Mixture of sex, violence and a bit of cricket make Gibbs' debut novel a real page-turner
SEX, violence, sibling rivalry and cricket. It's such a natural fit that it's a wonder the combination hasn't been the basis of so many more novels.
On the face of it, cricket is such a sedate game – soporific, some would say – that it as far removed from the stuff of best-selling fiction as it is possible to be but that is a view held only by people who do not understand the game and the people who play it.
County cricket takes disparate groups of individuals, confines them together for six months, throws triumph and adversity their way and often leaves them with far too much time on their hands than is healthy.
No wonder, at the end of a season, they are either the best of pals or ready to throttle each other with their own jockstraps.
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Perhaps the reason why there have not been so many cricket novels is that not many novelists are cricketers.
To Jackie Collins, the prospect of a stiff poke through the covers means only one thing.
Not so to Peter Gibbs. He has the advantage of a nine-year career as a first-class cricketer to draw from and has spliced that knowledge into his debut novel, "Settling the Score".
Gibbs was an opening batsman for Oxford University and Derbyshire between 1964-72 and though this is his first published novel, he is by no means a novice writer.
After retiring from first-class cricket at the age of only 28, he wrote a number of plays for radio and television before getting his big break with the screenplay "Arthur's Hallowed Ground", starring Jimmy Jewell and produced by David Putnam for the launch of Channel Four in 1984.
Gibbs then went on to establish his reputation as the main writer of the popular family TV drama "Heartbeat" between 1996-2009 and also contributed episodes for long-running favourites such as "The Bill", "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates" and "Down to Earth".
But the desire to write a novel has been burning for far too many years and what better subject to base that novel on than cricket?
Specifically, it is a novel based on the events of a fictional end-of-season three-day County Championship match between Derbyshire and Warwickshire at Edgbaston in 1969.
That may not sound like the formula for a classic page-turner but it works – and for a wider audience than you might expect.
"It's a bit of a niche market – for supporters really – but I've been surprised at how enthusiastic people have been about the form of it," said the 68-year-old writer.
"Most of the response has been from non-players, in fact.
"The people who have read it so far have been very supportive and very surprised, I think, that they've enjoyed it.
"I've always warned them that it's out-and-out cricket but there's some sex and violence in it and a lot of cricket – what's not to like?
"There's a wealth of literature about cricket from some very fine writers but, as far as I know, no former or present first-class cricketer has written a fiction about professional cricket.
"Steve James, the former Glamorgan and England player, said in one of his recent pieces that every sports writer, deep down, wants to write a novel and my question is 'why don't they?'
"There is a possibility that if someone does break out and do it they won't be universally popular.
"A fiction will take you to places where television cameras and probing reporters can't go, for either legal reasons or reasons of taste.
"Fiction has always put another layer on it. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth."
So how much truth is there behind the characters and events that Gibbs has brought to "Settling the Score"? The fact that it is set in an era that was the writer's own is surely no coincidence.
"I wanted to write with an insider's knowledge, so naturally I wanted to write about the era in which I played," he said. "I also think – and this is a bit of a cliché – that the sixties was an unusual period and the cricket was as affected by what was going on in society as anything else.
"When the sixties started, we were still playing Gentlemen v Players matches and they ended with us entering the era of short-form Sunday League cricket. It was an interesting period of transition and cricket became a very different game.
"I don't think people will say 'well it's not about my life today, so I'm not interested'. Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who read the book, said it was very apposite of what happens today. A lot of it follows through."
Irresistibly, the reader will put the faces of real former cricketers to so many of the apparently fictional characters in the book and, in a way, they would probably be on the right lines.
"They are composite characters," added Gibbs. "There's one in there who's an aging fast bowler and that would be probably three fast bowlers I knew sort of conflated into one – Cliff Gladwin, Les Jackson and Fred Trueman.
"If the question is did I know KC, did I base him on anybody, the answer is probably not but there are elements I brought to him.
"I started out with 'what's the worst thing that could happen within a dressing room and how would it affect the chemistry and the dynamic of the group?'
"Did all these things happen? They almost certainly have happened somewhere but not necessarily all at the same time in the same place.
"I had to draw all those things inside what is apparently a mundane midweek Midlands game that turns into something much more exciting and dramatic.
"I'm bringing the dramatist's eye to what is the work-a-day world of professional sport and trying to shape that into a story.
"That's what a fiction writer does. He shapes something approximating real life into a story.
"It would spoil it to say that nothing in this book happened because quite clearly some parts of it do happen.
"The cricket team is like a family. It's a squabbling bunch of friends and rivals, rather like a travelling circus or, more particularly, like a travelling repertory theatre where you've got some stars and some not so much stars, some old, some young and they all bring their characters to the story."
"Settling the Score" is published by Methuen in paperback and is priced £7.99.