. And by the end of it pretty much everything in the book is written by both of us, every sentence. Each of us had had some input.

Valerie

Did you map it out first?

Beau

Did we nut it out first?

Valerie

Map out the narrative arc? Did you map out the chapter orders, how it was going to unfold? Or did you start writing bits and then pieced it together?

Beau

No. We did map it out. This was all new to us. The biggest piece that we had written for the paper would have been a few thousand words, and all of a sudden, this publisher was talking about 80 – 100,000 words.

And he said to us that he’d consider offering us a book deal if we sent him a proposal. And what he wanted in a proposal was a chapter breakdown, and a synopsis, and a couple of examples of our writing. And he didn’t care if these were the intros to a few different chapters, or half a chapter, or half the book, he just wanted to see something.

So we sat down and we did the chapter breakdown. And the synopsis was really quite simple. The chapter breakdown was reasonably easy to do, but it took… We sort of had to work on it for a while over a couple of weeks. So we’d sit down and chat about it, but then after sleeping on it for a few days it would change.

So we knew we had to focus on social media, and we knew we had to focus on the failures of the media. We knew we had to dig into Belle Gibson’s background. We knew we had to get some info on Penguin and Apple. We knew we had to focus heavily on cancer, but we wanted to find cancer patients who were actually directly affected by Belle Gibson. So fans and family members and people who were sucked in. So that’s what we did. And then we started a couple of chapters, and we fired them off to the publisher, and he liked what he saw.

But the most helpful part of that process was mapping it out, the chapter structure. Because we had some sort of loose plan to work off, and it stopped us from procrastinating.

Valerie

I’m fascinated by what you’ve just said because it sounds like, from what you’ve just said, you’ve mapped it out and kind of created a whole lot of more work for yourself. It’s not like you took the research that you had already done on the story and turned it into a book. It sounds like you took that and had to go to a whole other level of research. Is that correct?

Beau

Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. It’s sort of like… The idea at that point, writing the book just about Belle Gibson didn’t really appeal to either of us. The reason we were interested in writing the book was because we wanted to look at how it had affected people. And we wanted to look into this wellness phenomenon, and we wanted to look at misinformation on the internet, and we wanted to touch in as much detail as we could, in 100,000 words, on all these different, this perfect storm of factors that allowed Belle Gibson to rise to the great heights that she did.

So we really wanted this to be the book that covered off this issue. We didn’t want to just churn something out because it was a hot topic. We wanted to actually get into the story, not just of Belle Gibson, but Penguin and Apple and everything, everyone and everything that facilitated her rise.

Valerie

Right. Because it so comprehensively researched, and there is so much in this book. And I had (obviously wrongly) assumed that a lot of that was just not what would necessarily make a news story. Because you also included elements of the process of your discovery of people and meeting people and stuff like that. But I realise now that you did that specifically for the book. It’s not like you had all this extra stuff that you hadn’t published in The Age.

I was particularly fascinated by Belle’s parents, and your depiction of her parents and their interactions with you. And some of those interactions were not part of an interview. Some of those interactions were just general every day interactions. How did you make a decision on what to include or how to paint them?

Beau

That’s a really good question. And that was probably the most difficult chapter to write in the book. But I think it needs to be in there.

But basically, just to give your listeners some background, we had heard through other journalists and people who had come across Belle Gibson’s mother and stepfather some stories that painted them as fairly colourful characters. And we knew that we had to get them, we knew that we had to talk to them. Because we thought that it would create, I guess it would shed some light on where Belle Gibson came from.

So I spent a lot of time trying to get in touch with them, and trying to convince her mother Natalie to let me come down, let me fly down to Adelaide to meet them, and do a sit-down interview with them. And the conversations, I don’t know, I guess they were very jumbled and kind of chaotic. And they went for hours at a time. And we never really got to a point where they said yes, come down, and we’ll do the interview.

There was, at times, they said they wouldn’t do an interview unless we paid them. And we can’t do that, as journalists, we can’t pay people. And that’s the same for the book. Even if we could, we had no money, so that wasn’t an option.

But I would keep talking to them, and they would tell me so much information about Belle and about their lives, and some of it contradicted other information they would tell me. And the mother would tell me about her various medical conditions, and all sorts of fascinating information that we just knew had to be included in the book.

