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:

“@MaxMastersPM: 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.

Win a Jessica Rudd book-pack

Jessica Rudd is hilarious. I’ve just finished giggling my way through her very clever second novel, Ruby Blues (due out Monday through Text Publishing at $29.95), and have a copy of it, and its predecessor, Campaign Ruby (see review below, $18.14 through Booku.com here), to give away to one of you.

I’ll be posting a Q&A with the 27-year-old author on Monday (check back to find out whether Jess has her eye on a political career and more).

Jessica will be touring the country to promote the new book, starting with this event at the National Library in Canberra on November 1.

To be in the running for the two-book prize (printed not ebook – though I read a PDF review copy of Ruby II and recommend reading both that way – they’re the sort of page turner that is perfectly suited to ereading), you’ll need to take to Twitter or Facebook. This is apt, because both platforms make highly amusing appearances in Jessica’s new book.

Visit facebook.com/ebookish, “like” it (it’s a great way to receive updates on blog posts here at Booku.com), and answer the question below in a post there.
Or follow @ebookish on Twitter, and address your tweet entry to @ebookish.

Just tell me which of the following hashtags you’d be more likely to use and why: #bringbackkev #getrealjulia or #jessruddforpm

You can enter as many times as you like between now and 3.30pm Monday (when I’ll be choosing a winner then heading to the post office with the prize), but the answer the judge (ie me) deems the wittiest, funniest or most surprising will win.

Last August, I reviewed Rudd’s debut novel, Campaign Ruby, for The Canberra Times. Here’s that text (add 14 months to the time references).

Poor Jessica Rudd.

A former lawyer and public relations consultant now living in China, the 26-year-old daughter of Kevin decided more than a year ago to write a novel. It would feature a young English woman who accidentally lands herself in the middle of an Australian election campaign – a campaign sparked by the ”swift and seamless” ousting of the fictional prime minister by his treasurer, Gabrielle Brennan. Ms Brennan is not a red-head, but she does quickly visit the Governor-General to ask for an early election. Her ex-boss, Hugh Patton, meanwhile, is deemed ”unlikely to serve under his challenger and successor”.

Canberra-born Rudd, who wrote the book 14 months ago, must’ve been mortified when Julia Gillard replaced her father as PM on June 24, only days before the inadvertently prophetic Campaign Ruby went to print and well after her deadline for making changes to the text.

Still, there can be no doubt the art-meets-life element of it all will help boost sales of this entertaining debut novel. Not that it needs any help. Rudd is a natural writer who has written a page-turning book that injects lots of fun and froth into the corridors of power.

”Imagine Bridget Jones on the campaign trail”, the publisher spruiks, and for once the comparison is apt. Accidental political adviser Ruby Stanhope is terribly Bridget. A Brit, she’s unlucky in love, lives alone in a Notting Hill apartment, drinks too much pinot noir, writes lists at every opportunity, and has a knack for landing herself in sticky situations (think flushing her boss’s voice recorder down the loo, locking herself out of her hotel room in a T-shirt and knickers, appearing in metropolitan dailies wearing only thongs and a belted beer singlet at a press conference, and attempting to vote in the election despite her lack of any Aussie credentials).

We meet investment banker Ruby in London as she’s opening an email the HR department has sent to sack her. One drunken night and an impulsive Qantas booking later, she’s on her way to Melbourne. Planning to drink more wine and visit family while holidaying, Ruby instead finds herself joining the campaign team of the Leader of the Opposition after a chance meeting with his badly dressed and over-worked chief of staff, Luke Harley.

What follows is a vivid (and, true-to-life, utterly exhausting) account of Ruby’s time on the campaign trail, written as only an insider could. There are 4am starts, outfit changes in taxis, flirtations with hot (but off-limits) television journalist Oscar Franklin, a debate, campaign launches, endless flights to catch, and, in Ruby’s case, an uncanny ability to make snap decisions on everything from policy to fashion that help her boss, and his party’s candidates in marginal seats, win voters’ hearts.

It’s tempting to look for traits of Rudd’s parents in her Leader of the Opposition, Max Masters, and his smart, supportive wife, Shelly. Surely there is an element of Jessica or her brothers in her depiction of their children (and their treatment by the media), too.

Speaking of which, Rudd does wrap a couple of serious messages into the essentially fluffy plot: on the importance of family; and on retaining integrity in the face of political pressures to do otherwise.

Meanwhile, the ambitious ”pretty boy” Oscar is as beguiling to the reader as he is to Ruby. He may or may not remind some Canberra readers of a journo or political staffer they’ve seen holding up the bar at the Kennedy Room or Holy Grail in Kingston on a Wednesday night. Will Ruby be able to resist his charms? Could she be the one to change his bad boy ways? Let’s just say that the romantic subplot to this novel is everything you’d expect from a pink paperback with a handbag, mobile phone and high heel on the cover.

Jessica Rudd has said she hopes this novel won’t be her last. It seems, then, that she is set to join the likes of Maggie Alderson, Anita Heiss and Melanie La’Brooy as a regular contributor to Australia’s contemporary commercial women’s fiction scene.
Here’s hoping.

Remember to check back on Monday to read uBookish’s Q&A with Jessica (you might also like to follow @jessrudd on Twitter).

Click here to “like” Social Reading September

It’s not just the way we read, write, publish and buy books that’s changing. It’s the way we talk about them, too – today’s announcements from Kobo, GoodReads and Facebook are just the latest in a series of social reading developments.

GoodReads is set to integrate with Facebook's new 'timeline'.
The Federal Government’s annual Get Reading! campaign (which continues till the end of this month – you can buy the books here) is once again leading the way when it comes to social ways to bring us back to books.

Their website includes forums like this one on ereaders (you can sign in using your Google, Facebook or Twitter account) for the first time this year. They’ve also got active and friendly Facebook and Twitter profiles.

You can post your own review of the “50 Books You Can’t Put Down” (here’s my brief equivalent: I’ve read Jessica Rudd’s short story “Pinata” in the free book available to those who buy one of the 50 titles, 10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2011, and found it poignant, romantic, clever, fun and original).

Get Reading! offers dedicated iPhone, iPad and Android apps too.

I’m surprised to see that according to the PDF catalogue of the 50 books on the Get Reading! site, there are still some titles that are not available as ebooks. OK, surprised, and ANNOYED. With the publishers, that is. Come on, people, catch up with your customers’ needs and wants.

Another initiative to encourage Australians to get reading is The Novel Challenge, the adult equivalent of the MS Read-a-thon. I looked forward to the latter every year as a child, and am finding myself feeling the same way about the grown-up version.

It’s a great way to push yourself along with the reading, and raise money for a good cause at the same time (they’ve raised more than $70,000 so far this year). The program has been underway for a couple of months, but you can sign up to read as many books – and attract as much sponsorship – as possible in 30 days during October.

And why wouldn’t you? You’re probably going to be reading anyway.

I love the fact that you can sign up as an individual or team, and track your progress in comparison with other participants online. The website allows you to set up a Facebook-like profile page to document books read, those you’re planning to read, and funds raised. Buttons allow easy sharing of the link on several social media platforms.

Feel free to sponsor me. I need an incentive to get into my current book (not a strong opening chapter, obviously, as I put it down a few days ago and have felt no compulsion to return).

In any case, I feel somewhat frustratingly as though I’ve been too busy talking about books and writing (in new, digitally social ways) to get much reading done lately.

In the past month I’ve participated in setting the program for if:book’s Bookcamp unconference on the day it was held as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, and contributed $45 via crowd-funding platform Pozible to ensure the Emerging Writers Festival’s Digital Writers Conference in Brisbane actually happens on October 14 (see their website to find out how the organisers raised $4000 ahead of the event, and for program details).

At another event in Canberra, the Australian Security Research Centre’s forum on developments in e-publication, there was no need to take notes during sessions or swap contact details with delegates during the tea breaks. The Centre collated selected business cards and PowerPoint presentations and emailed them to all attendees a few days later.

Highlights of that event included hearing about ANU E Press’s ground-breaking digital publishing model (they have 3-6 staff and publish 50-60 ebooks a year), the National Library’s ebook program (next month they will publish three titles simultaneously for print and digital readers while work continues on a multimedia or enhanced ebook due out next year), and the ACT Government’s iCabinet program (IT staff worked – with some tips from Federal spooks – to “lock down” iPads so that ministers can securely store and view cabinet documents on the go).

As for talking to my friends about books, while I continue to attend regular book club meetings (we’re talking about The Slap this month, timely given the television adaptation is about to premiere), I’ve also signed up to the aforementioned social reading platform GoodReads.com.

GoodReads allows you to quickly and easily share your thoughts on books you’re reading or have read, and to view reviews and star ratings from fellow book lovers.

It offers lists of must-read titles in areas of interest (the best books of the 20th century kept me scrolling and clicking for hours), and even allows you to scan barcodes from the books in your existing library to add them to your own chosen categories.

It’s a great way of keeping track of what you’ve read and what you like (or don’t), and making sure you retain a healthy ratio of classics and literary fiction to genre and trash in your mix.

So, Facebook friends, beware, GoodReads updates aplenty are coming your way.

Speaking of being wary, part of me is just that about Facebook’s announcements today, but hopeful too. Personal recommendations from like-minded friends and colleagues are a great way to find new favourite authors and reads.

Don’t you think?

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.