No guts, no grace, no glory: An interview with author Chris Cleave

Chris Cleave will read from “Gold” in New York, Monday, July 9, at 7 p.m. 
at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble. He will be at Cooldge Corner Theater in Boston on Wednesday, July 11 at 6 p.m. and at the Free Library of Philadelphia on July 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Chris Cleave pits woman against woman, but not in the petty way that sells tabloids or spikes reality TV ratings. In his novel “Gold,” two venerable Olympic track cyclists vie for one spot to compete on the international stage. Outside of the velodrome, they race to survive. While Kate saddles up to the trials of motherhood — sacrificing fame to keep her leukemic daughter’s white blood cell count in check — Zoe pedals to beat her traumatic past.

In spite of their differences — and a harrowing shared secret — these rivals bring out the best out in each other. “There’s no way that [athletes] could be as good individually if there wasn’t someone else always hard at their heels,” Cleave argues. “And when they retire from sport, their greatest rival could easily become their best friend, because they know each other better than anyone else.”

From start to photo finish, “Gold” pulses with intensity and heart. We spoke to Cleave about feeling the force.

You, too, are a cyclist. Does writing to you feel the way racing does to your protagonists?

Before “Gold,” I’d been an averagely fit recreational cyclist and while I was researching it, I trained really hard. I wanted to know in my body what it felt like to win, to lose and to race without holding anything back. And I’m not a high-level competitor now, but I’m really keen. There’s a huge parallel between being a writer and a cyclist. A novel is a long-distance endurance game, and you have to have the same kind of tenacity to do it. 

What are your thoughts on the upcoming Olympics?

I’m excited — the greatest show on Earth is coming to my hometown! I wanted to tell the backstory. For example, the final of the 100-meter sprint lasts 10 seconds. But what we’re witnessing [when we watch it] is the last 10 seconds of a four-year battle. I’m interested in the three years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds [prior].

Women — and not just in sport — harbor complicated body image issues. In addition to researching the physical effects of racing, how did you tap into the female psyche?

Female athletes have to do and prove so much more than male athletes. When women are reaching the top of their game in their mid-20s to early 30s, society is also asking: are you going to settle down and have children? They have to make more sacrifices. And society wants female athletes to be really attractive in a way that it doesn’t demand of male athletes. There’s a double standard. 

That’s why I got interested in researching and interviewing female athletes. I broadly categorized the people I met into two types: one that is single-minded and didn’t have much of a life outside of the sport and another who has a strong personal life as a foundation for their sporting achievements. It was interesting how each coped with having to perform. The people who impressed me most saw rivalry as just another kind of friendship.

How do you tackle grave subjects like pediatric cancer without getting too caught up emotionally or sentimental?

In “Gold,” I’m asking which is more important: our ambitions or our love? I went through highs and lows while writing, trying to answer that question. That’s why I’m a writer — to experience the emotions I’m writing about and to come out on the other side changed by them. Being close to your own emotional life is difficult and quite brave. There is a tendency in modern life to be cynical. Life isn’t just a joke; for most people it’s an epic struggle. I like to acknowledge the emotive reality of that.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

Television

'Full House' might be relaunched with some of…

A new "Full House" might be in the works.

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…

Home

Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.