And when it came to picking what to put in and what to leave out, I was very much for putting every single word in, pretty much, covering off every single thing that we were told. And Nick disagreed and wanted to leave some things out. He was concerned that… He was concerned about their mental health, and about putting certain information in that could be exploiting them. And I disagreed.

Valerie

And so what proportion of it ended up in there? All of it? Or a percentage of it?

Beau

I’d say around 80% of it. I think everything that needs to be included is included. Nick convinced me with a few arguments about things that they had said that it didn’t really add anything. He was right; it didn’t really add anything to the narrative. And it could actually be more damaging to their reputation by including it in there.

But I mean, and this is something that we had to grapple with throughout the whole writing of the book, with everyone we included in there.

Valerie

Yes. And I get the sense that there’s a fair bit of restraint in what more you could have said about Belle, as well. And presumably more information that could have been written about in a different way. But it’s very… I don’t know. I just think it’s a brilliant piece of writing. I think it’s very balanced.

Beau

Yes. We…

Valerie

What were some of the most surprising… No, go on.

Beau

Sorry, I was just going to say, there was so much more information that we were offered about Belle Gibson from various people. And a lot of it paints a picture of a horrible person, and we didn’t go through the process of even checking out some of that information, some of the allegations that were made against her. Because they weren’t relevant, even if they were true. Or they might be relating to something that a teenager does, and many teenagers do, and it’s just not really relevant to the story.

And we were never interested in taking down Belle Gibson and destroying her reputation. I mean, she’d already effectively destroyed her own reputation. We just wanted to basically chronicle the story and look more into it.

So there is a lot of information that was left out of there, just simply because it’s not relevant. And it’s too personal. And it has nothing to do with her public profile that she traded off and that relates to her illness and her business. So that’s where we tried to keep the focus.

Valerie

I think you’ve treated her very fairly. In the process of your research, what were some of the most surprising turns in that process? Were there surprising turns?

Beau

It wasn’t the biggest surprise, but it was very annoying: no one wanted to talk to us for the book.

Valerie

Yes.

Beau

So anyone who had had any association with Belle Gibson had run a mile from her. So that was kind of surprising. Because this does happen when you’re writing stories even for the newspaper, you talk to people who don’t want to be named or for whatever reason don’t want to be part of the story. But this was like every call, or nine out of ten calls that we would make, people just shut us down.

Valerie

And they wouldn’t even talk to you off the record?

Beau

No. And that’s where we’d go… If it was just someone minor, we would offer them, look is there anything you can offer? Or can you point us in the right direction? Or is there any other information that you can provide? You don’t have to be named in this. And many people wanted nothing to do with it and said no.

And then for the bigger players who were involved, with some of them we offered them anonymity, and some we didn’t. And the ones we didn’t, were really the people who were closest to her and who endorsed her, or who had public profiles themselves.

But it is fair to say that all of these people were taken in by Belle’s story. And apart from wanting to get as far away from her as possible, they all felt cheated and exposed. And they were very hurt and angry, as well.

Our reason for including them in the book is, you know, some of these people have huge followings themselves and they promoted Belle Gibson very heavily online and to their own fans. I guess the point we’re trying to make is that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and people need to just apply a little bit more scrutiny to claims. Especially when they’re aimed at the most vulnerable people in our community.

Valerie

What was the most enjoyable part of the process, and what was the most challenging?

Beau

Enjoyable? This book nearly killed us.

Valerie

It’s a tour de force.

Beau

I don’t know. I don’t know what was enjoyable about it. It was enjoyable when I didn’t have to read over it anymore. When I just saw it on a bookshelf in a shop.

Look, the most enjoyable bits were writing longform non-fiction. So the things that we can’t do often as journalists. I could, I think with Kate Thomas, the woman in the book who actually has cancer, we devoted I think around 5,000 words to her story. And we went into a huge amount of detail. And that was really enjoyable. Apart from the very difficult subject matter, it was enjoyable to write in that kind of detail.

The investigative side of researching this book was also something that is often hard to do as journalists, day to day. That was a fun thing to do, to actually sink your teeth into one aspect of the story, and within two weeks digging around and getting every little bit of information that we could so that we could write a scene, almost like a movie scene. We’ve got that many people, and we’ve spoken to that many people in the room, that we are 100% certain how something went down, and we can almost offer these different points of view. That was really enjoyable.

