My interest in sports writing began one morning when, about to have breakfast, I realised I had nothing to read and nobody to talk to. In desperation I picked up the nearest thing to me, the sports section of my newspaper.
Until then, I had no interest in sports whatsoever. I fact, I don’t have much more now — it all seems too energetic (not to mention dangerous)! However, I discovered a fantastic writer, Jonathan Liew. Then I found Giles Smith, then Matthew Syed, and finally Hugh Mcilvanney.
Liew, Smith and Syed are all wonderful writers, but McIlvanney just left them standing. Sadly, he died a few days ago, but he has left a wealth of fantastic descriptions which should inspire any writer to want to do better.
For example, on the boxer Joe Bugner:
“Like a Greek statue, but with fewer moves.”
When I cited that description to a friend of mine without declaring the subject, he immediately exclaimed, “Joe Bugner"!”.
Or this example of showing not telling, a technique ordinarily recommended for fiction rather than non-fiction writers:
“It was the kind of wind that seemed to peel the flesh off your bones and come back for the marrow.”
McIlvanney was a perfectionist, and collected numerous awards as well as an Honour, so I was surprised to read this quote by him in The Times:
“I don’t go into the writing of any piece with dreams of triumph. I go in with a neurotic fear of a screw-up,” he once said. “It’s a neurosis, I know it’s not a strength. There’s no balance about it. I should have a much more mature and sensible attitude, but the neurosis is too deeply implanted.”
I mentioned McIlvanney in a blog post a few years ago: How competent a writer are you?
McIlvanney made me want even more to be able to make anything I write about as interesting and enjoyable as possible. If he has inspired others in the same way (and I’m sure he has), what a wonderful legacy to have left.