That Difficult First Book

BLOG 7 PicIn between work for clients, catching up on CPD and promoting the company and the work I do, there’s been plenty of opportunity in lockdown for some good old-fashioned ‘me-time’. In my own case that’s meant plenty of reading, dipping back into relearning some Italian and, after an aborted experiment in trying to learn the harmonica only to discover that Stevie Wonder is actually a lot more talented than I’d imagined, going back to some basic level learning the keyboard.

There’s also been ‘the book.’ Ah yes, the book. Begun some years ago as something of a life project-cum-labour of love only to develop into a bit of a monster hanging over my head, I’ve managed to use the early period of lockdown to get it into some sort of final shape. As with many of my personal projects and ideas it had started in a blaze of Taz-like enthusiasm and activity only to run out of steam. It took me a good couple of years to get back to it and finish it. But it’s all but done now.

We all have a book in us, we’re told. I always promised myself I’d try to write one at some stage but, well, you know, life and all that. Unless you write for a living it isn’t easy to discipline yourself to the process of allocating time to first setting everything out and researching it and then keeping your nose to the proverbial grindstone in terms of getting it finished. ‘Get Brexit Done!’ was the Tory mantra during the 2019 election. Not a fan, myself, either of the principle or of the individual leading that particular charge, but I did quite like the simplicity of the slogan. ‘Get Book Done!’ was my Fatkin adaptation. All I had to do was to use it as a response to any question asked of me and I could pretend to be my own campaigning party leader. How’s the weather? Rain or shine, we’re going to Get Book Done! Have you got the time? Time enough to Get Book Done! What’ll you have? I’ll have a G&T… while I Get Book Done!

A couple of former colleagues at Glamorgan Cricket inadvertently showed me the way.  Steve James, once a dogged and prolific opening batsman, now a Times journalist, has written several cricket books. I must confess to only having read the one – his autobiography, From Third Man to Fatty’s Leg, which is excellent – as the others haven’t really grabbed me subject-wise (sorry, Jamer). And Mark Frost, the very antithesis of a dogged and prolific opening batsman (though he was a more than decent seam bowler), has produced a series of children’s adventure stories.  With help, other Glamorgan pals Duncan Fletcher (with Steve James), Matt Maynard (Paul Rees), Hugh Morris (Andy Smith) and Tony Cottey (David Brayley) have all produced books. And plenty of others. Hell, even footballers publish books, albeit, with very few exceptions, they’re dirge-like drivel. The thought of players like Ashley Cole, Robbie Savage or Wayne Rooney writing a book (and I’m using the word ‘writing’ to stretch a point here), as opposed to just colouring one in, was a sobering one. What did someone say after it was announced that Rooney had signed a five-book deal? ‘He’ll do well to read one, let alone five…’ Boom boom! Crikey, even Katie Price has books out in her name. The point is, of course, that there are so many books out there, by people you know, often by the unlikeliest of authors. Come on, Fatkin. Get your backside into gear.

I always imagined that if I ever set out to write a book it would almost certainly be a work of fiction. but that’s not how it panned out. I was thinking aloud about it while on a golfing trip in Murcia with some old schoolfriends several years ago when one of them suggested I should write about what I knew, adding that it might be interesting if I set out some ramblings about my own life and career. As the others were murdering Neil Diamond on the karaoke stage (not literally, obviously), John Haigh (for ‘tis his fault, m’lud) was telling me I should go for it. His premise was that my life was at least a little more public than many. Even though I was only half-serious (as well as half cut), I resolved to do it. Since then, with encouragement from other close friends (which over time moved more towards straight nagging) it’s simply been a case of battling my diminishing levels of motivation. (And apologies for all these brackets, by the way.)

So why would anything I write be deemed as particularly interesting? Quite probably, it won’t. It will hardly be a literary event. I’m not famous. I was a county cricket chief executive, during a period when that county was very good on the field. I was even once an answer to a question on the quiz show They Think It’s All Over. But it’s hardly Beckhamesque, that, is it? I’m not known for having done anything brilliant, be that in sport, or in business, or in the media. In all honesty I don’t have any real story to tell. (Yes, I know I’m not selling it especially proactively here, but work with me, ladies and gentlemen…. I’m giving you an insight into the creative process.)

There were three reasons for writing it. The first, as I have set out, is because I always felt that there was a book in there somewhere and there was enough gentle encouragement for me to have a crack. The second was to provide a bit of a record for my two daughters, Seanna and Hannah. Neither can be described as being a cricket aficionado, but hey; if your own kids won’t show an interest, who will? The third was for the cathartic process of taking much of what has happened and trying to make some sense of it and arrange it in some kind of order, with a few tales to be told along the way. It won’t sell in any great numbers. It won’t win any awards. Much of it will probably be grammatically incorrect. It will ramble. On and on. It will be seen in places as a load of old rubbish. But it will be my rubbish.

