The Championships, Wimbledon - my favourite two weeks of the year - are underway. I've always loved Wimbledon, for reasons that are as much aesthetic and poetic as sporting. The beauty's in the detail; the blond wooden net posts, the impeccable green lawns that turn sun-blistered and scratchy by the end of the fortnight, the way the sun falls on Centre Court coating it in a heavenly glow as behind, the tiered seats lie steeped in shadow. And at this time of year, I always enjoy reading the writing of tennis correspondents who share this feeling.
I still have a stack of BBC Wimbledon magazines at my parents' house. Through the Nineties this was a great publication, with a really high standard of writing and photography throughout. I'd played the sport since I was eight, but for a spell during my teens I wanted to write it as well. As a gangly sixteen year old I spent a week on work experience at The Guardian. I lost myself in their clippings library and wrote about Andre Agassi for The Rose Guardian, the pretend newspaper that fellow work experiencees were putting together. At home, I followed ATP and WTA tour matches on Ceefax. With little sense of targeting or readership I typed a lengthy feature about Thomas 'King of Clay' Muster's reign on the red-dust courts of Europe, and sent it snail-mail to the Express & Echo, a paper more commonly interested in local football derbies and horse racing in the Exeter environs. Unsurprisingly, it never ran. Then, without ever being able to pinpoint the precise moment that it happened, my tennis writerly ambitions slipped further and further down the rankings until, eventually, they disappeared from sight.
Every time Wimbledon comes around though, I find these dreams suddenly reappearing in the main draw, wild-card like. Once again I'm smitten; a starry-eyed teenager with a ring binder full of snipped articles and a head packed with stats. I picture myself with a press pass, looking out over the lines of courts; the sun-hatted throngs; the knee-length-skirt-wearing officials who carry with them a whiff of the Church Fête. I'd note the swirling brollies, colourful and rain-dashed; the jet-black VIP motors at the virginia creeper-clad club entrance; the track-suited, racket-bag shouldering players whose time in the sun is beckoning. I'd watch the wistful faces of old pros turned pundits, stuffed in suits under studio lights. I'd think of all that history, hearing the echoing ground strokes of great champions and ripples of applause from matches gone by. And I would know that my job was to capture all of it and set it down as best I could. Not just the score - which shot won what point - but the poetry, the romance, the dreams, the desire. All the winsome details that add up to make the Wimbledon fortnight the loveliest two weeks of the English summer.
To borrow from MacArthur, old wannabe-tennis-journalists never die; they just fade away.
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
This is my office door and it's SHUT. The artist's palette (thieved from my dad's studio while still wet) makes as good a 'do not disturb' sign as any. I'm busy redrafting my novel so for the next few weeks, my head is well and truly down. Resisting the temptations of procrastination that blogging undoubtedly offers, I'll make my Hay Festival follow-up post as short and sweet as I can bear to. There's so much I could say about my first trip to this stellar arts fest, but in the end I'll settle for plain old 'awesome.' Here's why...
I was bursting with pride all day long (still now, a week on), because The Etherington Brothers lit up the Starlight Stage on their first appearance. My husband and his brother Lorenzo entertained and inspired a 200-strong crowd of children and parents, delivering a workshop on graphic novel creative processes and character development that had all-comers enthralled. It was the first time I'd really seen the boys in action and, simply, they smashed it.
I also heard four exciting debut novelists talk about their work. Téa Obreht, Sarah Winman, Sam Leith and Mirza Waheed are all members of the 'Waterstone's Eleven' - hugely different writers in style and scope but all brilliant at talking about what they do and why they do it. It was an educative hour - a particularly gratifying moment coming when an audience member asked about 'redrafting' and they all said how different their finished books were as a result of copious revisions. This is not new news - didn't someone say that 'writing is rewriting'? - but somehow it's ALWAYS nice to hear it again.
Thanks to Bobby's VIP status, we wined and dined, gratis, in the artists' area of the Ascari Restaurant. It was the cherry on the cake (actually it was steak frites and a bottle of rouge). I attempted to play it cool, while literary heroes drifted in and out of my sight lines.
Just as we were leaving the sun burst out from behind the rain clouds, bathing the surrounding hillsides in a neon kind of light. So there endeth our Hay day. We trained it back to Bristol with hearts warmed, souls full, and creative spirit invigorated.