What writers can learn from the football world cup


They think it's all over ... but not yet.

It’s that time again. When brave little red and white flags flutter out of windows and England convinces itself that its football players have a chance in the world cup. Call me cynical but I have a shrewd suspicion those same flags will be lowered disconsolately in a few weeks’ time. I’d love to be proved wrong but I’ve sat through nine world cups (thanks to a long marriage to a football fanatic) and haven’t seen anything yet to give me grounds for optimism.

It’s lucky I have my own football pundit to guide me through the whole process, offering an opinion on every kick of the ball and every decision of the referee.

I can predict the spiel already. Yet many of the observations have a strange relevance to the writing process. There’ll be a comment about the fact that England seems to lack practice as a team. Well, few good books have been written without a great deal of trial and error, and if practice doesn’t make perfect, it can at least give you a better chance of success. Another anticipated remark revolves around the predictability of set pieces and the fact that players rarely spring surprises. Too many writers rely on overused plots and clichéd language; if we can pull off unusual twists and employ fresh expressions our work will be so much more vivid and memorable.

Other parallels spring to mind: the need to vary pace, to manage stamina, to wrong foot people, to take criticism good naturedly, to celebrate modestly, to support others... and, let's be honest, that sometimes the difference between success and failure is down to sheer good luck.

I’m not sure how I’m going to survive the next few weeks as a football widow – but at least it might buy me a bit more writing time: and who knows, I might even learn something from the process.

May the best team win!