Saturday, September 27, 2008

...but I didn't inhale.

Recently I read Breath by favoured son, golden child of the Australian literary world, Tim Winton. It's a great book, a beautiful book, a book to be inhaled in a single lung-bursting gulp. I have some issues with the way he writes women though. They always tend to be awkward, not characterwise, but kind of undercooked or under developed I'm not sure what. Still,like I say, a great book.

It’s also about surfing. So is it surf fiction? Logic would follow that that makes it a sports fiction novel. Right?

If it is, it would be a literary sports fiction novel, because if it was just a sports fiction book the literati's bingo wings would be close to wobble overload. Hearts fluttering for all the wrong reasons. That is, of course, unless cynical publishers chose to target a sports fiction audience?

Now its not football fiction, I can see why you’re asking. It did make me wonder if there would ever be a fit on the shelf for it. There isn't, but it made me consider what it takes to make a football fiction book? Beyond binding pages together and filling them with load of balls obviously.

In the 1920’s this geezer called Vladimir Propp studied a collection, his collection - it was huge as well - of fairy stories. Makes you wonder. He then drew up, I should say circumscribed, a set of 31 parameters a fairy tale needs to qualify as a tale for eh, fairies. The things that make a good fairy tale good, is what I should have said, ye know like a wizened old crone with a poisoned apple and a penchant for eating gingerbread men or a big hairy, shiny-toothed wolf with a taste for cross dressing. They’re bad examples, but you get the point.

So this led me to think that it might be possible to develop, I mean circumscribe, a set of parameters for football fiction. Like really carve it out as a meritorious niche. What academics would call a genre of narrative discourse…but where to start?

First, I’d say, to qualify the stories have to include a game, watched or played. From the pitch, the stand or memory. To gloriously, or otherwise, celebrate the game through character participation in the spectacle.

Most of the examples I’ve reviewed so far have all enjoyed this faculty.

So what’s next? What other signifiers could there be? Is there a difference in the stuff for young adult and adult football fiction? Any ideas?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

a sensitive two fingered over reaction

Brisbane Writer’s Festival this week. It was busy, busy, busy. It was awesome. I met loads of people, editors, publishers, writers. Loads of people. Good people, smart people, hungry people and people with issues, beyond problems with their writing by the way.

I heard lots of writers talking, some really good, some not. Heard a few readings and even did one at the Fringe, where, apparently, like willies at a urinal, all the cool young dudes were hanging out.

I also attended a couple of master classes and a mistress class, if you count the hottie diligently trying to teach a difficult group about modes of telling.

Now I could have helped myself. My reading wasn’t about football fiction – it was about two men on a mountain who’ve run out of toilet paper. Other than me raising it, I didn’t hear a person other than myself writing, reading, talking or who even knew anything about football fiction.

In fact when I mentioned that it’s fast becoming a genre in its own right (via this blog obviously) the listener buckled. Not with shock or awe or even pleasant surprise. Laughter. Feckin’ laughter.

I know. Hey I really don’t mind, but seriously talk about having the laces taken out of your boots.

If the reader could regard this blog as an appeal to those among us that think football fiction can be funny but not completely laughable I’d sure appreciate it. Like I said the Fesrtival was awesome - maybe I should do something about the lack of football fiction on the agenda?
And to the laugher at all things football fictive, I think the message is clear.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

cable telly channel surfing mansluts

Up to now I’ve been thinking solely about football fiction, cause let’s face it the fiction of other sports just can’t be as interesting. I’ve just reviewed a non-fiction AFL book for my favourite Booksellers magazine and it struck me, for all I’ve been thinking football fiction is limited in its dimension, it’s also true that the fiction for other sports is even less diffuse. That's if ‘less diffuse’ is an actual expression. I wanted to say thin on the ground but I’m trying to stay ringside of sporting analogies. I’ll wait for the whistle though.

This does not mean that I will begin to look at other sports fiction on this blog. Far from it. I am loyal to my lady. Even if she’s made up of 22 blokes on a pitch, she is still my lady and she will forever hold me in her heart. Ever since I got picked off the wall at school lunch when there were boys still waiting to get picked that I thought were better than me, she’s had my lips, my hips, my love and my loins. I am a football fan first. To think about another sport would be something akin to betrayal. And while I know sports promiscuity is the domain of many a weekend cable telly watching channel surfing manslut, it’s not for me. It’s always been football and it will always be football. Now I have been known to take in the odd Olympic women’s Beach Volleyball stand off, but I know where my bread’s buttered. Besides you can only watch the beach volleyball on the telly every four years.

