|Cover Image by Claire Maclean|
The novel, currently available only in eBook form, has been selling pretty well here in the UK, but I'm about to start spreading the word to readers 'across the pond' as my sailor husband would call it. Especially - of course - to Canadians, although some of my Canadian friends have already bought the eBook and are telling me that they love it. That's a relief. The hero is Canadian, after all.
But how come I found myself writing a novel with a hockey background? Well, it's a little more than that. It's a warm contemporary love story with a charismatic hero, but it's mostly set in a small Scottish village. And as one UK reviewer pointed out, it's a novel about a coup de foudre the lightning strike of love at first sight, the irresistible thunderbolt of intense attraction which changes everything in an instant, however unlikely, and however disastrous the results may be.
It's also a novel about a relationship between an older woman and a younger man - the kind of ten year age gap which, were it to be reversed, wouldn't so much as raise an eyebrow, but which still seems to be a cause for comment in these supposedly enlightened times. And which makes the thunderbolt even more difficult to deal with for all concerned.
But still - there's the hockey. So let me explain how I came to write a novel - my sixth published novel - with this particular background. My love affair with hockey goes back a great many years: to the time when - as a young woman - I spent a couple of years teaching English Conversation to adults in Tampere, Finland. My students mostly worked in the large paper mills of Tampere, which is a long, thin and rather beautiful town, sandwiched between two lakes which freeze solid in the winter. I taught engineers, management, secretarial staff. Sometimes I went out to the factories by bus and sometimes students travelled to the language school which was above a department store in the middle of town. There were a few other people - all ages and stages - doing evening classes for various reasons. When we weren't teaching, we clustered in the cafe downstairs, chatting, drinking coffee and eating rice porridge with milk or piirakka munavoi, the cheap and cheerful Finnish equivalent to scrambled eggs on toast.
Finns are friendly but quite shy and private people. Teaching conversation to people who are naturally quiet was challenging. The majority of my students were young men. And the only thing they really wanted to talk about, even in English, wasn't business. It was ice hockey about which, back then, I knew less than nothing. But I sure learned a lot about hockey over the next two years, from my weekly conversations with Lasse and Jorma and Matti and Heikki with their bright blue eyes and old gold hair. (Especially Jorma!) I was young, footloose and fancy free as were many of my students, and I and my fellow teachers were often invited out to hockey games. Tappara and Ilves were the town's two teams and there was a good deal of rivalry between them. My landlady's cute ten year old son, Esa, played hockey too, and I got used to seeing him clumping about in hockey kit. I got used to tripping over it in the hallway too. I loved it all. I was smitten by the magic of this fast, enchanting and oh so physical game.
Cue forward some years. I'm married with a young son myself - and we're living in Ayrshire in Scotland. For a few blissful years, we get to watch Superleague ice hockey - The Ayr Scottish Eagles - in a brand new arena with one of the biggest and best ice pads in the UK: the Centrum. Ice hockey appeals to young and old, male and female, even in Scotland. Spectators include grannies and babies and all kinds of people in between. The captain of the Eagles offers hockey classes to the kids. Our son learns to skate and then learns to play hockey. For a few short years, I'm a UK hockey mom, helping him to haul kit about - unbelievably heavy, smelly and expensive kit although fortunately much of it can be bought second hand even in Scotland - tugging on long laces, ferrying him to and from hockey summer schools, learning about cross-checking and high-sticking, wrist shots and slap shots.
Time passes. Our son hits sixteen, major exams loom and he's forced to make some tough choices. He wants to go to university, has ambitions to work in the video games industry, and he's in pursuit of a karate black belt too. Hockey has become just too time-consuming for him. And besides, the arena seems to be in trouble. Regretfully, he decides that karate fits in better with his academic work, so he stops playing. All too soon, the Centrum is gone, demolished to make way for a supermarket, taking many thousands of pounds worth of public money with it. And here in the UK, the Superleague has gone too, although the Elite League has now taken its place and our 'local' team plays forty miles away at Braehead, in Glasgow, a difficult journey along our winding rural roads in misty winter. But not impossible. And this year, a few NHL players are drifting our way because 'hockey is hockey' and they'd rather play than not. And we love to watch them, we really do. We've remembered just how much we love hockey and miss it desperately when we don't see it, even though it's a minority sport in Scotland and our newspapers are only ever full of football. And when they call a television programme 'Sportscene' what they actually mean is 'Football, lots of it.'
All of which goes some way towards explaining the unusual background to my new novel, Ice Dancing. It may be a hymn to hockey - it probably is - but just as there's a darker side to the game, there's a darker side to this novel as well. If this is a love story, it's one with a wry and painful twist because visiting Canadian hockey player Joe, who skates like an angel, has his own demons to cope with and Helen, a farmer's wife, living discontentedly in a rural Scottish backwater, finds her life disrupted in unexpected ways by this young incomer. And so, with their two quite different worlds in unlikely collision, Joe and Helen find themselves balancing precariously on ice, dancing between past disappointments and future possibilities, between hope and despair, together and apart.
My literary agent, on first reading Ice Dancing, thought it had echoes of The Bridges of Madison County and I can see what she meant. But this is also a novel about the quiet - and sometimes funny - joys and equally quiet frustrations of Scottish village life. It's a novel about coming to terms with your past, but it's also a story full of hope for the future. I've already been asked if I'm going to write a sequel. I don't usually do sequels, but with this one, I just might. Partly it's because I fell in love with the characters, Helen quite as much as Joe, and want to spend a bit more time in their company. Mostly though, it's because a good friend told me that she thought she knew what might happen next. But she was wrong. And I realize that I know exactly what happens next. So I might have to write it.
Of course that's a story for another day and quite possibly - given that novels are big undertakings - a story for another year.
Ice Dancing is available to download from Amazon's Kindle store
here in the UK and