Monday, August 16, 2010

Fact or Fiction

Jessica Rudd - daughter of spectacularly ousted former PM Kevin Rudd - has a book, Campaign Ruby, out today. The 26 year old Beijing-dweller's book is now considered an eerily accurate prescience: in the book the female Federal Treasurer ousts the male PM from the leadership, triggering a Federal election. You can read a fantastic review (and synopsis) of the book here.

There were a few comments she makes in the (long) interview that I thought were delightful:

* On the fall-out of the GFC on people her age losing their jobs: "It was both a sad thing and a wonderful thing, because a lot of people were doing jobs they didn't like, but jobs that [were well paid]. There were amazing history grads and East Asia fine arts grads from Oxford and Cambridge working as investment bankers." Being laid off can be awful at the time, she goes on, but can help people discover where their real talents - and a more emotionally rewarding future - lie. "Ruby ended up being very good at investment banking, but she didn't really love it. And her world was turned completely on its head." (In a good way).

* On her contributing editor (and mum), Therese Rein: Thérèse read the novel as her daughter was writing it. Jessica emailed it to her mother, chapter by chapter - with Thérèse giving her instant feedback. "At one point, she was in Trinidad with Dad, and she fed-back on the chapter in about five minutes on her BlackBerry from the back of a convoy somewhere. She was so encouraging throughout the process." What about the chapter in which PM Patton is overthrown by Brennan? "She said, 'Oooh, loved that! When can you send me the next one?' "

* On being involved in politics: Ruby's moment of realpolitik arrives when she discovers, to her shock, that the party whose leader she's working for doesn't support adoption for gay and single parents. Ruby rings her politically aware aunt: she wants out. Her aunt tells her not to be silly - that it's vital to remain a part of the political process if she wants to make a difference. "That dialogue wasn't something I consciously created," says Jessica. "I wrote it down and read it back to myself and thought, 'Yeah, it's so true.' " Ruby had been enjoying the experience of campaigning without seriously thinking about what she believed in, she adds. "That's just the reality of party politics. You are never going to wholly endorse absolutely everything a party stands for. But you're not going to help if you're not part of it."

* On her childhood in Beijing and her father: When Jessica Rudd was a baby, her father used to calm her down - whenever she woke crying in the middle of the night - by picking her up and running her fingers along the book spines in his bookshelves. As a schoolgirl during exam time, she did the same thing as a way of countering stress, walking around her father's study in the family home in Brisbane, trailing her fingers along his books. As an adult, she seeks out libraries and bookstores for the same reason. She adores her father: "I've known Dad all my life. Compassion is the essence of his soul."

* On her husband: Jessica married Albert Tse, her boyfriend of six years, shortly before the 2007 federal election campaign. She met him in her father's electoral office. He was working in a voluntary position - and at first she couldn't stand him. "I thought he was a preppie Churchie boy."(Albert, who came to Australia with his family in 1989 and has never given an interview to the media, is an old boy of Brisbane's Anglican Church Grammar School.) "We spent about three years just fighting. One day I was sitting at home at my parents' place, watching TV and my mobile rang. It was Albert. He said, 'Hi, put the phone next to the TV and turn up the volume.' I thought something politically important must be happening, because the only thing we had in common was the work we were doing in the community," she says. Jessica turned on the channel he'd requested. The Simpsons was showing. Mystified, she sat there for a few minutes, then picked up the phone again. "Listen, do you know who you've called, out of interest?" she asked him. "Oh shit," said Albert, and hung up. He rang back five minutes later, "apologised profusely" and explained that he thought he'd called a friend called Jennifer; hers was the next name on his mobile. He was at the gym on the treadmill, had forgotten his headphones and couldn't go without an episode. Albert's addiction to The Simpsons put him in a completely different light for the future prime minister's daughter. "I decided that there was something quite endearing about that phone call. It was either really cunning and calculated and very creative, or it was just a complete stuff-up. And I know him - and I know it was the latter." (Um, adorable!!)

* On the unfortunate overlap of fiction and reality: Two weeks after she says this in Beijing, I glimpse her standing near her devastated father as he gives his final press conference as prime minister and wonder if she remembers that remark. "I felt enormously proud of [my father], and grateful for the gift of a strong family," she writes in an email soon afterwards. She also makes very clear that she finds no joy whatsoever in the extraordinary overlap between her novel and the dramatic events in Canberra. "I felt sick in the depths of my stomach when I heard the utterly unimaginable scenario I had dreamed up in the middle of last year for the purposes of a rollicking read might quickly become a close and deeply personal reality. I called Michael [Heyward], my publisher, from The Lodge, in tears. 'Michael, my book is coming true.' Michael said, 'Jess, you didn't make this happen.' It sounds a silly thing to say, because of course I didn't make it happen," Jessica goes on. "But until Michael said it, deep down I felt it might have been my fault. The coincidence was too spooky. I wanted to uncreate it. But Michael reminded me that I wrote Campaign Ruby to bring laughter to readers and open a window into the weird world of politics. The events of last week don't change that."

She says her father has been equally reassuring, telling her, "Don't worry, darling; you didn't do this."


This interview - from an incredibly articulate, clever young author - was so great and so touching. Whatever your political stripes, I think this might be an interesting read - think a frightfully clever (slightly less desperate) Bridget Jones in Australia, in politics. Fun times!

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