The BabyBarista files

By Vincent McAviney

When most people think about barristers they imagine Dickensian gents in wigs and gowns postulating in court for a pricey hourly rate. For those that have worked in chambers this preconception is sometimes scarily close to the reality – but Tim Kevan is one barrister who breaks the mould.

Raised in Somerset and educated at Cambridge University, Kevan went on to become a barrister at Temple Garden Chambers in London. Recently described by Chambers UK as ‘incredibly talented’ and possessing an ‘unsurpassed knowledge of the ,’ it is no surprise that Kevan became a regular legal pundit on the television and radio – also somehow finding the time to author or co-author ten books. But, as Kevan explained to Palatinate, he wanted to write something different.

“I had an ambition to write a novel and after the first draft of ’Why Lawyers Should Surf’ was finished, I very much wanted to sit down and write a legal thriller.” So, in 2006 Kevan began writing an anonymous blog entitled ‘BabyBarista’.

“Instead of a thriller, what popped out was a legal comedy about a fictional young barrister fighting off his fellow pupils to gain tenancy at a chambers in London.

“I called the title character ‘BabyBarista’ which was a play on words ­– his first impressions being that his coffee-making skills were probably as important to that year as any forensic legal abilities he might have.”

Populated with a supporting cast named with appropriate monikers such as “TopFirst” and “Worrier”, BabyBarista provides an exaggerated portrayal of a life spent immersed in one of the nation’s most antiquated professions. The blog soon attracted a cult following; within three months it had been picked up by The Times, and literary agents were talking to him about the volume rights.

“I was hopeful it might raise a few smiles but in my wildest dreams I hadn’t imagined quite the extraordinary set of circumstances which unfolded,” Tim reflected.

“I was also lucky enough to be approached by a couple of literary agents and chose to go with Euan Thorneycroft of AM Heath who has been extremely helpful at all stages of the process, from looking at the story itself to negotiating with the publisher. Funnily enough, I almost didn’t get the original email he sent since it was along the lines of, “You don’t know who I am but I am a literary agent and have been reading your blog,” which Hotmail immediately decided was spam. It just shows that it’s worth checking your junk mail occasionally!”

The collected blogs were published last year as and Disorder: Confessions of a Pupil Barrister by Bloomsbury, famous for having been the only publishers to initially sign up JK Rowling. The book, which was described by one reviewer as “a cross between The Talented Mr Ripley, Rumpole and Bridget Jones’s Diary,” is set to be the first in a series called The BabyBarista Files.

Following the success of the BabyBarista blog, Kevan, an avid surfer, was keen to escape London; he bought a house in North Devon and then took a break from the Bar in order to finish the first book.

“Whilst trying to juggle all of these things I eventually decided to move down to North Devon full-time and take a break from the Bar so that I could finish the novel and work on the businesses as well getting into the sea whenever there was swell. Since then I’ve sold my flat in Soho and paid off the mortgage down here which has in many ways freed me up financially.”

When quizzed on how close the stories of BabyBarista are to his own experiences of the Bar, Kevan is quick to emphasise it is a work of fiction. “I don’t mean it defensively because there are elements of scandal in there or anything, but it wasn’t at all autobiographical. I had a really nice pupillage, the chambers were excellent, and I had three lovely pupil masters so it is complete fiction.

“Obviously the background of the Bar, the court settings, the chambers, and the atmosphere are all authentic in the sense that it comes from ten years of practice, but the actual characters and the story are utterly fiction and for what it’s worth that was actually necessary in order to progress the writing.

“If I was in any way worrying in the back of my mind, “Oh this might be taken as truth,” or something like that I wouldn’t have had the freedom just to be able to let the story flow because I would always have been worrying if this could offend someone. So it was an explicit decision to have it as fiction.”

Asked what advice he might give to other budding writers, Kevan responds, “As for fiction writing, I feel like I’m still learning – but if I’m asked what I’ve learned from my experience so far, I’d simply say “write away”. Get on with it and try not to be perfectionist in any way. Remember you can always go back and change it later on.

“Beyond that I would say that when you sit down and start writing, you should allow the voices that pop out to gain a momentum of their own. Listen to them and give them the freedom to grow. So, too, with the characters which come into your head. Let them loose and see where they take you.

“In doing this, blogging certainly introduced me to the new immediacy of the publishing process. You think it up, type it out on your keyboard and then publish. It also allows the writer to busk or play around with ideas and see how they work.”

For any students thinking of heading to the Bar, Kevan couldn’t praise the career path enough: “The Bar is a wonderful profession – I’m not just saying that in a cheesy way, it’s genuinely an enjoyable job and a privilege. The independent and self-employed nature of it is incredible, you don’t get that in a well-paid job in most areas I can think of. The advocacy is fun and the variety of cases is rewarding. It is worth the hard work, effort and risk.

“In terms of advice as to how to go about it, it’s really just hard work and putting the time in, always plodding on – beyond that there’s no clever answer.”

and Disorder: Confessions of a Pupil Barrister is available now in all good bookshops. The second novel in the BabyBarista series, and Peace, is due to be published in May 2011.