Jessica Rudd: Author of Ruby Blues

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image-jessicarudd200Jessica Rudd’s second novel, and sequel to her debut Campaign Ruby, is Ruby Blues. After helping the opposition win government in Campaign Ruby, Ruby Stanhope is now struggling with a PM whose popularity is quickly waning, a luke-warm love life, and her looming 30th birthday.

Jessica trained as a lawyer and worked in law, PR, and politics before deciding to become a full-time writer at 26. Her first novel, Campaign Ruby, gained a lot of attention for its spooky similarity to real-life events just months after it was written. The storyline included the ousting of a prime minister, just months into his term, by a female colleague, complete with a tearful speech surrounded by his family and media.

Click play to listen. Running time: 28.43

Ruby Blues

 Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie
Thanks for joining us today, Jessica.

Jessica
No worries, thanks so much for having me.

Valerie
Now, you’re about to release your second novel, Ruby Blues, and that comes after the success of your debut novel, Campaign Ruby. Tell us what Ruby Blues is about.

Jessica
Ruby Blues is about Ruby Stanhope, my protagonist, and her adventures in government. Campaign Ruby was about the campaign and that was Ruby’s first foray into politics, actually her first time in Australia, she’d never been to Australia before, she’s a Brit, and a former investment banker. In Ruby Blues I’ve taken the character further, and she’s now two years into the federal government, which is bombing in the polls. And she’s really struggling to, I don’t know, get the adrenaline going again with her job. And she’s struggling with her relationship; she’s just not in a happy place, hence the title. What I’ve tried to do is look a little bit at what happens when you become a sort of cynic. I wanted to look at what it’s like to go from being a lovely idealistic young, naïve political novice and transforming you into a hardened hack. I had a lot of fun doing it, but it was like hanging around a best friend in a really terrible mood for a while. It picks up a bit, but yeah, but at first it’s a bit morbid.

Valerie
The character of Ruby, when you first thought about her in your first novel how did she emerge? Who was she modeled on? What gave Ruby her personality?

Jessica
I was living in London with my husband, Albert, and he’s an investment banker. We had been living in London in the lead up to and then during the financial crisis. And we watched a lot of his colleagues being made redundant around him, and just sort of friends and people that we knew in London. I really, well for one, felt very sorry for these people who had lost their jobs so suddenly, but also kind of excited for them. I think a lot of people find themselves stuck in careers that they’re not necessarily passionate about. Certainly, in Ruby’s case, she’s sort of, I don’t know, naturally followed her father into a career in banking, but there’s so much more to Ruby than that part of her brain. When she is made redundant, although it really sucks at the time, she gets completely drunk on pinot noir, wakes up the next morning, and finds she’s booked herself a non-refundable ticket to Australia of all places, where she meets the chief of staff for the leader of the opposition, and a snap election is called and she’s asked if she’s asked if she’d like to join the campaign.

I really wanted to take a fish out of water experience in politics, and just blow it up and exaggerate it so that my readers can see what I see in politics, which is the huge fun of it.

Valerie
You trained as a lawyer, and you’ve worked in law and PR and politics. At what point did you think, “I might give writing a go”?

Jessica
I had always loved to write, but I just never thought I’d be any good at it, doing it professionally. Part of that was about discipline, and part of it was just self-doubt, not knowing whether anyone would want to publish my work. I’d thought I’d better get a profession under my belt and I enrolled in law school and got admitted as a lawyer and worked in the profession for a couple of years. I then went and worked on my dad’s campaign, and then in London worked in PR, in kind of a crisis management role, which I loved. But then, as I was saying before, my husband was working investment banking and when the financial crisis hit he was offered the opportunity to go to the Beijing office, where the economy was not ass over tit.

We just took that, and we took that as a bit of a parachute and landed safely in Beijing. But I thought, “What am I going to do in Beijing?” I didn’t speak the language, I mean I do a little bit, but I don’t speak enough to work in the communication industry there. I had a chat with my mum about it, who is always good for a bit of career counseling, and she said, “Jess, write something; write something.” I think she knew that I love to write, and I love story telling. She really gave me the kick up the bum I needed to sit down and do this.

