Snooker: First Night - Jane Holland: Paperback fighter

Clive Everton meets a snooker pioneer turned novelist trying to break the mould

JANE HOLLAND'S first novel, Kissing The Pink, which has just been issued in paperback, is a tale of a single mother's love affair with snooker and her adventures on the women's circuit. Following the success of Playing The Field, the recent series about a women's football team, it has been optioned for television production.

Women's sport is on the up. Its new confidence and assertiveness embraces the continuing drive for parity of prize money with men in tennis; Jane Couch's hard-won right to participate in professional boxing; the rise of women's rugby; and the success of the football World Cup in the United States.

On the face of it, snooker is comparatively enlightened. Women have been allowed to enter the English Amateur Championship since 1970. It could be argued that they have achieved not only equality but preference. Women may play on the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association's world-ranking circuit but men would not be allowed on to the World Ladies Snooker and Billiards Association circuit without surgical alteration.

Nevertheless, there are still pockets of insidious prejudice against women, as Holland found in 1990. She had graduated not from Exeter University, from which she dropped out after a year, but from pub pool to snooker. She was the only woman playing on the Isle of Man. "The men's association wasn't interested so I formed our own association. Soon, we had six competitions a year with some sponsorship," she said.

In 1994, the men decided the women should be part of their association. Holland said: "I was against it but my committee thought it would put their backs up if we refused. We agreed but soon there were hardly any competitions and no sponsorship."

Relationships deteriorated. "There was physical and verbal abuse from young lads and no one ever called them to order. I went to the local paper, said there had been a lot of dirty tricks and when I refused to apologise, I was banned for life for bringing the game into disrepute by the people who were doing the accusing."

Ignoring the Isle of Man Association, she went out on the women's circuit - one weekend a month in a club venue anywhere from Stirling to Stevenage - and wrote The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman, which became the title poem of a collection which was to win her the pounds 4,000 Eric Gregory Award for poets under 30 in 1996. The London Review of Books asked for a snooker diary piece: she was taken up by Curtis Brown, the literary agents, and there was no problem in placing Kissing The Pink, which she wrote in one draft.

Last October she went to Oxford University, as a mature student to read English. She is taking a year out to write her second novel and move permanently to Oxford with her daughters,12 and nine. She was divorced five years ago, having married in the aftermath of the Exeter debacle, which she remembers as "an alcoholic haze. I was reading French and Italian but I decided it was too difficult and I just got lost. I seem to have spent most of my life pitting myself against targets I can't fully manage."

Her fictional alter ego, Zoe, is also a single parent with two young children who chances on snooker and falls in love with it. It seems to have offered an escape both into an interior world, the cocoon of concentration which shuts out the rest of life, and an alternative life beyond the familiar boundaries of small-town domesticity. "If you can't be passionate about something, even if it's only a ball game, what's life worth living for?" Zoe asks.

Holland, whose highest ranking was 26th, believes that "past a certain level, it's not about love of the game". She finds it unsurprising that "many butch women do well in sport. Most women aren't that competitive. To be a winner at top level, women are expected to exhibit what are generally recognised as male traits".

As Zoe puts it: "The game responds to mood as the tide responds to the moon, with astonishing accuracy. I often wonder whether this is the prime difference between male and female snooker players. Men are notoriously such insensitive bastards. Women are far more subject to mood swings: you argue with your best friend, your goldfish dies, you're having your period, the room's too hot, too cold, too noisy, someone laughs at your new outfit etc. It is those women players most capable of controlling their reactions to external stimuli who rise to the top of the game. It should come as no surprise then that some of those players become insensitised over time, almost masculine in their reactions... We've got the game. We've got the ambition. All we require now is the emotional constitution of a steel vault."

Kissing The Pink seems to be setting up a gay affair between Zoe and her idolised ice queen, Sylvie, No 1 among that ilk who "are like automatic gearboxes. They move up and down a gear according to the situation". But Zoe's relationship with Sylvie is mediated by her one-night stand with Sylvie's estranged husband at the World Championship in, of all places, Geneva.

The ensuing on-table collapses of Zoe and Sylvie enact how snooker cannot also be hermetically sealed from real life, its imperatives and its emotions.

And those who block it out almost all the time are a breed apart to which Zoe "could never in a million years `belong'. I'm just not made of the same stuff as them. I'm not talking about talent here. I'm not even talking about performance on the table, or how many ranking points a player has. `Belonging' is something permitted only to an elite group of players, all of whom are similar people, with similar goals, ambitions, ideas about the game. To that world I will always be an outsider."

Holland does not play any more. "I miss it but I'm all or nothing. I was practising eight hours a day. I was totally obsessed by it. Once you're out of the loop, it's not the same."

She did look in on a tournament last season and noted that the scene had stagnated. Stacey Hillyard, who electrified the Bournemouth League with a century break when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl, is now a policewoman. Alison Fisher, by far the best player women's snooker has yet seen, departed three years ago for the women's Nine-Ball Pool circuit in America and in no time was the runaway No 1 with an annual income of more than pounds 100,000.

Hopes that the snooker circuit might be revitalised when the WPBSA took the women's game on board two years ago have not been fulfilled. Some of their finals have been played in the mornings in the main arena before televised finals but without significant impact - at Derby the finalists had to persuade the cleaners to allow them in.

Holland may dedicate her book to "the players" and hope that it "encourages more women into the sport" but for the moment the motivation must be love rather than money. Writing, Holland finds, requires snooker's essential qualities of "self-discipline, perseverance and patience". It does not offer, she agrees, the visceral excitement of a final-black finish and the intense surge of triumph or desolation which lies in wait at its resolution.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Test Analyst

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

Mechanical Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: MECHANICAL D...

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried