5 Minutes With…David Brayley

David is an author and sports writer from Swansea. He has just finished his fifth book, Champion of Champions, after success with books like the critically-acclaimed There’s Only Two Tony Cotteys, and Premier League Diary with Wales football Captain Ashley Williams, a book that attracted national headlines at the time, thanks to a certain Luis Suarez.
We had a great chat that lasted a little longer than 5 Minutes, and spoke about everything from how to get a book published, how he handled a potential media storm with premier league footballers, and who he would most like to write about.
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Photo credit: Nick Rees

Can you tell us about your latest book Champion of Champions?

Yes, of course. Well, Champion of Champions is my fifth book, but first novel and it tells the story of a fictional professional cyclist from Wales, called Daniel Williams. When we meet Daniel, he is at a crossroads, because he has just been told that his career will be over tomorrow, unless he performs well in one of cycling’s toughest races that takes place the following day, the Milan-San Remo. To help him visualise success, he decides to try to remember why he wanted to be a professional cyclist in the first place, and the book then goes back in time to three weeks in his teenage years when he experienced a life changing chapter in his life that made him question everything about the way he’d lived his life up to that point. This experience led directly to him becoming a cyclist.

The book is aimed at readers from age 10 through to young adult, but feedback I’ve had has been that its appeal also stretches into the adult market too, so I guess I’ve managed to cover all bases, which was my aim at the start.

Prior to publication, one of Britain’s foremost crime writers and authors, Peter James, agreed to read the final draft of the book. I had no idea if he’d even like the work, so daren’t even hold out hope that he’d be able to give us something positive to maybe put on the cover, but when his response came back, it knocked me sideways. Not only did he provide a cover quote: “This is a great, inspirational and pacy read, beautifully written and utterly enriching with a stunning climax” but he also gave a foreword for the book too: “This terrific book contains two things that are dear to my heart. The love of sport and the love of reading. Although written principally for the young adult market, I think this is a book that would appeal to all ages, and regardless of whether you love cycling or not. It is a deep, rich story about family conflict, history, determination, achievement and ultimate success. I hope you enjoy it, it fully deserves the success of a wide readership.

It was a huge moment for me, because it showed that a writer of Peter’s eminence had seen that it was a book for all age groups and I was thrilled that he’d picked up on that. It’ll be up to the most important people now, the readers, to see if they like it. I just hope that they do!

In terms of the book itself, I wanted to focus on a character that young people could identify with in a positive, but realistic way. I didn’t want a fantasy character, or a make believe hero or superstar who was the best sportsman in his school, who always scored a hat-trick or the winning goal, or won a race by 100 metres, that sort of thing. Instead, I wanted a character who loved sport, but was flawed and had the same shortcomings and anxieties that the bulk of young people have in their teenage years – but usually never admit to having.

So I created the teenage Daniel as a talented young man, but with a flaw, and that flaw was that he had a bad attitude and always gave up when the going got tough – he’s a serial quitter. I also wanted his life to reflect that of many young people in the 21st century and the challenges they face, so I made him part of a broken marriage with huge relationship issues with his dad, but also one where he had been made spoilt by his mum. The fact that he lives in a council house is neither here nor there really, but that was my background and whilst I’m incredibly proud of my roots, they also provided me with the fight to try to improve my life and make the best of it. I wanted this to eventually show through in Daniel too.

The choice of cycling as the main topic was decided when I borrowed a book from the library that was a pictorial history of the Tour de France. Sports history has always fascinated me, that sort of Corinthian spirit where largely amateur sportspeople put themselves through horrors, just for the prize of winning a race, not necessarily for a huge cash prize and a million dollar sponsorship deal. When you look at the history of the Tour de France, especially pre and post World War II, then that is exactly what you had, groups of young men, undertaking the horrors of competing in races in dreadful conditions on awful roads, just to say they were a Champion. And then I read this pictorial history where they talked about a “Champion of Champions”, a cyclist called Fausto Coppi. Bingo, I had a focus for my story!

