What makes this more challenging, is the fact that you have to write it in an engaging manner while at the same time remain professional throughout the whole bio.
Writing Political Biography Rae Wear Writing political biography almost always involves a degree of self-exploration: To begin with, there is the choice of subject. Some biographers are drawn to personalities they admire while others tackle those they have little regard for but consider important or perhaps want to understand.
This reflection is essential if a biography is to be other than hagiography or a hatchet job. In my own choice of subject, Johannes Bjelke-PetersenI was driven by a desire to understand the community in which I had lived most of my life and which had played a large part in my own political socialisation.
Bjelke-Petersen was a man who had both shaped that community and been shaped by it. They always puzzled me, as Bjelke-Petersen did — that combination of rectitude and shady dealings.
I therefore set out with opinions ready formed. I had studied sufficient Queensland politics to know of his reputation writing a political bio authoritarianism, contempt for Parliament and due process, rigging of the electoral system, and of the persistent rumours of corruption. In a timid and law-abiding fashion I had participated in protests against his curtailment of civil liberties in Queensland.
The task for me as for any biographer was to try to understand him, and his success, rather than to give vent to the negative feelings I had accumulated.
I imagine the obverse is true for those who set out to write about someone they admire. In trying to understand comes the recognition that the subject is a complex figure, neither all good nor all bad. Finding skeletons in the cupboard of an admired figure may be more difficult for a biographer to deal with than finding a human spark in a subject previously reviled.
A life is packaged, a story told, loose ends snipped off. The story is told as if it is the story. I found, however, that historical narrative crept in through the back door, so I do not judge this to be a totally successful strategy This problem of dealing with a range of conflicting viewpoints about a subject may be exacerbated by the use of interviews.
Both James Walter and Judith Brett have written admirable biographies without doing interviews although, as Brett points out in the Introduction to Political Lives, some critics took them to task about this.
Not using interviews certainly removes a lot of static, and means that a biographer is relying for evidence on stable historical sources rather than on frequently biased, unreliable and frequently unverifiable recollections.
It may be the case that some interviewees try deliberately to mislead but I believe they are in the minority. Bjelke-Petersenfor example, appeared to be benign and kindly until he was crossed. His supporters remain intensely loyal and appear never to have seen his angry and vindictive side.
In no case was this any more than a cup of tea and a slice of cake, but it made it so much harder to be critical. Bjelke-Petersen was famous for disarming his critics. In my own book I retell a story told by the late Andrew Olle who, as a current affairs reporter, accompanied Sir Joh on a flight to the Torres Strait.
Andrew mentioned that he would have to make an early start the following morning, and was greeted at sunrise by the premier bearing a cup of tea. Undoubtedly Bjelke-Petersen had learnt the advantages that such actions can bring. As Pat Weller has observed, contacts of this kind reveal the human side of the interviewee and these glimpses of humanity are what can make it so hard to be a critic.
Considering all this, is it worth doing interviews especially when there is the added consideration that politicians are adept at avoiding giving much away in interviews? This is particularly true of serving politicians and I would probably never bother interviewing them for the purpose of biography.
Sometimes, however, politicians become more expansive in retirement. Sometimes some interesting insights emerge that have never been committed to the written record. Certainly interview material can add colour, interest and the occasional quirky gem.
The table was beautifully set with wine glasses and he lifted up the top of the tureen and it was boiled pumpkin and potatoes. They were just flawless. Absolutely flawless pumpkins and potatoes. Biography is a difficult craft. While there are many good political biographies, there are very few great ones.
Fiction often seems to do a better job of this. I think he may have been right, but at this point I can only reply that I was not writing fiction.
Next time, though, I would like to bring something more to the process of political biography, and be a little more adventurous in marrying art with craft.Tips for Writing Your Candidate Bio.
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Here are . About Steve Coonts. Stephen Coonts is the author of innumerable New York Times bestsellers, the first of which was the classic flying tale, Flight of the Intruder. Born in , Stephen Paul Coonts grew up in Buckhannon, West Virginia, a coal-mining town of 6, population on the western slope of the Appalachian mountains.
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