Valerie
You talked about discipline, what happened then? Did you set yourself some kind of schedule or did you just sit in cafes and write as the spirit moved you? What was the actual plan and roll out of the first novel?

Jessica
I had a disastrous first fortnight as a writer because I’d told everyone that I was going to write a novel, and then we arrived in Beijing and I’d said to Albert, my husband, “OK babe, we need to find something that has a perfect Sex and the City style, Carrie Bradshaw study with a gorgeous view out over the city, and I’m going to need a state of the art laptop and I’m going to need fresh flowers and a fantastic coffee machine.” So, we invest in all of this nonsense, and I sat down on my first day and I flipped open my swanky new Mac and I switched it on and opened a Word document and the cursor was blinking and it kept blinking, and nothing came out. I was terrified that I was going to be one of those people who told everyone they were going to write a book and never did.

It took a couple of weeks before I decided to get out of the house and go and sit in a café. And, on that day I found this fantastic café 35 stories up in a high rise building in Beijing, looking out over the main strip. Just incredible views of the city, I ordered some ice tea, and I sat there all day and I wrote my first chapter very easily in a day. What I’ve learned about myself is that I need noise. I need to be around people to write people, otherwise nothing inspires me and I get distracted and I go and put on a load of washing and make some muffins.

Valerie
Did you then park yourself at that café for the rest of the book?

Jessica
Yeah, and the café, they’re called Wain Wain in Beijing, they’re a Japanese café. They were so sweet, and they would always look after my laptop for me when I needed to go to the loo, which you can imagine if you’re in a café all day drinking loads of tea, that’s quite regular. They were very sweet, and they always took great care of me. Now I have a bunch of cafés that I write at, I like to mix it up a little bit, so as not to become a part of the furniture.

Valerie
Is there any method to the choice of cafés? Is it like I’m writing about characters today and I go to this café or I’m writing the climax today, I should go to this café. Is there any kind of method?

Jessica
It’s usually about necessity. I usually go, “OK, where’s going to have the strongest Wi-fi signal because I need to do a little bit of research.” Or, “Which one is going to have the cleanest, nicest toilet, and which one has the nicest staff that can look after me?” It’s usually about proximity and practicality rather than inspiration, I’m afraid to say.

Valerie
Ruby Blues and Campaign Ruby has been described as political chic-lit. Did you start out planning to write in the chic-lit genre, or… because you mentioned having a Carrie Bradshaw Sex and the City kind of study. Is that something that you always envisaged?

Jessica
Well, I love the genre, and I don’t apologize for being a part of it. I think that if you write commercial women’s fiction, really what you’re doing is writing books that sell. And, I really have a mission which is to help women engage with politics a bit more than they do. I think a lot of women are turned off by politics and they don’t want to participate in the process. I can understand that, I mean it’s pretty adversarial and it just looks bickering at the best of times. But, I think it’s really important that we do engage because we are, as a group, much more affected by public policy decisions than any other group in society when you think about it – everything from employment issues, maternity leave, childcare, health issues, there’s so much, and we really need to be out there and engaging with what’s going on. Why not do that in a format that’s fun and accessible?

I think the other thing to remember is that a lot of political staffers are women. You look at Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff pretty much all of his staff are women. There are lots of women in politics and they work really hard, but they also don’t lose their femininity. Just because we like to talk about shoes and handbags doesn’t mean that we don’t have a brain, doesn’t mean that we can’t contribute. I think that it was a natural fit, actually.

Valerie
Tell us about how you plot? Do you already know what’s going to happen to Ruby at the very start? Is that something that you’ve got your plotting cards out on your wall or on the café table, or do you let that plot emerge as you go along?

