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Article  •  16 September 2022


How one author separates himself from his legal background

Find out how author Richard McHugh wrote his new book The Cutting while working full-time as a barrister.

In his new book, The Cutting, author Richard McHugh lays out a darkly comedic exploration of class, money and social relationships. When a Pilbara mining operation goes under, a young engineer, Will Fulbright, is one of the 1,200 workers who loses his job. But that’s not even the worst of it. Behind closed doors, Will’s girlfriend, Justine, and his former boss and owner of the mine, Lance, are on a personal collision course of their own.

The story is rich, the characters lifelike, and the circumstances eerily familiar in their portrayal of Australian industry. With this calibre of writing, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Richard writes full time, but the reality is – like many authors – writing is a side hustle to the author’s ‘day job’. With a professional career as a barrister, the author carved out moments where he could write The Cutting over seven years on and off. Talk about dedication!

Intrigued by this balancing act, we caught up with Richard to learn more about how he managed to write The Cutting while also working full-time in law.

The writing process

Because he works both as a writer and barrister, it took Richard ‘the better part of seven years' to write The Cutting. As the skills he employs in his legal job vary greatly from those that drive his fiction writing, Richard finds he writes best when he completely removes himself from his work as a barrister.

‘If anything, legal skills might get in the way of writing fiction,’ Richard shares. ‘Legal thinking is driven by evidence and cold analysis. It’s also often destructive. That’s the opposite of fiction. . . In a novel you can make the evidence up as you go; in a courtroom, we call that lying.’ 

To get into the fiction-writing zone, Richard has found that he needs to get as far away from the legal world as possible. ‘It amazes me that some people can write for two hours in the morning and then go to their day jobs. I have to get my head as far away from the legal world as I can.’ Often, this looks like going somewhere with no internet and no people, writing for a few days until he misses his family and comes home. 

The balancing act

Sounds like a lot of work – so how does Richard manage to balance it all?

‘It’s really hard,’ he says, going on to suggest that balance isn’t actually a feasible goal when it comes to this way of working. ‘I can never strike a balance – it’s always one or the other. The two activities are just incompatible.’ 

In addition to the sheer volume of work involved, the realities of being an author and a barrister are somewhat contradictory. ‘There are many aspects of being an author – like doing interviews and having to talk about yourself and your work in public! – that are completely alien to the culture of the Bar,’ Richard explains. ‘The challenge is not so much balancing two careers as keeping them apart.’

As tough as it sounds, though, Richard is nevertheless grateful for the unique career path he has made for himself. In fact, being a barrister does have one huge advantage for the author: freedom. ‘As long as I plan it far enough in advance, I can take as much leave as I need,’ he says. ‘So the paradox is that if I had any other day job, I don’t think I could write at all.’

Needless to say, it’s worked out well for Richard and his readers alike. 


Interested in the book? Start reading an extract of  The Cutting

Feature Title

The Cutting
A darkly humorous novel about modern Australia and what it means to be a good person.
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