Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Tennis and the marathon author

Tennis Masters, O2 Centre, London, 2009

I have been a fan of tennis and the British tennis players in particular for the last ten years. My son, who is an excellent player, got me interested and now he says I'm a better commentator than the professionals! I have really enjoyed the careers of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski and also followed less well know British players such as Arvind Parmar. In the last two years I have watched the rise of Andy Murray with great pleasure. But we also have some interesting teenage British girls to look out for, such as Laura Robson. And of course the great players keep on astonishing us, such as the one and only Roger Federer.

Federer ahead of Verdasco and looking cool.

Many Brits grumble that our home grown tennis players are useless because they don't win Grandslams,especially Wimbledon. But our tennis players have shown true grit, determination and perseverance in the face of an onslaught of criticism. What does this have to do with authors who are writing novels?

Taking a break : end of chapter?

As a novelist who has been through the ups and downs in the last three years of trying to get my novels published, I have often been inspired by the tennis players. Young people in their teens and early twenties show an ability and inner strength to bounce back from deep disappointment and failure often not seen in adults twice their age. In the middle of the long hot grandslam season, I have watched Andy Murray crash out in the quarter finals when he was expected to be a finalist, face the cameras for a gut grinding interview within minutes of huge disappointment and humiliation and then come back in the next Slam, more determined than ever.

Slouched on my sofa, with the latest rejection in my hand, or worse, total silence after waiting for weeks or months for an offer from an agent or a publisher, I have found myself taking heart as Rafa, Murray, Federer and Dojkovitch pull themselves up by their Adidas laces, shut their ears and eyes to the taunts and humiliations and get back on the court.

Writng, writing, writing.

The singles tennis court is one of the loneliest places on earth. No team mates to support you, a crowd that may well be baying for your blood and all you have between triumph and failure is the tension on your racket and your determination to persevere and win.

So it is with the writer's attic, wherever that may be. Ultimately all of the support falls away  - Facebook, critique group, trusted writing partner, tutor and the family. In order to progress along the marathon of writing a novel, the end of which may be months or even years away, with no sure promise of reward, the writer has to be able to sit alone and motivate herself to write and write and write. Just as the singles player must stand alone for the long hours of the grandslam match with only his lonely thoughts to sustain him, so must the long distance writer be able to maintain their pace and their wordcount, alone and inside their own head, hour after hour, after week, after month, after year. Little wonder that so many fall by the wayside, unable to sustain the merciless self belief.

Is it all worth it? Ask Rafa and Andy. But I think that the reward for all the hard work is worth the journey and the journey alone is worth the setting out. Happy Writing.

The launch of my first novel, 'Secret Territory,' a novel for adults which took three years to write.


  1. Ooh, Miriam, what a lovely photo of you on the header for this blog - as well as the ones in this post. Good luck with Secret Territory. I have also been keeping up with all the good work you've been doing for English PEN's Readers & Writers programmes through their newsletters. We miss you at Write to Life! Love Helen x

  2. Great post Miriam! Just strapping my knees for a new tournament.

  3. Superb post Miriam, and so true. All the electronic networks do help of course, as do the face to face meetings if you can get them, but in the end, it's the writer, the pen and the keyboard.

    Still, in what other job can you get emails from famous writers encouraging you to do better. I got one from Peter Carey yesterday! Now, I know it went to all the Nanowrimo masochists, but it still feels good.

    Oh and if you're on the lookout for hot young female talent (in the tennis way, of course) then keep your eyes open for Sophie Jenner and Anoushka Newman. They're both in their early teens at the moment but showing real promise.


  4. Thanks for all the comments folks, I'm glad it hit the spot, its a bit of an unusual angle, but one from the heart as far as I'm concerned!

  5. One distinct advantage that writers have over the tennis player is that we can keep on going until the fingers can no longer hit the keyboard. By the age of 35 they're on the way down.
    Just love the photo of you writing in the sun. We could do with a bit more of that at the moment. Meanwhile I shall endeavour to return to my merciless self-belief and get on with some writing.

  6. I've never thought of writing in terms of the loneliness of tennis champ before, but of course you are rifght. I sit at my pc and suddenly I am surrounded by the fantasy folk who live in my head. Sometimes I have to stop when my wrists hurt and my eyes ache and I realise hours have passed while my imaginary companions have been at work and I have not seen or spoken to a l
    Live person all dayu. Sometimes the people of my book nudge my conscience when I can't sleep oer when I'm doing something else and call out 'don't forget us'. Sometimes its me and thw pc and there are no voices calling to be heard. That is the loneliest time of all. Bless you for your encouragement Miriam.. You must be so proud of your achievemments and justifiably so.

  7. From: leo rid
    Sent: Saturday, December 05, 2009 8:00 PM
    Subject: RE: Updated my blog : from Miriam Halahmy

    Thanks Miriam
    I enjoyed the thought that there is another tennis fan in our writers group. I used, as an amateur player, to do courses at the national junior boys tennis training centre, Bisham Abbey. The boys came out in all weathers before and after school to hit hundreds of balls.
    When asked the secret of being a great writer, I think Hemingway demured that the practice of writing the first million words helped! Young tennis hopefuls need to hit a million balls, as well as have the extra bits you describe like resilience. Practice is common to both.
    All the best,

  8. Thanks Andrea and Leonie for your comments and for your thoughts on the loneliness and resilience needed by both the tennis player and the author.


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