Real politicians, sex scenes and Dad: Jess Rudd

Jessica Rudd.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Jessica Rudd’s latest book. We asked Jess a question or two on the eve of the publication of Ruby Blues (and if you’d like to win a paperback edition of the book and its predecessor, just leave a comment below explaining why you think she’s good for politics). You can read a review of the book below, and of her first novel, Campaign Ruby, here, too.

1. How successful was your first book?

Trade sales of Campaign Ruby are over 15,000 copies [this answer came from the publisher rather than Jessica, and means VERY – many well reviewed literary fiction works sell somewhere between 2000 and 5000 copies].

2. What’s the next book going to be about?

Who knows! I’m pretty focused on launching this one at the moment but we’ll see what comes out when I return to Beijing, flip open my laptop and get cracking again.

3. Is Bettina based on a real person you’ve met while living in China?

No, Bettina’s made up but I think we’ve all worked with someone as annoyingly enthusiastic as Bettina. She’s the one who takes Secret Santa uber seriously, delights in Microsoft training sessions and volunteers to be the fire warden with a huge smile on her face.

4. How much longer will you be based in China?

Good question—I’m sure my Mum would like the answer to that one too. Albert and I are really happy in Beijing. We have a terrific group of friends, I have the luxury of writing full-time and home is just nine hours away. We want to move back home one day, but we don’t have any concrete plans to at this stage.

5. What will you do when you get back to Australia? Is writing it for you?

At the moment, I love to write. I’ve promised myself that if that love subsides I’ll ditch it for something else. I don’t want to exhaust my creativity, I want to make the most of it but not to the point of producing work I won’t be proud of. Right now I’ve got many more stories to tell so I’m going to keep on telling them.

6. Would you ever go into politics yourself? Why/why not?

I don’t think so. I’ve always been interested in politics the same way you might be interest in AFL if you grew up with a coach for a mum or dad. Helping out on an election campaign is one thing. Putting yourself and your family out there requires a real commitment and a sense of vocation. I see the purpose with which Dad does his job—he knows how he wants to make the country a better place. I don’t have that so I think I’d be better off cheering from the grandstand.

7. What did your parents think of the opening sex scene? Was it hard to write and keep in the book?

Dad hasn’t read it yet. Thank God. Mum read it but I made her swear she wouldn’t read it to Grandma. When my Dad and brothers read it I’ll glue the first few pages together and give them a quick synopsis, something along the lines of, ‘Ruby is very tired at work and this has been detrimental to her personal life,’ and encourage them to move on to Chapter 2. Swiftly.

8. What does your dad think about your premise that for the PM to regain popularity, he has to be more real/genuine?

My Dad hasn’t read the book yet. Maybe ask him when he has, but I think he’ll tell you that what makes my work fun is accident-prone Ruby, her family, her love life and Bettina, the peppy intern.

9. Is Max’s comment that he’s too busy convincing everyone he’s the guy to actually do anything channelling your dad?

No.

If some of those questions (or answers) seem a bit out of context, you might like to read my review of Ruby Blues (first published in The Canberra Times). The book was published on October 31 by Text Publishing, with a recommended retail price of $29.95.

REVIEW

Jessica Rudd is a brave young woman – the daughter of the foreign minister, she writes about Federal politics through fiction, and opens her second book with a sex scene.

China-based Rudd, 27, has set Ruby Blues in the Prime Minister’s office, despite the fact that its eerily prophetic predecessor, Campaign Ruby, contained a plot twist in which an Australian prime minister is ousted by his female treasurer.

Text published Ruby’s first outing not long after Julia Gillard replaced Rudd’s father Kevin in the top job last year. The scenes in question were written before their real life counterparts took place, but that didn’t stop the hype. The sequel features a disclaimer: “No crystal balls were gazed at in the making of this novel.”

And the sex scene? Is Rudd in the running for the 2011 Bad Sex in Fiction award (previous winners include Melvyn Bragg and Sebastian Faulks)?

