Alex Aldridge meets the next generation of literary lawyers and asks what it takes to get published
With their weakness for long-winded sentences, concern with preserving reputation and grinding 24/7 workloads, lawyers aren’t the sort of people you’d immediately associate with creative writing. But the link between law and literature has always been strong. And where Charles Dickens, Henry Cecil Leon and John Mortimer once walked, now come the next generation of lawyer-novelists.
One Temple Gardens barrister Tim Kevan – AKA Times Online legal blogger BabyBarista – is the lawyer-turned-writer of the moment. The commercial disputes and personal injury specialist’s first novel, BabyBarista and the Art of War, will be published by Bloomsbury in July.
Having begun BabyBarista as an independent blog three years ago, Kevan was contacted by The Times with an offer to host the blog on its website about six months after he started writing. A book deal followed soon after. “What has happened is beyond my wildest dreams,” says Kevan, who did most of the writing while “sitting on trains to various courts”. He adds that he has no problem adapting his style to make it accessible to non-lawyers: “Barristers are, by nature, storytellers. And the human interest side of life at the Bar makes great material for books.”
More tricky was keeping his identity quiet as speculation as to the identity of BabyBarista raged around the Inns of Court (the blog was written anonymously until Kevan outed himself earlier this year). “I was keen to keep my name under wraps in the beginning, as I enjoyed the anonymity of the writing, though given that it was genuinely fictional and that I was writing in the voice of a pupil barrister, I didn’t arouse too much suspicion.”
Based in Devon, where he is taking a few years off to surf, write and run an online seminars business, Kevan is set to return to practise law in the near future (he still holds a door tenancy at 1 Temple Gardens), having found that he misses the camaraderie of life at the Bar. He has no plans to give up the writing though, with a BabyBarista sequel based on his continuing Times Online blog already underway.
Another lawyer drawing inspiration from the legal profession to fulfil his creative urges is Andrew Iyer. By day, Iyer (pictured) heads up Ince & Co’s energy litigation team. By night, he pens John Grisham-style thrillers. He’s currently working on his third book, The Discovery, having already crafted two thrillers, Domino Run and The Betrayed. All the books feature lawyers in lead roles – the first starring a City solicitor, the second a partner in a provincial law firm and the third an in-house lawyer.
Iyer got into creative writing in his teens, contributing short stories to his school magazine, before going on to write plays at university. Alongside his two novels, he has also penned a professionally-performed play about football called The Big Game and an off-Broadway musical revue, Living in America.
Where does he find the time? “Mainly after work and when I’m travelling on business – which is something I do fairly regularly as an energy lawyer,” responds Iyer. “It takes discipline, but once I get going it actually helps me to relax.” He adds that the case management skills he has honed through his years as a litigator have helped him when “developing the mechanics of a novel”.
Although Iyer is passionate about writing, he is realistic about its downsides – “the solitude, the obsessive element of honing a particular plot, the financial uncertainty” – and has no plans to leave his day job. His advice to aspiring authors has a correspondingly down-to-earth theme: “If your sole intention is to get published, then you’ll probably be disappointed. Focus on writing the novel for the sake of it, because you enjoy it. If you do that, you’ll probably end up with a better draft.”
Unlike Kevan and Iyer, barrister and children’s author Frank Hinks QC mostly steers clear of the law when in writer mode. “There are a couple of times when I’ve drawn inspiration from the law – in the Magic Magpie, I based a character on a notorious Chancery division judge – but generally I get my ideas elsewhere,” says the Serle Court Chambers silk. As for the style of writing, Hinks describes it as “the antithesis of anything I ever drafted at the Chancery Bar – chalk and cheese”. A flick through his latest book, The Kingdom of the Deep – a story about some boys magicked to an underwater kingdom by a witch (fortunately, they’re rescued by a cat) – confirms this.
Hinks wrote his first full-length children’s adventure when he was 16, but it wasn’t until he had children himself – providing a captive audience on which to perfect his storytelling skills – that he started thinking about writing seriously. The recession of the early 1990s provided him with a perfect window of opportunity: “Suddenly all the property work just disappeared and I found myself sitting in my room at Lincoln’s Inn with just enough work for three days a week, at which point I thought: ‘Right, this is the time to write up the stories I’ve been telling the kids.’”