Valerie

I’d like to touch on that. If we can just expand on that a bit. Because there are scenes that when you’re reading the book, the reader is totally there. And it is just beautifully written new journalism, in a sense.

I wanted to ask you how you got that confidence to practically be in the room. Is it literally because you talked to multiple people in that room, and they all described their points of view, and you then wrote the consolidated version?

Beau

Yeah. So for instance with our opening scene, at the funeral and the incident at the wake, I think I would have called over three or four dozen people to get information about that. And most of them said they wouldn’t talk to us, most of them shut it down. I would have called or emailed. They either shut it down or they didn’t respond.

But in the end, we had a fair few people who were there telling us what happened and all their stories married up. And we were really blessed to be able to have that. It was such great luck to get those people talking to us and to have witnessed something, and telling us a story that is verifiable, and we can confirm it down to these tiny little details. So that’s what we did.

And then we would take their stories and the things that were confirmed we would report, and if there was a great line or a great quote that someone would give us, we would use that to punctuate that part of the story or just provide a bit more detail.

But there’s so many little things in the book, like the colour of the pew in the church on the Sunshine Coast in that opening chapter. For that, we actually called the church, we actually called the church to check it after we saw the photos on Facebook of their other services. And we saw the colour and then we called and checked if the colour of that pew had been the same two years earlier.

Valerie

Right. Meticulous.

Beau

And then when I was in Brisbane I was up at the Sunshine Coast and I drove out to the church and looked through the window. We went over every little detail. So it’s accurate. I can say it’s accurate.

Valerie

Oh yeah! So what are you doing now?

Beau

What am I doing now?

Valerie

I mean, that book’s now out. What are you doing? Are you working on another book? Or what’s next?

Beau

I have an idea. We have a couple of ideas for other books. But what I’m doing is, my wife is from Ireland, a small village in the south-east of Ireland. And we’ve moved over here with our kids who are three and five, because she wanted to be closer to her family. So we’re here for the next few years. And we’re living in a very small village, and have just got a house that we’re about to move into.

And for work, I am doing some block laying on a building site. Which has been so much fun, because I don’t have to think. And it’s just really nice just picking up blocks and moving blocks and not thinking and not worrying about books and journalism. Except it’s freezing. And then I’m also doing a bit of writing for a soap opera over here, every couple of months.

Valerie

Wow.

Beau

I go into the story room there and do some writing. And that’s been really fun as well, and really different. And it’s sort of, it’s kind of an easy transition from journalism, because for a soap they just need these really extreme and sometimes unbelievable stories, and I’ve got lots of them from reporting at the newspaper.

And I’m working on a couple of news stories as well for one of the newspapers over here. But at the moment, it’s just these little things until we get settled and get into our place and re-evaluate. And Nick and I will look at doing another book probably together at some point.

Valerie

Great. So it sounds like you’ve closed the chapter on this book. And from reports, Belle Gibson is leading an unassuming, seemingly trying to be inconspicuous life in Northcote or somewhere in Melbourne. Do you think that this is the last that we’ve heard of Belle Gibson?

Beau

No. No, I don’t think so.

Valerie

Really?

Beau

It’s probably the last that we’ll be involved with writing about this story. But I think Belle Gibson, first of all, because she’s never apologised, and hasn’t really shown any remorse, or shown up to her court case, I think she’s made it very difficult for people to move past what she’s done. So I think she’ll always be a newsworthy topic.

And I don’t think she can help herself. I think she will end up going on social media and saying something again, and I think the media will jump on it.

We also have heard rumours from some people who are close to her about her interest in starting other businesses, online businesses and apps. And that wouldn’t surprise me at all. And I think that will happen. Whether her name is attached to it, or whether she’s working in the background for another company, I’m not sure.

I mean, one thing we know about Belle Gibson is that she’s very charismatic and she’s very, very media savvy. And she’s quite intelligent, and she’s very ambitious. So I don’t think it’s over.

Valerie

Okay. Wow. Well, congratulations on the book. It’s highly recommended reading. I think it’s fantastic, and I haven’t actually been able to stop talking about it. So thank you so much for your time today, Beau.

Beau

Thank you. No problem. Thank you. Thanks for making the time.


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