Q&A with Hilary Weston Prize Finalist Susan Delacourt

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Happening Now Tuesday, October 07, 2014 View Count = 2774

Q&A with Hilary Weston Prize Finalist Susan Delacourt

Susan Delacourt
is shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them. Published by Douglas & McIntyre.

Our contest to guess the winner will run until the prize is announced on October 14 in Toronto. Thanks to the generosity of the Writers' Trust, the winner of our contest will receive the entire shortlist! 

Shopping for votesCan you describe the genesis of your book? What brought you to the subject?

This book is a direct result of the Canadian Journalism Fellowship. I was lucky enough to get one in 2008–09, and spent an academic year at Massey College and the University of Toronto. Quite by accident, I took a course in “material culture” – basically, about our relationship with objects and consumerism. It got me thinking about how much our shopping culture had influenced politics, and I watched the 2008 campaign unfold through that prism.  I started to realize that the politicians who talked to the public as consumers, as opposed to citizens, were more successful. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? It seemed we needed to look at that more closely.  

How long did it take to write? What were the major challenges?

It took about three years to pull this book together. The major challenge took place when the manuscript was finished – within about a week or two of its completion in the fall of 2012, the publisher went into creditor protection and all my work was suddenly trapped in legal limbo. For a while, I started to believe it wouldn’t be published at all. But everything got sorted after about six months, and in the end, I think the six-month delay helped make it a better book. 

Of course, the other challenge is trying to write a book while holding down a day job. That said, my bosses and colleagues at The Star were very good about giving me the time to do this properly.  

Were there any books in particular that influenced you in your approach? 

Almost too many to list:  Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is still hugely relevant today; Lizabeth Cohen’s Consumers’ Republic; Ben Barber’s Consumed; and of course, Designer Politics, by the pioneer in political-marketing research, Margaret Scammell. And I know it’s not a book, but I highly recommend a 2002 BBC documentary, Century of the Self

One of the main reasons I wrote this book was that I found so many good British and American works on consumer-type politics and political marketing, but almost nothing in Canada. The exception is the important academic work being done by Canadians Alex Marland and Thierry Giasson, as well as by Jennifer Lees-Marshment, who teaches in New Zealand, but is incredibly familiar with Canadian politics. I met them at a big political-science conference at Carleton University as I was embarking on this subject in 2009 and along the way, they’ve not only become great research sources, sounding boards, but also good friends. 

Tell us a little about how the book title was chosen. 

Total credit for the title has to be given to Chris Carter, now at CBC, who used to work with me in the Star’s Ottawa bureau. We wanted to have a political-marketing blog during the 2011 election, featuring commentary by Canadian thinkers on the subject (including some of those people mentioned earlier). Chris came up with Shopping for Votes.

When I pulled together the book proposal, the working title was “Checked Out,” but as the story came together, we wanted something a little less negative/critical. A lot of good things have happened when politicians looked to the marketing sector for inspiration, after all. After asking for suggestions on social media in late 2011 (yes, we crowdsourced!) we ended up circling back to Shopping for Votes. We liked it because it worked both ways – politicians and voters doing the shopping. The crowdsourcing did give us the subtitle, incidentally: “How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them.”  That was an amalgam of the suggestions thrown out there on social media. 

What are you working on now?

Every time I’ve finished a book – this was my fourth – I’ve said I’ll never write another one. I’ve asked my friends to hold me to that promise. Inevitably, as time goes on, I start wavering. And my friends just roll their eyes: “don’t say we didn’t warn you.”  That wavering (and the rolled eyes) started again this summer, coincidentally enough. 

So yes, I am starting to think of another book, and it will probably pick up on the themes in Shopping for Votes

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