But Hinks’ decision to diversify his practice to include authoring children’s books (for which he also does the illustrations) didn’t meet everyone’s approval: “At first when my senior clerk came into my room while I was working on an illustration, he’d look at me as if I was snorting cocaine,” he recalls. Happily, the doubters have since come around, with Hinks now ‘out’ as an author/illustrator: “For much of my life my intellectual side was fulfilled, but my creative side wasn’t. At the moment, though, I’m satisfying both.”
The strictly adult writing of ex-Allen & Overy (A&O) senior associate Deidre Clark is a long way from The Kingdom of the Deep. Having spent two decades doing 70-hour weeks as a corporate lawyer with Simpson Thacher in New York and then A&O in London, Clark suddenly found herself with free time on her hands after a move to A&O’s less hectic Moscow office. She decided to put it to use by embarking on a sexually-charged novel about expat life – written under the pseudonym Deidre Dare. After several months of posting chapters on her website, the A&O management in London got wind of what Clark was doing and dismissed her, leading to a flurry of media attention and an unfair dismissal lawsuit.
“The whole thing was awful – the worst time of my life,” she recalls. “There was this gigantic scandal, my family were very upset, and from January to March it was very bad. But then, as human beings do, I adjusted to the situation.”
The bright side of all of this was that she attracted an editor and agent for her book and got a weekly column with a Russian English-language newspaper, The Moscow News. The $200 per week that she earns from the column is not quite A&O rates, but it’s just about enough to keep her ticking over while she waits for her book to be published and fights the unfair dismissal case. “I have enough money for a year or so, but I’m still facing a crisis – my hope is that my book will support me,” adds Clark.
How to get published
•Court publicity. Getting into a bust-up with her employer over erotic writing published on a website featuring semi-naked photos of herself worked for Deidre Dare, but it cost her a top-paying job.
•Self-publish. Frank Hinks QC published his first batch of short stories under the name ‘Perronet Press’ – a publishing house he set up himself. After the initial success of those books, Hinks decided to continue self-publishing. His most recent book, The Kingdom of the Deep, was reviewed in both The Guardian and The Telegraph.
•Persevere. “You’ve got to be thick-skinned,” says Andrew Iyer, a partner at Ince & Co and author of two legal thrillers. “I never actually managed to get an agent, but I kept sending out my manuscript and eventually secured a publishing deal directly.”
•Blog. The blogosphere may contain a lot of rubbish, but that means when something good comes along it tends to get noticed, as BabyBarista author Tim Kevan discovered when The Times and two publishing houses came calling after stumbling upon his fictional blog about life at the junior Bar.
here to see the original.
"Barrister-turned-writer Kevan seems to have secured more plaudits than a Nobel prize winner with his first novel, a romp through London’s Inns of Court. Baby Barista is fast, furious and effervescent, a Bucks Fizz-meets-Machiavelli of a book. Fans might care to slip a book token amid its pages – Kevan is penning a sequel."
Surely legal professionals are as safe a group of road users as you are likely to find? Well not according to a study from ‘across the pond’. In the
An insurance company in the
Average accident rates per 1,000 people in each group were calculated in the study and the results were quite shocking. For every 1,000 doctors and lawyers, there were 109 and 106 road accidents each year respectively. The figures for speeding tickets for these groups were also above average, with 4.4% of doctors and 3.7% of lawyers being caught driving at excessive speeds each year on US roads. In comparison, firefighters and pilots were amongst the safest professions, with respective rates of 67 and 75 accidents per 1,000 people per year.
The company which released the research has suggested that the longer hours worked by lawyers and doctors means that when it comes to driving to or from home, it is likely to be dark, and they are likely to be more tired than professionals in other industries. Whilst there are obviously differences in both the cars driven and the rules of the road, it would be interesting to see if members of the UK legal profession dealing with compensation claims have a similarly poor record when it comes to safe driving.
Author: Neil Worrall
From blog to book deal
October 26, 2009 by Writers, Artists and Insiders
Back in 2007 I had been practising as a barrister for some nine years when I started writing a blog about a fictional young trainee barrister who I called BabyBarista, a play on words based on his first impression being that his coffee-making skills were probably as important to that year as any forensic legal abilities he may have.
