Peter Flatman has done something here that enthusiasts for sport, of any kind, long to know about. He has written a memoir from a viewpoint so rarely experienced: that angle on life embedded in the actual tough and rough experience of the hard discipline involved in determination and survival.
The survival was, in Peter’s case, his world as a runner. We know about the ‘loneliness’ of the long-distance runner from Alan Sillitoe’s writing, but that was fiction, stretched into a wonderful imaginative dimension which somehow opened up a mindset and a character. Peter Flatman may have the same result here, but his approach rather demonstrates the poet Idris Davies’ attitude to writing: ‘don’t ask me for style – I don’t sell it.’ That is, in this book, the sinews of the muscles under pressure to win in athletics magically transmute into words, as the writer takes the reader into the milieu of competition, timing, distances, training regimes, the stresses and strains of keeping normal life only just normal, and so much else.
I witnessed the genesis of the book, as a tutor but also as a general reader, one who relishes a good, honest memoir; I saw the book work outwards from a draft with plenty of potential to a full-length, detailed account of an area of life that few of us know.
The resulting narrative was a triumph; we read of a noble enterprise as the athlete faces trial after trial; we increasingly back him and will him to succeed, and when he falls short of his own aims and objectives, we feel the despair.
But in the end, as a writer myself who treasures the authentic life-writing we seem to long for today, I see here a valuable addition to the genre coming into print, and I congratulate Peter on seeing the project through.
I know that the reader will find a great deal to enjoy here, and his or her mind will open up to face a chronicle of a will to win. That has to be a moral lesson for all of us.