Category Archives: Author Q & A

An Interview With Kevin Jefferys

We managed to have a quick Q&A with Kevin Jefferys, author of Fred Perry. British Tennis Legend to find out what it’s like to research and write about Sports History.

1. What inspired you to write about sports history?
I’ve always loved sport since I was a youngster, particularly football and tennis. I’ve played tennis throughout my life and I’m very fortunate to live a mile or so from an indoor tennis centre, which means I can play all-year round. I mostly now play what’s politely called ‘social tennis’, ie not all that strenuous! Also sports history has developed considerably in academic circles in the past generation, and I was able to teach a course on sport and society in my role as a history lecturer. So it seemed a natural step for me to start writing about aspects of sports history, especially tennis.

2. Writing about Fred Perry is exciting, what was the best bit?
There were two things that I found most exciting as I researched Perry. One was finding out what a varied life he had, from being a world table tennis champion as a teenager to being a ‘man about Hollywood’, feted by the film stars, and building his own sportswear company, over and above his superb achievements in tennis. The other was enabling me to get a little closer to understanding what drives real champions in sport. In Fred’s case (and I think he shares this with Andy Murray) a crucial element was the off-the-scale hatred of losing which he showed from an early age; something which set him way apart from the ‘good loser’ sporting image of many British tennis players before and since.

3. Have you got anything else in the pipeline?
Following on from the Perry biography, I’m working on a book for Pitch called British Tennis: from the Renshaws to the Murrays. It’s a study of how Britain has fared on the international stage from the beginnings of competitive lawn tennis in the 1880s through to the present day. My broad argument is that we’ve fared better than we often think, especially if we take into account not just the likes of Perry and Murray but also successes in women’s tennis, led by the likes of Virginia Wade and Ann Jones. I’ll be aiming to pursue the main argument by looking at who has really delivered for Britain in world tennis at the grand slam events, in the Davis Cup, and at the Olympic Games. So much of the book will be about who, in my opinion, have been Britain’s greatest players, from the Renshaw brothers in the 1880s to Jamie and Andy Murray today.

4. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
The type of background research varies according to the content of the book. In the past I’ve published several works of political history, for example a book on the history of sport and politics in Britain, which came out at the time of the London 2012 Olympics. For that I used research materials such as government papers – on issues such as the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics – which are held at the National Archives in London. For my books on tennis history, I use things like tennis journals and magazines (many of them held in the excellent Library in the grounds of Wimbledon), as well as autobiographies by coaches and players, which give a real insight into the minds of those who compete at the highest level.

5. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Generally it takes me a couple of years, if all goes well. I like to spend roughly the first half of that time-frame reading and absorbing the research material, and then the second half writing and re-writing – that’s the hard bit!

Extract from Fred Perry. British Tennis Legend (Pitch Publishing, 2017)

Fred Perry achieved considerable fame and – later on in his life – fortune. His Wimbledon victory in 1934 was the first of three successive triumphs in London SW19, and until the end of 1936 he remained the undisputed world number one in the amateur game. In addition to Wimbledon, he won the national championships of Australia, France and (on three occasions) the United States, making him the first player to claim all four ‘grand slam’ titles…. As well as eight major singles titles, like many other top players of his era he played tournament doubles to keep himself sharp, and he won the French and Australian men’s titles as well as claiming four mixed doubles triumphs – a combined total of 14 top-level successes. He also played the lead role in Britain’s domination of the premier international competition in tennis, the Davis Cup, which was won on four successive occasions between 1933 and 1936.

All in all, Perry’s record was remarkable. Only in the very recent past, with the rise of Andy Murray to world number one, has a British man come close to matching – some would say exceeding, in view of the depth of opposition and ferocity of men’s tennis today – the scale of Perry’s achievements. The long-wait for another home-grown male winner at Wimbledon lasted for 77 years, until 2013 witnessed the first of two triumphs for Murray (who at the time of writing has a total of three grand slam titles to his name). As for the national team, it was even longer, in 2015, before Britain – inspired by the performances of Murray and his brother Jamie – once again claimed the Davis Cup.

This book sets out to examine afresh the life and career of Fred Perry, and in particular to explore the issue of why – despite building up a reputation in the 1930s as one of the first modern-style global sports celebrities – acclaim for him was not readily evident among the tennis authorities in Britain, either in his prime playing days or for many years afterwards.

About Kevin Jefferys

Kevin Jefferys, formerly history professor at Plymouth University, is the author of a dozen books including Anthony Crosland, Finest and Darkest Hours and Politics and the People. In recent years he has published widely on aspects of sports history, including articles on British and world tennis. His work Sport and Politics in Modern Britain: The Road to 2012 was winner of the 2013 Lord Aberdare book prize.