One of the most satisfying things I found about blogging was the immediacy of the publishing process. You think it up, type it out on your keyboard and then publish. It also allows the writer in many ways to busk or play around with ideas and see how they work.
It’s a strange thing to say but I discovered that this bold, irreverent and mischievous voice along with a collection of colourful characters had simply jumped into my head and the words started pouring on to the page. I was hopeful it might raise a few smiles, but in my wildest dreams I hadn’t imagined quite the extraordinary set of circumstances which then unfolded.
First it received a glowing comment in a legal magazine and off the back of that I emailed a few publishers and started getting interest as well as taking on a literary agent who had approached me direct. In the meantime, The Times kindly offered to host the blog and finally, I was offered a book deal with Bloomsbury – all within the space of less than three months.
Since that hectic start, it’s been a long haul. I took a break from practising as a barrister and moved to North Devon, where not only have I been able to go surfing a little more frequently but I also finished the book. It finally came out in August and does seem to have been well received with broadcaster Jeremy Vine describing it as “a wonderful, racing read – well drawn, smartly plotted and laugh-out-loud”.
The book is called BabyBarista and the Art of War and centres around BabyB’s first year in chambers where he is fighting his fellow pupils for the coveted prize of a permanent tenancy. It’s a fictional caricature of life at the Bar and includes characters that probably exist in most workplaces. Alongside the pupillage race is an altogether different battle with BabyB’s corrupt pupilmaster whose dishonest fiddling of chambers’ records all starts to unravel and threatens to embroil BabyB’s entire career.
With the first book finished, I’m now working on book two in the series and very much enjoying life down here by the sea.
What can (and can’t) a blog do for a writer? “Blogging is definitely one tool which might help some writers. The need to keep it up-to-date can provide discipline and the diary format gives an immediate structure, particularly for first person narratives.” Read more in our full interview with Tim Kevan.
Tim Kevan is a barrister and writer and the author of ‘BabyBarista and The Art of War’ published by Bloomsbury.
From Blogger to Bloomsbury: BabyBarista and The Art of War
Many of you will be familiar with Tim Kevan as the barrister behind PI Brief Update, PI Journal and Law Brief Update.
You may also be aware of his involvement alongside Daniel Barnett in the innovative CPD Webinars, which offers you the full benefit of CPD instruction for your whole office, without the hassle of having to travel anywhere.
You may be less familiar with the fact that he co-authored Why Lawyers Should Surf with Dr Michelle Tempest before Bloomsbury published his first fiction novel ‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’.
‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’ is a comedy revolving around one pupil barrister’s attempts to secure the only tenancy place available in a character rich set of chambers. The ‘Art of War’ in the title refers to Sun Tzu’s influential book on military strategy which BabyB’s pupil master presents him with on his first day:
“Litigation is like war, Baby Barista. Read this and learn.’
Instead of deploying Sun Tzu’s strategies to assist him in court, Baby B focuses on how he can secure the coveted tenancy spot at the expense of his three fellow pupils. Financial pressures at home serve as justification for his actions.
I generally try to keep away from legal fiction, but I must say that I really enjoyed BabyBarista, particularly through its link with the ‘Art of War’. The book was also made more enjoyable for me as a result of my assumptions that there must be a few individuals at the English bar squirming at lightly veiled descriptions of their worst characteristics.
‘Everyone will be able to identify him as being ‘X’ and her as being ‘Y’, I thought.
But when I asked Tim about this he clearly pointed out that this was not the case - even after I had asked him the same question, in a different way, approximately fifteen times.
“Not in the slightest – the book is fiction – full stop.”
“But how, then, did you come up with such rich characters if they are absolutely 100% fiction?”
Tim then explained;
“For me they were almost like real characters in my mind. I wanted to write a legal thriller, but what came out, initially as a blog, was this comedy. The characters just came into my brain and I tuned, almost like a radio, into their frequency.”
“The blog, http://babybarista.blogspot.com/, was picked up by the Times Online and then, following a review by the Lawyer magazine, I emailed a whole load of publishers. Bloomsbury got back to me after that and I also managed to get a literary agent around the same time.”
