Book review: Sean Kelly’s The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison


Joshua Black, Australian National University“How can you tell if a politician is lying?” It is a favourite joke of my grandfather’s, and the punchline is all too obvious: “His mouth will be moving.”

The joke gives succinct expression to a cynicism that has shaped Australian politics since the introduction of self-government in the 1850s. The implication, of both the joke and the culture informing it, is that the politician’s lies reflect solely on their kind and reveal nothing about the rest of us.

In his newly published profile of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Sean Kelly flips this way of thinking on its head. The Game offers many powerful and revealing insights into Morrison’s career and the tricky political tactics that have characterised it. But the most important revelations in this book are about the society that created our prime minister, and the structures and cultures that facilitated his path to the Lodge.

Kelly explains, for example, that Morrison worked hard to be a “blank canvas” in the public eye until perhaps 2015, at which point he became the more recognisable suburban “good bloke down the road”.

This persona, replete with the “ScoMo” nickname, has characterised his public performances ever since. But the performance only matters because it finds in the Australian community “a willing audience” who, recently at least, like to have what novelist E.M. Forster called “flat characters” (or instantly recognisable “types”) in their newspapers and their parliaments.

Formerly a self-described “spin doctor” for both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Kelly studies Morrison’s public persona not just with the eye of a Canberra insider, but also with the lens of a cultural critic. In this “land of extremes”, he says, Australians are

always splitting ourselves in two, then ignoring the half that discomfits us.

For Kelly, this mentality explains why the so-called “quiet Australians” have indulged “the game” that Morrison plays, while the others have rejected him entirely (“I am completely different”).

Given Kelly’s Labor connections, cynics might expect a partisan hit-job on the prime minister. This portrait is no hit-job, but it is, unsurprisingly, unflattering.




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Kelly gives Morrison the benefit of the doubt with respect to the early stages of the pandemic, “a situation unlike anything those involved had dealt with before”. There is recognition, too, of the burdens that Jenny Morrison and her daughters have borne in service of public life. But the portrait of Morrison himself is a study of duplicity and hollowness.

There are criticisms of Morrison’s more tone-deaf and morally dubious performances, none more so than the forced handshakes with reluctant bushfire survivors and firefighters during that black summer of 2019-20.

But the most important conclusion about Morrison in this book relates to the way he thinks. Kelly suggests Morrison’s mind does not think in narratives, but only in images or snapshots (think of the punchline of the tourism ad he commissioned, “Where the bloody hell are ya?”). This, Kelly reasons, is why he can say one thing with such apparent conviction today, and the opposite with equal fervour tomorrow.

For a public figure, this inconsistency would be impossible “if it were not a central aspect of their experience of the world”. The psychological analysis here is sweeping, its inferences devastating.

There are many praiseworthy qualities in Kelly’s study. Serious issues, from asylum-seeker policy to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine roll-out, are given ample coverage. But this is no traditional biography, and these debates are not its central concern.

The main subject of this book is the performance of politics itself, and the narratives that mediate the public’s relationship with its representatives. The idea of “performance” seems resurgent in political theory and history, and its capacity for revelation is rich.

In some ways, Kelly’s book builds on an older tradition of political profiles that took performance as their main subject. Graham Little’s Strong Leadership (1988) and Judith Brett’s Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (1992) stand tall in that tradition, using psychosocial theory to unpack the hearts and minds of Australian liberals from Menzies to Malcolm Fraser. Don Watson’s Recollections of a Bleeding Heart (2002) is equally important, part-memoir, part-meditation and part-psychological study of Paul Keating as prime minister, written from the intimate perspective of a prime ministerial speechwriter.

In each case, the biographer’s goal was to explain not just who the prime minister was, but how their way of thinking engaged with the world around them.

Kelly does not try to discover the “real” Scott Morrison, a task rendered almost impossible by the vacuousness of the prime minister’s performances and the role of the media in presenting him to us.

Instead, he evokes the divided community to whom Morrison performs, and the social and cultural processes that allow those performances to take place and, at least sometimes, hit their mark. Kelly’s method is to home in on public speech, its sounds and cadences, as well as the often elusive messages and impressions that Morrison seeks to convey with his words.

The chief limitation of The Game is that, relying largely on public material, it cannot take us into the institutions that empower Morrison, other than the media.




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We don’t learn much about the Prime Minister’s Office, other than that it failed to respond to Brittany Higgins’s alleged rape in Parliament House in an appropriate fashion.

Parliament itself is a stage here, but scarcely recognisable as an institution that makes laws. The public service is invisible. National Cabinet is, according to Kelly, little more than an “aesthetic change” from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that preceded it.

It says something about the condition of contemporary politics that it is hard to say whether these absences are a flaw in the author’s approach, or inevitable given the style of leadership it so astutely anatomises.

In the end, The Game invites us to look toward the next election. That poll will, Kelly implies, reveal something more of ourselves, or at least those “quiet” Australians who are supposed to have voted for Morrison in 2019. Like most of us, Kelly is unsure who will have the last laugh.The Conversation

Joshua Black, PhD Candidate, School of History, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New research finds a growing appetite for Australian books overseas, with increased demand in China


Actor Nicole Kidman and Big Little Lies’ Australian author Liane Moriarty at the Emmys in 2017.
Peter Mitchell/AAP

Paul Crosby, Macquarie University and Jan Zwar, Macquarie UniversityMany authors dream of overseas success for their work, but how Australian books find publication in other territories and languages is not well understood even in the publishing industry.