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The launch of Champion of Champions | Photo credit: Garry Baker

Being a cycling fan, I’d heard of Coppi, but didn’t really know of his many achievements, but this book was filled with the most evocative black and white pictures of him – in all sorts of conditions – basically winning race after race. But it was a photograph of one of his teammates – Andrea Carrea – that really gave me the clarity for the story. This guy looked like a boxer not a cyclist. In the picture, he had a weather beaten face – covered in dirt, with huge broken nose, smiling beautifully with crooked teeth and one missing right in the middle. This image was crying out “write about me!” and as soon as I saw it, I just knew I had a character for a story that would become the basis for my book. It literally took seconds. At the time that I had this moment, Carrea was still alive – he sadly died in 2013, aged 93 – so I knew that he was going to be the inspiration for the fictional grandfather in the book.

The next job was finding themes in the book that would be relevant to the young readers it was aimed at, and again, I didn’t steer far from real life to find them. Ever since I started going into schools as an author, over 10 years ago now, I’ve maintained the same mantra when working with children and young people – engage, inspire, enthuse. If I could somehow fit this into my story, I felt I’d be on the right track. The engage part I got quite quickly – the realistic and relevant background of Daniel. For inspiration, I simply looked at the real life story of Fausto Coppi, and created a vehicle within the book, that the grandfather figure – based on Andrea Carrea – would inspire the reader by telling the true story tales of many of Coppi’s incredible achievements. The enthuse part also quickly fell into place, and that was – throughout the book – for Daniel’s character to be encouraged to “Be the best that you can be”. It really doesn’t matter if you win or not – although clearly, that has to be the aim, and I’m passionate about young people understanding that, but if the best you can do on a given day is second place – because someone is was better than you, but in getting that second place, you have given everything and “been the best that you can be”, then that’s fine with me. Everyone loves a trier, but some people confuse that with being a “loser”. We can’t all win – otherwise we’d all be walking around with gold medals round our necks – but if we give of our best, in all we do – sport or otherwise – then you’re going to do pretty well in life. One thing is certain – even if you are lucky enough to have incredible talent – if you “aren’t the best that you be” often enough, that talent will ultimately be wasted. That was a key message I want young people to get from the book.

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Photo credit: Nick Rees

You are clearly a huge sports fan, how did this come about and how did it translate into a career writing about the sports that you love?

I don’t remember a day in my life when I haven’t thought about, read about or watched sport. To claim it’s a lifelong obsession would be underplaying it a bit. When I was a kid, all I ever wanted for Christmas was something to do with sport – a ball, a pair of boots, shin pads…anything! It’s ironic now looking back as an author, but if someone bought me a book, I’d be horrified…unless of course if it was Roy of the Rovers or Tiger, which were comic annuals filled with sport! I remember the first football I had, a very hard and heavy brown plastic “Bobby Moore World Cup Football”. It nearly knocked me out every time I headed it!

I remember the first football match I ever saw on TV, it was the 1972 FA Cup Final between Leeds United and Arsenal. It was actually the 100th Cup Final, and I was only six but I distinctly remember they had people walking around the pitch before the game, carrying the flags of all the past winning teams in tribute. An interest in the history of sport and what came before, exploded in me from that moment.

Then came my first visit to a live football match the following year, when my mum, Marilyn, took me to the Vetch Field for the first time to watch my beloved Swansea City, in a match against Lincoln City. We sat in the centre stand and I remember all the sights and sounds, the swearing by the players on the pitch – you could hear everything as the club only attracted about 1,500 fans in those days – and because I wanted to sit near the tunnel, I also remember the clacking of the metal studs on the concrete floor and the smell of liniment as the players took the field. I was sold on sport from that moment.

I was also lucky that my grandfather’s best friend was Harry Griffiths, a legend at the club, who was physio at the time before taking over as manager for a while. At my grandparents house, Harry would regale me with loads of stories about him as a player in the 50’s and 60’s and even took me in the dressing room at the Vetch straight after game when I was about 8, to get the player’s autographs. Again, those sort of experiences just hooked me.