It could be argued, and I would, if all other sports are nothing in comparison, the fiction of these other sports would interest me even less.

Now, having said that, I can still name a couple of really good examples. The Naturalist by Bernard Malamud is a fantastic book about baseball, but I won’t be reviewing it. Read it yourself. It’s awesome. The Fight by Norman Mailer is the best book about boxing ever, but it’s not fictional. It’s a creative non-fiction account of Ali’s 1973 rumble in the jungle, a fight book so bloody, blunt and balletic only Mailer or maybe Hemingway could’ve written it.

In Australia, where Rugby League is the number one sport and football the poor cousin who only occasionally sleeps with a sibling, there are a couple of other sports fictions worth considering. The Specky Magee series is a best seller aimed at young Aussie rules audiences. If kids are reading anything other than the wanky wee wizard that’s a good thing innit?

Philip Gwynne’s brilliant book Deadly Unna? is about Aussie rules and a whole lot more. Then there’s Sam DeBrito’s rough and tumble book The Lost Boys about some lads an’ their surf boards, not much surfing mind you, and the time travel cricket series endorsed by thon eedjit, indian chart topper and buggerlugged bowler Brett Lee.

I’m reading a collection of cricket short stories at the moment. I don’t really get it. I had to watch the last Ashes and read at least two Gideon Haigh books before I understood half of it. Thinking about cucumber sandwiches and Pimms on the village green gives me the boak, so I’m not exactly coming at the collection with a warm heart, right enough.

There’s plenty more examples of other sports fiction, like plenty more - from other countries and other sports - and I’d be happy to take recommendations, but unless they’re as good as The Fight or The Naturalist I’m no sure I’d want them.

Sunday, September 7, 2008 far so few

Right in the middle of writing another book review I remembered that I’m supposed to be looking at this for my Pee Haitch Dee where I'm going to be looking at mapping football fiction. Ye know carving out the corners of my own shadows and an area of expertise, a wee niche if ye like, so if nothing else, the peeps at Uni think I know what I’m talking about. Regular readers of this wee bubble in the bath full of washing liquid world that is blogger may already have worked out the ruse.

Okay seriously, this is where thesimplestgame is up to.

As far as I can tell and this is absolutely disputable, there are maybe 60 -70 books which could be classed as football fiction. I reckon that’s about three good shelves worth in my artistic hovel.

The young adult fiction in Gracie, Megs, Jasper and a couple of other very similar examples, its probably the only place in the book world where the concentration is so great. Almost a whole shelf worth by the time you tie in the sequels.

There’s the Hoolie lit with the likes of your John King trilogy, the largest part of the Dougie Brimson collection (see Dougie's own site)) and more recent discoveries such as Away Days by Kevin Sampson giving fans with a taste for football related pugilism something to read. It's a section which probably takes up about the next most space. It's an area I’m going to revisit soon.

There are, relatively speaking, loads of good short story collections from Nicholas Royle’s A Book of Two Halves, For Whom the Ball Rolls by Ian Plenderleith and my personal favourite The Hope that Kills Us edited by Adrian Searle are all good examples.

There’s lipstick football fiction with the likes of Karren Brady and Siobhan Curham specialising in the WAGS – wives and girlfriends – view of the game.

In Dominic Holland and Des Dillon’s books The Ripple Effect and ...The Busby Babes respectively, if not respectably, there’s the tales of teams saved from extinction by hair brained schemes and ghosts of football past.

There are crossovers too. In Pitch Black there’s dark emotive lad lit. and other male masculinity crises in the likes of The Man Who Hated Football by Will Buckley. In Sexy Football there’s some soft porn and there's even some detective stuff in the Montalban book Offside.

And of course there’s The Damned United, the literary end of the football fiction shelf, while fan fiction like that of Roddy Doyle in The Van and other places, Jonathon Tulloch's The Season Ticket and at a non-fcition stretch Hornby's Fever Pitch all mingle in the stand.

I’ve to review some of these yet and there’s a few more I know of that I aim to acquire in the coming months.

If this article felt like one of those episodes in a sitcom where they sit on the couch and remember all the funny stuff that happened to them over the years (usually for lack of a script), that’s because it was. Mind you, this wasn’t about saving myself anything, it was about keeping track. There’s nothing worse than when you stop to watch a game in the park and it’s half way through and you don’t know what the score is. Well now you do. Football fiction eh? There’s a bit more to it than I expected.