Monday, May 26, 2008

the pish part of a PhD?

I’ve just this afternoon determined, with the help of a very patient, battered-eared, coffee-fuelled and tired supervisor, that my PhD will look deeply and longingly into the way ‘voice’ works in young adult and adult football fiction narratives.

I mean how the writing changes depending on who’s going to be reading it – it’d have to wouldn’t it?

I will look at the what and the how of these changes. I’ll be looking at stuff like language, metaphors, descriptions, stylistics and the like. Others too. When I discover them. If anyone can help me, I’d love to hear from you.

At the moment, whether its wrong or right, I’m going to work on the assertion that young people reading football stories are far happier to read more game time stuff for example and less happy to work in the space between the reader and the text. They like the emotional stuff on the page – the ref’s obvious bias pissed John off. He was proper angry, for example.

Where as adult fiction readers require a bit more complexity, a little more sophistication. They don’t want to be told stuff they want to work it out for themselves and I don’t mean a mystery novel or some crime number – although I will look at detective football fiction aimed at both markets in a future blog.

In Young Adult football fiction, the football is the vehicle for the issues. Examples include the Megs books (see Here's One For the Kids this blog March 2 2008), Jasper Zammit, the King of Large and the Gracie books for example. I’ll be getting to all of these and more too I’m sure.

Adult readers on the other hand, as patronising as it sounds, are said to require a challenge. The books have to be about a bit more than the football. In the blog so far, I’ve already looked at Karren Brady sexing the board room game up with some lippy and some naked limbs; Dougie Brimson’s mixed it up with some metaphorical blood on his knuckles and the touchier, feelier Nick Hornby has given us male mood swings, sharp patter and some sharper insights. There are other spins in football fiction too. Again I intend to get into them in future blogs.

That’s not to say that youg adult fiction does not deal with complex or sophisticated issues it does and frequently, Roddy Doyle, Elmore Leonard, Hornby and Janette Winterson have all written sophisticated YA fiction, I’m going to have a gander at them too though not on this blog.

I’m looking for more examples of football fiction regardless of where it fits into the scheme of things. If you know of any good books I’d be keen to know about them…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby’s account of his obsession with his favourite team is a football fiction hall of famer - if ever there was such a thing.

It should be famous for the quality of the writing, the humour and the incredibly moving chapter regarding the Hillsborough nightmare, but it’s mostly about a sad wee football fanatic who can’t keep a girl.

Hornby’s style keeps his work from falling easily into transparent genres. More importantly the book vindicates the unrequited love people like us (I mean geeks like me ’n him at least) have for something as ungiving as a football team. It allows us to get away with justifying the irrational. (Almost). It provides depth and meaning to our resentment of the phrase “it’s only a game.”

Unless, of course, you’re this guy…ESPN Soccernet's review of Fever Pitch. Sean didn’t do enough research and read the book with a preconceived agenda in mind and I think kind of missed most of the point as a result. Still I’m glad he liked it.

For me the issue of the book’s notoriety does come from its spawning of a horrible film adaptation. Two horrible film adaptations to be precise.

For a stiff English man playing a stiff English man, Colin Firth did reasonably well. The US version with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon (another SNL movie flopper) had to be baseball to make it more, I dunno…accessible? It smells like shite, primarily because it is.

As a writer myself, or at least someone aspiring to make a living from the written word, I have to commend Hornby for doing it, getting away with it and keeping on doing it. Not too many authors have managed a film from a book let alone two. Even fewer writers have been responsible for two large scoops of celluloid poo and maintained as much authorial credibility as he has. I think it's because he’s a decent bloke and a great writer.

I’ve been told that one of the secrets of Hornby’s success, particularly his earlier ostensibly boys books, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About A Boy, is there’s always something in it for the girls. His work has an emotive largesse which appeals to the eh, more emotional in our football fiction tribe. I wondered if it was what Dougie Brimson was driving at when he talked about ‘making blokes sound like limp wristed tossers’. (See the Dougie Brimson Interview this blog, April 9th 2008).

