The Film of the Map of the Mind

Talking on radio about my books Opportunity and Singularity, writer Mary McCallum once said, “There are so many connecting strands in them you need to make a map.” She was a dream reviewer (one with imagination and brains). I could have told her, “I hold two maps in my head: the life I live and the lives that I invent.” But could I have added with certainty, “And never the twain shall meet”?

At a recent fundraiser for Jacinda Ardern, I arrived alone. But I wasn’t solitary for long. A woman complimented me on my latest novel. She said, “Do you have a secret source in the National Party?” “Of course,” I said. “My spies are everywhere.” Another woman approached. She told me she was a neuroscientist. Her research lay in the divide between brain and mind. What is brain and what is mind? There’s the grey matter and there’s the material it conjures up. I looked around the crowd. I saw lives, stories. I thought about my own story. Was it unfolding before my eyes or was I making my whole life up?

I met a film director, Katie Wolfe, at a party. She gave me some details of her life: the daughter of an All Black, interested in exploring her Maori roots, wanted to make films about contemporary New Zealand lives. She was articulate, focused, impressive. I stared at her. Where else had I seen such striking eyes? They belonged to Mereana, a character in my fiction. Straight from the pages of my novel, she mentioned my book’s filmic qualities. “Have you ever wanted to write a screenplay?” she asked. “No,” I said. (I’m too busy with the sequel to The Night Book. And it looks like it’s all about you.)

We discussed the Australian movie, Lantana. Later I watched the film, a series of connected stories with a sensitive policeman and a mystery at its heart. It contains so many coincidences that it strains belief. But isn’t life unbelievable? Mary McCallum had a criticism of my fiction, I remember: that I’d portrayed a cop who was addicted to reading. “What cop reads?” she protested. I wanted to introduce her to the policeman I used to flat with. Karl Read is his completely implausible name. Back then, Constable (now Detective) Read did little between shifts but read novels.

I spent time thinking about New Zealand films. I thought about the kind of film you could make out of my books, with all their strands. Writing, I was thinking about the National Party and its recent record: the secret 2005 policy of “inoculating” (denying or playing down) policies it wanted but knew the public would baulk at, like privatisation and asset sales, and the way, in 2005, it decided the voters should be hoodwinked rather than having their centrist mandate obeyed. And then, as if the universe had been reading my mind, the Grand Inoculator himself sprang from the shadows.

He wasn’t disguised as a moderate this time. He’d come out of the closet. He wanted to tear the yellow jacket from Rodney Hide’s back and lead that unprepossessing gaggle of geniuses, Boscowen, Roy, Calvert. And suddenly we were reading about Don Brash’s “frugality” and “reasonableness”, and Paul Holmes, who secretly gave Brash media training in 2005 while holding himself out as a neutral journalist, was painting Brash in an approving light in his column, and many of the details I’d held in my mind were swirling around me, the air filled with matter my grey matter had been conjuring up.

Hide was a tainted brand, Brash beamed, drawing a veil over his own record of cynical dishonesty, set out in Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men for any punter to read. The Hollow Men is a fascinating insight into Brash’s modus operandi. Back in 2005, knowing voters wouldn’t go for his extreme right policies, he and his advisors (and behind them their rich far right backers) set out to portray themselves as moderates, with the aim of winning the election and implementing what they wanted after that. It’s hard to believe that their emails were leaked by concerned National Party insiders, as Hager asserts. The correspondence is so numerous and comprehensive, you have to suspect that somewhere in this country we have our own Julian Assange.

My head spinning with fiction, I spilled grey matter on my jacket. Cursing my clumsiness, I went to the drycleaner. There, parked outside, was a large expensive car. And bustling around the side of it, with a friendly greeting and a wink and an armful of suits (time to freshen up the wardrobe!) came John Banks himself, looking so pleased to be back, so jaunty and cockahoop, you could almost forgive him for the deceitful and extremist company he was undoubtedly fixing to keep.  

First published in Metro Magazine NZ March 2011