Back in those days, sport was simpler too. In winter it was football and rugby, in summer was cricket and tennis, those were the rules! We moved from Brynhyfryd to Three Crosses when I was 9, and the first new friend I made was Anthony Cottey.  He was as close to a child sporting prodigy as there ever must have been in Swansea, he was like George Best as a footballer – nobody could get near him – and he made his first century in cricket in a school match when he was 10. He was incredible. I was nowhere near as good as him, but I was talented enough, I suppose, so between us and other friends in the village like Chris Lewis, who went on to play football for Wales Youth in football, we just played sport non stop, getting better and better each day. It was bliss.

But Anthony and I also shared a love of stats and sports history too. He had a Rothman’s Football Yearbook, a book of biblical footballing proportions, and had stats, facts and figures about the whole history of football to that point in time. We used to test ourselves endlessly with facts we would find, usually about FA Cups and World Cups – to this day I remember reading about Guillermo Stabile, who scored Argentina’s second goal in a 4-2 defeat by Uruguay in the first ever World Cup Final in 1930. He became the tournament top scorer with that goal, and winner of the first ever “Golden Boot”. I was awestruck, and a life of retaining useless sporting facts had begun!

Even then, I knew I somehow wanted to write my own book filled with sporting facts, so probably the most personally rewarding of my writing projects to date was when I was approached to write an official Quiz and Fact Book for Swansea City. The hours I put into that were incredible, but I loved every second of research into my favourite subject – The Swans. I was chuffed that the book went so well, that I was quickly commissioned to do a second volume. More hard work, but a delight to do, and one that certainly made the dreams of a 9 year old boy come true!

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Your book with Welsh Captain Ashley Williams caused a bit of controversy when some members of the press printed some of the comments about Luis Suarez without context – could you tell us about how you felt when you saw the articles, and what happened?

I’ll never forget this! It was the day that we were doing the launch of the book at the Liberty Stadium, and Ash sent me a text to have a look on-line at the Daily Mail’s website about the book. I did, and I was horrified. I think the headline read “The player I hate the most in the Prem is Luis Suarez, and I want to smack him in the mouth”.

Now Ash never said exactly that – and what he had said was in context to a story about an incident in the game at Anfield, but that was conveniently ignored by the headline writer of the Mail – however the inference was clear, and every other sports news outlet, worldwide, picked up on it. I was mortified. When I went to the Liberty to meet Ash and get ready for the launch, the first person I bumped into was Jon Wilsher, the club’s media manager, a great guy who has always been incredibly supportive to me. He looked at me and said “Don’t talk to me…all this trouble you’ve caused!” Luckily, he then started to a smile, his phone went off and he had to take it. I quickly met up with Ash, took him aside and apologised.

He was brilliant – as he is as a bloke anyway. “What are you apologising for?” I was grateful he felt that way, but I explained that I felt a huge responsibility when writing a book for somebody else, that it was my duty to make sure & flag up anything too negative or controversial so they could decide whether to keep it in or not. “You did!” Said Ash and he burst out laughing. His attitude was fantastic. Then I saw Jon Wilsher again, and he came over and told me that the reason he had to take the call was that it was Brendan Rodgers and that Liverpool FC weren’t happy about the situation. Again, I was mortified, especially as the Swans next opponents the following weekend were – of course – Liverpool!

I was so worried that Suarez would get angry, fire and score 4, but quite the opposite happened. Ash played out of his skin, as he usually did for the Swans, kept Suarez quiet and helped deliver the Swans an important 0-0 draw. I was the most relieved man in Swansea at the final whistle.

Is it difficult to write something like Ashley’s Premier League Diary, when you are shadowing and working with someone to create a piece of work about them? How much input would someone like Ashley tend to have?

I have to say, it was a dream project from start to finish. I’d wanted to write a behind the scenes book on the Swans since I read the Swansea City Story by Brynley E. Matthews in the late 1970’s and when I met with Ash and his wife Vanessa to discuss it, I kind of treated the meeting like a job interview because I so wanted them both to agree to it. However, deep down, I knew that they would both probably carry some reservations because of the profile any Premier League Footballer has these days, and players are always wary that people are out to exploit them.

