Sunday, March 30, 2008

Charlie Nicholas gives me the boak

Big T is a very smart, insightful, friend of mine. He’s made a lot of sense to me on a whole range of subjects and I hold his views on the world in high regard. Following my invitation to look at my blog, he offered comment and I asked if I could put some of it up here, because, true to form, he has struck on the ideas at the very heart of my electronic purpose…

Big T said…
I found your comments on football books interesting…it is true that there is a surprising dearth of decent football authors, especially, as you said, football is such a popular sport. Perhaps, on reflection…referring to your point on Charlie Nicholas and the thousands of other incoherent, mumbling, stammering, uncommunicative, inarticulate and unintelligable players and ex-players, … the vast majority of football players, and therefore ex-players, coaches and managers are more adept at expressing themselves with a football at their feet than a pen in their hands…in my opinion at least, football is more than a sport; it is an art of expression,

Wise words. Galeano couldn’t have put it better. Despite having the demonstrative Harper/Slater (sensible,steady writer-observer/pish-talking exfootballer) team, my response to Big T was...

You're right big man. It is about expression. Football, writing, writing about football, the whole lot. You're right too, it's no for me to judge these people outside of their field of expertise. I wasnae being disrespectful, well I was a bit, more than a bit in some cases. I definitely was about Charlie Nicholas (and Robbie Slater)- watching him commentate gives me the boak (feel sick). He has a tremendous ability to make moments of balletic fluidity on the park sound like a bull in a china shop stramash. Don't get me wrong I wish I could play football like some of the people he talks about. I wish I could write like he played.

I've been struggling to get a handle on why there are so few works of fiction regarding such an immensely popular sport. It was the running theme of my Masters and one that’s set to plague my PhD.

The ‘players-writers’ theory is just one notion I would put forward. Another, there isn’t a market. No demand, no supply. It's something else I need to consider before I set about adding paper to shelves that might never get emptied.

Big T had been thinking about the supply and demand question too…
the digestors of football material are mostly visual predators. Seeking the pleasure and fun of a beautiful move, a pass, a goal, a tackle through voyeurism as a spectator. However, it's true that as much excitement can be derived by listening to a match on the radio, sometimes depending on who's commentating, often depending on the occasion, but always, I'm sure, the words in the air are converted to images in the brain for us to feast on…the ordinary punter would rather see something than read about it. …to read about football is a secondary interpretation or derivative of the original goal. (I'm sure you'll excuse the terrible pun).

Big T also believes there is a football fiction market for ‘discernable punters’. I hope he’s right. I know he’s right about the other stuff - how we view football and derive so much from it. Like I said at the start, I agree with him. I want to be able to think about football fiction differently and he helped me do that.

I'm looking for people to say, “Big man, you are talking pish.” I'm no looking for expert advice, though I'd gladly take it, I'm looking for arguments to reinforce my views or tear them down. It all helps me move forward.

Thanks again Big T. If any one out there has any thing to add, please do.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hope That Kills Us

Besides bringing attention to my own work I wanted to use this blog to highlight football fiction and the worthy (and unworthy) of their place in the sub genre. I’ve already made a glancing header at a couple of really very good examples.

The one for the day is the magnificently titled The Hope That Kills Us. It’s a feckin’ belter. Here’s the official line on what it is…

'Scottish football is the weirdest of organisms, simultaneously compelling and repulsive in equal measure. The Hope That Kills Us brings together specially commissioned stories from some of Scotland's best contemporary writers. Each story examines, from its own unique viewpoint, the participants, observers, experience and emotion that feed our nation's obsession with football.

Unlike so much stuff in our worlds today, it does exactly what it says on the label. The Hope… wonderfully reflects football’s integral part in our culture. The joy, the sorrow, the nightmare’s, the humour, the misery, the people. It’s magic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The people who put it together commissioned 8 leading lights in Scottish fiction for contributions and looked to writers groups in local communities, Uni’s and even some operating from big hooses like Glenochil to add an additional 5 - the paperback edition includes a couple of further additions.

There are too many highlights to mention here. There’s not a dud among them. Des Dillon’s emotive farmer’s tale, Heatherstone’s Question, Gordon Legge’s Hand of God Squad, an exquisite tale of what it is to follow our national team and This is My Story, This is My Song, Laura Hird’s take on the football widow’s revenge are sublime. They are not the only ones though.