Q & A with Leila Aboulela

 

We managed to have a quick Q&A  with Leila Aboulela author of Elsewhere, Home to find out more about being an award-winning novelist and playwright.

 

Q: When you first began to write, where did you think writing would take you?

A: At first, writing was a hobby. I wanted to make good use of my free time (which wasn’t much as I had two young children and a part-time job as a Statistics lecturer), make friends, have an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. Ambition and taking writing seriously developed later. I did have a clear intention, though, when I first started to write. I wanted to cure my homesickness and I wanted to put Islam in English literature. To some extent I achieved these goals almost immediately with my first novel The Translator. Being a writer enabled me to have a new life in Britain, to become someone I could not have been had I stayed in Sudan (not because one can’t be a woman writer in Sudan but because for me personally the writing was triggered by the move from Sudan to Britain). And I was happy that the reading public in Britain and elsewhere were open to the faith content in my work.

Q: Where do you do most of your writing? Can you describe to me the space where you are happiest working?

A: I am not fussy about space as long as I am alone, it’s quiet and no one is looking over my shoulders! I would never be able to write fiction in a café, for example. The room I am writing in now is my study. I keep the blinds down and the lights on. This probably sounds awful, but it makes me feel sealed in. I’ve written in rooms with views before, but I don’t particularly miss them. The sun would sometimes hurt my eyes and I’m inside the text anyway and not seeing anything else!

Q: What were the things you missed most about Sudan when you first moved to Aberdeen?

A: Everything – the visuals, the people, my sense of belonging. At the same time, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what I was missing! The writing was a way of answering this question.

Q: Have those things changed over time?

A: Over time, the homesickness did recede, but it would flare up like flu from time to time. Over the past ten years, I’ve visited Sudan more and more. It has changed so much that it’s not the same place that I miss anymore. I miss the Sudan I grew up in but that’s nostalgia for childhood and yearning for the past- it’s not the same as homesickness.

Q: What does ‘home’ mean to you?

A: Home is where I feel a total sense of belonging, where I don’t have to explain or justify my presence, where I am taken for granted but not devalued, a place where I have agency, where I am not frightened to speak out, or feel wary of being misunderstood. A place of safety and nourishment. Home could be a physical space- the Aberdeen Central Library, a cousin’s house in Khartoum, Mecca during the Pilgrimage. Or it is being surrounded by my family anywhere in the world, even in an anonymous hotel room. The intellectual space I occupy with readers, writers and publishers, inside the pages of fiction, is also a kind of home.

Q: You have won and been listed for many, many prizes over the years, including the Scottish Book Awards, the Caine Prize for African Writing, The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Orange Prize. What does it mean to you to have your work recognized in this way?

A: It means a great deal. Especially when I was starting out, this kind of prize recognition did feel like a stamp of approval. I think prizes are great for writers and for drawing attention to a particular work. On the other hand, they can create a competitive, superficial culture of winners and losers- regardless of content. I have recently started to place more emphasis on the response of academics to my writing. Most of the learned, nuanced readings of my work is taking place within scholarly articles. I am happy that my work is taught in universities and that students are using it as subject matter for their PhDs.

Q: As well as your short stories, your novels The Translator, Minaret, Lyrics Alley and The Kindness of Enemies are loved by readers far and wide. Do you approach writing short stories and novels in the same way? If not, what are the differences?

A: Novels are long journeys. It is not only the number of words, but the years spent in writing them. Embarking on a novel is a commitment. I have to ask myself, ‘Will I be able to sustain fascination is this particular topic and in these particular characters for several years?’’ Short stories, on the other hand, don’t require this kind of long-term commitment. I can dip into the world of a short story and be out again within a relatively short period of time. This enables me to take risks and to follow instincts. Some of the stories in Elsewhere, Home such as The Aromatherapist’s Husband or Farida’s Eyes are detours, taking me away from my regular themes and yet they were fun to write. A story like Pages of Fruit, which is the longest in the collection and covers several decades and countries, felt like a novel when I was writing it, especially as it was very emotional for me and I could have kept going with the theme- but the narrow focus on the two main characters made it more suitable for the short story form. I must admit that writing thirteen separate short stories is much more difficult than writing one novel. In total, there is more work packed in a story collection, more skill than in one single novel.

About Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela is an award-winning novelist and playwright. Her novels, which were all longlisted for the Orange Prize, include The Translator (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), Minaret and Lyrics AlleyLyrics Alley was also Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards. Translated into fourteen languages, Aboulela’s work has received a high profile for its distinctive exploration of identity, migration and Islamic spirituality. Aboulela grew up in Khartoum, Sudan, and now lives in Aberdeen.

Leila Aboulela’s latest collection of short stories Elsewhere, Home is available to purchase with free UK delivery here