Mention of BabyBarista on the 'Leaving Law' website
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Creative Writing, Portfolio Careers, Arts and Media
Went about it:
I practised as a barrister for over ten years at 1 Temple Gardens in London. During this time I wrote or co-wrote a bunch of law books which in many ways helped to develop my practice. These were later followed by a motivational book entitled ‘Why Lawyers Should Surf’ which I co-wrote with Dr Michelle Tempest and which encouraged lawyers to look for inspiration outside of law and used surfing and the power of the ocean as metaphors for living the day to day. But I still had an ambition to write a novel and after the first draft of the surf book was finished I very much wanted to sit down and write a legal thriller. But instead what popped out was a legal comedy about a fictional young barrister doing pupillage. I called him BabyBarista which was 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. 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 onto the page. I wrote it in the form of a diary and posted it online as a blog at http://babybarista.blogspot.com. 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 The Lawyer commented “If this is a fictional account it is genius”. I then emailed a few publishers and started getting interest. I was also lucky enough to be approached by a couple of literary agents and chose to go with Euan Thorneycroft of AM Heath who has been extremely helpful at all stages of the process from looking at the story itself to negotiating with the publisher. In addition, I was also contacted by The Times which offered to host the blog (at http://timesonline.typepad.com/baby_barista) and finally, I got a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing of Harry Potter fame - all within the space of less than three months. The book came out last August and is called BabyBarista and the Art of War. It’s a fictional caricature of life at the Bar and centres around BabyB’s first year in chambers where he is fighting his fellow pupils for the coveted prize of a permanent tenancy. Thankfully, it appears to have been well-received with broadcaster Jeremy Vine describing it as “a wonderful, racing read - well-drawn, smartly plotted and laugh out loud” and The Times Law Section calling it as “a gallop of a read” and their Books Section mentioning its “relentlessly racy, rumbustiously Rumpolean humour”. In the meantime I had co-founded a couple of legal businesses and these started to take off. The first provides free legal email newsletters (www.lawbriefupdate.com) as well as a subscription law journal. The content is provided mostly by barristers and solicitors and aims to digest into manageable form what can often be an overload of information for the legal practitioner. The other business provides online CPD training for personal injury and employment lawyers through video seminars or webinars (www.cpdwebinars.com) and this has proven to be particularly popular due to the fact that lawyers are able to gain their CPD hours watching and interacting with top speakers whilst not having to leave the comfort of their own desks or perhaps more importantly not having to lose a day out of the office going off to a conference or the like. With all this going on I was still trying to get down to the coast as much as possible and had bought a house in North Devon which was not far away from where I had been brought up as well as being next to the various surfing beaches in that area. Whilst trying to juggle all of these things I eventually decided to move down there full-time and take a break from the Bar in order that I could finish the novel and work on the businesses as well getting into the sea whenever there was swell.
It’s certainly been an exhilarating time and wonderful to have some time out to concentrate on other things than law. Being back down by the sea has really made me appreciate how important it is to concentrate on quality of life and to give yourself the time and space to pursue all manner of passions and interests which you might have. For me that meant getting out into the sea and enjoying all that the countryside has to offer. This has not just been through surfing but also through simple pleasures such as taking on a little border terrier puppy and getting him out onto the beach and into the hills, growing stuff in the garden from runner beans to rhubarb and even brewing elderflower wine or making sloe gin. It’s also a real pleasure to be back living in a rural community with all its various traditions and institutions, a place where neighbours look out for each other and friends often live just a short walk away. Ultimately I intend to return to the Bar part-time and based in Devon though hopefully through my chambers in London. But with the perspective of having spent time out it will hopefully help me ensure that I maintain some sort of balance not only between work and play but also between the various different types of work which we as lawyers are able to take on. Photograph: Copyright Jay Stirzaker