I'd initially only planned three books in my Three World Series: The Dawn Herald, The Shield-Bearer, and The Arc Of The Sky. However, whilst staring in horror at England destroying its No1 status during the recent Test Series, a new book came to mind. Literally. It arrived with all the unstoppability of a runaway freight train (and other such appalling analogies) just as we finished on 72. Now, 22,000 words later, it's looking fair to be a riproaring yarn, featuring all our old favourites: the source of all ancient evil (naturally) in the form of the Old Ones, Isolde (temporarily without her broadsword), the Witch-Queen of Ira Doon, the Reverend Mother of Caravel, assorted warriors, talking Squirrels, Dryads, star sailors, eight-legged Daughters of the Dawn - not to mention islands popping in and out of the ether as they are piloted through many dimensions. But would I even have had such inspiration if it hadn't been for cricket? Is my writing ability contingent upon the noble game? Am I so hopelessly addicted to the sight of Tendulkar's propensity to sky a magnificent six over long on or Panesar's corkscrewing left arm spin that I can't be creative without it?
Regrettably few people 'get' cricket (almost as few as get me, but then I push the eccentric envelope through the sorting room wall). You start talking enthusiastically about a perfect reverse sweep - my favourite shot, elegant and almost orchestral: I call it 'The Conductor'- or a cover drive straight down the ground and watch their eyes glaze. You share an anecdote about how the chap at silly mid-off or backward point lost half his face when a tail-ender batsman, who wields their bat like a lawnmover, smacked them one, and get the response: 'I don't care'. It's Test season, you're watching the news, and whilst you're eagerly awaiting news of how our Brave Boys have been faring, you have to endure piece after piece about football - how much someone was sold for, or how someone didn't shake someone else's hand and caused WWIII. You try to share your chagrin over Pietersen's decision to cut the ball at a spinner and lose his wicket, and they shake their heads politely and say 'who'? (This about the best looking man in cricket, whose recent lamentable performance is mitigated by the perfection of his jaw.) You're unable to discuss bizarre fielding decisions, like not putting in a slip or gully when the best-bowler-worst-batsman Panesar comes to the crease, with ANYONE. Malinga's extraordinary bowling style - like a man flinging himself at a brick wall - means little to many.A wide ball suggests elephantitis, DRS a railway line. Shane Warne's famous because he's engaged to Liz Hurley (and had his teeth bleached so that they are neon-bright, and ran over a cyclist). Speak of a slip and people will try to look up your dress.
Endless T20s, 40-over and ODIs aren't helping matters either. (Not to mention DRS, which has profoundly changed the dynamic and pace of the game, the approach of the bowlers and the importance of the umpires vs a mechanical system.) I'm a purist; if the chaps aren't out there in their pyjamas for five days, it's Just Not Good Enough. Now it's frenetic, populated by big hitters who bang fours through the covers and invariably get caught out LBW because they're simply trying to score as many runs as possible in the shortest space of time. Shorter matches may be getting more people into the game, but try to explain to them the sheer artistry of a Test, the gentle pace of the gentle game, and you'll be met with a chorus of 'bor-ing'.
I, on the other hand, live for Tests. I get up at half-five (and I am NOT a morning person) if a match is being played in Dubai. Some of my happiest afternoons are spent en-sofa'd, with the neighbour's-cat-who-looks-like-Hitler curled up next to me, writing in between deliveries. In short, I'm utterly obsessed. And if it helps me to write books, so much the better.