I’ve just attended a writerly tea at the Bunbury Regional Library where Jessica Rudd was speaking about her two novels; Campaign Ruby and Ruby Blues. I didn’t know what to expect, although I’d already seen Jessica on Q and A on TV, and at the time thought what an intelligent young woman she seemed to be. In real life, she’s even more attractive and comes across as warm, sincere, intelligent, grounded, composed, and personable … with a great sense of humour.
Jessica was in Bunbury as part of the Get Reading programme. “We want Australians to get reading and lose themselves in a book. Our relationship with a book is a personal one because it combines words, imagination and personal time,” says Jessica.
Writing career takes off
These days Jessica lives with her husband in Beijing. Her writing career really took off due to a career conundrum. She had been involved in law, PR and politics but moving to Beijing posed a career crisis. One day on a window shopping outing in New Bond Street, London she confided to her Mum that she didn’t know what she was going to do with herself from a work point of view when she moved to Beijing. Her Mother’s sage advice was, “Just write something.” And she did.
As a child her Mum and (even more famous) Dad always read to her, and whatever was happening she knew that there would always be a bedtime story. “Even if my brother and I were late to bed, we would still get a story,” she says. “In fact my Dad would take his own copy of whatever book we were reading to Canberra, mark the page with a boarding pass, and then read to us over speakerphone. It was expensive, but worth it!”
Psychic or not?
Her first novel unwittingly paralleled some of the events and situations that led to her father’s downfall as Prime Minister. “In fact last year I travelled around the country trying to prove that I wasn’t a psychic! I wrote Campaign Ruby a year before it all happened – writing about it first was a total fluke, an uncomfortable one at that!” But people were convinced that Jessica knew otherwise and had psychic powers, and she was asked all sorts of questions such as, ‘Will I fall pregnant next year,’ and ‘What are the lottery numbers?’ “Even my brother asked me to write a book about him winning the lottery – just in case!… The little punk,” she laughs.
Characters just talk
Jessica says that writing her debut novel Campaign Ruby was like having a play date with a best friend. “I loved writing my first book. I wrote it in my favourite Beijing Café, often sipping iced Oolong tea. My protagonist Ruby just talked to me and I was like a glorified scribe”. But writing Ruby Blues was a different matter altogether. “About as enjoyable as giving birth to a thorny elephant,” Jessica laughs.
“In celebration of my first novel, my Mum gave me ruby silk covered shoes and I toured with them, and then when I was ready to start writing again I wrapped them up and went back to my favourite café on the 35th floor of a high rise block in Beijing and got back to work. I ordered Oolong tea and thought everything would be back to normal with myself and Ruby. At the time I remembered back to the words of Rebecca Sparrow a good friend who said, “You’ll get the second book blues,” but I didn’t believe this at the time.”
“I thought, Ruby and I have such a great relationship, everything will be fine.” However, although Jessica speaks of Ruby as a friend, everything wasn’t fine this time and they had a major spat that ended up with Ruby not talking to her.
“I was really upset. I tried a different venue and went to a beautiful park with ornate pagodas. It was wintertime, there were icicles on the pagodas and kids skating on a pond. I found a café, opened my laptop and tried again. I had always said that it was my job to listen to my characters voices and write them down, so I just started writing.”
Hope is cool
This time Ruby’s voice was different, and she was not as easy to get along with, but Jessica found another character emerge in her head – Bettina, the perfect antidote for the new Ruby who was more cynical and apt to roll her eyes at things. “Bettina is the peppy, idealistic intern and although she annoyed me she was a good foil to Ruby’s blues,” says Jessica, and as she reads from her second novel, Bettina jumps out as a thoroughly modern and amusing character.
“Bettina makes ‘Hope’ cool and I love her for that,” says Jessica.
Working women & politics
On the subject of women Jessica commented about women in the workplace. “I don’t think we as women network as well at work as blokes do. We compete with each other and rivalry gets in the way.” Jessica advocates that if we all help each other we are all winners. “Women also need to engage more in politics and the political process,” she urges. “As a group of people we are more affected by policy than any other group. We must get involved.”
Writing her books she says has been a great chance to explore politics and politicians. “I’ve been lucky to meet many politicians and I know that they are just human,” she says before commenting on the fact that the duality of the political beast is a tricky one – and having an ‘off’ day is never acceptable whatever the political drama or personal upheaval.
At only 27 years old, Jessica looks set for an iconic writing career and says she hopes to write a book a year whilst she’s living in Beijing.
One of her top tips for writers is to, “write all the time” even if it’s just writing emails.