Books

Ashley Hickson-Lovence: “I’m always thinking about my next big project, a bit like Uriah.” 

Ashley Hickson-Lovence arrives for coffee; he orders a latte, and I order a cappuccino. As the coffee machine grinds, he removes his tinted sunglasses, “I can’t see anything in these,” he jokes, opting for his reading glasses. “That’s better.”

Ashley says no question is off-limits. “I’ll answer absolutely anything. I’m an open book.” We begin by discussing the inspiration behind his most recent novel, reviewed by the Guardian as “a nervy psychodrama fuelled by ambition, envy, doubt and ego”.  

Your Show tells the story of the Premier League’s first and only black referee, Uriah Rennie, embarking on his incredible career. Rennie was appointed to the Football League list of referees in 1994 after over a decade of refereeing the Northern Premier League. His big break came on 23 August 1997, a Premiership game between Leeds United and Crystal Palace at Elland Road.

Writing a fictional story about a real person, Ashley had his work cut out. “Originally, I wanted to write an autobiography about his [Uriah’s] life, because that was the only form I knew. I wanted to write about him since I was 16 years old, before I discovered my writing voice much later.”

Telling the story of Rennie was a challenge. “We met in a leisure centre in Sheffield. He’s humongous. We drank coffee and joked about Caribbean food and music. But he still needed convincing.”

Convincing? 

 “He didn’t understand why I wanted to write about him. I told him that I wanted to celebrate his career, putting his story at the forefront of our national conscience.”

Your Show is about more than football. “It’s a bit strange,” Ashley admits, sipping his latte. “A second person poetically styled novel about a referee – I could not have written a less marketable book. Faber picked it up, and it was a dream come true. I have a lot of respect for them for choosing an experimental form.”

The title itself perfectly encapsulates Rennie’s fiercely independent spirit. “The title Your Show was inspired by my PhD supervisor, Andrew Cowan, who wrote Your Fault entirely in the second person. I also wanted it to allude to Uriah taking ownership of the situation. This was his show, his chance to shine on the biggest stage. It felt like a performance.”

Despite the novel’s poetic form, embracing lyrical and rhythmic diversity, the truth of it blows louder than a referee’s whistle. “I wanted to blend my interests in prose and poetry to build a compelling story. This is a book about a man, on his own, doing his job under incredible pressure. It’s not just a book for football lovers.”

What’s next for Ashley? “I’m always thinking about my next big project, a bit like Uriah. I’m writing a 32,000-word piece of fiction. I’m not worried about the word count. As a writer, the most important thing is to accept that not everyone will like it.”

A former referee himself, still supporting the FA in bringing about greater diversity, Ashley sees racism as a key aspect of Uriah’s life. “He’s still the only black referee. He’s still on his own, in that sense. And yes, it’s shameful.”

But I sense uncertainty. “The reason I hesitate when I say that is because I know work is being done. I’m optimistic about the future, and I’m certain they’ll be another black referee in the next few years.”  

Before we finish up, I wonder how he feels about the book’s positive reaction. “I don’t really care what people think about my work. Someone came up to me the other day and said “Your Show was the first book they’ve read cover to cover. That will always stick with me.”


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03/05/2022

About Author

Sam Gordon Webb



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