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Plotting a New Career: Joy Rhoades

12 June 2018 | Alumni Access Series


Joy Rhoades has made a seamless transition from lawyer to author as her first book has proved to be a triumph.

Alumni Access Series
Alumna Joy Rhoades speaks to us about the launch of her new book and her journey from lawyer to fiction author.

“They talk about plotters, pants-ers (writers who fly by the seat of their pants) and plants-ers, which is what I think I am. I have a storyline, but I like to deviate along the way.” So sums up Joy Rhoades and her approach to writing books.

It is clearly a good approach. Joy’s book, The Woolgrower’s Companion, published by Penguin in Australia and the UK, has garnered huge praise for its touching tale of a young woman in rural New South Wales dealing with a battle-scarred erratic father, domineering husband, angry male workers, racial prejudice, drought and financial difficulties, in which environment arrive two Italian prisoners of war sent to help on the farm.

The fiction is rooted in the real-life experiences of Joy’s grandmother and mother. Her grandmother was a fifth generation grazier, a lover of history and a great teller of stories. “I always carried in my head a strong sense of my childhood: the people, the history, the light and the landscape,” Joy says. “I was just waiting for the time when those thoughts would spill out onto the page.”

Joy might well have started writing earlier but for her mother’s sound advice that it would be useful first to get some professional training under her belt. This is exactly what Joy did, although it turned out she spent longer practising as a lawyer than she perhaps first anticipated.

After graduating from the University of Queensland in 1987, Joy started her legal career with an Australian law firm in Sydney, before she moved to London in 1992 and, there, was offered the role of associate at Herbert Smith (as it was known then). She was with the firm for 18 months before going travelling and eventually on to Hong Kong shortly before the handover from the UK to China in 1997, where she switched from private practice to working in-house. She joined Jardine Fleming and then moved to JP Morgan, firstly in Hong Kong, then Singapore, then Tokyo.

In 2000, Joy moved to New York. There, she was offered a place on a creative writing course at New York University. She was able to combine her studies with continuing to work for JP Morgan. But that presented her with her own conflict of interests. The dilemma she faced was being able to write while still working. “I wrote on the side, but writing is an affliction and it doesn’t work just to squeeze it in when you have time, because the more you write, the more you want to write.”

While in New York, Joy met her husband and they moved to London in 2009. They now have two school-age daughters. It was in 2013 that Joy devoted herself entirely to writing (in fact, she also now teaches creative writing).

Not that Joy believes her time as a lawyer was wasted; far from it, she thinks practising as a lawyer has been invaluable. “The legal training means you are constantly checking your facts, your conclusions and your analysis on the way. The story has to be plausible. If you don’t get things straight, the reader is subconsciously distracted, using up cognitive load trying work out what is wrong and how to correct it. You want your readers to stay with you and release tension as you go along.”

The other side to her training as a lawyer is the discipline needed to be an author. Joy treats her writing as a work, operating to time frames as if she were still working on transactions under time pressure. “The key thing is to get the writing done - even if it is not perfect, you then go back to what you have done and improve it.”

Joy is well into writing the sequel to The Woolgrower’s Companion, only this time she has a clearer idea of the plot. Maybe she is becoming less of a plants-er and more of a plotter.

*The Woolgrower’s Companion has just been published in paperback by Penguin. The link is: