Why Key is going now

john_key_february_2015Executive Summary 1: There’s a crash coming.
Executive Summary 2: Poisoned chalice, anyone?

Whatever you might think of John Key and his performance as Prime Minister, there’s one quality he has in abundance; a gut instinct for the rise and fall (and sometimes crash) of markets. And that’s why I believe he’s going now.

There’s an old comedian’s mantra about leaving ‘em laughing and begging for more. That’s what Key is doing. Getting out while the going’s good. Before the shit hits the fan.

Key began his working life as an auditor, moved on to project management, then, quite literally, talked himself into a job as a foreign exchange trader.

Soon after Roger Douglas and David Lange had floated the dollar in 1985, they [Key and his wife] were watching TV in their flat. “It was a day in the life of a foreign exchange trader,” remembers Key. “I said to Bronagh, I could do that!”

“Yes,” she said. “Probably.”

That was enough. Key started writing to banks.

In Search of John Key, Eugene Bingham, NZ Herald, 19 July 2008 (Online version. Original.)

He quickly developed an instinct for opportunity.

“… I turned on car radio and Radio New Zealand was saying ‘Roger Douglas is going to be sacked at 2pm this afternoon’,” explains Key.

He went back to the dealing room and it was really, really quiet. “I said to them ‘Roger Douglas is going to be sacked, the Kiwi’s going to collapse! What position have we got?’ They all looked at me, ‘nah, no, no … ‘

“So I went out and sold this massive amount.

He draws his breath in through his teeth at the memory of the victory. “It was mayhem after that – we were there to about 9 o’clock. But I knew I’d made a lot … it was millions. I remember Gavin coming over and asking ‘is it a half million?’ ‘No it’s way more than that.’ I don’t remember if it was one, two or three million.

“It was a record for what I’d made, and certainly the firm did very, very well.”

Key’s strategy was to sell New Zealand dollars, which were relatively highly priced, before the rest of the world realised the impact of Douglas’ sacking. Then, when they did catch on, and the dollar fell, he could – and did – buy them back at a cheaper rate. As he says, “It’s a bit like housing. If you think you can sell a house and buy it back a month later at a cheaper price – you sell high and buy low.”

By1995, he was global head of foreign exchange at Merrill Lynch in London, making around NZ$5 million a year in salary and bonuses.

In 1998, when Merrill Lynch suffered heavy losses from the Russian debt crisis, Key was told to sack hundreds of staff and did so with his usual cheerfulness, earning himself the nickname “the smiling assassin”.

Here, from the same article above, is the man who took him to Merrill Lynch in London’s assessment:

“His career’s a good lesson in life when it comes to risk management. Most people don’t know what risk versus reward – or return – is about. John does. One weighs up the odds, balances the situation, measures the people, balances the evidence. John Key totally understands his environment and the outcomes. He transcends the market, geography and people.”

We’re in a post-Brexit, pre-Trump world. The impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU hasn’t really bitten yet, and Trump doesn’t become president until January 2017. After both elections, the markets dipped a little then bounced back, but I’m sure Key’s gut is telling him this phoney war can’t continue indefinitely.

Then there’s the local situation. When he came to power in 2008, government debt stood at $10.3 billion. Today it’s $61.9 billion. Even as a net of GDP, it’s still five times what it was eight years ago:


source: tradingeconomics.com

In 2008, the average house price in Auckland was around $500,000. Today it’s close to a million. And 10% of the country’s population owns 60% on the nation’s wealth, while the other 40% own just 3% of it.

If there is a crunch is coming, it’s a good time to get out. And from a CV perspective, it’s a win-win for Key. If the economy continues its stellar growth, he can sit back and say, “See, look what I started.” And if, it tanks, he can say, “Nothing to do with me.” Or, what I think’s likely, “Yeah, I saw that coming.”

So go out on a high, leave ‘em laughing and begging for more. Someone else can clean up the mess.

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Lee Child on writing and research

Lee Child readingA while back I asked Lee Child a question. Not in person, but via a Goodreads author promotion, and he was gracious enough to give a detailed reply.

I suspect it’s something many writers struggle with, and I revisited his answer because it’s something I bumped up against last week, writing the follow-up to my novel Private Viewing. Like its predecessor, the new novel is set in London, and although I know bits of London pretty well — having lived there on an off for about four years — there’s lots of bits I don’t know.

The internet is a fantastic tool for writers, but it’s also a fantastic trap. You can lose yourself for hours doing “research” — and I did just that. Till I remembered Lee Child’s answer and “researched” that instead. After a quick re-read, I stepped away from my browser and got back to my text …

 

I’m interested in your writing process. You’ve said elsewhere that the final book is pretty much your first draft; that you sit down, start writing and see where the story leads — both you and Reacher. But what about research? A lot of your books contain detailed descriptions of places, weapons, etc. Do you incorporate that as you go? Or do you add these details in later, once you’ve got the story sorted out?

