I recently posed some questions to the author of that very entertaining new novel, “Sex, Drugs, and Squash ‘n’ Roll”. Aubrey Waddy is not only a very accomplished writer, he a masters international squash competitor.
SDB What prompted you to write your book “Sex Drugs Squash ‘n’ Roll”?
AW Primarily, I’ve discovered in the second half of my life that I want to write. I started at it by telling and then writing stories for my three boys when they were small, thinking that children’s stuff would be an easy way into being published. Wrong, in spades! But the 45 or so children’s stories that I wrote did allow me to develop the craft.
The link to a squash book starts in Australia. From 1970-1973 I played a lot of squash in Sydney, and during a visit there in 1986 a chance remark from an old squash-playing friend made me think, ‘what a great idea for a squash plot’. I’d no notion then that I’d ever write something as long as a full length novel and I just filed the idea away.
For the next step, I decided uncertainly, in the mid 1990s, to try to write a full novel. I chose to set it in the world I worked/lived in: medicine (though I’m not a doctor) and the south of England. This was because I didn’t have any time to spend on research. The book was taken up by a small publisher in 2002 as ‘The Progressive Supper’, and I’m about to republish it in an improved version, ‘Just Desserts’.
After completing “The Progressive Supper”, my next project was to be a dark novel set in the medical device industry, in essence a retelling of the thalidomide story with a device rather than a drug. That story is going to be set in the third person, and after planning it I hesitated to begin writing because I’d so enjoyed the first person angle of The Progressive Supper. So in about 2006, with not the faintest idea that I’d soon be starting to play the game again, I decided to bring forward the squash book, written in the first person voice of Jolyon Jacks. The manuscript spent most of its life as ‘Caught off Court’ but at the last minute, at the suggestion of the cover designer, it became ‘Sex and Drugs and Squash ’n’ Roll’ after I’d mentioned this mangling of the late Ian Dury’s words as a possible strap line for the book.
SDB How much of the book is based on reality or is it completely fiction?
AW The story is completely fictional, with none of the characters based on specific people.
SDB How much of your own life is in Jolyon’s life (main character in the book)?
AW As anyone would notice if they saw me playing squash, Jolyon mirrors little of that side of me! I was a strictly amateur player, for a while in my twenties at the bottom end of the British rankings. Away from the squash angle, I was educated at an English private school, but the limited vignettes of Redbrook, Jolyon’s school, are from my imagination. The places in the story are mostly real.
SDB Why did you decide to have an American as the number 1 in the world? Was that so you could knock him off?
AW I wanted a sympathetic US character in the story because I have a lot of US friends, inside and outside squash, notably John Nimick, who has been most generous in his support of the story all the way through. As the idea of Razz began to develop, he grew in scope, and I’d have liked to explore his personality and history at greater length.
SDB What does your book say about the PSA?
AW During my playing days I marginally overlapped with Gawain Briars, who when I started to plan S&D&S’n’R was Chief Executive of the PSA. Gawain gave me a lot of information about the association, and my conclusion was: what a lot of substance there is in the PSA tour. The structure of the worldwide game is a strong one, but the sponsorship is pretty parlous. I don’t see much of the political side, and in the book I didn’t touch on the vital issue for the game of television; now I wish I’d explored this as I’ve come to a twenty-twenty, crystal clear realization that the basic angle for viewing the game should be from the front. That’s what will get the ordinary sports fan watching - that’s where the drama is. I missed the opportunity to say something about this in the book.
SDB How did you get started in squash and when?
AW I was a sporty kid, apparently never without some sort of a ball from the age of two. At my secondary school, thirteen onwards, I took up squash along with the other hand-eye sports, and played in the school team and university second team. Cricket was my biggest love. I went to Australia in 1970 with the intention of playing a lot of that. However, I arrived in the fall, and cricket is a summer game. Instead I met up with some great squash guys from Sydney University, and started playing in the fiercely competitive Sydney leagues. Come the following spring I was hooked on squash, and although I played cricket for a while I preferred a game that took up less time. And I love the sheer physicality of squash.
SDB Give us a bit of your background, where you were born went to school, sports you played, etc.?