I just wanted them to understand that I wanted to write a book that would be unique to the football fans of Swansea first and foremost, but would also be a book of depth and detail and not just a project the player would pay lip service to – it would need Ash’s total involvement. Luckily for me, Ash and Vanessa could see that so agreed to the book that very evening. I’ll always be eternally grateful to both that they did, as it became a brilliant experience for me, and getting to know them both so well was a highlight, as they are both such grounded and normal people.

In terms of Ash’s contribution to the project, it was total. He was hands on from start to finish. He had such a respect for Swans fans, that he was never going to just play at the project, he really wanted to get it spot on. We’d meet once a week at least to discuss the previous week’s game and talk about the following one on the weekend, and he’d bring me up to speed on what was happening behind the scenes, and he’d always turn up with sheets of paper where he’d been jotting down his thoughts and recounting what had happened during the week. I actually show those notes to children in school to demonstrate Ash’s commitment to the project – it’s quite inspirational and has such a massively positive impact on the children.

In answer to ‘was it difficult’, the answer has to be no, because Ash made it so easy with his commitment to it. But without doubt, the toughest thing to deal with was the death of Gary Speed, which occurred on the morning of the Aston Villa game at the Liberty. Talking to Ash about it that week was difficult, because Ash admired and respected him so much, and it hit him really hard. But again – and this is why I have so much respect for Ash – he opened his heart totally to ensure that the whole tragic event was captured accurately for the reader.

It was a tough time for all, but then the realisation hit me that I had better make sure I captured Ash’s grief accurately, but sensitively too. Much later, just before the book went for printing actually about a year after, I had an email from Vanessa, which was probably the best thing to happen to me during the whole project. In it, she said how much the chapter on Gary Speed still moved her to tears when she read it and just wanted to say how I’d captured Ash’s mood and voice toward such a difficult time perfectly. As I’ve mentioned, I knew at the time that the event had to be spot on because of the respect Ash had for Gary and obviously, the tragic circumstances of his death, so when I read Vanessa’s words, they genuinely meant more to me than any subsequent positive reviews we got for the book.

Looking back now, I see it as was a dream project that I’ll never get to top if I’m being realistic, so I’ll always be so grateful to Ash for the way he embraced it and how well he treated me. I watched every match of the season, Ash making sure I had tickets for away games and Wales matches too, so I was able to really analyse every game, then go through the key points with Ash. He is such a great thinker of the game and knows it inside out – which is why he’s such a natural captain – and I was honoured he trusted me enough to let me into the dressing room secrets. I loved working with him, and chuffed that we have stayed friends to this day and still keep in touch. I’m still gutted he no longer plays for us though!

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I love the name of your first book “There’s Only Two Tony Cotteys”! How did that project come about and how did it feel when you saw the printed version for the first time?

Tony is a great character, and as I mention above, we have been best friends almost our whole lives. He played for Glamorgan in what history now show us, was a golden period for the club. That period was started off by winning the Sunday League down at Canterbury in Kent. It was a very nervy time when he walked into bat, alongside the great Viv Richards, who people forget, wasn’t playing very well at all. Anyway, the match was still very much in the balance, but Cotts and Viv started to build a partnership that began to take the game away from Kent. Then, a couple of overs before the end, and that great moment when Cotts hit a six off Duncan Spencer to hit the winning runs and deliver Glamorgan’s first trophy for about 25 years, the crowd started singing a football chant “There’s only Two Tony Cotteys”, an ironic twist on the more famous England and West Ham striker Tony Cottee – same name, different spelling. When it came to naming the book, Cotts had no doubt, that’s what it should be….he was 100% correct!

Working on the book with Cotts was a delight. We’d never done anything like it before, so just set out to enjoy the whole experience and have fun. One story about former Glamorgan captain, Alan Butcher, learning to drive was so funny when Cotts delivered the punchline – “I told you….I’m not good with cones!” – that I swear we laughed for an hour! It was great fun. When it was finally due to be published, I had a phone call in work, as I was still working for Swansea Council back then, and it was my daughter, Georgia, saying that a big box had arrived for me.

