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.