My guest on the blog today is author Avery Cockburn, who is known to all sports romance fans to the creator of the popular Glasgow Lads series. She’s turned football, and more recently curling, into means to tell her love stories and here she tells us a little of the lengths a non-athlete write will go to when writing sports romance that passes muster with sports as well as romance fans. Some writers love research and can lose themselves in tiny details. I’m lucky to be one of those and when you read her post, you’ll find out that Avery Cockburn is another. Research alone doesn’t write a book, of course, but it lays the foundation for a fine love story.
Thanks so much to Jackie for hosting me today! I’m Avery Cockburn, author of the Glasgow Lads series, a set of interconnected standalone m/m romances set in contemporary Scotland. Today I’m going to talk about writing sports romances as a couch potato—I mean, as a non-athlete.
Conventional wisdom says, “Write what you know,” but I’ve always preferred, “Write what you love.” Being an author has let me walk in the shoes of vampires, spies, con artists, ghosts—and most recently, young male footballers who play for the Woodstoun Warriors, an all-LGBTQ club based in Glasgow, Scotland.
You might think the biggest challenge would be understanding people of a different gender who are half my age. Nope. The biggest gap between me and my characters is the fact they’re competitive athletes, while I’m…not.
It’s not for lack of effort. In the last few years I’ve enjoyed running, Krav Maga, and curling—all of which resulted in injuries (an ankle, a shoulder, and a hip/other shoulder, respectively). My enthusiasm outpaces my fitness level, see, so adrenaline makes me go too fast, too hard, too far, when my body is just not ready (strength training is soooooo boooooring uggghhhh).
Anyway, since I’m not a footballer, it often takes a few drafts to perfect the football/soccer scenes in my books. Here’s an example from Glasgow Lads Book 1, Playing for Keeps:
Pass it, Evan, Fergus thought as he sprinted across the midline. Fucking pass it to Shona. Easy goal.
Instead of passing it, Evan veered off farther to the right and took the shot himself at an impossible angle. Predictably, it missed, hitting the crossbar of the goal. The relieved keeper hurled himself on the ball like a heroic soldier on a live grenade.
“What the fucking hell, Hollister?” Shona yelled. “I was open.”
“Hey.” Fergus cut her off, speaking calmly. “He made a mistake. Play on. Brilliant work on that break, by the way.”
It’s not terrible overall, but that second paragraph totally loses Fergus’s point of view. We’re not even sure how close Fergus is to the action. It feels more like a spectator’s description. (Also: “midline”? I think I meant “halfway line”. I was still new to the sport.) If I want to put readers into the action and make them feel like they’re there, I need to add visceral details I’ve never experienced, using the twin superpowers of imagination and research.
In the final draft, we never leave Fergus’s head:
Pass it, Evan, Fergus thought as he sprinted to join them. Pass it back to Shona before it’s too late.
Evan veered right and took the shot himself at an impossible angle. It missed, hitting the goal’s near post. As Fergus closed in for the rebound, the keeper hurled himself on the ball like a heroic soldier on a grenade. Fergus had to leap over him to avoid a foul, smashing his elbow into the goal post and spilling onto the pitch.
“Fucking hell, Hollister!” Shona yelled to Evan as the Morningside keeper lay there, panting with relief. “I was open!”
“Hey.” Fergus got up, shaking out his tingling arm, and spoke to Shona as calmly as he could. “He made a mistake, now let’s move on. You did brilliant work on that breakaway.”
As you can see, often a visceral detail involves pain, probably because it helps bring me and the reader into the character’s body. But I also like to add other sensory experiences, like the squelch of mud under boots or the scrape of artificial turf against skin (again, pain). And of course, even in a chilly climate like Scotland, there’s loads and loads of sweat!
As a non-footballer, thinking of these sensations doesn’t come naturally to me, so it takes a conscious effort. What does come naturally is tying the characters’ growth to the action on the pitch (or the ice, in my curling books).
Does my hero need to overcome a challenge to boost his confidence, or does he need a shot of humility to give him perspective? How does he feel when the final whistle blows? Does he need comfort? A celebratory beer? Bandages? All of the above?
In my most recent release, Play Hard, central defender Robert has become a workaholic in his efforts to develop a groundbreaking new video game. He’s skipped quite a few workouts due to his job—we’ve all been there, right?—and his lack of stamina causes him to give up an avoidable goal.
Meanwhile, Robert’s boyfriend and fellow defender, Liam, is trying to decide what to do with his life. His job as a bartender is safe, though not exactly lucrative. He’d like to be a massage therapist, but he’s terrified he’ll fail and end up sliding back into the poverty of his childhood. In Play Hard’s match—the one where Robert gives up the goal—a teammate’s injury forces Liam out of his comfort zone and into a new position. No spoilers, but…he does all right.
So like I said, “Write what you love.” I love sports, and I love romance. Combining them lets me tell stories of athletes who overcome pain, doubt, and loss to find their happy endings.
After all, love is the ultimate victory.
Thanks again to Jackie for hosting me! If you’d like a free taste of the Glasgow Lads, sign up for my newsletter at averycockburn.com/signup to download a copy of prequel novella Play On, in both its original and author-commentary version.
Genre: Sports Romance
Buy at: amazon | Available on Kindle Unlimited
“I’ll always want more of you.”
Robert McKenzie lives to work. He’s fresh out of university as a video-game entrepreneur, and his new app could actually save lives. But burning the candle at both ends means missing out on the best parts of his own life—including his boyfriend, Liam.
Liam Carroll works to live. His job as a bartender pays the rent—if not always the heating bill—and that’s plenty for now. But Robert’s workaholism reminds Liam his own life is going nowhere, and his own dreams are scaring the pants off him.
To jolt them out of their ruts, Robert invents a new game: He and Liam are to take turns offering each other sexy new challenges with irresistible rewards. Of course, Robert gets more than he bargained for, as Liam takes their game in one surprising direction after another. Whether it’s in the bedroom, on the football pitch, or at the pub (or even the supermarket?), the things they learn about each other—and themselves—could change their lives forever.
Play Hard is the feel-good, staying-in-love story the world needs right now!
Note: This happier-ever-after novella features the main characters of Playing With Fire but can be read as a stand-alone story.
About Avery Cockburn
Avery Cockburn (rhymes with Savory Slow Churn) has the best job ever, writing about beautiful men who play the Beautiful Game in the most beautiful place in the world. She lives in the United States with one infinitely patient man and two infinitely impatient cats. In her previous life as Jeri Smith-Ready, she wrote fantasy and young adult novels, 91.7% of which are still in print.
Meet Avery Cockburn’s Glasgow Lads