I knew exactly what it was, so I went home as soon as I could and sat with my daughters – Georgia and Olivia and my wife Deb – because I wanted to open the box to share the moment with them. It was one of my life’s great experiences, and more than a little surreal, as I never really ever expected to see my name on a book. Even now, 10 years on, I still get a buzz when I see one lying about. It might be a cliche, but that book, and the positive responses it got, genuinely changed my life.

You have worked with some very well-known people in the sports world, who would you like to work with if it could be anyone?

This is one of those questions that appears tough to begin with, but in the end is quite easy. It’s tough because there are so many sportsmen and women that I admire who I would absolutely love the opportunity to work with and write their book for them.

Locally, it would have to be Leon Britton. He’s my all time favourite Swans player, a great guy too and his story is so important to the club, that it would be an honour to do it, that would definitely be a career highlight for me if it ever could happen.

Then there’s working with some of my boyhood heroes, Ian Botham, Daley Thompson, Steve Ovett, John Toshack, to name just four! I really like the idea of working with someone who had a stellar career in their youth, but would clearly have a different take on life in “old age”, that would provide an interesting twist for the reader I think.

Then there’s my two favourite female athletes, Mary Peters and Jess Ennis-Hill. Mary Peters is one of the first athletes I ever remember watching, it was back in the 1972 Olympics where she won Gold in the Pentathlon. I vividly remember watching her take event after event – not really understanding that all the separate disciplines went together to make up a single medal, and thinking she was Superwoman! Then, years later, along came Jess, who really captured the hearts of a nation, but what was fascinating to me about Jess, was how she had to retrain to do her long jump off the opposite foot due to an injury, which is like teaching Ryan Giggs to only use his right foot, and then how she coped with being the face of the 2012 Olympics, but still delivering gold under arguably the most pressure and expectation a home athlete – in any sport – has ever experienced. A book with both of those, comparing similar careers in completely different eras would be fantastic, and incredibly revealing.

But – and here’s the easy bit – any writer worth their salt knows exactly what the biggest story at a given moment in time is and would love to write the book that everyone would be desperate to read, a couple of years ago, for example, that would’ve been Lance Armstrong.

As a writer, I back myself completely to ask the questions that the bulk of the sporting public would want to read about somebody whose story is yet to be told. Done well, it would sell millions…so that would help with mortgage quite nicely too! So the easy answer is to write the book of the person on this planet, who is still, the biggest name in sport, even though he hardly plays anymore, and that is Tiger Woods. Not sure that a boy from the Gower by way of Brynhyfryd is ever going to get himself into a room to have a chat about that project though, but if he ever stumbles across this interview, Tiger, please give me a call!

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Photo credit: Garry Baker

I heard a rumour that you are a big quiz fan, and that you have even been on some TV quiz shows (and done very well!) – tell us about how that came about and what is your proudest moment?

Yes, I’ve always loved a quiz! As a kid, I was obsessed with Question of Sport and would be gutted if I got a question wrong, and I’ve always had this bizarre ability to retain pointless facts about quirky subjects…perfect if you want to do well at a quiz!

When I was about 14, I actually wrote a Swansea City sports based quiz for a now defunct Sports Newspaper (that wasn’t my fault!) called ‘The Sports Gazette’ and because I was so young, the editor didn’t want me putting my name to it as he felt it wouldn’t be taken seriously, so I was only allowed to put “By D.B.” at the end of the quiz. I used to tell my mates in school it was me, but nobody believed me!

Anyway, years later, I became involved with the quiz team at my local pub, The Reverend James in Loughor, which at the time competed in the Swansea and Llanelli quiz leagues. It got quite competitive and was great fun, but what it did was increase my knowledge about pointless facts. Much to the annoyance of my family, when quiz shows came on Tv, I would bark out answers before the contestants could speak and one day my wife, Debbie, just said “why don’t you apply and see how you get on.” So I did.

Never one to do things by halves, I searched on line and found they were taking applications for ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, ‘Mastermind’ and the captain of our quiz team, Stuart Davies, found that ‘Eggheads’ were taking new teams on, so I ended up applying for all three. I then had to attend auditions for the three and found out that I was accepted for all of them….then the panic began!

So, in the space of less than 6 months, I appeared on all three shows, and was told that – at the time – I was the first to have achieved that in such a short space of time. The first one was ‘Mastermind’ and was filmed in the Coronation Street studios in Manchester. It was a one off Sports edition for that summer, hosted by Des Lynham, and my chosen specialist subject was FA Cup Finals from 1970 to 2008. I got one question wrong, and was second after the first round, but then I got 4 wrong in the second round, and ended up with 26 points. Only the 6 highest scoring of winners went through to the final, but my my score was higher than some others who won their heats, but I was out, so that was just tough luck….rules are rules!

Next up was ‘Eggheads’ which was filmed at the old BBC Tv centre in London. That was great fun as five of us plus a sub went, so I over indulged in the free hospitality the night before, not realising that filming began about 10.30am…thank God for make-up!

Unsurprisingly, I was scheduled to cover Sport, if it came up, and if Daphne was still on the Eggheads team, I was to challenge her, as sport was perceived to be her weakest subject. One thing I wasn’t to do was challenge multi-world Quiz Champion, Kevin, as he’s excellent at it.

When Sport came up, and I was nominated, Dermot Murnaghan looked at me and asked the immortal question, “Ok Dave, which of the Eggheads would you like to take on with Sport?” All my teammates were relaxed as I was going to pick Daphne, but in that split second, I just thought to myself, “well, I’m never going to be here again, let’s see how it will be to take on a world champion” so I replied, “I’d like to take on Kevin please Dermot”.

If you look at the film, you see our captain, Stuart, look straight at me as if to say “What the hell have you done?!” Anyway, I got lucky with my 3 questions, and Kevin’s second question was about it the circumference of a table tennis ball in centimetres!

Even though it looks like you are in separate boxes, you actually sit side by side, looking directly at a static camera in front of you. Kevin must have spent four of five minutes trying to work it out – only about 15 seconds made the final cut – and I was just sat there, right at the side of him my eyes burning through him, praying that he’d pick the wrong option, which he did. I got my last question right, so was lucky enough to beat him 3-1. We managed to take the remaining Eggheads into a second sudden death question on American History, but failed to get it right so missed out on a share of £17k. But was such good fun and a great experience.

My last TV quiz was later in the year, at Elstree Studios for “Millionaire” and I’d convinced myself I was going to make it third time lucky. I had incredible “phone a friends” made up from our pub quiz team, and had my best mate from our football trivia schools days, Tony Cottey, as my friend in the audience. In the morning, they do a full run through of the show to get the angles of filming right and so on, and I won the first rehearsal, and was also fastest finger on the second go too. But I should’ve remembered the old adage about “have a bad rehearsal and a good performance”, sadly, I did the opposite. We had 4 fastest finger goes in my episode, one of them – unbelievably – all ten of us got it wrong – but in the other 3, I was second each time, with two of them under 3 seconds. After the show was over and they were taking our mikes of us etc, the show’s producer said to me, “You were unlucky, those three times would have got you in the chair for the last two years of shows!” If I could have hit him through my tears, I would have!

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Photo credit: Garry Baker

Tell us about the publishing process from your perspective – once you have your idea, do you then start planning it out and typing, or try to secure a publisher first?

I’d love to say it’s the same process for each book – that would make my life a hell of a lot easier! – but each book has been different for me.

When I wrote my first book with Tony Cottey, we actually decided to take the pressure off ourselves by not even considering a publisher, until we’d finished the book. We both had full time jobs at the time and just wanted an enjoyable process, not a stressful one, so we just didn’t assign a timescale to it. The stress came when we got recommended to some big named London sports publishers and they rejected us – not because of the book, they all loved it – but they felt they couldn’t sell a story of a not-nationally known sports person by an unknown writer. I got a little nervous at that point and actually offered to Cotts for him to take the manuscript, take my name off it and give it to a known writer/journalist in order to get it published. But Cotts is easily the most loyal man I’ve known in my life and he got quite angry with me for even suggesting such a thing!

I can’t tell you how important his decision was for the rest of my life, and I owe him such a great deal. Anyway, we sat down, had a beer and decided that we’d have more luck with a Welsh publisher, so approached Gomer Press, sent them the manuscript, got invited to a meeting with their editor, Ceri Wyn Jones, who promptly announced that it was one of the best sports autobiographies he’d ever read! So, all in all, a great experience in the end.

