Monday, 22 September 2014

How to Script an Election

Hi Guys,

Well the big news this week from New Zealand is that we had our general elections on the weekend, and the National Party romped home while almost every other party lost ground. This despite the fact that the National Party has been in power for six years and this would be its third term - and the normal cycle is that parties in their third term lose support. In fact this surprising turn of events we are told by the people who take note of these sorts of things, has happened only once in the last century.
So how did this happen?
Well my take as an author is probably a little bit different to that of the media, who are busy portraying the left as having run a dismal election campaign - and I should at this point declare myself as a Green voter - which places me squarely on the left of the political spectrum. And to be fair I do think the campaign from Labour - the main opposition party - was on the boring side. Maybe they didn't have enough money to produce slick advertising, or maybe originality deserted them, but there is no doubt that their campaign was flat.
But there was far more at work here then just that in my view. This was an election that was completely overshadowed by a popularity contest. The Prime Minister versus a German Millionaire who doesn't want to be extradited to the US for trial. (I won't mention his name since he ran a website where people could pirate and post artistic creations and thus is far from my favourite person as an author.) And reading from the Castle playbook of crime solving (I love that show!) I looked for an answer by asking the question - what would make a good story?
Now so far what I've laid out is I think fairly uncontroversial. But it occurs to me that one way to boost your popularity if you're desperate to gain a third term and the numbers aren't looking so good, is to reframe the debate. Housing prices going through the roof? The gap between rich and poor growing greater? Don't have enough money to offer tax cuts as the right always seems to want to? Then don't run a debate on the issues. Your numbers will be hurt.
But instead when you have a popular Prime Minister - and I can take nothing away from John Key in terms of being a popular political figure - make it a battle for credibility. So bring an enemy (sort of) from out of left field. Let him build a political party and campaign out of a single political agenda - to get rid of John Key. Let him just before the election take a huge personal swing at the Prime Minister through a dubious email which he can't seem to back up. And then let him miss. Miss so horribly that it looks to the entire country as though he never had anything at all. Just hatred.
And there you have an election won and lost in my view.
The voters on the centre and right side of the electorate are incensed. Their hero / everyman has been maligned for all to see. So he and by extension his party gets a massive protest vote. Not because of a massive swing to the right - though that's effectively what it looks like. But because John Key has been made out to be an innocent under unfair attack. So he has to be supported. The left are tarred with the failure and perceived malicious attacks on the person of John Key, while at the same time their campaigns on the issues have been completely overshadowed by personal politics. So many of them stay home instead of voting for what they believe in and the left vote collapses.
Is this what happened? More or less in my view. But the real question is, was it planned? I personally don't know. I'm not privy to the secrets of the various political machines. But it feels right. Horribly right. It feels as though we - by which I mean the New Zealand voting public - have been played.
And as I sit here with the taste of bile in my mouth - yes I freely admit it -  I look to some of the other things that happened that shaped this election and wonder. For example another right leaning political party, the Conservatives, who were trending towards the five percent threshold and had they crossed it would have been in parliament and would have prevented National from being able to govern alone, had a melt down two days before the election. The leader's press secretary resigned declaring that the leader was manipulative. And immediately the Conservatives who National would not have wanted in parliament, lost votes. Instead of five percent and maybe six or seven seats, they got four point one percent of the vote, and no seats. Coincidence? Again I don't know. But from the Castle school of investigation it looks damned convenient.
So how do we find out? I don't know. I'd guess we could look at the futures of the two players who seem to have delivered an election between them to National. Do things coincidentally come up rosy for them? And maybe someone will investigate - it won't be me. I'll just sit in my home and write my books and feel as though I've been played like everyone else.
But maybe Nicky Hager you have your next book waiting for you here. Dirty Politics Two. A book of which even Machiavelli would be proud. At least one author seems to have done well out of this campaign.
Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Self-confidence, Fear and Writers

Hi Guys,
Bit of a delay between my last post and this one - apologies for that, but I simply didn't really have much to write about.
However, yesterday I was responding to a post on a writing forum and realised that I did have something to blog about. The importance of self-confidence to writers, and particularly writers who haven't yet published.
You will recall that I have previously talked how important it is to a writer to actually publish. It is what will turn a writer not just into an author, but also a better writer. And a lack of confidence is what will turn a writer into a never was. Sorry for the harshness of that - but I believe it to be true. As a writer these days, the single biggest barrier to becoming a better writer you face in these days of self publishing, is yourself.
Too many authors - and a lot of you will recall that I have previously harped on about the lies author's tell themselves as they go through the submissions process - allow themselves to be held back by insecurity. All those lies writers tell themselves about why their work was never picked up by an agent, are a form of insecurity. And they are destructive to a writing career - even more so than rejection.
You can get over rejection. You can survive bad reviews. You can improve your writing by receiving harsh criticism. And in fact these things are all in their own way, a part of growth of an author. But if you can't get past the fear of these things, you are doomed. You will never become the writer you could be. And it is fear that I believe holds so many back.
Fear comes in many forms. It lives in doubt - about you, your writing ability, the quality of your work. It lives in the trade publishing world of submissions to agents and publishers. And it absolutely thrives in the self criticism authors constantly subject their own work to. And while yes - it can be a valuable tool in improving your work - if you let it become your master it will destroy any chance you have of becoming an author.
This is why I say the trade publishing route to writing success is so limited. It's not just in the lies writers tell themselves about why they never heard back from an agent. It's in the process itself. It is a trap for so many. An endless trap. A cycle of fear and inadequacy that will cripple many. And the cycle runs like this:
You write your book, you submit it, you hear nothing back, and you assume that you heard nothing back because the work was not up to standard. So then you rewrite, you improve out of sight so you believe, and you submit again, and you hear nothing back. Which means that your work is not up to standard. So you rewrite and submit. Endlessly. And then some day, five years, ten years down the track, you just give up.
This is what's called a vicious cycle, and each repeat of it destroys self-confidence. But worse than that it's also a strangely comforting process. A rut a writer can find a place to call home in. Because in going through this cycle a writer learns that - yes - he can survive not hearing back from agents. Yes, he can survive getting the occasional rejection letter. But he never has to expose himself to the even harsher world of publishing and reviews etc. You can learn to like your rut.
This is why I say to all of you who have yet to publish - you must publish. You can choose to self publish, or you can throw your hat into the ring and hope to be picked up by an agent. But in the latter case you must set yourself a deadline. It may be a period of time - say a year. Or a set number of submissions to agents. But whatever it is, stick to it. And then at the end if you have not been picked up, bite the bullet and publish your work yourself.
Yes it's scary, and it's hard. Yes there is a lot to learn. Yes it can be brutal. Yes you will make mistakes and be picked up on them. And yes those first few one star reviews will make you wish you'd chopped your fingers off instead of letting them touch a keyboard. But if you do it, you will discover that you can get through this. And you can write. And you can become an author. And you can become the best writer you can be.
Cheers, Greg.