#TuesdayTalk with Heather M. O’Connor, author of Betting Game, a new addition to the Orca Sports series.
Is there a story behind the creation of your story?
Betting Game was inspired by a real-life match-fixing scandal in the Canadian Soccer League, the semi-pro league that the Toronto and Montreal academy teams played in. http://www.worldsoccer.com/blogs/canada-match-fixing-in-the-spotlight-337366 I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why would organized crime pick a third-division Canadian league? No one really goes to the games. They aren’t broadcast on TV. The scores aren’t even in the sports section. Exactly, said my OPP source. If no one’s watching, no one gets caught. And young or semi-pro athletes are vulnerable–they don’t make millions, like Rooney and Messi do. Unfortunately, match-fixing happens everywhere. A 2012 study identified 680 “suspicious” games in 50 countries since 2009. (Of course, after the FIFA corruption scandal broke this summer, it’s a lot more believable.) Young athletes need to be aware that guys like Luka are out there, fishing for players like them.
Do you have any unique hobbies or pastimes?
I play soccer and ultimate. My oldest daughter plays on the same team.
What are the challenges or perks of writing for your target audience?
It was fun writing about a sport I play. But I don’t play very well, and it’s been a long time since I was a teenager! So I used my kids and husband as a “reality-meter.” My time as a substitute teacher taught me a lot, too. Two of my kids offered great insights into the soccer side of things. They both played rep soccer and refereed. The book sometimes reflects their experiences. For example, I modeled the rival team on a club we absolutely hated, and Jack’s coach sounds a lot like my club’s awesome head referee. (He never misses a thing either!)
When you hit writer’s block, how do you push through it?
I don’t usually get writer’s block. As a busy freelance writer, I usually get writer’s not-enough-time. But I do find thinking about my story while walking boosts my creativity.
Was there a research component to your book?
I had to do a surprising amount of research. First, I needed to figure out the gambling aspect because I won’t even bet a quarter on a card game. An OPP officer in charge of organized crime and gambling was a tremendous help. He taught me how online betting works and how easy it is to get in over your head. I found out that guys like Luka don’t look like criminals. They’re polite, clean-cut, well-dressed. And they act like your best friend. At least at first. I also had to research what it’s like to play for a soccer academy. The highlight was touring the beautiful Toronto FC KIA Training Ground, where the pros and the academy players train. I saw the fields, the therapy rooms, the dining rooms, the theatre. I even shook hands with Greg Vanney. The most interesting part was the way the academy dressing rooms get better as players step up in age. The youngest players have no assigned spot–it’s as barren and impersonal as a gym change room. As players advance, their places are reserved with masking-tape labels–still easy-on, easy-off. Eventually they earn a real nameplate and a cubby to stow their kit and shoes between games. I didn’t see the first team dressing room, but I peeked into their dining room. Swanky!
What’s the least glamorous part about being a writer? And the most glamorous?
Writing is pretty much sitting at my computer, with a side order of gazing into space with my mouth hanging open. Not glamorous, but unbelievably awesome all the same. And the writer’s uniform (pyjamas or sweatpants) is the same brand of unglamorous but awesome. Glamorous? That’s someone saying, “Wow! You’re an author!?” Because we don’t walk around in Hollywood shades–people don’t usually recognize us. But I sure feel like a celebrity when people ask me to sign their book, or tell me the parts they like. Once a year, I get a taste of uber-glamour at the TD Book Awards. It’s like the Academy Awards for children’s authors. (Oddly, there’s not a writer’s uniform in sight.)
Is there an important issue or theme in your book?
Other than watching out for slick bookies like Luka? You don’t have to deal with the tough stuff by yourself. Bad things happen when you don’t tell. I know from my own teenage years that it’s tough to admit you’re in trouble. But bad stuff blows up way worse than your parents. And your folks usually find out anyway. If you get in trouble, call on your your team. Tell a friend or sibling. Tell a teacher or coach. Tell your parents. You’ll be surprised how much it shrinks your problem.
Anything else you’d like readers of the Orca blog to know about you or your book?
My writing is really eclectic. Everything from contemporary and historical fiction, to fantasy, sci fi and nonfiction. I love talking with teens about books, writing, soccer, life. All the cool stuff.
Heather M. O’Connor is a freelance writer, editor, author and mother of five (and grandmother of two). She lives in Whitby, Ontario, with her family and her yellow lab, Lady.