The former Wales back could soon be known more for crafting stories than kicking goals
James Hook turns children’s author
James Hook chuckles as he talks of kicking practice with his eldest son, Harrison. The ten-year-old loves his rugby, playing fly-half for Mumbles, and works on his technique with his dad, who has a fair bit of experience.
Harrison likes to challenge himself from long range, as Hook senior explains. “He’s always trying to kick from halfway before he’s done it from the 22,” laughs the former Wales back.
It’s Harrison who has provided the inspiration for the 35-year-old’s latest challenge. During Hook’s time at Gloucester, he went to an after-school book fair with Harrison, who was eager to find a rugby tale. They came up short, as they did when looking online. There were plenty of factual or historical rugby books but they couldn’t find a children’s fiction tale related to the sport.
That was Hook’s lightbulb moment: why didn’t he write one? After all, it seemed there was a hole in the market.
He put the wheels in motion when he returned to the Ospreys, contacting Mal Pope, of the BBC, to see if he knew any children’s authors and being put in touch with David Brayley. “I told him what I was thinking – to put bits from my life and my career into a fiction book,” says Hook.
The idea was a winner and Polaris came on board as publishers. So how did Hook and Brayley go about writing it? “We met up loads of times – at my house, in coffee shops. I told him about my rugby experiences when I was younger and my career. We wrote lots of ideas down. It was good fun but a lot of work as well.
“It’s a fictional book from personal experience, told through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy called Jimmy. There was a lot of back and forth initially. At the start I thought I might offend him, but I could say if I didn’t like something and he would do the same. I’m not an author so I couldn’t do it without him and he couldn’t do it without me.”
The original idea of one book has become a series entitled Chasing A Rugby Dream, aimed at children coming to the end of their primary school days or in the early years of secondary school.
The release of the first book, Kick-off, was delayed due to Covid but is out on 1 October (you can pre-order on Amazon), with more to come. The stories will follow Jimmy as he grows up, with Hook also taking insights from coaching Harrison’s team. There will even be some subtle coaching tips.
“The book starts off in the schoolyard when Jimmy makes an enemy of a teacher who is also the rugby coach. He’s got talent but the teacher gets in the way a bit.
“In another part of the book, Jimmy struggles with his tackling and gets frustrated; he wants to tackle but can’t. He then meets a character who gives him tackling advice. It’s not listed as coaching points but it comes through in the book.”
Hook ran parts of the story past Harrison but the youngster wanted to wait until he could read a finished book rather than look at pieces of paper. The whole process is one that Hook has enjoyed.
“I want it to go well but I’m not pressured by it. I’ve really enjoyed doing it. I’m aware from my kids that they’re always encouraging boys in particular to read and if we can get them reading through rugby it’s a positive. I think we can get that message across through rugby to young kids, particularly in Wales and all over the UK. These are books for all kids who love rugby and it’s to try to encourage boys and girls to read.”
There are more books to write but an autobiography won’t be among them. For all he’s achieved – Six Nations Grand Slams in 2008 and 2012, Celtic League triumphs with the Ospreys, a European Challenge Cup with Gloucester, touring with the 2009 Lions – Hook has little desire to tell his story.
“I’ve never fancied doing one. I think to sell autobiographies you have to upset some people!”
Hook always planned to retire at the end of the 2019-20 season after a decade and a half in the professional game and a career that has included spells in England and France as well as Wales. While he was denied the chance of a farewell due to the pandemic, he has also taken on a new role with the Ospreys as skills and kicking coach.
Looking forward, he talks of the desire to spend more time with his family – wife Kim and sons Harrison, Ollie and George – as well as “pass on some knowledge” as a coach. It sounds like Harrison will have more opportunities to work on his long-range kicking going forward.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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