As the first guest blogger for 2012 I’m over the moon to have the witty and gorgeous Jessica Rudd. You can follow her on Twitter @Jess_Rudd or on Facebook here.
Jess, 27, had three career changes in as many years—law, PR, politics—but is now going steady with her life as a writer. She hopes Ruby Blues, sequel to Campaign Ruby, will give her readers as many laughs as she had writing it. Jessica is based in Beijing.
In 2009, when the arse fell out of the economy, I was living with my husband in London. My day job was to help insolvency practitioners deal with the media when overseeing the clean-up of massive corporate collapse.
At that stage I was a writer, but a writer of press statements. I sat in a loud, busy office drinking terrible coffee and adrenaline and pumping out material for clients. It gave me a buzz, but it was miserable work trying to serve bad news sunny-side up.
My husband was—is—an investment banker. He was working in the city watching countless colleagues—both in his firm and others—take those dreaded phone calls from HR in what were being described as the various phases of “headcount control”. Headcount control is French for firing people.
It was a worrying time, the first such worrying time for our generation. We lived in trendy Notting Hill, the land of soy -sipping yummy mummies pushing chic prams with yoga-toned triceps.
Our tiny one-bedroom flat with a polka dot rug cost us an unutterable amount of Sterling. Two blocks down was the travel bookshop from the movie. Hugh Grant did not work there. Pity.
As the financial crisis worsened, the once lady-zone cafes of Portobello Road became sausage fests. Soon we saw them filled with men, heads buried in the jobs pages of the FT, whose casual wardrobes only comprised the loud floral board shorts they wore to Barbados or the après-ski cashmere their nannies packed for Aspen.
For sale signs cluttered once neat streets. Oversized four-wheel drives disappeared in favour of cute hatchback get-abouts. Glossy magazines once oozing with luxury items now embraced boho and vintage. The highstreet grunted under the weight of closing down sales. Newspapers kept running tallies of redundancy announcements—a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand. Yoga studios shut up shop and yummy mummies gave up Botox cold turkey at the most severe wrinkle-etching moment of their lives.
We were keen to get out of there. Immediately. So when Albert was given the chance to move to the Beijing office, we grabbed it and started packing.
But what was I supposed to do in Beijing? My Mandarin was limited so that ruled out the communications industry. I considered returning to the legal profession for about three seconds before recalling my reasons for leaving it. So where did that leave me?
Mum, who was in London on business, took me out for champagne. Afterwards we went for a spot of window-shopping on New Bond Street. In the dark after closing time we peered at exquisite shoes in glamorous but dim windows with tiny, discrete ‘sale’ signs in the corner.
‘What am I going to do in China, Mum?’ I asked.
She turned to me and said, ‘just write something.’
Write something? What?
But as we signed the papers to terminate the lease, booked flights and arranged visas, someone began to bloom in my mind.
Her name was Ruby Stanhope. She was a Londoner, an investment banker. Her voice was loud and her character vivid. She had a story too. She had lost her job, guzzled far too much pinot noir and booked herself a non-refundable ticket to Australia where she met Luke Harley, chief of staff to the leader of the opposition. The prime minister was ousted, an election was called and Ruby was asked to work on the campaign.
It felt right. Now all I had to do was put it on paper.
We arrived in Beijing and I insisted that we find an apartment with a beautiful study. Somewhere with views, natural light, a charming desk and the latest laptop. I would be like Carrie Bradshaw.
My loving husband found said apartment. It was perfect. So on day one I made tea in my favourite pot. I put fresh pink peonies in a clear glass vase. I wore comfortable but stylish clothes. I stared out at the peaked roofs of Beijing, opened my laptop and listened for Ruby’s voice.
The cursor blinked. So did I. Nothing came.
Shit, I thought. I’ve told all my friends and family that I’m going to write a novel and now I’m going to be one of those people who tells everyone they’re going to write a novel but never does. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Panic shook me. I drank more tea. The caffeine didn’t help. I’ll put on a load of washing, I thought. Leave it for a bit and then come back to it. I did a lot of washing that week. In fact I did a lot of washing in those few months.
‘How are you settling in, darling?’
‘How’s the writing going?’
‘Wonderful. I can’t wait to read it.’
I watched a lot of TV, most of which I couldn’t understand, but I kept watching to avoid doing what I was supposed to be doing. I went to the gym, sometimes twice a day. Albert was coming home to gourmet meals.
‘Wow, this must have taken you ages to cook, babe!’
‘Oh no, it was nothing.’ Subtext: three hours.
One day during a commercial break I was reading a magazine—Time Out Beijing. In it was a list of Beijing’s best cafes with wifi. One of them took my fancy. It was called Wain Wain—wain is the Japanese word for wine.
I had run out of washing so I figured I might as well get out of the house.
Weird with spectacular views and fast internet was how it had been described. It didn’t disappoint.
As my lift arrived on the thirty-fifth floor of the multi-purpose high rise on Beijing’s main strip I thought about turning back, but didn’t.
Terrible music greeted me. Smoking Japanese businessmen read manga over short fat espresso. Blue carpet, glass tables, pleather chairs and a white feathered light fixture—this wasn’t me. I ordered iced oolong tea with a teriyaki chicken bento box and plugged in my laptop. It was worth a shot.
And there was Ruby, loud and vivid as ever.
By the end of the day I was a chapter down and within eight months I was in my first draft of Campaign Ruby.
I drank many, many litres of oolong tea that year learned a lot about myself as a writer. I am not Carrie Bradshaw. I need noise. I need to be around people in order write people.
The best advice I can give budding writers is to find your comfortable place. Find what makes you function best. Not every writer is meant to retreat to her hushed garret. Nor is every writer suited to a room full of suited smokers. We are all different and we only find what works through trial, error and about a thousand loads of washing.