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In this issue we talk to Joanne Sefton, whose debut novel If They Knew hit the shelves on 15 November 2018. Joanne is an employment law specialist who completed pupillage and practised at Littleton Chambers for ten years, before moving to an in-house barrister role in order to spend more time on her writing and with her family. She is currently works for Mitchell Law, a boutique employment law firm based in Wiltshire.

 

Tell us about any books, poems or podcasts that have inspired, engaged or comforted you and why?

I have a vivid memory of coming across a copy of John Grisham’s The Firm when I was 12 or 13. I was growing out of children’s books and there was nothing like the amazing range of great young adult fiction that’s published these days. I devoured it, becoming instantly obsessed by the glamorous, immoral world and the addictive plot twists. Around the same time, I was a fan of LA Law on TV and that, along with the Grisham books, sparked my interest in pursuing a legal career. It’s fair to say that employment tribunal practice bears little relation to either!

As an adult, I’ve read so many books that move and inspire me, but very few that I go back to. Two exceptions are The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, both deservedly regarded as classics.

The Secret History is a reverse detective story – a ‘whydunit’ rather than a ‘whodunit’ – but there is so much more to it than uncovering the various plot revelations. The story provokes debate on morals, beauty, truth and other fundamentals, all framed through the lens of the coming-of-age of members of a gilded, gifted clique with a dollop of Greek mythology. Heady stuff.

Sunset Song deals with the other end of the social spectrum, set in a rural community in north eastern Scotland around the time of the First World War. It’s a melancholy portrait of the passing of the agricultural way of life and the coming of modernisation. The writing is exquisite, and a hymn to a landscape which I love, with the author skilfully treading the line between sentiment and sentimentality. The story itself (at times brutal) puts perspective on my ‘first-world’ problems and experience. I always find re-reading it to be a meditative experience.

How about music – any pieces you find particularly evocative, or are inspired to listen to again and again?

My former pupil supervisor, who is much more knowledgeable about music than I am (and a big Springsteen fan, which has to be a plus) once described something I’d put on as ‘yet another melancholy dirge’ and it’s fair to say that my musical taste tends towards introspective guitar-based musings. I had a brush with cancer in my early 20s and played a lot of Damien Rice (especially Cannonball) and the I Am Kloot track, No Fear of Falling. They are beautiful, bittersweet tunes which I still listen to every so often and take deep joy from them.

What about art or films; do any stand out as life changing or seminal in some way?

I’m neither a film buff nor an art expert, and my favourite film (unashamedly) is Bridget Jones’s Diary. I love the use it makes of both Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice and, more specifically, the 1995 BBC TV adaptation of the classic. There is some wonderful playful metafiction stuff going on there – particularly with Colin Firth in the role of both Mr Darcys. So much so that I’m even prepared to forgive the less-than-realistic portrayal of life at the Bar (but not the prison karaoke scene in Edge of Reason).

Finally, if you were stranded in the middle of a trial in Nowheresville, what’s the one piece of kit, luxury or comfort you can’t do without on a hotel stay-over?

Hmm. I really enjoy cooking and miss it on longer stays away from home, but I’m not sure it’s feasible to transport my kitchen. Plus I also like checking out local restaurants when I’m away (although the more off-piste ones often seem to assume a woman eating on her own has been stood up, which can lead to interesting conversations with waiters).

It might not be especially luxurious but, as an avid reader, the one thing I always have is a paperback stuffed into the suitcase and, more recently, a Kindle. I don’t always like to read electronically, but I do love the fact that it saves space in the suitcase and if something catches my eye I can download it instantly. 

Joanne Sefton’s debut novel If They Knew is published by Avon HarperCollins and is out now in ebook and paperback. It’s a subtle psychological thriller of family secrets, betrayal and revenge, perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell and Lianne Moriarty.

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