When she turned 41 in 2013, English novelist Scarlett Thomas returned to tennis for the first time since she was 14 years old. At first, she believed it was just an effort to be more active and meet people. “But I had forgotten how competitive I am,” she wrote, “and how much I want to win.” The exhilaration she felt after winning a local amateur tournament quickly turned into something more akin to obsession, and she began to worry about the impact of gambling on her sanity. In “41-Love,” she writes, often with dark humor, about her experiences with acting. The memoir also covers many other topics, including “Dirty Dancing,” the apparent freedom to travel, teaching how to play. creative writing and body versus mind. Below Thomas talks about his urge to write a “Rocky” story, play a senior event at Wimbledon and more.
When did you first have the idea of writing this book?
I kind of got the idea right after winning my first and only tennis tournament, and the idea of writing was basically the excuse to keep playing tennis. How can I spend a lot of time and money on this hobby? I will do what people do; they do something for a year and write a book about it. They always start off like they’re not sure they can do it, and then they try and it goes wrong, and then they end up winning. I wanted this story for myself. And I thought: what can go wrong? It was this little tournament at a local recreation center, and it was so unlikely that I would win. And I wanted it too much, and then the addiction kicked in.
I thought, “I’m going to have to see how far I can go in the local tennis rankings.” Then I realized that you can participate in tournaments depending on your age group. As a woman over 40, I was in a very small minority, so I realized that I could see how far I could go in the national and international rankings. I got to No.6 in UK, and every time I tell people that they are really impressed I have to say, ‘Well, someone else has sprained their ankle’ and “Someone else almost died. “
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it down?
Literally, everything in this book was surprising. I was so deceived and stupid, and weirdly supernatural, when I got into this project. I’ve never been diagnosed with anything exactly, but I’m the kind of person where I read a set of instructions and think, “You do steps 1-5 and get result number 6”. I didn’t know you could overtrain yourself. Didn’t realize that six hours of tennis a day could be too much if you’re trying to have a relationship and get a job and you’re 41. At first I was surprised at my stupidity, then I was surprised at how many other people were just as stupid. I thought I was unique and that I was the only person – and it’s true, not many women over 40 have done that – but all of them were like me, but better at tennis. I found it weird having a coach and spending money on training, and then I met women who took it even more seriously than I did. I wasn’t that bad; why was I the one that crashed and burned? It was all a surprise.