Today I am so pleased to welcome David Kerby-Kendall to Joyfully Jay. David has come to talk to us about his latest release, The Rainbow Player. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
We hold our footballers in almost iconic status. In a way it’s understandable. Anyone who walks out in front of 50,000 fans every week and whose heroic running form appears on the back pages of all the newspapers is probably going to be held aloft as some superhero, eight feet tall and bathed in golden sunlight.
One of the reasons I wrote The Rainbow Player was to get at the human being behind the modern Greek god. I wanted our hero to be fallible, to have suffered in life, to be a lovely, warm, huggable person, prone to social faux pas and, even in his late twenties, still guided by his grandparents. This way, the reader can get to know Sammy, to laugh and cry and share his life with him and, consequently, to be able to empathise with him when his innate honesty is challenged by the fact that it is still such a massive taboo to be a gay footballer. How will the media react, his fellow players, the minority of fans who are homophobic thugs? How can you run out every week in front of 40,000 people taunting you? Will it end his career?
The book also parallels the fact that there are no openly gay men on Sammy’s estate. The same macho act prevails because people are terrified of standing out. Of course these same people are the first to sit in the shadows of anonymity and criticize anyone brave enough to be different. And this is amplified even more with social media; this mentality of finding fault with others rather than doing something positive and improving themselves.
The other reason for writing it was to increase awareness of the issue of homophobia in football; to, hopefully, create a debate where the 90% of us fair-minded people can be, for once, louder than the 5% of mindless morons at the extremes of the spectrum, creating an environment where gay players feel able to be open about their sexuality.
And, as I didn’t want to put off the non-sports-loving reader, the novel is also very much a coming-of-age story that deals with every aspect of Sammy’s life.
The book begins with Sammy at the age of 31 about to make the biggest decision of his life. We are then transported back to Sammy at the age of 15 (because 15 year-olds don’t analyse things to the point of a seizure, they just listen to their hearts) and we re-live his life with him; from his unsuccessful attempt to lose his virginity to Katie Turnpike at a bus-stop (‘Total disaster, bus came before I did’) to Sammy breaking the mould of his youthful peers by his love of books. And it is through this that he meets the two most important people in his life; Davey, his soulmate, and Old Thomas, the bookseller, who becomes a guiding light for him as his relationship with his father continues to erode. We meet Sammy’s new, more intellectual, friends at college; friends who aren’t afraid to hug and whose outlook on life broadens his own, and Gran and Gramps; Gran, a modern Mrs Malaprop and connoisseur of footballer’s bottoms, who bakes a gargantuan cake for his team every week and thinks nothing of pulling Sammy’s pants down, even when he’s 30, and administering TCP to his bruises (‘Trendy pants, our Sammy. Look, Herbert, Kevin Kleins’). And, of course, we follow his football career, from junior level to a place on football’s Hall of Fame.
Apart from one successful love affair (with Julie, an Australian lawyer), Sammy’s relationships with his few girlfriends are overwhelmingly overshadowed by his love for the people close to him, and it is when he has truly found himself that he realises love has no labels, and he finally falls in love with a man.
Speaking of ‘labels’, I wanted the book to show that we don’t need them. All they do is reinforce differences and become an excuse for violence and deliberate misunderstanding.
I loved writing The Rainbow Player. To let the imagination run free, become a seven year-old and forget the ludicrous boundaries that us adults inflict on ourselves, gives your mind carte blanche to go wherever you want it to (or wherever it goes on its own). But, to create a world that could, in some small way, help eradicate the stigma of being a gay footballer and to help players to be able to be open about their sexuality, would be an achievement of which I would be hugely proud.
England footballer, Sammy Hatchington, has never considered sexuality before. As a teenager, Sammy broke the mould of his youthful peers with his desire to open the door to life’s endless possibilities. He escaped a deprived estate and, with the help of Old Thomas, his surrogate father, Davey, his soul-mate, and Gran, the connoisseur of footballer’s bottoms, launched himself on a path toward his personal and professional goals. Now, several years later, he must make a decision that could destroy everything he has fought for, and create a furious media frenzy………
David Kerby-Kendall’s joyous and witty novel challenges preconceptions about professional sportsmen and love, and is also a delightful and moving story of a young man’s journey to self-knowledge.
Originally from Leicester, David Kerby-Kendall now lives in Muswell Hill, North London. He is an actor who began writing in 2007. From the success of his first play, Save Your Kisses For Me, he became the in-house writer for Heartbreak Productions, writing and adapting plays for national tours, including three David Walliam’s novels (Mr Stink, Ratburger and Billionaire Boy) as well as several other novels: Pride And Prejudice, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan and Dracula. His second play, The Moon Is Halfway To Heaven, was produced at Jermyn Street Theatre, London. He has two new plays in the pipeline: 20:40 which deals with depression and Gay Pride And No Prejudice, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s famous novel.