 

Lee Child:

You could say a writer’s whole life is research. Everyone I meet, everything I read or see or experience is packed away for future use. Whether to do extensive research to ensure all your facts line up is an interesting question. When writing fiction, I don’t think accuracy matters as much as whether people perceive accuracy. If I wrote a novel set in New York City, I could make it extremely accurate, but my guess is the more accurate I made it, the more people might find it inaccurate. What matters is not what NYC is really like, but what people generally think it’s like. Readers will sometimes mail me to correct mistakes they’ve found in my books and sometimes they’re right, but surprisingly it’s usually the things I research most carefully that they say I got wrong. All in all, if you’re convincing rather than accurate, you’ll probably please more readers.

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My Dad

My father died seven years ago today. A few weeks ago, a friend recalled the eulogy I read out at his funeral, an interesting tale of odd interconnections. Here, very briefly, is his story …

EHPalmerIn the early part of the last century, somewhere around 1910, two brothers left England for New Zealand; Gus and Charlie Beecroft. They left behind a favourite sister, Louisa, who had recently married a London policeman by the name of Frederick Thomas Palmer.

That was the first connection.

In 1921, Louisa gave birth to my father, the sixth of eight boys. As a youngster, Dad was fascinated by what he called “the pink papers” sent by his Uncle Charlie. Copies of the Auckland Weekly News were stored on the top shelf of the cupboard in his parents’ bedroom, and Dad would go up there, carefully take them down, and lie on the bed studying the strange place-names and photographs of a distant country; of mountains, snow and sheep.

That was the second connection.

His mother died when he was twelve. At fourteen he went to work as messenger boy for a grocery chain, and by the time he was seventeen he was a serving assistant in the Home and Colonial store Hornchurch, Essex. There Dad and his co-workers would receive 56lb cartons of butter and 80lb cheeses – two to a crate – in boxes emblazoned with a silver fern, sent from factories with exotic-sounding names like Tuakau, Waharoa and Ngongotaha.

That was the third connection.

Shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939, the front room window of my grandfather’s house at 183 Lyndhurst Drive in Hornchurch sported the photographs of five young men. Each represented a son who had gone off to serve his country. By 1941 there were six when my father joined the Royal Marines, and a year later there were seven, though by that time two were wreathed in black.

Dad served as a Royal Marine Commando during World War II taking part in a number of beachhead landings including Salerno in Italy, Sword Beach, near Caen in France, and Walcheren Island off the coast of Holland. It was there, on November 1st 1944, that he received an almost-fatal wound. A shell exploded near his landing craft, sinking it, and Dad was hit in the back by a knuckle-sized piece of shrapnel that missed his spine by a quarter of an inch.

That – at least obliquely – was the fourth connection.

When he was de-mobilized in 1946, he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps and join London’s police force. He was turned down because of his wound. So he tried the fire service, with the same result. At that point he concluded that if his country didn’t want him, he’d go somewhere that did.

In 1947 he emigrated to New Zealand, and not long after his arrival he took a train to Dunedin and met, for the first time, with the Uncle Charlie who – two decades earlier – had sent his favourite sister copies of the Auckland Weekly News.

But fate wasn’t quite done with him yet because, when he was in Dunedin, he not only met my mother – who had been born ten days before him and grew up less than half-a-mile from where he grew up in east London – but he started work with a printing firm called Coulls, Somerville and Wilkie. A few years later he was transferred him to Palmerston North to assist with the opening of their new factory on Tremaine Avenue, a factory that – amongst other things – produced labels for the New Zealand Co-op Dairy Company. Labels for their butter and cheese exports. Labels that bore the names of factories in places such as Tuakau, Waharoa and Ngongotaha.

* * *

My father was the last of ten, part of what is now an almost vanished generation. He grew up in a time before most houses had electricity; a time when only shops had telephones; a time when world travel was measured in weeks and months instead of hours.

Two of his siblings died in childhood: Althea, at two; Lenny, at eleven. Two brothers were killed in the war: Reg, a fellow Marine, on board HMS Hood and Gus, a Grenadier Guard, who died in northern Italy. Of the remainder, all reached a good age. Fred served in the artillery, Wylie in the merchant navy, Les in Burma, Cyril in the navy, and my aunt Sis survived Blitz.

Dad was a modest man. A man of great charity towards others but someone who rarely mentioned his own troubles. It’s only been in the last few years that my sister and I learned of the effects of that wound he received in 1944, effects that included a certain weakness, occasional pain and an area on one leg that had no feeling. It was only through the persistence of a the local RSA that he finally claimed a war pension – more than fifty years late. Even so, I think he still felt a little guilty in accepting it because, in his own words, “Others suffered a lot more than I did.”

He once told that when he came to New Zealand he really only wanted three things; a home of his own, a good wife and a good family. It may sound a little boastful coming from me, his son, but I think he was wildly successful.

Plaque

Geoff Palmer
December 2008

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Nanowrimo. It’s over!