Our new research has found that between 2008 and 2018, the number of international book rights deals made for Australian titles grew by almost 25%. This was driven, in part, by the international success of adult fiction titles from 2012 onwards and increased demand for Australian books in China.

Interestingly, during this time, over half of all deals were for children’s books. Still, there was a significant increase in the number of deals struck for adult fiction, which now accounts for around 30% of deals each year. More than 9,000 deals were made over the decade.

While almost one in five deals specified the title would remain in English, 13.7% were made for Chinese translations, followed by Korean (7% of deals). The data also reveals the increasing importance of Eastern European markets such as the Czech Republic and Slovenia, along with decreased demand for German, Dutch and Spanish translations.

13.7% of deals were for Chinese translations.
shutterstock



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This is the first major attempt to measure the scale of Australia’s international book rights sales. Advances from them deliver a total of around $10 million each year to Australian writers, providing a valuable additional income stream.

Large, medium and even small Australian publishers are negotiating rights deals for their authors, and Australian literary agents are an established part of the international scene.

The success is across a broad range of genres including crime, romance, action thriller, contemporary women’s fiction, self-help and literary fiction.

Rights management involves a seller (who could be a publisher, literary agent or author) licensing the right to make and sell copies of a print, ebook or audiobook, and adaptation rights such as television, film and theatre.

63% of senior agents and publishers told us they felt there had been an increase in international interest in Australian authored books over the ten-year sample period.

Our findings include a report and case studies that aim to shed light on this important commercial and cultural aspect of the book industry.

The kids are alright

Titles aimed at younger readers (picture books up to young adult) were very popular with overseas buyers.

The reasons are not entirely clear: ultimately, the books themselves must work on their own terms in overseas markets. In addition to well-known series such as the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, Judith Rossell’s books featuring Stella Montgomery, and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband adventure series, there are hundreds of lower-profile titles which have “travelled”.

The decades-long expertise of Australian authors, publishers and agents in specialist children’s genres (often overlooked in the industry before the success of the Harry Potter series) is also likely to be a factor.

Deal-making

Since the 1980s, Australian publishers and literary agents have quietly been building international networks based on years of attendance at key book fairs in Frankfurt, Bologna, New York, London and more recently, Shanghai. These fairs, along with welcoming delegations of publishing executives and other strategies, help them find exactly who might be receptive to a pitch about their latest Australian books.

As Libby O’Donnell, Head of International Rights and International Business Development at HarperCollins Australia, puts it, “Every book can potentially have some readers overseas but not every book can have a market overseas that makes it viable to publish.”

While attendance at book fairs and personal relationships are key to successful deals, we observed different models of deal-making. O’Donnell was involved in international auctions for Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss.

A theatrical production of Boy Swallows Universe at QPAC.
David Kelly



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She describes developing a carefully timed international campaign to draw out the biggest bids for these books. Six groups competed for the television rights to Boy Swallows Universe.

But rights sellers who work for some of the largest Australian publishers also described their passion for finding overseas publishers for books with less commercial potential. For Ivor Indyk at the highly respected literary press, Giramondo Publishing, it’s about forming alliances with like-minded literary publishers enabling overseas publication of Australian books that may become part of a literary canon.

Although publishers and agents benefit financially and in terms of prestige, ultimately, the biggest beneficiaries are authors. For most authors, the majority of their income will be from the Australia and New Zealand market. Rights income is “icing on the cake”.

A small proportion of Australian authors can live off their rights income, or sell substantially more books overseas than here. But most authors are excited by the opportunity to have their work read and appreciated overseas; offering another income stream and enhancing their international reputations.

However, the pandemic has hit the international book industry hard – with international travel on hold for so long.

Our report recommends initiatives such as mentoring arrangements and continued investment by industry and government in outgoing and incoming trade delegations (including to key book fairs). This will be more important than ever as publishers and agents re-establish connections after a hiatus of nearly two years.The Conversation

Paul Crosby, Lecturer, Department of Economics, Macquarie University and Jan Zwar, Faculty Research Manager, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2021 ‘NIBs’ Longlist


The link below is to an article reporting on the longlist for the 2021 Nib Literary Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/08/30/192249/nib-literary-award-2021-longlist-announced/

2021 National Biography Award Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2021 National Biography Award, Cassandra Pybus for ‘Truganini – Journey Through the Apocalypse.’

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/08/27/192214/pybus-wins-2021-national-biography-award-for-truganini/

2021 New South Wales Premier’s History Awards Winners


The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the 2021 NSW Premier’s History Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/09/06/192708/nsw-premiers-history-awards-2021-winners-announced/

2021 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2021 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/09/03/192512/wright-wins-2021-carmel-bird-digital-literary-award/

2021 New Australian Fiction Prize Shortlist


The link below is to an article reporting on the shortlist for the 2021 New Australian Fiction Shortlist.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/09/01/192333/readings-announces-2021-new-australian-fiction-prize-shortlist/

2021 Richell Prize Longlist


The link below is to an article reporting on the longlist for the 2021 Richell Prize.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/09/06/192716/richell-prize-2021-longlist-announced/

2021 Ned Kelly Awards Winners


The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the 2021 Ned Kelly Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/08/26/192166/ned-kelly-awards-2021-winners-announced/

Western Australia’s Premier’s Book Awards Winners for 2021


The link below is to an article that reports on the winners of the 2021 Western Australia’s Premier’s Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2021/08/26/192143/wa-premiers-book-awards-announced/