Random House publishes ex-City lawyer's novel (which she wrote during her training contract)

In July 2008, Jennie Rooney had her first book, “Inside the Whale,” published by Random House.  What is remarkable is that she wrote it in her spare time over 18 months - while doing a training contract at Slaughter and May.  She left the firm around the time of signing a two-book deal and we spoke to her about law and writing…


mtl: Hi Jennie, please can you start with your legal career?


Jennie:  After doing history at Cambridge, like many others I didn’t know what I wanted to do next so I signed up to do law as it is a good career.  I took a year off along the way and spent another six months teaching English in France before starting a training contract at Slaughter and May.  


I qualified into finance and stayed for six months, by which time I had a book deal. Although I enjoyed working with intelligent people and found the work difficult and challenging, I wanted to do something more flexible.  Writing was and is my dream, and the only thing that I ever really wanted to do, so there was no comparison or difficult decision to have to make. 


mtl:  So at what point did you start writing? 


Jennie:  I had wanted to write a book for years and it was always a long-term plan.  However I’d put it off as it was an intimidating prospect.  Six months into my training contract I realised that if I didn’t try it then, my life would only get busier and I also needed some sort of creative outlet from the City. 


I bought a couple of books on the subject to get me into the swing of things and then just sat down and started. I worked in my lunch breaks, a couple of evenings a week and at the weekends.  The hours during my training contract weren’t too bad and despite a few busy periods, work never really took over my life.  I also spent six months in the Paris office which I really enjoyed, particularly as being there gave me more time to work on my book. 


I finished “Inside the Whale” at about the time I qualified and began looking for an agent.  I didn’t have any contacts in the industry but decided to contact an agent who I thought might like the style of the book, based on other titles that she had worked with.  I sent off the finished manuscript to her and I was delighted when she took me on. Two months later we had secured a deal with Random House for two books. 




Career timeline



History, Cambridge



CPE and LPC, Nottingham



Training contract, Slaughter and May and writing “Inside the Whale”



Finance assistant, Slaughter and May, book deal with Random House



Left Slaughter and May to write full-time



“Inside the Whale” published by Random House.  Currently writing second book


Editing “Inside the Whale” was an interesting process.  I had done a lot of editing on my own before sending off the manuscript, but it was incredibly helpful to have somebody more removed from the book pick through and query some parts and suggest improvements. I enjoyed it as I felt that it would be a much better book by the end of the process.  The book was released eleven months down the line, in July 2008.  It is an amazing feeling to think of people actually reading my work, though also rather terrifying. I still have to get used to the fact that there will be people who won’t like the finished product and then learn to let that go! 


I resigned from Slaughter and May at the point of getting an agent.  I thought that either I would be lucky and the book would be published or I would look for a job in law that required less hours, so that I could spend more time writing.  Fortunately things have worked out for me and I’m able to write full-time now.  I’m now busy with my second book, which I started on qualification last year.  I try to switch off my phone and internet and do a good five hours a day of writing, rewriting or editing, but that doesn’t always happen... 


mtl:  Tell us about “Inside the Whale”… 


Jennie:  It’s a love story told by two people looking back on their relationship during World War II.  Stevie (Stephanie) works in a peanut factory on the Old Kent Road and Michael is sent to Africa to join the Signals Service.  The book is about the choices they make and the ones they don’t, of lives interrupted by war, of first love and childhood, and about the stories people tell themselves to get themselves through. My grandfather was in the Royal Signals and was posted to Africa, so a small part of the inspiration comes from him, although he died a long time ago so I never really talked to him about it. 


I started the book several times and deleted lots along the way, as it wasn’t how I wanted it to be.  I didn’t tell many people what I was trying to do until I had been writing (and rewriting) it for about six months.  Only then did I start to tell my friends about it as I felt that I had got to a stage where I knew I would finish it, was enjoying the process of writing and had started to hope it might get published – until that point I assumed they’d think I was being ridiculous. 


mtl:  What are your plans for the future? 


Jennie:  In the short-term I’ll promote my first book and finish my second book.  I hope to write more after that but it will depend on how the first two do.  I have law as a fall-back position and that is good to know, though aside from missing my colleagues I haven’t missed the job itself yet as I am so busy with my new one.


mtl:  Many thanks for your time and good luck with book number two and beyond. 


Click here to read some Amazon customer reviews and to buy a copy of “Inside the Whale”

Click here to see Random House’s page on Jennie Rooney


Reviews of Inside the Whale:


Full of wisdom and panache, Jennie Rooney’s poignant, moving, clear-eyed account of love and war, personal sacrifice and private pain, is a novel to truly move the spirit.” Liz Jensen 


“Funny, sad, unputdownable – an absolute tour de force.” Katie Fforde 

“Stevie loves Michael, and Michael loves Stevie. But then the war intervenes, and Michael is sent to Africa as a Morse code operator, and Stevie is left behind in 1940s London with a broken heart and an unplanned pregnancy. Meanwhile Michael’s life is also being blitzed as the consequences of combat take their toll. Rooney, who’s only 27, is fresh, funny and wise, balancing the emotional turmoil with a vivid turn of phrase. Hugely enjoyable.” Eithne Farry


If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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