The Ashley Williams book was an easier process, I contacted several Welsh publishers and the first one to get back to us, Y Lolfa, offered us a deal there and then so it was all done very quickly. As that book was a diary, I again had a lot of breathing space as obviously it couldn’t be finished until the year of the diary was up. The trick was keeping on top of the writing as the season progressed, but that was easy as I would meet with Ash once a week and basically get everything written and finished by the following week so I never allowed myself to get behind.

The best comment we had about the book was that it was compared to one of my favourite books, “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro” and I think that was because the writing was so “fresh” as I did it all at the time as all the events in the book unfolded.

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The launch of Champion of Champions | Photo credit: Garry Baker

I think if I’d made notes and then waited to bring everything together at the end, there would’ve been a danger of “hindsight” coming in as I would’ve known how things had turned out. It was important that as a writer, I resisted doing re-writes months later to make things look perfect, so I didn’t and left things as they had been written months earlier. I think that’s a real strength of the book and why in my view, it’s still a relevant book today.

With my current book, Champion of Champions, the biggest challenge was getting a publisher. I started writing it back in about 2008, and when I began approaching publishers a couple of years later, the rejections were quick in coming. The funny thing was, all the rejections were extremely positive! One rejection I kept said “We admire the story and content of the book, but frankly, we won’t be able to sell you.”

Strangely, when I was young and playing sport, that would’ve been enough to make me quit for good, but as I’ve got older, I’ve developed a much thicker skin. I have an author friend, Tom Palmer, who had read my manuscript and suggested a couple of tweaks, and told me that it had the potential of being one of the best sports books he had read, so I just kept at it and focussed on the positive and completely ignored the negative.

Eventually, after about six or seven years of rejections, Scratching Shed Publishing from Leeds came back with a positive response, offered me a deal and have been wonderful to work with ever since. Sometimes, things in life just follow a path until you find the right fit and that’s certainly been the case with ‘Champion of Champions’.

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Photo credit: Garry Baker

It’s great to hear that you regularly visit schools to promote literacy, tell us about that work and why it is so important to you.

Yes, I’m passionate about promoting reading in schools and I view it as a genuine privilege that one of the spin offs of writing my books, has been that I have been invited into schools – all over the UK – to talk to children and young people about that passion for reading that I have, and why I believe that reading is the secret to any success young people may achieve in school and beyond.

Those that don’t succeed in school, can often trace their problems back to a lack of reading skills, especially at a formative age. I’ve done lots of work with the National Literacy Trust in London – a fantastic organisation – and they point to the fact that many young people who don’t embrace reading, frequently don’t because adults and role models they have at home, choose not to read with them either, often because books for young people don’t always appeal to grown ups.

This really got me thinking, so I decided that I wanted to write a book that would appeal to young people in the first instance, but wanted to make sure that the themes in the book would appeal to and hold the interest of adult readers too. This was one of the ideas behind the story and content of ‘Champion of Champions’.

In addition to this, in talking to young people on my visits (I always ask them what type of books they read or would like to read) a consistent message from them is that whilst there are always plenty of factual sports books, they feel that there aren’t many good “stories” about sport. I’d actually begun writing Champion of Champions just after I’d written “There’s Only Two Tony Cotteys” and the more I visited schools, the more I felt I was on to something and needed to continue with it. I’m already booked in to many schools from November onwards to do more sessions at schools, promoting reading and many of the sessions will focus on the really positive messages in ‘Champion of Champions’ of resilience, commitment, perseverance – an all round enrichment.

I am so happy to have so many schools booked in for upcoming visits, it can be challenging, but extremely rewarding. If there’s any schools in the U.K. – Primary, Secondary or College – reading this and would be interested in me visiting them, please do get in touch, I’d love to come and see you.

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David speaking at a school

For more information about David and his great work (including if you want to speak to him about visiting your school), please visit his website by clicking here.

You can also find out more about his great new book Champion of Champions, and also purchase it by clicking here.

Also please give Dave a follow on Twitter –

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