Yes, that’s me – posing at the starting line of the sacred running track of Ancient Olympia, home of the original Olympic Games that started some 2500 years ago. We went there on holiday three years ago and that’s where the stories for my Olympia series began to take shape.
As I stood in the tunnel that leads out to the stadium at Olympia, I knew I was standing where the great olympians of old once stood. I could feel their energy, strength, purpose and hopes recorded in the stone of the walls
I could hear the cheers of the crowd, thronging the grassy banks and smell the smoke from hundreds of burning sacrifices. I knew what it was like to be an olympian, ready to take the stage and show the world that at, that moment, I was the best, the fastest, the strongest, the leanest and the fittest.
I suppose I have a very strong imagination! That’s why I do what I do.
I’m not sporty, nor do I watch much sport from the sidelines, but once every four years I’m gripped by the endeavours of the world’s greatest, as they push themselves to the very limits of human physicality and mental strength.
It’s the psychology of sport that really interests me. What is it that keeps the best going? What pushes them through the pain barrier again and again, just to win some stupid race?
Walking around the ruins of Ancient Olympia I realised that the Ancient Olympics were about more than just sport. They were a religious festival. The athletes weren’t only running for glory, they were running to please the gods. They put up with the pain because they knew the gods were with them and for a moment, they were their mortal representatives.
Religious fervour was their motive. Realising this gave me the key to writing the series. Olly is inspired by the stories of the gods that are told by Simonedes, his history teacher. It is the pact Olly makes with the gods that support him, that give him the mental strength to beat his arch enemy, Spiro.
This format allowed me to explore the ancient myths as well as to tell of Olly’s mental and physical efforts to be the best. As I wrote each story, I ran and wrestled, swam, threw and jumped every step of the way with Olly. After each writing session I would be quite exhausted, for I had, in my mind, been Olly and had done all the training and competing myself.
And that’s where art and sport and psychology meet. Great athletes know how to visualise their races. They go through upcoming competitions in their minds, again and again and again, imagining and rehearsing every move they should make until they know how to run the race to perfection.
No Olympic gold medal is ever one without having been won a thousand times before in the imagination of the winner.
It the exact same process I go through when writing my Olympia books. When I’m writing such a series, I go to sleep dreaming of high-jumping and wrestling and throwing discus and javelins. I wake up and carry on imagining, rehearsing and re-running the race, day after day, until it is perfect and I know that Olly is fit and ready to win. Then I sit down and write – and write and write. I write like the clappers, breathless with anticipation – can Olly really do it? Can he really win against all odds?
The first draught is often garbled and full of typos, but that’s what editing is for. I have the memory of that epic race to bask in while I polish up the text until it resembles the emotion and excitement I felt while writing as much as possible.
And that’s how those of us, who don’t get up at five in the morning to train, day in day out, win our secret olympic medals in the fantasy world of sport.
That’s also why sporty children should read and read, immersing themselves in action and fantasy books.
Any unthinking idiot can create the perfect body. Your genes bring the luck of the right physique for the competition. But it is only with imagination and visualisation that great athletes put all the physical attributes together to convince themselves that this is their time – the time to be Champion of the World, to raise that gold medal high into the air and receive the rapturous applause of the adoring crowds – the crowds who only watch and dream.