'I wish I started my business five years earlier'
Julie Bennett is finally fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming an author with the release of her first novel, The Understudy. It's a story of a young substitute soprano who has to step up to play the lead role when the prima donna disappears. It's a mystery, drama and powerful love story set in the earliest days of the Sydney Opera House (something she is familiar with as her dad was an opera singer), and based around Kings Cross, Woolloomooloo and the Quay. Also a PR professional, Julie writes in her spare time - she is in the middle of her second novel now.
What was your first job?
I was a child extra in War and Peace in the Australian Opera Company. It is considered the first opera publicly staged in the Sydney Opera House. Later I was in The Magic Flute and Cavalleria Rusticana - it was super exciting for an 11-year-old. I thought I was so cool taking it all in my stride, but then I saw some footage of myself in a production on the opera website and there I am gazing up at the lights and the stage. The memory is so different from reality. We were paid and also got royalties every time it was screened on TV. In my teens I was an Avon lady, and then my first job out of school was at the ANZ Bank through a school leaver's program. After that I worked in a library, and I loved that.
When did you know you were going to write books?
I think I always knew that I would do it one day. It all began for me when I was a child and was sent to bed at a time I thought was way too early. I hardly ever fell asleep straight away so I would make up stories in my head.
You are currently straddling full-time work and writing your second book - have you figured out what it would take to be a full-time writer?
I really like the variety that comes with running my own business and writing novels. Although I'm very busy, and hardly go anywhere at any time without my laptop in my handbag, I like it that way. I'm happy to continue doing what I'm doing and, in a way, I think it's healthy to have the strong connection with the real world that comes with running a business as well as the imaginary world of novel writing.
What's the best money advice you've received?
Spend less than you earn. If you get that right, you can make smart decisions.
What's the best investment decision you've made?
Starting my own PR business in 2004. That requires an investment of yourself in time and money. Starting your own business is not right for everybody, but it was right for me. I think I was a good employee and had some great roles, but when you have your own business, you're in charge of your destiny and that's what I'm about. If you don't make it, it's all down to you. If you trust yourself and make the right decisions, then you have capacity to build it into a really good business.
What's the worst investment decision you've made?
Not starting the business earlier, because I would have been a bit younger and it would have given me more time to spend on the start-up phase. I was nearly 40 and at that point you're a little bit less free. When you're younger you have more exciting ideas. I wish I'd done it maybe five years earlier.
What is your favourite thing to splurge on?
Books, of course, but I don't have as much time reading them as I used to because I'm busy writing them and running the business. I love everything about them, the feel, the smell, the weight, and also reading online. I love how you can get lost in a world with the author's help but you can colour it any way you want to. Another thing I love to splurge on is luxury soaps, and when I was writing The Understudy, I wrote about a soap that Armando gives Sophie - Nesti Dante.
If you had $10,000, where would you invest it?
At my age and stage in life, definitely superannuation.
What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?
If that's all I had left I may as well buy a nice soap and a good book, but I'd put a lot of effort into finding some work - any work I could to put food on the table and a roof over my head. You can't be too proud, right?
Do you intend to leave an inheritance?
It would be really nice, but I'm not planning on it. I think the greatest gift to give my sons is not to be a burden on them in my old age. That's a long, long way away but it's my first priority.
What changes would you like to see with the way people regard money?
Being more conscious about how we spend our money. It's really easy to go and grab a coffee and suddenly decide to have pancakes as well. It's a small thing but becomes a habit until you start thinking - where did I spend all my money? We might really want the pancakes with the coffee, but as long as we're conscious about that spend, we're okay. And then if we decide we're not going to spend money on the pancakes we should pay more attention to what we really want to do with our money - maybe save more or invest it. I think that this is starting to happen as a result of Covid.
Finish this sentence: money makes ...
more things possible. It isn't everything, but money does make life easier.
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