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Angie Abdou on embracing her 'inner dumb jock'

I hear people talk about embracing their inner book geek, but there's nothing inner about my book geek. I've long made a full-time living out of loving books and encouraging others to do the same. What I've had to work at embracing is my inner jock.


Angie Abdou swimming

Angie Abdou shows off her athletic side in the pool


When writing The Bone Cage, I ferociously resisted the label "sport lit." I swore I could hear a just. As in — "Oh, so it's just sport lit." Why, I wondered, did my novel have to be pushed aside into this sport-lit ghetto simply because its characters were athletes? People can write about housewives, construction workers, tightrope walkers and talking cats — all of this is capital L Literature. But if I write about Olympians, my novel is instantly reduced to "sport lit"? I didn't like it, and I kept insisting that The Bone Cage was literary fiction where the main characters happened to be athletes.

However, shortly after the novel's publication, I realized the sport-lit label was working for me. The Bone Cage made top 10 sport-literature lists by both the CBC Book Club and the University of British Columbia's Canadian Literature journal. It was being taught in sport lit classes across the continent. It tended to get a renewed burst of media energy with each major sporting event.

Plus, I realized several of my favourite novels could also be classified as sport lit: Paul Quarrington's King Leary (hockey), Bill Gaston's The Good Body (hockey), W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe (baseball), Samantha Warwick's Sage Island (marathon ocean swimming) and Nicola Keegan's Swimming (Olympic swimming). "Hey," thought I, "I'll take the sport lit label: I'm keeping pretty good company here!"

The sport-lit label is also fitting in that the physical is an important part of my writing process. Ideas don't come to me when I'm sitting at my blank computer screen, mind whirring. To write a book, I do need to embrace my inner dumb jock — I need to step away from my intellectual self and go for a run or a swim or a hike or a ski. That's when the characters spark into life and the story arrives. It's still a mysterious process to me — too mysterious to attempt an explanation here — but it involves a fine balance between mind, body and spirit. Writing, for me, requires the body in motion.

I think the tendency to set sport fiction aside in a category of its own has to do with our culture's insistence on the mind/body dichotomy, as if something so of the body couldn't possibly have something useful to say to the mind. Any of my favourite books listed above proves this theory wrong.

So does Georges Laraque. You don't get much more "of the body" than Mr. BGL, yet you only have to spend five minutes conversing with him (about the environment, about animal rights, about politics, about literature) to realize he's got a lot going on upstairs too. Yet, people on forums continue to make ignorant and predictable comments based on stereotype: "I didn't know he could read!" or "I thought his specialty was punching people in the head not reading books!" In reality, Georges Laraque is the perfect yogi — a fine balance of mind, body and spirit. I can't wait until the February Canada Reads debates when he shows the whole country that he's a lot more than just muscle — and so too is The Bone Cage.

Did you miss Angie on The Next Chapter? Listen to her conversation with Shelagh Rogers here.

Join us for a live chat with Angie on Thursday, January 20, at 2 p.m. ET.

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