Paperback Writer

Step aside Jackie Collins, hold your horses Dick Francis, there’s a new summer sizzler heading for the bestseller lists and it’s about Rugby League!

Words: Matthew Shaw

RUGBY League is blessed to have a wide variety of reading material. From the weekly offerings of League Express to the thriving Rugby Blood comic series to the many excellent autobiographies and everything in between. Now there’s a book that is set to further diversify the library dedicated to the sport. Let us introduce you to Tough Season, a fictional novel that rolls Rugby League, sex, politics and scandal all into one.

“I’d always wanted to write a novel,” explains author Chris Berry, a lifelong supporter of the sport after being brought up in East Hull. “I read a lot of Dick Francis. He used to do a lot of horse racing. I loved horse racing, but what I liked about his work was he used it as a backcloth to the bigger story, so it was just the set for the rest of his plot which was based upon a thriller. “When I started with Tough Season, it wasn’t going to be a thriller. When I started writing it, I had young sons and I could read it to them. “But I got talking to this woman I’d spoken to for another magazine and she’d done romantic fiction. She asked if there was any sex in it, I said no, and she said sex sells. “It inspired me to turn things around. We all know rugby fellas and all sportspeople have lives outside the sport and that gets in the way of how they play at times.

“So I thought I’d make this guy, Greg Duggan. He’s 26-years-old, granite jawed and plays loose forward. He’s got good ball-handling skills but maybe his hands are used well in other ways.” But the bones of that conversation expanded the plot far more than just what happens between the sheets. Berry has brought together a story that sees a small Pennine club called Hopton Town embroiled in off-field politics and scandal. Its main antagonist plays a crucial role not only in the quest for on-field survival – the governing body has implemented relegation from League 1 to the amateur ranks, yes, another league restructure I hear you say! – but also in its fight for existence due to scheming people away from the field. So, nothing too dissimilar to the real thing, if we’re honest.

“It’s a struggling Rugby League club,” Berry explains. “There’s a restrictive caveat on the stadium,” Berry explains. The land where the games are played was offered to the club by a family, but the caveat is that it belongs to them while pro sport is played there. But here they are in a relegation battle. If they lose their professional status, the land reverts back to the family.”

This isn’t Berry’s first involvement in Rugby League writing. He moved to Leeds in the 90s while working for the Yorkshire Post and edited the Leeds matchday magazine at the time, back when Dean Bell was head coach. “I was a born and bred East Hull lad,” Berry, a lifelong Hull KR fan, said. “We had one of the best teams along with FC and Widnes in the 80s when Roger Millward was still playing. I went to all the West Riding grounds when I moved to Leeds; Thrum Hall, Fartown, Crown Flatt, Mount Pleasant.

“I love Rugby League and I knew by writing a book around it I wouldn’t be on to a million seller. “But it’s an area I felt comfortable with, I know the people on the terraces and in the boardrooms. “My kids played junior rugby, my younger brother, Dave, has been a coach at several Rugby League teams. He coached down in Telford. One of his sons has been playing for Underbank in the National League. “So it’s a sport I feel connected with. The book is for people who like fiction novels and people who like Rugby League.”

The response has been encouraging so far. Tough Season has regularly been at the top of the rugby best sellers list and has stayed in and around the top spot since its release at the end of June 2019. “It’s hitting pretty well for people at the moment and people are asking for the next one,” Berry revealed. “I have started on it, it will be using another element of Rugby League and the hierarchy, it will be Tough Season in the Sun. Greg will still be involved, it will be trilogy. The sport is going to all corners of the globe these days, so why can’t Greg!”

First published: Rugby League World (Issue 461|September 2019)