“ The support of the Bloomsbury editors and my literary agent was invaluable in terms of helping me with the structure and character development. (i.e. BabyB’s private life, aspect of his mother’s life, physical details, romance etc). They helped me to introduce different angles to the story, making it a more rounded, fuller novel as opposed to the blog, which was more like a race to the finishing line.”
Writing is probably seen as being a solitary existence in which one labours away on an idea for months unsure as to whether it will ever see the light of day but Tim’s experience shows that this has perhaps changed.
Using a free tool like Blogger, Tim could immediately access a publishing platform for his creativity and thereby permit the characters to grow and develop within an environment where he could measure take up, reaction and returning visitors. Suddenly there was an audience, returning for the next instalment. Think of a legal Belle Du Jour, without the sex, but with wigs.
As Tim says;
“Writing a blog is definitely a very useful tool in that it facilitates the process of writing in a first person narrative and it is also a very good way of presenting your work”
In terms of spreading word of his blog Tim did use his own newsletters but he also says that getting involved in the legal blogging community helped in that he promoted the blogs of others and they, in turn, promoted his. The legal editor of the Times Online became a member of his audience and this editor’s suggestion that the Times Online should host his blog drastically increased Baby Barista’s reach.
For Tim the path has ultimately lead him from online to offline, from free to paid for and in Tim’s explanation of the effort Bloomsbury and his literary agent put into helping him turn a blog into a novel one feels that £11.99 (or £8.36 on Amazon) is a price worth paying for a well crafted, highly enjoyable chambers based comedy.
Life at the Bar – BabyBarista and The Art of War by Tim Kevan
written by Shirah Zirambamuzale on Dec.03, 2009
BabyBarista and The Art of War by Tim Kevan
(Bloomsbury 2009. ISBN 9780747594642)
I agree with many that this book may be a true portrayal of life at the Bar, but I would also argue that this is true of many successful professions and success in general. Based on a Times Online blog by the same author, the book traces the life of a law student who acquires pupillage at a prestigious set of chambers in London. An Oxford law graduate with a first, the student is in stiff competition with other baby barristers with top-class degrees from Cambridge and Harvard. And, as if this was not enough, BabyBarista has to contend with his mounting debts and those of his mother, a working-class single woman who has borrowed heavily to pay for her son’s legal education. This background sets the plot where BabyBarista is left with no option but to outwit his fellow competitors by all means necessary. Through a combination of dubious tricks and the aid of his manual, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, BabyBarista concocts a series of measures which see him facing moral dilemmas, fighting to pay off his mother’s heavy debts and competing for the only tenancy available at Chambers. Beneath all the drama, tragedy and comedy found on every page of the book, the author also provides a satirical yet vivid account of life at the Bar. The book portrays most barristers as being arrogant, pretentious, corrupt and unrealistically aloof. Solicitors too are not spared as some are painted as being money hungry ambulance-chasers while others are ‘ClichéClangers’ and ‘skilled in the creative art of billing’. It isn’t all ghastly portrayals, however, as the book also has several examples of barristers who have coped with the pressures of the legal profession and gone about their business with integrity. One thing that I sympathise with is the debt one incurs during the endeavour to become a barrister, but the appalling thing is that the financial difficulty does not end with one succeeding at the Bar but evolves into one continuing a lifestyle they cannot afford just to fit in with the other tenants at Chambers. Finally, I was very impressed with the author and his style of writing, as it was imaginative and very captivating, and contrary to the preconceived notion that life at the Bar is tedious and not half as exciting as we soon discover in the book. Overall, this book reflects well on life at the Bar. Another issue that the book competently addresses is the notion of the ‘class ceiling’ and the bias of established chambers towards the Oxbridge class. This book, however, suggests that this traditional bias may be nearing its end. The author perfectly highlighted this when he captured a moment when an ageing barrister bemoaned the changing face of the Bar, complaining about the fact ‘… that over half of our next-door chambers’s [sic] tenants are now non-Oxbridge’. One can be optimistic from this alone. This, as the author puts it, is ‘the wonderful modern Bar’.