If you follow me on Twitter or have come across any of my interviews/ wish lists online, you will know that I’m a huge fan of sports-themed fiction, and always encourage writers to submit their sports manuscripts to me.
My entire life has been shaped by sports in one way or another. As a child/ teenager, I tried as many sports as I could: field hockey, tennis, badminton, squash, dance, horse-riding, windsurfing… obviously, some of these lasted longer than others. While windsurfing only lasted a few attempts, during which I realised that my talent was… cough… limited, and squash was just a short stint at boarding school, I’m still playing field hockey today (20+ years later). I’m also a passionate golfer these days. But I’ve always been just as happy to watch sports – whether it’s football (I mean soccer), horse racing, tennis, handball, rugby… I just love it all.
Are you asking yourself what any of this has to do with books yet? Well, when you choose books to read, you tend to go for books that cover your interests. Right?
When I was younger, the only sports-themed novels that seemed to be available for sports-obsessed girls like me where about horse-riding (I was a big fan of The Saddle Club) and dance/ ballet – the (stereo)typical girls’ sports so to speak. There was the occasional football (still talking about soccer) book for boys… and that was pretty much it. (Please bear in mind that I grew up in Germany… so if you remember all these amazing sports novels about girls… lucky you. We didn’t have them.) Children’s literature over here was pretty much dominated by Enid Blyton and Astrid Lindgren. Which was great, don’t get me wrong. At the time, I didn’t really think about it much. Sure, I would have loved to find a YA series featuring field hockey, but it’s not like I had sleepless nights over it. And goodness knows, I’m making up for it now (not with field hockey books though. Where are those?). These days, there are so many amazing books about sporty girls out there, and I absolutely love it. What I love even more is the diversity of the sports featured. The Pretty Tough series, the Dairy Queen series, and Miranda Kenneally’s Hundred Oaks series are great examples of books where girls break into so-called “boys’ sports” and show them how it’s done. ;) I think they show girls that you don’t have to perpetuate the stereotype and only play sports that are considered “girly”. That you can cut your own way, follow your dreams, and make it happen. They also show that girls can be just as tough, ambitious, hard-working, and talented as boys if they put their mind to it. Something I think is important to tell girls who still live in a world where they keep hearing that they should smile, look pretty, and be cute. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a girly girl. I only ever wear skirts and dresses, I love nail polish and pretty things. I like romance and cute boys… that doesn’t mean that I can’t play sports where I get dirty. Yes, dancing is fun and I enjoyed horse-riding when I was younger… but the reason why hockey has always been my no. 1 sport? Because – being part of a team aside – it takes me to my personal limit. Sweat dripping into your eyes, that knowledge that your team needs you to go the extra mile even though you’re close to throwing up. Every broken toe, bruise, or pulled muscle a battle wound. That feeling when it’s raining so hard that you can barely see through the raindrops on your eyelashes, the hockey stick slipping in your hands, the astroturf so slippery you just slide over it. I don’t know if that’s “girly”, or “cute” (well, I guess the short skirts are), but who cares? It’s about doing something you love, and not somebody telling you that you can’t or shouldn’t because you’re girl (or a boy for that matter. What’s wrong with a boy wanting to dance or ride horses? Nothing. That’s what!). It’s about proving that you can be just as passionate, good, or tough.
Sports teach you so much about life. It teaches you about winning and losing, about making the right decisions for you and your team, how to be a team player, about fair play, (unhealthy) ambition and motivation, and how to deal with set backs, injuries, and failure. Sports shape us as a person; sometimes good, sometimes bad. And that is what makes sports such a good framework for book, no matter the age group. Authors have the possibility to create characters that are role models, characters that show readers what is possible, and that it’s okay to go after what you want. I so often find myself (or my teenage self) in sports-themed novels: the team spirit, the friendship but also rivalry between team members, the fight for the starting position on the team, the cute boy in the boys’ team, the fear of failing, losing, and not being good enough, the feeling that your coach doesn’t like you, the dream of winning a competition or championship, the frustration at yourself and others when you don’t reach your goal, the pain of getting injured and watching the others play the game you should be playing, the time that needs to put into the game and therefore missing out on parties or trips to the cinema your other friends invite you to. Where there’s sports, there’s (potential) conflict – that’s what fascinates us players, viewers, supporters, readers.
I know my life wouldn’t be the same without sports in it, and I really hope that supporting sports-themed novels with kick-ass (am I allowed to say kick-ass on here?) heroines will encourage girls to fall in love with sports (whether active or passive) and maybe even try sports they never thought they could play. Life is too short to have people tell you that girls should only enjoy tea parties and play with dolls. Seriously.
Julia is a cardigan-wearing literary agent with a — sometimes unhealthy — love for books, sports, coffee, cake, romance, and eye candy. She's a right-handed left-handed, hates the sound a pencil makes on paper, always (ALWAYS) has random numbers flying around her head, and her favourite pizza topping is a combo of pineapple and black olives… just in case you were wondering. While based in Germany, Julia's open to international submissions, and is looking for MG, YA, NA, Women's Fiction, Romance, and Thrillers. Julia is always on the look-out for new clients, but also extremely picky, so make sure your query and manuscript are the best they can be before querying.
Where to find Julia: Website, Twitter
Where to find Julia: Website, Twitter