In the aftermath of the books success he was kind of held up as editor in chief of all things football and has put his name or his work or written introductions for a number of collections of football writings – I’ll get to those in a later blog.

Nick Hornby has been held responsible for the initial breath of life given by the now bloated corpse of ‘lad’ lit. To me Fever Pitch was always more than that though, it was the book that helped me, and a lot of others I'd imagine, realise football writing, something far more durable than a notional category, can be literary. Of course, I then read McIlvanney, Walvin, White and Davies and found that people had been writing football literature long before Hornby, but he opened the door, he seemed to make it easier to get the ‘it’ of literary football fiction. I’m grateful he did.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Talking about football fiction with Alan Bissett

Alan Bissett has been mentioned in this blog before. He's a Scottish writer. For his literary efforts, he's been getting called a doyen and rating mentions in places like the List's top 100 cool eh, things. At the moment he's working on some more fictional largesse and plans to revisit the peeps in his first novel BOYRACERS. His last book THE INCREDIBLE ADAM SPARK is excellent too. Well worth reading for any number of reasons. None of them are football related right enough.

A wee while ago, he wrote a short story for the THE HOPE THAT KILLS US football writing anthology, so I wrote to him and asked him if he'd maybe talk about football fiction for us. And he did.

TheSimplestGame: What made you choose to write A Minute's Silence? What's behind it, your inspiration? How did you get involved with The Hope...?

Alan Bissett: A MINUTE'S SILENCE was written specifcially with the theme of the anthology in mind, so it had to be based around football, but I did want to use it to explore issues that are bigger than football, and in Scotland there are few more important issues than that of religious sectarianism. It's difficult to grow up as a young male in Scotland without being touched by this in some way, and while it wasn't quite as fierce as it is in Glasgow, that Catholic/Protestant shite still reached us in Falkirk. Looking back on it now I can see how my young mind was being warped politically by the simple issue of supporting a football team and I wanted to explore that. Football can be divisive at the best of times, but in Scotland it is particularly sharp, and I thought I'd be shirking my responsiblity if I didn't recognise that.

TSG: One of the great strengths in your work is voice, you are able capture the patter, the sense of time and place and all the stuff that goes with it in these really fascinating characters, how do you think you are able to do this?
AB: All I wanted to do was write as genuinely as I could about the world around me, and certainly when I was young my friends and I communicated in a language composed of film, sitcom, music and football references. That pop-culture world was as much a dialect to us as the Falkirk accent that we spoke with. I wasn't conscious of doing anything other than to show how this 'stuff' informs the very fabric of people's character and the way they interact with each other. If I'm able to do it well, it's because that 'is' the natural voice of contemporary society - from Dunoon to Denver. How often have you been trying to describe a situation to someone by saying, 'It was like that epidsode of Friends/The Simpsons/The Sopranos when X says to Y....' And yes, for a lot of men, football is a culture and language all of its own, which includes or excludes the same as any other culture and language. I'm just reflecting the reality of that."

TSG: There seems to be a general belief that men prefer reading non-fiction over fiction – it's been put forward as one of the reasons for the dearth of football fiction. Do you think this is true and do you prefer reading non-fiction or fiction?
AB: It would seem - if marketing statistics are correct - that most men do prefere reading non-fiction, and certainly as I've grown older I've started to read a lot more of it: whether on history, popular science or politics. The advantage of fiction is that it can explore the psychology and motivations of characters in a way that is dramatically exciting, but the disadvantage is that you can only learn so much 'about' the world from fiction, as it just does not have a duty to record the facts in the same way that non-fiction does. I think it's probably healthy to read in both areas.

TSG: Do you think there is a defined market for football fiction?
AB: There's a market for any kind of fiction, as long as it's good. But I do think the market is smaller, for reasons I'll soon come to.

