The wait is over for this month as we published Bali Rai’s Game On, the long-awaited sequel to Dream On. Baljit’s days of working in his dad’s chippy are almost over, he’s got a “super-cute” girlfriend and now Liverpool FC are after him for their youth squad. But local thugs and match-day drama soon get in the way. We caught up with award-winning author Bali Rai to quiz him about footie, advice for writers and bringing characters to life.
Q: Game On takes up Baljit’s story right where Dream On leaves off. It’s many years since Dream On was published – was it hard to revisit Baljit and his family after all that time?
It’s actually over 10 years since Dream On was published; so going back was a little bit weird. Once I’d re-read it, however, the voices came back really easily. I’ve always loved the first book, and having the chance to write a sequel was awesome; I had to get back into Baljit’s head, and that was fun. It does help that the book is set in an environment I know ”“ the setting is my home city of Leicester. I actually think the sequel was always in the back of my mind, so it came very quickly once I started to write.
Q: When you write about Baljit and his family, you use a brilliant mix of Leicester words and Punjabi-influenced language. This gives the books such a warm, real tone. Is this hard for you to write, or very natural?
I find the language and dialogue very easy because I’m writing about people I know. Every character is based on someone real, and Baljit’s teenage voice is exactly the same as mine was at that age. I have never had an issue writing the voices of real, everyday people in city settings ”“ that’s where I come from. It’s incredibly fun to do, too.
Q: Do you play football or did you when you were younger?
I played football everyday between about six-years-old and 18. Some days I’d even play twice! Football is one of my big loves in life, and I always dreamt of becoming a professional player. But I never got the chance that Baljit gets in Dream On, and I don’t think I was ever good enough for that level. I can play really well, but to be a pro you need to be on another level entirely. I was happy in the park, with my mates, using jumpers for goal posts! Nowadays, I don’t play anywhere near as much. I was playing twice a week until a couple of years ago, but then I hurt my back. I’m hopeful that I will be playing again this summer ”“ and I can’t wait!
Q: Baljit is a massive Liverpool Football Club fan. Are you a fan too?
Oh yes! I’m a HUGE fan of Liverpool FC, and have been since I was five-years-old. My dad got me into Liverpool FC because he loved a player called Kevin Keegan. And when Keegan left in 1977, my first football hero, Kenny Dalglish joined. Then, when I was about 13, John Barnes signed for Liverpool FC, and he was my other football hero. It was a golden age for the club, and I have fond memories of cup finals and league wins.
Now, as an adult, I get to attend matches at Anfield quite regularly. Or I did until my little girl, Maisie, was born. For the past two years I’ve not gone to games, so that I can spend more time with her. But I’ll be going back very soon, and may even take her with me! Both my daughters (the eldest, Simran, is nearly 15) are Liverpool FC fans. They have no choice in the matter!
Q: Our favourite part of Game On involves a Manchester United supporters’ bus pulling up outside the Liverpool FC ground. Would you go on that bus?
Only if I was late for a trial! I don’t think I’d be very popular on a Man United coach! It’s one of my favourite parts too ”“ I thought it would be funny. You know, what would be the silliest way for Baljit to get to his trial? For a diehard Liverpool FC fan NOTHING would be more bizarre than that!
Q: Any top tips for aspiring writers?
Yes, there are two hugely important ones. The first is to read as much as you can ”“ constantly. The more you read, the better you’ll get as a writer. You simply cannot be a good writer if you don’t read. Second, and this will sound odd, but you have to write. I mean actually do the writing. Too many people sit and talk about writing, and about their ideas, yet fail to get the words down. It’s a bit like kicking a football. If you want to be good at soccer, you need to kick the ball again and again, as often as you can. Kick it a million times, and you will be good. Sit and stare at it, and well, you get the point. Practice and practice your writing, and when you’ve had enough, practice some more.
Q: What are your top three football moments ever? In reverse order”¦
3. The FA Cup Final of 1989: When Everton and Liverpool played, just weeks after the tragic events of Hillsborough. Wembley became Liverpool, the city, that day, and the game was very, very special. I watched it in Leicester, but the goose bumps were there for the entire game. We won, but that was the last thing that mattered. It was just amazing. The perfect tribute to the 96 people who died watching the team they loved, and whose memory was being destroyed by vicious lies in the media and from the government of the time. Now everyone knows the truth, but back then it felt like Liverpool FC fans and the city of Liverpool were fighting the whole world.
2. The 1982 World Cup: This was the first World Cup I really remember vividly. I recall 1978 too, but it isn’t imprinted on my memory like ’82. There were so many great players and teams. I actually supported Scotland because they had Kenny Dalglish playing, as well as some other Liverpool FC players, but despite a great goal against Brazil, they were knocked out early! France was awesome, as was West Germany and Italy (who won) but the Brazil team were astonishing ”“ such cool names too ”“ Socrates, Falcao & Zico. And the goal that Marco Tardelli scored for Italy in the final against West Germany has never left me. It wasn’t even the goal itself, it was the celebration. There was a moment after he scored, when he didn’t really react, but then he realised what he’d done and went crazy.
1. The Champions League Final 2005 in Istanbul: I know I’m biased but this was the best European Final ever. Liverpool FC were massive underdogs, and AC Milan were THE best team in Europe at the time, so when we went 3-0 down in the first half, it was over. But somehow, the Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez managed to lift the players, and in just six second-half minutes, we drew level. The game went to extra-time and the Liverpool FC keeper made an unbelievable last-ditch save. And we won on penalties ”“ making it Liverpool FC’s fifth European Cup. It was a game with everything. A special, special final that will never be matched or forgotten.
Many thanks to Bali Rai for letting us interview him about his new book. You can read the first chapter of Game On and buy it here.