Jessica
Well, it’s more of the latter. I’m a terrible planner, I try really hard. I mean my publisher always says to me, “Send me a synopsis, and we’ll have a look at it.” And, I send in the synopsis, and the book never comes out anything like the synopsis because I write kind of like you might read a pick your own adventure book. I just listen to my characters and follow them. And a lot of things that happened in the book are things that I would never have dreamed of when I started writing it, and they’ve become integral parts of the plot. I need to become quite free when I’m writing, and I need to not try and commit too much to things.

Now, where that let’s me down is on timelines. I find that if I don’t have a plot set out from the beginning, if I don’t have a proper plan, if I don’t know where I need the character to be by the end of the chapter, then we have to do a lot of cleaning up in the editing process, which things like skipped days and missed weeks, and all sorts of things, and in a campaign, in particular, that really matters.

Valerie
Prior to writing that first novel then, what kind of writing had you done beforehand in terms of fiction, or was that really your first go?

Jessica
Well, I had an authoring gig when I was about 17, the Courier Mail in Brisbane, and they were looking for a bit of colour on their opinion page. So, they asked me to contribute — well, I sent off a piece actually, and they asked me to contribute more. My first piece was much more formal, and that kind of blog-style writing is really easy and free, and it didn’t really have the kind of structure to it that was expected of me in English class. That was when I first really fell in love with writing. I wrote a lot during uni, you have to, when you’re doing a law degree. I guess, in terms of fiction, it really was my first crack at it. I’d done a few short stories here and there, but nothing really serious. I was quite pleased when I showed my work to someone and they said, “Wow, this is all right, you could probably get this published.” And then, low and behold, I did. That was pretty great.

Valerie
How long did it take you to write Campaign Ruby, and likewise Ruby Blues?

Jessica
Well, in Beijing, because the cost of living is relatively low, I had the luxury of writing full time, so I’ll just put that disclaimer out there. It took me about six months, six or seven months to get Campaign Ruby in draft, and then we edited from there. And Ruby Blues took a little bit longer, but I think that’s because it’s the second book is hellish. They’re horrible to write, you have permanent performance anxiety that you’re never going to be good enough, and you’re a one hit wonder. It’s awful.

Valerie
It’s the pressure of the sophomore act.

Jessica
Exactly.

Valerie
Now, Campaign Ruby got a lot of attention for a number of reasons, but particularly for its story line being very similar to real life events. What was that like at the time to find essentially your words coming true in real life?

Jessica
It was pretty spooky, standing up there with my dad at his press conference thinking to myself, “Hmm, I think I wrote this.” But, then again, I was comforted knowing that it was fiction, that I wrote it a year before that happened. I wrote that chapter a year before any of that happened. There was no way I could have seen it coming. Even though a lot of people are going to read into it and have read into it and thought, “Oh, she must have seen something, she must have heard something around the dinner table.” And, “Is this her way of sending out the message that she knew this was going to happen all along?” No, it’s not, there’s nothing like that. Give me so credit, people, I’ve got an imagination and I use it.

Valerie
Now, you’ve already talked about the café aspect of writing with your laptop, do you have any other rituals, or do you have kind of a daily thing that you need to achieve like a word count or something like that?

Jessica
Well, what I find really helps me, and has helped me with the discipline of writing, is to treat it like a job. To get up, get dressed, put makeup on, to go somewhere, sit down, plug in my laptop and be quite focused on staying at work all day. I will sit in front of a laptop for an eight hour day, and even if it’s driving me nuts, even if nothing is coming out, even if I feel like I’m having a really stuck day – I mean I had days like that in the office when I worked in PR and in law, so why not allow myself and force myself really to have those days at work in writing? I think that has helped me because if I didn’t, I would just always escape and go, “Well, I’m not having a good day, so I’m going to the park, and I’m going to lie down in the sunshine and read someone else’s work.”

Valerie
It sounds a bit like your beautiful Sex and the City study has gone a bit to waste.

Jessica
Yeah, I know, I feel so bad about it. We actually left that apartment because it was just like this shrine to the death of what could have been.

