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Joy Rhoades, a lawyer-turned-writer and author of historical fiction novel The Woolgrower’s Companion – it topped the debut fiction charts in Australia and is now out in the UK (Penguin)
Tell us a bit about your job, what the average day looks like and what’s involved…
My day depends on where I am in the writing of a book. At the moment, I’m working on the sequel to my debut novel The Woolgrower’s Companion, so I’m doing research and creating the story; thinking through what the arc of that story will look like. The research means reading and talking to experts, whether they’re historians, cultural advisers or medical people.
How did you get your first job in this industry and what tips would you give to students for routes in?
I was writing fiction on the side for a while, and working away at my day job too. So I’d be scribbling on a manuscript on the tube going to work. It was only when I gave up my day job to look after my kids full-time, that I had a chance to finish my novel. But whether it is law or fiction-writing: I think it matters that you can show a track record of your enthusiasm. So if you’re a law student, apply to work as a (paid) intern in your holidays. If you want to write fiction, then apply for jobs as an editor on a literary magazine or volunteer at a local writing festival. You’ll love it, you’ll make contacts and it’ll show you’re keen.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone/a student wishing to forge a career as a writer?
Keep writing. It’s going to sound obvious but it’s actually very hard to do. Life gets in the way; your own lack of confidence gets in the way. The trick, I think, is to be relentless. Make writing your priority (after paying the bills) and be willing to pay the price for that.
Who was the one person who had the most influence on your career to date?
In my work as a lawyer, I had key sponsors, different people at different times, who coached me and encouraged me to expand my skills and – critically – to go for promotions. I’m very grateful to each of them.
With my writing, I was incredibly lucky to meet an editor, Alexandra Shelley, while I was living in NYC. She really took to my work and encouraged me to keep writing. A real nurturer of talent: she also worked closely with Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help.
Considering all the people you’ve met in your field, what personal attributes are essential for success?
All lawyers need to have an eye for detail, be good at drafting and at synthesizing. By that, I mean making complex issues intelligible, without losing accuracy. And as a lawyer, I think the fact that I was ‘commercial’ was hugely important. By that I mean, I could usually figure out what was going to fly and what wasn’t and that helped my clients enormously. No use chasing something if, for the other side, it’s clearly a non-starter.
As a writer, I guess I don’t know yet what you need to be successful! My first novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion, launched in Australia earlier this year, and in the UK last month so it’s all very new. I am thrilled that in Oz, it’s the best-selling fiction debut so far this year. I’m hoping doggedness and passion will keep me on track for success as a writer!
What do you wish you’d known (but didn’t) when you first contemplated this career as a student?
I suspect I’d have been much better at business than at law. I sort of guessed that, just after I got my first law job in a big firm in Sydney. My heart wasn’t really in it, looking back. I made a success of it but I think if I’d had the guts then to pursue work in business or to go-for-broke, and write fiction, I should have done it! But law helped me a lot – I got to travel the world with my work, something I really wanted to do. And it meant I could write on the side, sort of, sometimes.
What is the best bit of career advice you ever received?
Don’t give up. You may never be the success you hoped for, but you will have tried. The journey not the destination: trite but true.
What is your career highlight to date?
As a writer, I got to interview the Australian writer Tim Winton when he was here in the UK recently. He’s considered Australia’s greatest living writer, and our National Trust has designated him one of our living treasures. He was here promoting his most recent book, The Boy Behind The Curtain, and it was remarkable for me, a big fan of his writing, to be able to talk to him about writing, and then to interview him for his Oxford appearance.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing about writing, is that for me, time evaporates when I write. It simply disappears, I enjoy it that much. But writing is very solitary. It can take me a bit to come out, mentally, from that cocoon after I’ve been writing.
What do you think the industry will look like in the next ten years and what skills do you think graduates will need to stay ahead of the game?
Publishing is changing rapidly. E-books, self-publishing, social media, have all turned the industry on its head and I think change will continue. Physical books seem to making a bit of a comeback, which pleases me. There’s definitely a place for e-books but I always seem to remember a book much better if I’ve held its physical cover it in my hands.
JOY’S MINI CV
BA (Literature and Economics) and Bachelor of Laws at University of Queensland, Australia
Trainee lawyer with DLAPiper, Sydney
Legal/Compliance with JPMorgan: Singapore, Tokyo, New York and London
Signed with Penguin. The Woolgrower’s Companion published in Australia in February 2017, and in the UK in June 2017.
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