Author Tom Palmer talks us through, in his own words, how this vital character came to have her own story…
I’ve never had a character like Rocky Race. She’s different.
Two years ago, I was asked to write a 21st century version of the Roy of the Rovers stories by the publisher, Rebellion. They said they wanted me to make the books modern, tell a story for children that wasn’t stuck in the 1960s and 70s.
I was given the characters to work with. Roy. His mum and dad. His little sister, Rocky. Then some team mates. A manager. A coach. My job was to develop these existing characters into modern fiction. I managed to develop most of them: but it felt, very much, that one of them was developing me.
She was meant to be an annoying kid sister for Roy. Someone to puncture his professional footballer ego, to make him seem more human. That was my brief. But – in one of her first scenes – she just took over.
I want to play football, but there’s no team at school. What are you going to do about it? She said that to her brother. But she was saying it to me too. You’re supposed to be a modern story writer, so where is the football about me.
In the books, Roy arranges for his sister to hook up with the local women’s football team. But I knew that wasn’t going to be good enough. I wanted to write about Rocky’s football career, not just send her away.
To their huge credit, Rebellion were up for it.
Not all publishers have been. I wrote a book called Armistice Runner about a female fell runner in 2018 and one publisher said that, if I would change the girl runner into a boy runner, they’d publish it. I said no. They showed me the door. I found another publisher anyway.
We need girls in sports fiction. There is not enough of it because of publishing attitudes like the one above. And, when people like me are writing it, we have to be clear that we’re not writing them for girls. They’re books for boys and girls. We all need to read more fiction with girls doing sport.
When the France 2019 World Cup came round, I suggested to the National Literacy Trust that they publish a free online story where Rocky Race goes to watch England play in France. They said yes. The next week Rocky was on the front page of the Times and on Sky News.
This was big news. But about time.
Next the publisher, Rebellion, agreed to go one further. We needed Rocky books as well as Roy books, they agreed.
So, now, I am contracted to write two Roy of the Rovers books a year: one from Roy’s point of view, the other from Rocky’s point of view. This will go on for the rest of the series.
We just need to deal with the series title now. I’m not sure how. This is what Rocky has in mind…