Dig into the stories behind some of the greatest sports books ever written. Each week we’ll be interviewing the authors of those books to find out about the proposal, the process and what it felt like to have that first copy in their hands.
Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka
Shehan Karunatilaka was an advertising copywriter who gave up his job to watch cricket and hang out with drunks so that he could write his first novel. Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew tells the story of an alcoholic journalist's quest to track down the greatest thing he’s ever seen: a Sri Lankan cricketer of the 1980s who’s disappeared off the map and appears to have been expunged from historical record. On Sportspages this week, Karunatilika talks about how the story came about over a ten year period, the Sri Lankan civil war, the best that never was, and what it was like to write a novel that Wisden adjudged the second-best cricket book of all time.
Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore
The 1986 Tour De France is arguably the greatest of its 106 editions. Not just for the racing itself but for the incredible rivalry between La Vie Clare teammates and rivals Bernard Hinault - the defending champion and 5 time winner - and the young American upstart Greg LeMond. At the '85 Tour in which Hinault won, the Frenchman claimed he would help his young teammate to win the following year. But 'the Badger' as he was known, failed to stick to his word and attacked relentlessly, piling the pressure onto LeMond. In episode 11 of Sportspages, Richard Moore tells Simon Clancy about how Slaying the Badger came about, what it was like meeting the pair 25 years later, and their roles in a race that played out like a three-week long psychological drama with extraordinary levels of subterfuge.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
Christopher McDougall was a freelance writer when he came across the story of a tribe of super-athletes living in Mexico’s Copper Canyons who’d been living unchanged for 400 years. From that came Born to Run, a chaotic adventure that reads more like a Harlan Coben novel than one of the great works of sporting literature. From drug cartels, murder, an incredible cast of characters and a race through some of the most savage terrain in North America, McDougall tells Simon Clancy about how his classic came to print.
A Boy in the Water by Tom Gregory
In 1988, aged just 11 years and 330 days, Tom Gregory set off from the French coast in a bid to become the youngest person to ever swim the English Channel. Almost 12 hours later he arrived in Dover, cold and exhausted, but pushed on by his brilliant coach John Bullet. In episode 9 of Sportspages, Gregory recalls the remarkable story of how he went from not being able to swim a width without touching the bottom, to navigating the world's busiest shipping lane, and why he waited 25 years to put pen to paper. His memoir, A Boy in the Water was a dual winner of the 2018 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
Laughing in the Hills by Bill Barich
40 years ago Bill Barich was barely surviving in a rented mobile home near San Francisco: five rejected novels, no money and no job. His wife was sick, his mother and mother-in-law had died of cancer within a matter of five weeks. So what to do in a crisis: head to a small racetrack near the Golden Gate Bridge to spend ten weeks in amongst the characters of the sport of kings and write one of the best sports books ever committed to print. In episode 8, Barich talks to Simon Clancy about how the book got off the ground, how that season changed his life and how he went from his last $500 to writing scripts for Dustin Hoffman.
Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport by Anna Krien
In episode 7 of Sportspages, Simon Clancy is joined by Australian writer Anna Krien to talk about her 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award winner Night Games, which investigates the macho sexual culture of Aussie Rules football, misogyny, the nature of sexual assault and one player’s trial for rape. Beginning with that court case and journeying through locker room culture and consent, Krien looks at the connection between sexual assaults on women perpetrated by professional sportsmen and discusses whether that emanates from the same precious yet insecure, chemistry of teamwork that produces transcendental moments on the field.