Tale that Wags the blog

SJA member Alison Kervin on the transition from sports writing to novel writing, her fictional foray into Facebook, and her offers of dates with sports stars and cabinet ministers

I have written a novel called Wag’s Diary – it’s all entirely fictitious…any similarities between my hapless characters and any persons living or dead are entirely coincidental. The main character is a woman called Tracie Martin, who is in some despair because her husband Dean can’t keep his place in the Luton Town team, and if he’s dropped – what will become of her? Will she still be a Wag if her husband isn’t a footballer?

I’ve put Tracie Martin on to Facebook, the networking site, filling in all the details about her as if she were a real person. I’ve even uploaded a silly caricature to represent her pictorially. All her extreme views are recorded there, as are her daily concerns about matters of great importance – like hair extensions, how to get your skin the precise shade of orange that makes you look as if you’ve been living unhealthily close to a nuclear reactor, and how short is too short in the hot-pants department (turns out there’s no such thing as too short).

So far, so good on the Facebook site. I got a couple of my friends to “befriend” her, and planned on just leaving her on there until close to publication date, then use it as a promotional tool.

But the most astonishing thing has happened – everyone is befriending her. She has an array of “friends” from across the entertainment industry, including journalists, editors and celebrity correspondents. When it was Tracie’s “birthday” and a famous former sportsman invited her out for a birthday drink. Eh? I’ve put myself on the site, and many of my friends are on there – no random men ask us out – they ask my made up character though. It’s all completely surreal.

So, a former leading British sportsman, or someone purporting to be a former leading British sportsman, is asking an entirely made-up character from a yet-to-be-published book whether she wants to go on a date. Tracie declined, because she’s not that kind of girl, but you have to accept that it’s rather odd.

Then, I received a couple of messages from leading politicians (yes, she’s friends with them too – there’s no stopping this girl).

The politicians asked Tracie who she really is, and one very senior cabinet minister told her that he knows she’s really Victoria Beckham and wishes her well in LA. Every time Posh Spice does anything in LA, Tracie gets a message on Facebook telling her how well she’s done.

It’s entirely bizarre – especially because, after a lifetime of writing non-fiction, as a journalist and writer of six non-fiction books, the biggest problems you normally run into are people not wanting to talk to you or denying that they ever said what you claim they said. We all keep tape recordings and notes to protect ourselves from such accusations, but now the world has spun on its axis, and famous people are coming to Tracie and befriending her, and she is being wrongly attributed with quotes she hasn’t said and praised for things she hasn’t done. Very odd.

The whole process of writing fiction after writing sports non-fiction for so long has been fascinating. In many ways liberating.

With fiction, you don’t sit in a cab on the way home, replaying the interview in your head and wishing you’d asked this, and that they’d said that. In a sense, there’s more logic to fiction. Your character can say what you want him or her to say but you have to be true to that character, or provide some incident which explains a change of behaviour.

Not so sportsmen. I went to interview the notoriously anti-media Nick Faldo and found him very pleasant company – he cooked me breakfast, taught me to play golf and put up with me for the entire day. The lovely Garry Sobers was incredibly rude. I thought the dour Martin Johnson one of the funniest men I’ve ever met, and the “drink with the lads all night and don’t worry about the morning” Jason Leonard to be one of the most thoughtful and considerate.

People are complex, and as a journalist you just get a snapshot which isn’t always in keeping with, or indeed true to, a person’s true character. This is news to no one, but as a fiction author, it’s struck me that the reason the snap shot you get is so random is that you don’t know enough about the rest of a sportsman’s life. You simply don’t – however much you think you do – know about a man’s internal motivation, how he’d react in a life or death situation, what really moves him, scares him, pleases or shocks him.

It’s stuff that we know about very few people in the course of a lifetime, we might not even know it about ourselves or truly understand ourselves, but as journalists we seek to understand others about whom we actually know very little.

When you create a fictitious character – even one as silly, light and frivolous as mine – you know these things about them. You know what they’ll do in any situation, how they’ll feel and what they’ll say. It’s been a fascinating experience and I’d advise any sports journalist to give it a go. I know I’ll be a better interviewer because of it.

I would warn against setting them up on Facebook, though. I have become quite protective of Tracie, and when that meat-head came poking and asking her out, I reacted with matriarchal zeal.

“Tracie does not know you. Please stop these manly advances,” I appealed.

“OK. I hope I didn’t offend,” came the reply.

“No you didn’t,” I replied, but resisted adding, “How could you? She doesn’t exist.”

The Wag’s Diary can be ordered on Amazon by clicking here

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