Valerie
Oh no. So, tell us about Get Reading, and how you’re involved.

Jessica
Well, I had a great time with Get Reading last year when I launched Campaign Ruby. They were kind enough to include Campaign Ruby in the 50 books you can’t put down. And it’s such a terrific initiative that we’re out there and encouraging people to pick up a book and read. How simple is that? But I think we’re not doing that enough, and that’s kind of why I write the way I write. I think that if something is easy to read, then there’s no real reason why that can’t be as good a book as something that is grueling to read.

Yeah, I was delighted to have been included in 50 books you can’t put down, and they want to tour with me again this year. I’m just going to run around the country, encouraging people to pick up books. It’s a pretty good gig.

Valerie
Not bad – yes. Are you already working on, or have brewing in your head, your next novel?

Jessica
Yeah, I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve. I’m not sure whether I want to keep writing Ruby now, but I’m certain there’s more Ruby to tell. I’d love to write something about China, but I’m just not sure yet what form that takes and whether now is the time to do it. I figure it would be such a waste, just living in a city like that, if I didn’t take advantage of it and write some of it down. I guess I’ll do what I did last time, which is finish my tour, go back to Beijing, open my laptop and see what comes out.

Valerie
When you first moved to Beijing, what was that like? Was there quite a lot of culture shock, and how did you adapt?

Jessica
It was kind of a perfect place for a writer because I didn’t have many friends. In a way it was quite isolating being up there in that café all day. To be honest, I didn’t really engage with what was going on around me all that much in my first six months of being there. Now I have a wonderful community in Beijing, I have a lot of close friends that are the sort of friends you know will be there for life. And, we’re really special there, we have a great time being in such a vibrant city.

Beijing is a lot like New York, it’s a very international city, it’s full of people from everywhere. Proper Beijing people, what they call Lao Beijing, which is old Beijing people, they’re just so gutsy. They’re the kind of people who don’t mind telling you what they think, and I like being in a environment like that. It’s quite inspiring, creatively, being in a place like that.

Valerie
You spoke about one of the first gigs you got was for the Courier Mail, and that was where you fell in love with writing, but that was essentially non-fiction. Do you think you will revisit non-fiction in your writing?

Jessica
Yeah, look, I think so. I don’t know when and I don’t know what it will be, but I’m sure there is something I could write about sometime down the track that’s happening in reality that interests me. At the moment though, I just love making stuff up and writing it down. It’s the best job in the whole wide world.

Valerie
That first thing as you write for the Courier Mail is, as you say, almost column style, I can sort of see you really taking well to a column of that nature, is that something that you would like to do?

Jessica
I would actually love to do that, that sort of social commentary comes quite naturally to me. I’d really like to engage more, I think that’s why I’m in a grateful for Twitter. Twitter is like my water cooler, I don’t have any colleagues. It’s kind of nice to just sit there and spew out whatever is on my mind, even if it’s short form. Look, I’d love to write a column, so if you can hook me up with someone, I’d appreciate it.

Valerie
No problem. Consider it done.

Jessica
Great, cool.

Valerie
With law, and PR, and politics, do you think that you will go back to law, or PR, or those careers again, or are you pretty set that this is your full time profession?

Jessica
This current career path feels right for me. But, then again, when I was in PR that felt right to me and when I was in law – no, that would be a lie, that didn’t feel right to me at all. I’m a Gen-Y, we are serial career commitment-phobes, who knows where I’ll be in five, ten, fifteen years’ time. I guarantee you this, as soon as writing stops being fun for me, as soon as stop enjoying it, I’m going to put down the pen because I just don’t think I’d be doing good service to my readers to just spew something out for the sake of it.

Valerie
It does really sounds like that you think that writing is really fun, which I do too, but I do speak to a lot of authors and they talk about the sheer pain, agony and hard work, and blood, sweat and tears. Do you go through any of that, or is it really very fun for you?

