From legal eagle to sea eagle: Jock Serong

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Contrary to popular belief, writing – rather than the law – was Jock Serong’s first career choice and for many years he balanced the two before finally making the jump.

Words and photos by Carol Altmann

[dropcap style=”color: #dc943c;”] T [/dropcap]he most commonly told story about Port Fairy editor and author Jock Serong is that he was a lawyer who became a writer, but in fact it is the other way around: he was a writer who fell into law.

“English and English Lit were always my favourite subjects at school, but when I told my career counsellor that I wanted to be a writer, they suggested I do a law degree, because ‘there’s plenty of words there’,” he says with a wry grin.

But what every writer knows-  and what career counsellors never quite understand – is that there are words, and then there is writing: storytelling, building a narrative, creating a scene, turning words into living, breathing objects.

Worse, once you know that you love to write, the bug never leaves you.

All of the teenagers who kept journals and wrote short stories and loved English – and then grew up to become anything but a writer – still have a writer’s heart. Some listen to that nagging voice, most don’t.

Jock listened.

“I started writing professionally as a freelancer about six or seven years ago and had, if you like, three jobs: as a parent, my legal career and my writing, and the pressure to keep those three going all at once was increasing,” he says.

Jock’s first novel was published earlier this year and has been optioned for television.

[dropcap style=”color: #dc943c;”] H [/dropcap]aving relocated from Melbourne to Port Fairy 10 years ago, Jock had already chosen between lifestyle and a more traditional career path.

He was a barrister in Melbourne, but came to Port Fairy to work as a solicitor after he and his wife Lilly, a nurse, decided it would be a better place to raise their children (they now have four, aged from 3 to 10.)

And besides, the surf was excellent.

Jock, a surfer, began writing for two or three different surf publications, while also working at Maddens Lawyers. It was his surfing connections, however, that eventually opened the door to a life submerged entirely in writing.

“Early last year, Mick (Sowry) and Mark (Willett) were nursing this idea of a high-quality magazine built around ideas of the ocean and they asked me if I would like to edit it,” Jock explains.

Like a cliff diver in Acapulco, Jock stepped to the ledge and took the plunge.

Great Ocean Quarterly was developed over the next six months and, like Bluestone, has just marked its first birthday. Also like Bluestone, GOQ is edited in the front room of a house, Jock’s house, which is where he does most of his writing.

“The last 12 months have been exhilarating, in that usually at this stage in your life, you have a sense of where things are going and you are consolidating. I feel like I am back in that period of your 20s, where you throw it all up into the air,” Jock laughs.

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Jock, from Port Fairy, has no regrets about moving to writing full time: “The alternative was to spend the next 20 years not ever knowing if I could have done this”.

[dropcap style=”color: #dc943c;”] A [/dropcap]longside GOQ, Jock has recently published his first novel, Quota (Text Publishing), a crime novel based in a remote town in south-west Victoria.

Just in case you thought – like me – that Jock might never sleep, the novel was developed over several years and involved several major re-writes before that magical moment of being accepted by a publisher.

“All writing has that edge of hard grind under it, the hard work, but I was happy to keep going and to keep at it; I find the process fascinating,” he says.

Quota has been well-received by readers and reviewers and has been optioned for a television production by Madman, in Melbourne. Jock will write the adaptation.

As Jock wanders down Sackville St on a perfect spring day in Port Fairy, saying hello to everybody who has already said hello to him first, there is a sense that his life has turned out exactly as it was meant to be.

When asked if he misses law, he gives a writer’s answer: “I miss the characters and their stories”.

“But no, no regrets. The alternative was to spend the next 20 years not ever knowing if I could have done this.”

[box]Jock Serong will join authors Regina Lane and Clint Greagan for the Warrnambool Books Bookwiz Trivia Night this Thursday, Sept 18, at The Last Coach, in support of the Leila Rose Foundation. Click here for full details. [/box]

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3 thoughts on “From legal eagle to sea eagle: Jock Serong”

  1. Jock’s an inspiration to me, when he first told me he was giving up law I was so impressed and so jealous I thought he he was so gutsy and brave following his dream. This played on my mind continually and within a matter of months I too took the leap of faith leaving almost ten years of policing to make a new life with my little cafe The Farmers Wife Harvest Cafe in Port Fairy. I am so thankful that Jock showed me not to be afraid of my dreams and to jump in after them and reel them in. I loved Jock’s book and can’t wait for the film version it can be nothing but successful.

  2. Well done Jock. Still remember you reading bits of the book at Brian and Robyn’s. Just finished reading the published version and see that some of those pieces made the cut. Congratulations on getting published!

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