When the then Glamorgan Chairman Paul Russell decided that my time at the club was up (spoiler alert: I didn’t resign) I remember being frustrated in the ensuing days and weeks that there was no official record of what had happened. People’s interpretation depended on whose version they listened to. Those close to it would have understood the circumstances but with the customary don’t-blink-until-the-lawyers-are-done cooling-off period where neither party is prepared to say anything publicly, there was a vacuum in terms of where the narrative should have been: people were left to draw their own conclusions. I thought that was unfair. People fall out. I understand that. And partings of the ways happen. But it still seemed unsettling to me that I had so little control of that narrative. Several retellings have been wrong, others plain ridiculous. So, this is my opportunity, even if it is just for myself, to set out what actually happened from my perspective. If nothing else, completing the book squares that particular circle.

Much of the book is self-deprecating. I am a shameless p***-taker and there is no one in the world I take the p*** out of more than myself. The chapter on what was a rather inglorious exit from Glamorgan (let’s just say it was more side door than front door) is semi-serious, and the jocular tone of the thing stumbles rather spectacularly when I came to the section about young Tom Maynard, but in general it’s a chirpy telling. Very wordy, but then that’s how I roll. If you’ve read more than one of these blogs, you’ll already know that. Use 20 words where five will do. Over-egg your points. Always use one sentence too many. Very much like that one, in fact.

I’d love to write as caustically as Marina Hyde, as poetically as Michael Henderson, as readably as Matthew Engel, as wittily as Harry Pearson. But I can’t. So I haven’t bothered trying. Warts and all, it’s how I write. It is all the work of my own hands – well, strictly speaking the forefingers of those two hands, but we’ll let that one slide. It’s written in the style of its author’s personality: a bit grumpy; prone to sarcasm; laced with attempted humour; often too flowery and verbose; more than occasionally ranty.

It tells of a blissful upbringing; how I ended up at Glamorgan in the first place; the characters I came across there both on and off the field, big names and small; some successes along the way; the redevelopment of Sophia Gardens; and a bunch of other stuff. The ground redevelopment element also required a personal slant. Even today I hear claims from people about the part they played in developing the venue, garnering the political and financial support and attracting an Ashes Test match to Cardiff. One or two of them I’ve even heard of. They say that success has many fathers. The truth in this case is more prosaic.

It was amazingly cathartic setting it all down in writing. Frankly I don’t care how well it’s received or how many copies it sells – I’ll be self-publishing it when life has started to return to some semblance of normality – and as long as I have a handful of hard copy versions, I’ll be happy. There were a lot of smiles when recalling individual stories. It was an enjoyable process.

It won’t be particularly controversial. There are a handful of individuals I’ve come across with whom I didn’t particularly get along. I doubt anyone will be at all surprised when they discover who they are. I enjoy meeting and working with new people and like to see the good in most of them. In all my time at Glamorgan, for example, there were only two cricketers I didn’t particularly like. And even though for much of the first half of my nigh-on quarter century there the committee functioned with all the collective foresight of a group of remedial and individualistic carrier pigeons competing in the hi-tech digital age, most of them were great fun too. I’ve tried not to just parrot out statistics and events but to paint some pictures of the characters along the way. Many of them are friends and the way they’ve been portrayed is much more with affection than for affectation.

It’s working title is Bingo Comes Back Down Again: A Life on the Periphery of Sport. Don’t worry. The ‘Bingo’ bit will all explained in the introduction. As far as being on the periphery of sport is concerned, well, it’s true. I’ve always loved sport. I’ve never been terribly good at it but that’s not the point. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in sport for pretty much the whole of my adult life. It’s given me so much.

So, to John Haigh, to Andy Tomlinson, and to the Maynard family, all of whom have made the whole journey from gentle encouragement to persistent nagging, it won’t be long now. I bet you can’t contain your excitement.

If I do have one regret, it’s that because I took so long to get it finished my Mum will now never see it. Mind you, in some ways that’s probably not a bad thing. She won’t be able to pull me up for factual inaccuracies or for taking liberties with the retelling of childhood events, or to point out grammatical faux pas (is faux pas a plural too?). I am a literary pedant, a spelling fascist: if anyone out there does come across a copy and happens to find a typo, do please keep it to yourself. I couldn’t bear the shame.

And once it’s done, who knows? Maybe I’ll try my hand at some fiction.

PS A second apology to Jamer – my copy of From Third Man to Fatty’s Leg doesn’t appear in the photo: it was borrowed by my mate Andy Tomlinson last summer. He’s either a particularly slow reader or you used too many words of more than two syllables…