AW I was born in London and grew up partly in what was then the Gold Coast in West Africa, now Ghana, but mainly in the beautiful English city of Winchester. My principal schooling was at the English private school, Marlborough College, which led me into a career in medical science. I’ve already mentioned cricket. There’s no greater pleasure in sport than ‘middling’ a cricket ball with a perfectly balanced bat, a momentary encounter of willow and leather, such a soft feeling characterized by, even defined by, a total absence of vibration. Hitting a cricket ball is that sweet. Squash doesn’t come close in the joy of a perfectly timed shot. I also played rugby, soccer, rackets, field hockey and tennis, and later real tennis, and somewhere along the line in my teens suffered the knee injury that has dogged me all my sporting life. I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and stumbled into a career in which I’ve travelled a lot, made a middling difference and managed to pay the bills. I just wish I’d had a greater insight during my education into my passion for words and images.
SDB Who is the most influential person in your life?
AW I had to think about that one for a moment. On reflection, almost every day I see something in myself of my father. I don’t remember him though as pushy or assertive, so his influence has been osmotic, in absolutely everything, rather than specifically directive. There are so many things I’d love to tell him and show him now.
SDB Who turned you on to squash?
AW At school there was a squash and racquets professional called Bill Gordon. I remember Bill teaching me to play the drop shot, and I’m eternally grateful. It has saved me from running countless court miles over many years, usually because I’ve hit the tin!
SDB It seems you were trying to capture the essence of squash, that it really is a noble calling so much so that a young man like Jolyon would give up his million dollar trust fund until he makes number 1 in the world…
AW I do believe that it’s a gift to enjoy a competitive sport, and that winning is the reason for playing. I hadn’t reflected on that aspect of Jolyon’s motivation, although I have reflected on a little entity, I think of it as a worm, that’s present in the minds of some competitors, the one that drives them harder than their rivals. It’s part of the innate ability of champions, along with their strength and their coordination and their athleticism. I guess that idea fed through into Jolyon’s intense competitiveness.
SDB What did you give up to play squash?
AW It’s my dear partner Alison, whom I met four years ago, who has to cope with me being repeatedly away from the house because of squash. Right now what I give up is sometimes sitting down to an evening’s television, no great sacrifice. For me, being able to play squash after a twenty five year gap, during which I never for a moment imagined that I’d ever play again, is one of the great things of my life.
SDB Your favorite player on the tour now?
AW Lefties rule, it’s Amr Shabana! I’ve never met Amr, but he has an impish quality and the deftest touch on the planet.
SDB The best player you ever saw play?
AW I remember being awestruck watching Qamar Zaman destroy Gogi Alauddin in a British Open final. I saw Jonah Barrington reduce Geoff Hunt to patting gentle shots down the walls because he’d run out of strength. Sadly I missed Jahangir and Jansher. Peter Nicol I’ve seen post-retirement and I’ve marveled at the current top players. But of the ones I’ve seen, on his day and with them on their day as well, Shabana would beat them all.
SDB As an older player and a player at a high level, what do you have to do to win?
AW First and foremost, as it ever was, it’s being fit! That’s the bedrock. One of the negatives of getting older is your simple loss of strength, and with that goes loss of speed. I sometimes feel that time lapse photography is needed to demonstrate that I actually move on court! I find shuttle running is great exercise for the legs, and I’ve discovered recently that I need to do stuff for my arms and shoulders as well. Beyond that, for me, the squash takes care of itself, assuming that it doesn’t include too many rubbish cross courts. I’ve always been inclined to pull the trigger early in a rally, and with Masters players the percentages are more in your favour doing that, because they are slower.
SDB What do you think of Egyptian squash? British squash?
AW I don’t know too much about the mainstream competitive squash scenes in either country. In Britain it’s sad that so-called minority sports get so little public recognition. The fact that Britain has the one and two ranked players in the world is absolutely brilliant! The numbers of fine current and emerging Egyptian players is tremendously impressive, too. I suspect that India will soon be a force in squash. The thing that has impressed me most since I became involved in the game again is the wide range of countries that are producing ranked players. Who built all those courts!
SDB Anything you’d like to say to those who would read your book, other than buy it?!
AW I would say that I’ve done some good stuff in my life, and I’m a current Masters squash international. But I’m a far better writer than anything else I’ve been, so you won’t be disappointed! My aim in writing is make the reader want to turn the page, and along the way to have some fun with the words. And finally, once you’ve enjoyed S&D&S’n’R, look out for ‘Just Desserts’, another darned good read! (And down the way, ‘Hip Hip Boo’, currently in the writing.)
Note: “Sex, Drugs, Squash ‘n’ Roll” can be purchased from Amazon.uk.com. Can hardly wait for “Hip Hip Boo”.