As the book opens, prime ministerial strategic communications adviser Ruby Stanhope has just yawned in her boyfriend and ex-boss Luke Harley’s face. She is wearing an anti-tooth-grinding mouthguard and a greying, oversized old t-shirt and her armpits sport pom-pom like tufts of hair. None of that stops Ruby’s bad-tie wearing lover, and in the end, she’s not complaining.

“I love it when he does that! Just go with it, Ruby. Fuck, for fuck’s sake. Release some of that tension,” Rudd writes.

“Luke headed south. My body rejoiced.”

Not sure I would’ve been so keen on mum and dad (Therese Rein is first reader according to Rudd) reading those lines. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks her brothers for skipping the sexy bits.

There is, of course, much more to this book than sex. Rudd is a true insider: born in Canberra, she’s worked in politics (as well as in PR and as a lawyer) and her family has lived at the Lodge. This is evident everywhere, from her descriptions of political machinations to those of the PM’s residence in the capital.

The hours of a staffer to a first-term PM are, true to life, absurdly long. Ruby’s relationships with Luke, who has chosen to leave politics to improve his work/life balance, and her family are suffering. So are her personal hygiene and wardrobe.

So frustrated is Luke with Ruby’s absences that when he proposes to her on the eve of her 30th birthday, he includes an ultimatum: she must quit her job. It’s a prospect she finds unthinkable, so Luke walks out. Ruby buries herself in the world of plummeting polls, damaging leaks and a mysterious blackmail campaign against her chief of staff.

By her side throughout is intern Bettina Chu, a peppy preppy West Wing fan whose kooky outfits are matched by a taste for stylish stationery and a designer tote that’s handier than Felix the Cat’s magic bag of tricks.

Bettina is starry-eyed about her new gig and regularly records audio notes about it to form a time capsule. She is the founding administrator of a Facebook page called The Nation’s Treasurer is a National Treasure.

The petite intern’s naïve blunders infuriate Ruby. When she opens Luke’s birthday present on the way to New York to discover only a to-do list and their house key, the unwitting Bettina asks, “Is it the key to a secret garden he planted for you in Provence?”

Later, our heroine gives Bettina, whose honours thesis was on social media etiquette, access to the PM’s Twitter account. Using Tweetdeck, software for managing multiple accounts (including her personal profile), the intern accidentally sends this message:

[email protected]: Hanging out for my mani/pedi this Sunday. #pamperporn”

Chu is a beautifully drawn character. Her relationship with Ruby is one of the most engaging aspects of the book.

Of course, this is chick lit, so an alluring assortment of potential suitors (a New York film director, a very sexy vet, ex-fling TV journalist and Celebrity Dancefloor contestant Oscar Franklin – the recipient of most of the leaks, and, Ruby momentarily suspects, another adviser, a woman – “rumours about her sexuality did the rounds like a public servant on the Lake Burley Griffin bike track”) wander through the pages to distract Ruby in Luke’s absence.

Will Luke return? Will Bettina survive her internship? Will she and Ruby track down the blackmailer? Will the PM regain the respect of the Australian people and fend off leadership challenges? Is there a message for Julia Gillard in his actions? (Oh, yes, there is, and it all comes down to being real.) Is Rudd’s fictional PM channelling her father or Gillard with this line: “I seem to spend more time trying to convince everyone I’m the guy for the job than I spend actually doing it.”?

Most importantly, what will all the female characters wear to the Midwinter Ball?

Ruby Blues is a delight to read. Beyond the laughs, it contains some serious messages for us (about our priorities) and for our leaders (about being themselves rather than just spouting predictable talking points).

Will someone please buy the PM a copy?

This review was first published in The Canberra Times, on Saturday, October 29.

Published by

Charlotte Harper

Charlotte Harper is a Canberra journalist, blogger, editor and publisher who has worked in newspapers, magazines, books and online. She runs digital-first non-fiction publisher Editia and covered book industry developments at ebookish.com.au before joining Booku.com. A former literary editor of The South China Morning Post, Charlotte has also written about books and technology for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. She once edited a mobile phone and gadget magazine, and is a published author, of a book about digital publishing – Weird Wild Web (Penguin Australia 1999).