I’ve finished the first draft of my book. It’s come together quicker than I thought it would but I have put in the yards, sitting at the keyboard beavering away.
The first step was to roughly draft, using one sentence starters or recalling specific incidents. I did this for some time.
I then deconstructed two books that I wished to model mine on, noting their structure and thematic overlap with what I wanted to create. The books were:
Inside French Rugby - Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary by John Daniell
This is an obvious corollary to my work. Daniell was a New Zealand U21 international who found himself graduating from the youth ranks as rugby was taking its first steps into professionalism. He didn’t get a Super Rugby contract and was left to look overseas at age 24, settling in France and playing for about ten years.
Daniell is also something of a scholar athlete, an archetype that I’d like to think I conform to myself somewhat, and he has a degree in English Literature like myself (although his is from Oxford so conveys certain advantages over degrees from other universities). His book is an unvarnished look at life in the Top 14 while mine deals with the French lower divisions but the books share similar concerns, despite the differences in playing level and the decade that has passed between them.
His book deals largely with his last season, the chronological progression of the narrative being punctuated by asides and historical anecdotes and this format was something I decided to follow with Lost In France.
Barbarian Days - A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
Finnegan’s book is the work of a man who has spent the majority of his professional life covering serious world events for the New Yorker but while doing so, has nurtured a lifelong passion for surfing. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 2016, acknowledgments of its quality and it is a long, meandering bildungsroman detailing his growth as a surfer and a person.
Essentially it’s a meditation on why we do the things we do; he finds himself still surfing as an older man, no longer physically capable of the big wave hunting that he was as a younger man and having to negotiate a changing relationship with the activity throughout his life from a youthful lifestyle that took him backpacking around the world to a latter day escape from the rhythms of everyday existence.
Rugby has been my passion for a long time but it ceased to satisfy me the way it used to, like Finnegan himself, suddenly finding that he’d been chasing waves aimlessly for years without really considering what he was doing. Discussing how something can bring you joy and pain was important to me and I aimed to get as much of this on the page as I could.
I’m indebted to these two books and will expand upon this whole process at a later date.
Then, I reconstructed the seasons I spent at Rouen chronologically, researching matches and scorelines, using the passage of time as my framework, draping the rough material over the skeleton of the four seasons of games.
For me, sports biographies are boring if they focus on the actual matches, even if these matches are at the top of the sport that they discuss. I’d rather know about the in-between moments, the thoughts and feelings behind the sporting action. I’m also cognisant that descriptions of lower division French rugby matches are a niche concern so would rather focus on life around them. Nevertheless they provide the thrust of the narrative and the entry points into other discussions.
I’m going through what I’ve got, inserting more interesting asides or topics in amongst the recollections of what actually happened, hopefully building a more complete impression of my time there rather than just a straight list of events. I’ve completed the first draft and have various people looking at it before I’ll go back through and refine what I’ve got further,. hopefully pruning what I’ve got and leaving something leaner and more meaningful.
If you’d like to read it then go to the front page and download the sample - please let me know what you think.
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