A lawyer-turned-writer, Bri Lee takes an interest in everything from fashion to feminism and pop culture. She publishes her own periodical Hot Chicks with Big Brains, has just released her first book, Eggshell Skull, and is already working on her next book.
As a writer with a considered outlook, Lee is appearing as a panellist at this year’s Storyology to speak about power shifts in the wake of the #MeToo movement. “I am very flattered to have been invited,” she says. Ahead of Storyology, we spoke with her about her book, her experiences working in the law and her love of attending panel events.
You are a qualified lawyer yet you work as a writer and journalist. What inspired you to pursue a writing career?
I have always really loved reading and writing. I got to the end of my year of working as a judge’s associate – which was my first year of working in the legal industry – and it was a combination of things. I decided that I had built my writing portfolio up enough that I would be able to keep getting freelance work.
I also had a really long think about things I didn’t like about the legal industry and the justice system, and I decided that I might be able to make more of a difference from outside of the legal system. So I quit and made the leap, and I am very grateful it has gone very well. I have seen a lot more success in writing than I did in law.
You are speaking at Storyology this year – what can we expect from your session: Power shifts: Identity, diversity, #MeToo?
Storyology have got an intelligent and articulate panel of people to talk about an extremely topical idea.
My favourite thing about panels is that they bring together people whose expertise and passion touch on the same themes, but who have not previously worked together. And so the best panels are people riffing off each other, and I think Storyology is really good for that; they always get really high-calibre people.
What Storyology sessions are you looking forward to attending as an audience member?
Killer stories: True crime and podcasts (Hedley Thomas, Rachael Brown, Matthew Condon): This one is going to be good. Rachel Brown’s Trace podcast is all about true crime and Matt Condon is the king of non-fiction true crime, specifically for Queensland – and in my opinion, he is such an incredible example of a journalist-turned-author who brings that same beady, inquisitive eye and attempt at true objectivity to long-form work.
This book changed my life (Trent Dalton, Peter Greste, Melissa Lucashenko): I admire all three writers and they come from very, very different walks of life. I think it is going to be really, really interesting to see these three really different writers who’ve gone through different challenges during life, and quite recently as well. Imagine how interesting it is going to be to hear which particular books they all separately love and then whether or not they agree with their picks.
You’ve just released your debut book, Eggshell Skull – can you tell us what it’s about?
Eggshell Skull is a memoir of my journey through the legal industry and justice system. My father was a police officer and police prosecutor and that gave me certain ideas (some cynical), but a lot of hope and optimism for what the law would be. Then I went and studied law and the memoir starts with my first day in my graduate job as a judge’s associate in the Queensland District Court. And it’s really tough and I witness a lot of the failings in the system, and then towards the end of the year I decide to go to the police and make a complaint about a sexual offence that was committed against me; a historical sex offence.
Then for the next two years, it was my investigation that culminated in a trial and it was a process of having thought that I knew what the law was in a really deep way. And then to go through the entire legal system from the opposite side as a complainant just completely opened my eyes to what it actually is like for general members of the public who have to interact with the system from the outside.
So the book attempts to address the classic personal is political; it’s a memoir in order to make comment about the system more broadly. And I think that there has been a lot of response to the book so far because there aren’t that many people who have gone through, from start to finish, both sides of the law.
The release of the book has come on the back of the #MeToo movement – what has the response from readers been so far?
I started writing this book three years ago: before Weinstein, before #MeToo, before any of that. I was a bit worried that the book would just be treated as part of this zeitgeist and as me being knee jerk and responsive. But thankfully nobody is treating it like that and I have had the benefit of people’s ears being open to these stories and these opinions.
The book is also being critiqued as a work on its own separate from the zeitgeist. So I feel incredibly grateful and I do believe success is a combination of hard work and luck – and in that sense I feel very lucky about the timing of it.
Having just released your first book, what advice do you have for emerging writers hoping to do the same?
It’s that old saying that I think is true: success attracts success. Once you have a few things under your belt, it’s much easier to get things afterwards.
So what I would say either to myself back in time or to any emerging writers is that it’s going to feel for a little while like you are just busting your guts and not getting anywhere, but – if you can – just put in those miles at the beginning. Once you do start seeing those wins, they will keep coming.
What is on your reading pile at the moment?
I just finished Small Wrongs by Kate Rossmanith and just loved it; I thought it was fantastic. I’ve also got The Court Reporter by Jamelle Wells and I have received an advanced reading copy of Happy Never After by Jill Stark, which I have to really force myself to put it down. At the early stages, it is reading quite fantastically.
Now your book is out in the world, what is next for you?
I am already working on my next book, which will be a collection of essays. I got a scholarship and a stipend from the University of Queensland to work on that and they have been amazing and awesome, so I really want to try to carve more time out of my life to do that well.
Storyology is at Palace Barracks from 27–28 July. Explore the program and buy tickets here.
Photography: Alana Potts