When I found out that ex-lawyer, ex-PR whiz kid, currently published author Jessica Rudd was attending the Bookworm International Literary Festival 2011 in our adopted home of Beijing, I dropped my crayons and glitter pens and set about getting an interview. I’m sure Jessica got the wrong impression of me because it was the only interview I’ve ever done where I didn’t down a single latte. I hate being thought of as someone who refuses caffeinated beverages, allowing their cafe companion to sip awkwardly at their coffee while thinking, “Oh, she’s one of those.” I’m not, I promise you. I am a Starbucks addict (literally, they gave me a membership card to prove it). Here’s the interview.
You moved to Beijing almost two years ago from London, how are you finding the capital?
I find this a much more welcoming city than London. I found it quite difficult to make friends in London. I could quite happily be [in Beijing] long-term. [My husband and I] haven’t decided yet, but I could really see myself having a family here. I feel comfortable in Beijing and it’s such a great place for a writer.
Your father (former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd) was in Beijing for a long time during the ’80s. Did you get the China bug from him?
It feels like a crazy coincidence. I was 12 days old when we moved to Hong Kong and then Dad was posted in Beijing and [we] stayed there until I was about 3. I studied Chinese when I was in high school, and I always felt like maybe I’d be back here.
You’ve mentioned that living in China has given you a greater appreciation of the rights and political freedoms Australians are allowed. Can you expand on that a little?
I love Australia — we’ve got all the things you could possibly want in a little nation. But what I’ve appreciated since moving to Beijing are some of the things that perhaps don’t exist here.
Campaign Ruby is your first novel and you mentioned that you got bogged down with writing a synopsis. How did you get over those obstacles and find your own writing style?
I was quite formulaic in the beginning and I think that’s just my background in law. I basically Googled “How to start writing a book” and it came up with all these things like: you have a synopsis, you should plan out your characters, you should map out where the story is going to go. What I realised after the first two weeks of staring at a blank screen is that there is no formula.
Campaign Ruby mirrors lots of aspects of your life. Are there any snippets of you in there?
The campaign is an experience that I’ve had, but it’s not that exact experience. I worked on the 2007 [Australian election] campaign and had a great time doing it. What I wanted to capture [with Campaign Ruby] was that sense of not knowing where you are when you wake up in the morning; not knowing what’s happening tomorrow or what happened yesterday. What I’ve tried to do is share that buzz, that sense of chaos with the reader, but also purpose: Waking up and knowing that you have a chance to make a difference in the country that you’re living in.
There are striking similarities between your book, in which the Australian Prime Minister is overthrown by a woman, and your father’s political career. Do you ever dwell on those similarities?
It was such a strange coincidence. I mean, here I was writing this completely blown-up, exaggerated version of contemporary politics and then it happened. It was like, “Oh, that’s awkward.” So then I went on my book tour and what I realised that people are actually more interested in Ruby. They’re not really interested in politics; politics is just a structure in which to express Ruby. I’m working on another book now and I’ve managed to put that aside and just focus on what I do best, which is write down whatever Ruby tells me.
You’re unashamedly a chick lit writer, which tends have negative connotations. Why do you think people look down their noses at the genre?
I don’t know, but if you look at the grand dame of the [chick lit] genre, Jane Austen, all she was doing was capturing the essence of her day. She has bottled the experience of a woman at that time so that years down the track we can pick it up and we can experience that.
A friend of yours once asked why there wasn’t any dick lit. Why do think that is?
I don’t know. I hope it’s not just blatant sexism. Perhaps it is?
Do you think in years to come, people will pick up this generation’s chick lit and read it as one would read a Jane Austen?
I really hope so. For example, [Bridget Jones’s Diary] really expresses what the ‘90s were about. It was about women coming to terms with their imperfections and accepting them. I hope that in 100 years time we look back and think, “Yeah, I can see that in my grandma or in my mum. I can see that that’s what they went through.”
You’re a lawyer, you’ve worked in PR and now you’re a published author. That’s a lot of career changes to pack into 27 years. Can you see a career for yourself in politics, too?
It’s just not my thing. I like looking at politics, I like reading about it, I like tweeting about it even. I am a political person, but that doesn’t make me a politician. A politician is someone who has a vocation, who knows what they’re doing with their life, who wants to make a difference. Unless I get stung with the vocation bug at some point I don’t really think that that’s for me. I spend most of my day job in my pyjamas, it’s fabulous!
Speaking of day jobs, what are you working on now?
I’m working on another novel. There’s this thing that people talk about called “Second book blues” and it’s this great performance anxiety that comes with having expectations. When you write your first book it’s a totally new experience. People are showing you the ropes and you get your first cover in the mail and you think, “I’m going to be an author!” The novelty of your first novel is liberating. A good author friend, Rebecca Sparrow, warned me about this. Don’t produce a book because you have to produce a book. Produce a good book.
Finally, will Ruby make an appearance in your next book?
I have a few things up my sleeve but I don’t want to out myself.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Campaign Ruby, do what all time-poor, Internet-rich book addicts do and stop by Amazon.