On writing ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ | Rachel Trezise

I’m not entirely sure when I became interested in boxing. If it happened because of Rocky IV or because stories about boxing and boxers are inevitable in the Rhondda Valley, in South Wales, or maybe anywhere that’s predominantly working class. But since a fairly early age boxing and boxing stories were there in the way that oxygen was. A lot of people, when you ask them why boxing stories are so well loved, will say that the struggle to win a boxing match is like the struggle to live a life. But later I cottoned onto the similarity between boxing and stories. Rising action, conflict, tension and climax, falling action, resolution. In 2010 after my novel Sixteen Shades of Crazy came out, filmmaker Justin Kerrigan got in touch to say he’d be interested in optioning it for film. He wondered if I’d be willing to work on the script. We met for dinner and talked about boxing. Kerrigan was related somehow to Jim Driscoll. We’d both recently seen the The Fighter and adored it. Instead of working on my novel I asked him if we could write a boxing film. For two or three years, we met twice a week at Cardiff library and tried to shape a contemporary boxing idea that hadn’t already been done, either in literature or film. It’s only when you try to do that you realise how extraordinary scripts like Rocky, The Fighter, Million Dollar Baby are. We met with the Calzaghe’s to talk about writing Joe’s story. The problem was we were both more interested in Enzo’s story. It wouldn’t be a story about boxing after all. It’d be a story about immigration and fatherhood. Then we both got busy with our other commitments and we put the script on the back burner where it remains to this day.

After my first play with National Theatre Wales the then artistic director, John McGrath, asked me if I had any ideas for a second. I told him about a boxing idea I’d had a decade earlier, something I was so scared of I hadn’t even mentioned it to Justin. McGrath told me he wanted me to write it. I said I would and I’m still trying. Meanwhile, filmmaker Vaughan Sivell, began work on a documentary about Joe called Mr Calzaghe. It was when I watched Mr Calzaghe almost a year after its release that I got the idea for my short story. I didn’t know that Joe had been reluctant to fight Bernard Hopkins, that it was Enzo who’d been pulling the strings, that Enzo had studied Hopkins relentlessly. When one of the talking heads in the film, I forget who, said something like, ‘Joe really had to put his trust in his father then because alone he didn’t think he could beat Hopkins,’ I thought, ‘That’s a short story, that is.’ Because if you take Enzo and Joe’s close-knit training relationship out of the equation and add some family history of the magnitude that appears in the finished story, the young boxer has either to be gullible or dangerously self-destructive, hence the line ‘going through life like a scream looking for a mouth.’ As for the composition, I wrote the fight scenes at the end first because I couldn’t wait to get to that part. Watching a boxing match is exciting but reading one can be awful so it seemed like that was the challenge. Then I went back and filled in the history. I don’t think the idea has been executed half as well as it could have been but for the past six years of my life I’ve been working in some way or another on boxing projects and this is the first one I’ve finished. It only took four days to write. Baby steps.

Rachel TreziseRachel Trezise is an a winning novelist, short story writer and playwright. You can read ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ in Issue Five of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased hereCopyright © Rachel Trezise, 2016. Banner image © JK Matthews, 2016. Author Photograph © Brian Carroll @ffotonwales