The best fiction with sporty characters

Who am I?

I was born in England but have also lived in Germany and Switzerland. I’m not – and never have been – an elite sportsperson, but I'm fascinated by the sporting world and in particular, how young people who are into sports cope with the pressures of growing up and dealing with the successes and failures of sports. I love playing sports and watching it, in particular the Olympics and Paralympics, because of the drama, the tension, the soaring highs of winning, and the miserable lows of losing. The books that I've chosen hooked me in and kept me turning their pages because they’re gripping stories with irresistible (sporty) characters in inspiring settings.

I wrote...

No Number Nine

By F.J. Campbell,

Book cover of No Number Nine

What is my book about?

A novel with a strong female lead character who's flawed but who readers will take to their hearts. A story about grief, family conflicts, and first love, with a dramatic background of sport and the Olympics.

What do you do when your amazing, beautiful, beloved sister dies? Hide in your room for two years. Sleep with a very, very wrong man. Leave home and start a new life, lying to everyone you meet including your kind employer, your curious friends, and the man you love? Pip Mitchell's an expert at making seriously bad decisions. But when her past, present, and future collide at the Sydney Olympic Games, she's going to have to decide whose side she's on – or she'll lose everyone she loves.

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The books I picked & why


By Chris Cleave,

Book cover of Gold

Why did I love this book?

This is a book I found out about when I was researching and writing my own book. It follows the story of three British cyclists, Zoe, Kate, and Jack, as they train for Olympic glory. Cleave writes about the glorious excitement of the sport, the brutal pain of training, and the hard choices these athletes have to make and his characters are unforgettable. 

Gold helped me realise that you can write a book that weaves sport into a story about love, friendship, loyalty, and grief. Gold was a great inspiration to me!

By Chris Cleave,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary third novel from Chris Cleave, author of the internationally bestselling, Costa-shortlisted THE OTHER HAND.

Kate and Zoe are friends but also ardent rivals - athletes at the top of their game, fighting to compete in the world's greatest sporting contest. Each scarred by tragedy, and each with a great deal to lose, they must choose between family and glory and ask themselves: what will I sacrifice?

GOLD captures the extraordinary effort and dedication that go into the pursuit of victory. But this life-affirming novel is about more than sport. It is about human endurance, motherhood and love, and…


By Christos Tsiolkas,

Book cover of Barracuda

Why did I love this book?

This book is set in Scotland and Australia, with the narrator Danny looking back on his time as a schoolboy champion swimmer. Danny wins a scholarship to a private school on a sports scholarship and is bullied mercilessly. He’s not the most likeable character, but he’s obsessed with training and winning and you can’t help but feel for him as his life spirals downwards.

I love this book for its unflinching honesty and flawed main character. The class aspects are interesting too, with a boy from a working-class background feeling out of place in his new upper-class school. 

What fascinated me about Barracuda was reading about how brutal sport can be on young people who train and train and train – and then fail.

By Christos Tsiolkas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Barracuda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the international bestselling and Booker Prize nominated author of The Slap comes a blazingly brilliant new novel.

Longlisted for the 2014 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

You lose everything. In front of everyone. Where do you go from here?

Daniel Kelly, a talented young swimmer, has one chance to escape his working-class upbringing. His astonishing ability in the pool should drive him to fame and fortune, as well as his revenge on the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has…


By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of Beartown

Why did I love this book?

Beartown has so many aspects to it that I love in a book, I’m not sure where to start. Small town, sport, rich versus poor, family tension, first love, secrets, a crime, strong female characters – it’s all there in this book, plus a skilled author with a distinctive strong voice who is constantly asking questions and answering them, and hitting the reader with truth after truth about growing up, about how money controls sport, about the pressure on young people, and about loyalty and sacrifice. 

This novel isn’t exactly feel-good but it has moments of glimmering hope and it’s an amazing experience to read it. I can’t recommend it enough.

By Fredrik Backman,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Beartown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'I utterly believed in the residents of Beartown and felt ripped apart by the events in the book' JOJO MOYES

'I couldn't put it down. Heart-rending and engrossing' 5***** Reader Review

In a large Swedish forest, Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else, it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart.

And each year, more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered…

The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay,

Book cover of The Power of One

Why did I love this book?

This is one of only a few books that I have re-read several times in my life. It’s not a perfect book – it could do with some editing – but it’s a compelling story with a unique character at the heart of it. It’s the story of a young white boy, Peekay, growing up in Apartheid South Africa, who has a special gift. The sport in this book is boxing, but – as in most books about sport – it’s really about other things: coming of age, politics, violence, class, race, nature, magic, love, and friendship. I was so inspired by this book that in my book the main character Pip gave it to someone as a birthday gift, and he loved it too.

By Bryce Courtenay,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Power of One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of one’–can prevail.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

In 1939, as Hitler casts his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, the seeds of apartheid take root in South Africa. There, a boy called Peekay is born. His childhood is marked by humiliation and abandonment, yet he vows to survive and conceives heroic dreams–which are nothing compared…


By Dan Freedman,

Book cover of Unstoppable

Why did I love this book?

I would recommend Unstoppable to children (boys and girls) aged about 10 – 14 years old. Roxy and Kaine are twins – she plays tennis, he plays football, and they have a troubled home life. I remember that being a teenager is difficult enough, with all the confusion, uncertainty, and pressure it brings, but in this book you also throw in elite sport, knife crime, ambitious parents, and sibling rivalry. It’s the kind of book you might give to your son or daughter and you wouldn’t see them again until they’ve finished it. Should be called Unputdownable.

By Dan Freedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unstoppable as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fourteen-year-old twins, Roxy and Kaine, have only one thing in common.
They HATE each other.

Kaine is loud, brash and brilliant at football.
Roxy is heading for tennis superstardom.

When tragedy strikes, their worlds are ripped apart.

Can they come together before it's too late?

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in athletes, South Africa, and homophobia?

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Athletes Explore 14 books about athletes
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Homophobia Explore 26 books about homophobia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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