Winner-2014-Facebook-Profile+5I finished Nanowrimo this morning with a count of 50,485 words in 30 days. I like to keep a record of these things, so for the record it took me just over 108 hours, (or about 3.5 hours a day), writing an average of 466 words per hour. Which is actually pretty slow — less than eight words a minute. (Try speaking at a rate of eight words a minute and you’ll see what I mean!) Which leads me to my first conclusion:

Writing mostly consists of not writing.

What it does consist of however is setting your bum on a seat and trying to write. Good intentions don’t cut it. Doing it tomorrow doesn’t cut it. The only way forward is to start today, do a bit tomorrow, a bit more the day after that, and just keep going.

So, conclusion number two:

Writers don’t talk about it. Writers write.

Apart from the simple discipline of getting down 1,667 words a day, I like to make it more interesting. Nanowrimo is just about writing. You can do all the preparation you like beforehand — plot synopsis, character development, timeline, etc. — but you mustn’t start setting down words till 1 November.

I dispense with all that — the preparation, I mean — and just sit down with a blank screen. As I type the first words, I have no idea what’s going to emerge or where the story will go.

Whoa! It’s freaky. And fun. And just a little bit frightening. But it’s the second year I’ve done this and it’s the second year I’ve found a damn good story that just seemed to be “out there”.

Don’t take my word for it. You can check out the first chapter here or download the whole of the first part (around 19,000 words) here. And let me know you think. Seriously. Feedback is helpful and everyone has different tastes.

So, conclusion three:

There are millions of stories out there. To find them,
all you need do is start writing.

I could expound on where I think these stories come from and how this process works, but maybe in another post. For now I’m going back to the Nanowrimo site to play the “winner” video again. It consists of ten people, some wearing Viking helmets … But I won’t spoil it for you in case you’re still writing.

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NaNoWriMo – The final assessment

I’ve just spent the last two days reading through the 80,000 word novel I wrote in six-and-half weeks last year. Inspired by NaNoWriMo, I started with a blank screen and just made it up as I wrote. I hit NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 word target on 30 November and continued on to get it finished.

After leaving for a bit longer that I expected, I settled down to read through it yesterday with a little trepidation. The beginning’s not great and needs work, but as I continued on I found myself hooked into the story – always a good sign. In fact it’s got such a ripping ending that I found myself postponing lunch today to finish it off!

It’s still a little rough in places and needs a little work, but not a great deal. That’s been a particularly pleasant surprise.

Being as objective as I can be about it, I have to say that what I wrote is entertaining, has great pace, great characters, is interesting, (and a little disturbing in places), has a great climax, and above all is fun to read. There’s even room for a sequel.

Does NaNoWriMo work? That has to be a resounding YES! It certainly worked for me.

Now it’s time to starting sanding down those rough edges …

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NaNoWriMo: +16 – The real finish line

As I mentioned last month, I only managed 50,503 words in November. That was enough to “win” NaNoWriMo, but it was only about two-thirds of the novel that began to emerge from my blank screen. So I continued on at the NaNoWriMo pace of1,667 words per day, and today I finished the first draft of “Just Jane”. (That’s it’s working title.)

Final word count: 78,492 words

Did I say first draft? Actually, it’s more like Draft 0. I’ve been careful about not back-tracking and re-reading, and as a result I have a few notes of things that need to be changed. But there’s only a handful – mostly minor, and nothing of a major structural nature – and the bits I have peeked at seem to read okay.

Of course it’s always hard to judge when you’re close to a project. I find that leaving things for a month or two then coming back to them gives you a fresh perspective, so I’ll suspend final judgement till then. In the meantime I have another writing project to go on with. Watch this space!

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NaNoWriMo: Day 30 – The finish line

2013-Winner-Square-ButtonI made it! As you can see from the glorious graphic, I’m officially a NaNoWriMo “winner” – along with 42,008 other winners who took part this year.

How does it feel? Great! Before NaNoWriMo I doubted could actually write 50,000 words in a month. Now I’m thinking I could possibly do even more(!)

Here are my figures:

Total word-count: 50,503 words
Average: 1,683 words per day
Best day: 2,363 words
Worst day: 574 words

But as I mentioned last week, the novel’s not finished yet so I’m going to continue on until it is – and try to maintain the same pace. Watch this space …

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NaNoWriMo: Day 23 – Progress report

Barring major accident or illness, I’m pretty confident about completing NaNoWriMo now. But not the novel! It feels like I’m only halfway through that so I’m seriously considering continuing this 1,667 words-per-day odyssey until it is. Am I mad?

Words to date: 38,424
Words to go: 11,576

 

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NaNoWriMo: Day 15 – Past the halfway point

The novel’s still ticking along nicely. Each day, with no planning at all, more of the plot and characters emerge. It’s actually fun! But I’m being careful to avoid going back to tidy things up. Forging on is the key to NaNoWriMo. Editing, tidying and even spell-checking can come later.

 

Words to date: 26,013
Words to go: 23,987

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