TSG: Another theory is that footballers are better at expressing themselves with a ball than a pen, why do you think there is so little fiction about a sport which is so popular?
AB: I think the difference is that most people whose main interest is football *tend* not to be big readers of quality fiction; most readers of quality fiction *tend* not to be football fans. If you want to do any reading about football, there are newspapers, magazines and non-fiction books by the dozen devoted to it. There are online forums where you can discuss the game with other fans. Given what I said about fiction being poorly equipped with facts - and football being a game based on speculation based on statistics - fiction would not seem to be the most natural place to go for insight .

That said, David Peace's THE DAMNED UNITED is one of the best novels I've ever read, let alone novels about football. It elevates the game - and Brian Clough in particular - to the level of Shakespearean tragedy, which massive egoes, obsessions and personal demons exposed for the reader to see. It's epic! More exciting than football itself, as far as this reader is concerned. Fiction deals with characters and narratives, which is why Clough's enormous personality and the twists and turns of his story are perfect material. But let's be honest, most footballers and managers are fairly blank. They're athletes. Their story takes place before us on the pitch. There's often little fiction can do to supplement it that no fan can do for himself as he watches.

You can buy these books on Amazon, or go straight to Alan Bissett's My Space page or the Alan Bissett website in the links on the subs bench (on yer right).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

…Women were meant to play football…

I don't know about any of you, but women's football is sexy any way you look at it. A lot of sexy women play and pretty much any woman you don't need to use complex shopping analogies to explain the offside rule to definitely is.

The feminine qualities they bring to the game make it even more graceful, flowing and easy on the eye, not to mention the gilt-edged guile and cunning that comes with it. (Did you see the goal Brazil scored against the Matildas in last year's Women's World Cup Qtr Final tie? Quite honestly, one of the sexiest goals I've ever seen.)

While I may have offended people with the sweeping generalisations I urge you to read on. The book I'm talking about will change your mind...about a lot of things, not just me. It has impact - I'm probably just not showing it.

While it's certainly not a football fiction publication (this site's primary concern), it is a significant work about football and since the media-culture reviews asked me to review Jean William's wonderful book I thought this blog could live with one non-fiction review.

Here's what it says on the back of the book...
FIFA, the world governing body of association football, declared ‘The Future is Feminine’ in a 1995 press release. Since then, football has been claimed as the fastest growing participation sport for women globally. An estimated twenty million women play the game around the world, and that figure is on the rise. However, the history of women's participation goes back to at least 1895 and in our enthusiasm for the present, the memory of that longer history can be overlooked or forgotten. A Beautiful Game examines contemporary women’s football internationally, with case studies from England, the United States, China and Australia. In each case study, Jean Williams considers the evolution of the women’s game against a backdrop of issues, such as media representation, access to facilities, lack of resources, coaching, sponsorship, talent identification, training and professionalisation and contentious questions, such as women's absence from the highest levels of professional football, combining source material from archives, oral history and artefacts. A Beautiful Game analyses the status and image of the women’s game from the late nineteenth century to the shifting social values of the present.

The author Jean Williams (a Senior Research Fellow in Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University, teaches the MA in the History and Culture of Sport and Leisure and the FIFA-sponsored International Masters in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport) is a bit of a boffin and must love her football - while the two things rarely occur in the same place (I'll get to philosophyfootball in a future blog) thesimplestgame thought'd it be worth a mention.

It's very good. Like very, very good, fascinating to be honest. Jean Williams has done her homework, and while at times it reads like a boffin wrote it, it always reads like it was a fan too. It's well worth a look.

A far longer, far more in-depth and comprehensive review will be posted on M/C Review very soon. It even gave me an opportunity to recall the famous line from Bill Forsyth's 1981 film "Gregory's Girl"...if women were meant to play football... the review M/C Reviews

or buy the book at Footprint Books NSW