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Interview: Riley Chance talks about The Democracy Game

Having juggled work, family and life for the last two decades, Riley Chance is a seasoned but unenthusiastic member of the precarious workforce. A university course focused on how citizens can change society reignited Riley’s interest in the forces shaping our future society. This, and a passion for writing, has resulted in a series of entertaining novels set in New Zealand’s near future that challenge readers to look at the world around them. Riley talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about The Democracy Game.

First and foremost, it’s a thriller. What I want people who read The Democracy Game to say is – it was a great read, a page-turner with great characters that they couldn’t put down.

Secondly, as the plot unfolds, the exploitable cracks in our democracy are exposed. I hope readers might pause from time to time and, once they have finished, look at our democracy in a new light. As I like to say – democracy is fragile.

What inspired you to write this book?

It was hearing the words ‘it couldn’t happen in New Zealand’ in relation to the Trump-inspired January 6 riot at The Capitol. Then we had our own January 6 episode. With the rise of populist leaders and parties, I think there is a feeling that New Zealand is somehow immune, and we aren’t. I set out to write what it might look like if a well-financed, populist party did emerge in New Zealand. My kaupapa is to entertain, but also challenge readers in order to improve our society, in this case to shine a spotlight on how our democracy could be gamed in the future.

What research was involved?

First, I read a lot on the concept of populism that sits at the heart of The Democracy Game. I used both academic and practitioner sources to understand it conceptually, historically and how it has played out in reality over the preceding decade in countries like America, Great Britain and Brazil. To discover that it could be boiled down to three, relatively simple concepts was fascinating.

The other research I do, which I enjoy, is to visit the locations in my books to ensure authenticity. Like my character Marla Simmons, ex-US special operations, might do, I use Google’s tool Streetview to reconnoitre each location virtually before physically visiting – looking around and taking photos. If my character is nearly rundown crossing the road, it’s likely I had a close encounter.

For this novel I had difficulty gaining access to the Michael Fowler Centre. I think the staff thought my story of being a writer was a smokescreen for dubious activities. In the end, I prowled around the back of the building, taking photos through the windows – I expected the police might turn up but, if they did, I got away in time.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I find planning and writing don’t mix, at least not for me. When I started writing fiction, I took inspiration from Stephen King’s words – create interesting characters, put them in interesting situations and write to see what happens.

I used the same process for this novel as I use for all my novels. I write at least 800 words every day for three months. That results in around 80,000 words and some form of plot. I spend the next three months rewriting, rewriting and rewriting until I think the novel is ready to go to my copy editor – Geoff Walker. Based on his feedback, I spend the next three months rewriting, polishing and tightening.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

A tough question. I have always liked the way Quentin Tarantino uses older music and so I think some of New Zealand’s stars of yesteryear might work - Shona Laing, Dragon or The Chills. Given the focus of the book, I’d definitely weave Glad I’m not a Kennedy into the soundtrack.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

I’m pleased you asked me that question as, when I’m writing, I’ve always imagined my lead character, Grace Marks, as Robyn Malcolm. So much so, after Surveillance was published, I emailed her agent to see if she would like a copy of the book – I never received a reply.

I write in scenes and think my books would translate well to film though every writer likely thinks that. By the way, who represents Taiki Waititi? Asking for a friend.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I enjoyed the way the plot revealed itself as I wrote. With no clear end in mind, I find writing like walking in fog – it’s an exercise in faith that you’re going the right way and you won’t fall down a hole. I tell myself – don’t overthink it and keep writing.

As I wrote, the fog started to thin and I distinctly remember replacing a sentence that turned the plot in a different direction. I sat back and said, ‘Yes!’

What did you do to celebrate finishing The Democracy Game?

Nothing, not yet. That may sound a bit sad, but finishing the book ushers in a range of tasks in order to get the book into stores – it’s hard work. After writing that sentence, I’ve decided to plan a celebratory weekend – life is too short not to celebrate, thanks for the reminder.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I really enjoyed reading Anderton – His life and times by David Grant. I have always been a fan of Jim Anderton, a man of principle in an occupation where that is rarer than it should be. I was intrigued to read of New Zealand’s lurch towards what they called at the time ‘the new right’ ideology, which we now call neoliberalism. In many regards, several of the issues that plague our society today (inequality, the cost of living, housing, children living in poverty) can trace their roots back to Rogernomics.

I think Jim would approve of my kaupapa!

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Work to pay the bills!

Apart from that, I do have a lot of projects on the go.

  • I’m releasing the first unpublished novel in the series in serialised form on Substack.

  • I’ve received feedback on the MS of a fourth novel from my wonderful editor, Geoff Walker – work to do! This novel has a focus on domestic violence and the justice system. The aim is to publish May 2024.

  • I’m hoping to get support (i.e. money) to turn Surveillance and The Democracy Game into audiobooks using local narrators.

  • Finally, I’ve started a fifth novel that situates the 1984 Trade Hall bombing, which tragically killed Ernie Abbott, in New Zealand’s near future.

Copy Press


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