Jessica
Well, I went through some long moments in writing Ruby Blues where I just felt that anything would be better. I was looking at pieces of paper on the table thinking, “I could paper cut my eyeballs now and that would be more fun that editing this.”

Valerie
I could paper-cut my what?

Jessica
My eye-balls. But, yeah, look, I love it more than I hate it. There are moments when I hate it because I run out of ideas, and I find that really frustrating. But, for most of it, it’s just such a great sense of achievement when you get to the end of a chapter and then you read it back and you laugh at your own jokes. I know that sounds really daggy, but that’s usually a good sign that my work’s going to be funny. If I find it funny, because I’m quite a big perfectionist, if I find it funny, then…

Valerie
What is your advice for people who were in your position maybe two, or however many years ago, they haven’t written anything, but they’ve always wanted to, what’s your advice to them?

Jessica
My advice is to have a story first and to listen to the voices of your characters. As soon as they have clarity, as soon as there is clarity in those voices, then I think that’s when you can start writing. I don’t think you can force it; I don’t think you can go, as I did, “Well, I’m going to write a book now.” You actually have to allow it or to stew in your head first. And then once there’s some consistency in that stew, once there’s something in there that really makes it sing, then that’s when you can start committing it to paper.

Valerie
And what would your advice be to them on how they can improve their writing skills?

Jessica
I think that sharing it with people, not just the people who love you, but the people who will be harsh with you is really important because otherwise you’re never going to know. If you just have people, like my mum was fantastic throughout the writing of Campaign Ruby, and she would read each chapter as I finished it, and send back lovely encouraging words, but she’s my mum, and that’s what she’s going to do, because she’s a lovely person. But, yeah, it’s really important to have other people in your life who can really shape your work and make it better.

Valerie
So, the unreasonable friend, so to speak?

Jessica
Yeah, exactly, you need someone who’s going to be so harsh with you that you might feel like crying and punching them afterwards, but you need that so that your work can be the best it can be. I strive for perfection in my work, I really do, and I edit each chapter as I finish it, then I edit them again, and I feel really – I just did an interview last month with the Women’s Weekly, and this was when I was still in one of my drafts. And, I had found out that my publicist had sent a draft to the interviewer. Even though it was a good draft, even though it was fine, I was so anxious about this journalist reading my work because I thought, “I haven’t even had the chance to go over it with my editor and fine tune it and all that.” I think it’s really good to be like that about your work, but you can be a little bit precious sometimes.

Valerie
So, who was your unreasonable friend, apart from your very supportive mother, of course? Who was that person who really told you like it was?

Jessica
Well, I have a few people around the place who contribute different things. For example, because Ruby is a Brit, I have a friend I actually grew up with as a diplo-brat in China, because I was there as a baby, and she’s a Brit, and she’s London-based, and a former investment banker, so she’s perfect, like she’s Ruby’s voice. She did a lot of weeding out some of the Australianisms and helping me with putting in something that would be more real to come out of Ruby’s mouth.

I had other friends who would read it and go, “Laughed at that;” “Hated that; “Did not understand that at all.” “What was going on here?” And all of that was hard to hear, but extremely helpful. If you can find those people in your life who are going to give you that feedback, who are going to be brutal and honest with you, they are the treasures.

Valerie
At your current stage in life, you’ve got some best-selling books, you’ve got a lot of options available to a young woman, so you’ve got a lot of choice. What makes you get out of bed in the morning, what is the thing that is most exciting to you each day?

Jessica
I love creating, I love story-telling, and I love knowing that I might make someone laugh on the bus on the way to work. That’s what makes me tick, it’s knowing that I can bring joy to people in their lives. It’s quite a personal thing, being in someone’s handbag, or being read in the bath, or you know, those are personal moments. And, I don’t know about you, but the moments I’ve had when I’ve read books have been quite personal to me. Just being taken into someone else’s life like that and having the pages turned and being able to entertain them, that’s really what gets me going.

Valerie
Wonderful, and on that note, thank you very much for your time today, Jessica.

Jessica
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.


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