Over the years, sport has been the backdrop to numerous fiction books, including John Cheever’s 1964 story The Swimmer, Alan Sillitoe’s novella The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and Barry Hines’s The Blinder, a salutary tale about the power of football to make and break working class lads.
But there aren’t many crime stories that are set in the world of rugby league, which makes Chris Berry’s first novel, Tough Season, unique in a genre (crime thrillers) where we think we’ve seen it all before.
Regular readers of The Yorkshire Post will be familiar with Berry’s weekly features in the Country Week supplement. He’s also co-written several music autobiographies, including the forthcoming book charting the life of Yorkshire singer Tony Christie.
This, however, is his first foray into the world of fiction. Tough Season is a story of sex, money and revenge set against a background of a fictional Pennine rugby league club.
At the heart of the story is protagonist Greg Duggan, who plays for struggling club basement club Hopton Town until a new owner arrives and offers him his dream job. But all is not what it seems behind the scenes as Duggan becomes embroiled in off-field machinations amid a battle for control of the club and much more.
Berry has long been a fan of crime writers such as Peter May and John Grisham and describes his own book as a “racy” tale. “I wanted to write something that starts quickly and is easily digestible, so the book has short, sharp chapters,” he says.
“There’s plenty of drama and sub-plots and a dark twist or two that bulids towards the climax.”
The rugby itself plays more of a background role rather than being at the heart of the action though it’s a world that Berry, who comes from Hull originally and grew up watching Hull Kingston Rovers, is familiar with.
“I enjoyed those halcyon days in the 70s and 80s, and rugby league has been a happy part of my life. When I first came to work for the Yorkshire Post 30 years ago, I used to go to some of the old rugby league grounds.”
His novel is set in the modern day, though it’s not shot through with the razzmatazz of today’s game. “It’s not the Super League,” he says. “It’s deliberately set at the bottom of the rung of the professional rugby league ladder.”
Berry first came up with the idea for the story 20 years ago and has worked on it on and off ever since. Now, with his first book done and dusted he’s already started writing the second instalment of what he plans to be a trilogy.
“Writing a novel is a totally different discipline but I’ve enjoyed creating the characters and developing them,” he says.
“It’s also great to see the end product of all your hard work, because there’s nothing quite like being sent a copy of your first novel and seeing it and smelling the pages.”
Tough Season, published by Great Northern Books, is out now.
The book is available from www.ypbookoffer.co.uk or call 01274 735 056.