I’ve cited both Billy Cornwall’s Jesus Saves and Andrew C Ferguson’s Nae Cunt Said Anything in my theoretical piece for my MA, purely because of their depiction of the game from the pitch. Ferguson’s story is a personal favourite. It’s about hard faced giant sized faeries and wishfully gifted players wasted with drink, how could it not be?

I really like the novels, Boyracers and The Incredible Adam Spark, ( so I was fair pleased when Alan Bissett’s picture of the mentality of the great green ’n blue divide, A Minute’s Silence lived up to expectation. It concisely captures the best/worst of the Central Scotland (my home) mindset while beautifically underlining what it is that brings football people together and makes us love it so…

“That connection in a pass, reaching somebody across empty green space…”(pg133)

“…fitbas a mystery eh. Its aw in the glances, the breathin, the beatin ae yer heart; that’s whaur it lives. Somethin tae dae wi bein alive. Mortal. Its no scarfs and fuckin badges thats for sure.”(pg134)

Obviously being about the Old Firm, it’s about what divides us as well – the simultaneously compelling and repulsive.

Editor Adrian Searle has done such a good job of stitching it all together, it looks like a Sunday morning size 5 Mitre ready for a kickabout in the park. Well rounded, well played and well, just about the best collection of football fiction I’ve managed to get my hands on so far.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Playing Football Fiction

I'm looking for a publisher.
Seriously, I am. My masters is finished. I wrote a book for it. A novel about football. Well actually it's about 3f's. Football, fightin' and the things people do to each other when they love each other very much (and sometimes when they don't). It's about a lot more than that obviously, but it keeps things simple if anybody ever asks me.

It was shortlisted for the 2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Award Emerging Author category. Let me tell you, it's easier writing that down than it is telling people. Some astute judges really liked it and some very smart MA examiners did as well, so it's definitely got something going for it.

It's about a Scottish lad struggling in Australia - a subject close to my heart. It's about cultural bridges, or the lack of them, and how easy it is for immigrants to become entrenched in their own culture when they're living somewhere else.

For Scots in Australia, so far away from home, the view of the auld country can take on a purple heathered state of mind. The back-at-home ideology never leaves any of us, but in the hearts and houses of a stubborn few, it can become exaggerated. Scotland starts to look like it does on the top of a shortbread tin. A wee scottie dog wearing a tartan jacket at the feet of a piper wearing a serious pair of puffy cheeks in front of a castle, one of the famous ones, by the water on a warm summer's evening.

All that's missing is the malt.

Hey, I get like that sometimes myself. I hanker for a good fish supper, the patter and the pub. I'm in the process of buying a kilt as I write this. So I'm not saying I've moved on, but I've settled in. I don't think I'll ever stop wondering what it was that made it so hard though. I like the sun and the warmth and the beach and being able to take the bairns to the park without a raincoat or their wellies or lighting a fire when we get in. But like the one on the tin, I feel like there's something missing from the picture.

Hey, the book's not autobiographical by any means, all I'm saying is, I'm intimately familiar with the territory.

Some Tartan Hyde, was the original title, but it'll be The Simplest Game from here.

Like I say, I'm up for it. I'm actively looking for the pass into space, a publisher willing to pursue a unique perspective on football fiction and put it into print... so if ye know any body that might be interested...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Here's one for the kids

See, the great thing about football is anybody can play it. It is the sport of champions, I mean more and more its becoming the sport of chequebooks but still we love it. Writing about it is a different story obviously, because reading about it can be, well, eh...challenging.

In my last blog I talked about what football fiction isn't. And had intended to discuss what it is, but I've very recently come across an example. An example which could be classified as being No' Bad, (which mean really quite good actually).

Football Fiction is a lot of things, it can be limited in scope and imagination and is already limited in availability. Rarer still are well-written examples, which seems kinda weird to me when the beautiful game is so popular.

Most examples of football fiction are kids books. Like Edward Megs Morrison.

Megs is a young talented footballer who arrives in Oz and struggles to settle until football and a friendly Hungarian help him find his way. Mark Schwarzer, the Aussie keeper, has attached his name to it and spent the entire northern hemsiphere summer punting it to anyone who would listen.

It's a good book for kids. There's a solid story, a likeable lead character, some football history and even some rare moments of football. There's a sequel on the way and like Mark says, anything that gets his son to read can only be a good thing.

It is sharper and more up to date, like on its toes, than the Johnny Warren versions of the boys own football book, but it amounts to the same thing at the end of the day. Still, it's there though innit? And that's the important thing. Have a look for yourself, the site is great.