collaborated on a new book by world No 1 James Willstrop. Here, he reveals how
the book came to fruition.
The plan was
simple. Approach Yorkshireman James Willstrop, the current world No 1, and get
the inside story on a year in the life of a touring pro. Publish book.
This was going
to be no easy task: publishers were wary of squash's value in the commercial
marketplace, especially in an Olympic year. (What, squash isn't an Olympic
knew there was a story to tell with James. And since he ended up writing it
himself - shunning my original intention of ghosting it - I can vouch for the
finished product, one where a sportsman has left few secrets in the locker.
You won't find
any 'we scraped a 1-1 draw, then went for a meal with the Mrs' here. These are
Willstrop's own words and it was, at times, an intoxicating project to work on
considering he was opening up on some deeply personal issues.
We did receive
offers from less-well-known publishers but declined - the returns would have
been far less and we knew the market, where to push the boat. Promotion was also
going to be hard graft without the help of a publisher's in-house PR machine
whirring away, so opting for the self-publishing route was always going to leave
us with a job on our hands.
weren't the only ones in this predicament. Contributors to the
Journalists' Association website have
written extensively on the plight of getting published in the saturated sports'
book market. More and more have turned to self-publishing, and with considerable
success too. Be bullish, web savvy and know your market seems to be the mantra.
For us, the
rewards have been significant. From sorting image plates and sourcing the ISBN
number, to 3,500 books briefly landing in my living room, it has been a
cathartic process in learning how a book is put together. Even more so when a
literary agent friend said she didn't have the first clue in how to sort ISBN's
If all else
fails, at least we know that the book will sell in Yorkshire. After all, the
county does have the world's top two players in Willstrop, 28, and 31-year-old
Nick Matthew, Britain's double world champion. Cue all those plentiful Yorkshire
one of the themes: a superb insight into the healthy - and barely written about
- rivalry between these two Britons. Two athletes who really should be competing
at the London Olympics. Two athletes who have slugged it out twice in recent
years in matches lasting well over two hours. Forget five-hour tennis epics,
these were jaw-dropping, physically bruising encounters. I was the only
newspaper journalist at both.
In between his
on-court experiences, Willstrop charts a gruelling life on the road: proving the
naysayers wrong that he couldn't compete at the top level on a vegetarian diet;
detailing life without his mother (who died of cancer in 2000); the weird and
wonderful life at Pontefract Squash Club being coached by his eccentric father,
Malcolm, and the constant doubt over injuries. Or 'doubt, doubt, doubt' as he
writes more than once.
concern that he might be giving away too much considering he has five or so
years left in the game; also that readers might lose interest in too much
off-court detail. But here's the crux of the book: playing within four walls, or
360° glass on the world tour, is an incredibly tough existence mentally. And for
those who follow the game, the Yorkshireman explores the claustrophobic nature
of his sport brilliantly, and how it affects him.
The book will
appeal to squash enthusiasts first and foremost. Matthew, and less so Willstrop,
are not household names yet - although with 500,000 playing squash regularly in
the UK someone must be doing something wrong. Profiles are what the sport is
crying out for, but the wider public needs to be re-educated on squash first
after its media heady days in the Eighties. This is a fine starting point.