My name is Jane, and I’ve got a confession to make. For the past nine months, I’ve been involved in a very exciting project. But now it’s almost ready to unleash on the world, I’m equal parts elated, proud and terrified.
No. I know what you’re thinking. But it’s not a baby I’ve been gestating. It’s a book. And it’s not even mine, not really. It’s a collection of short stories about roller derby; a collaboration between the London Rollergirls and my online labour of literary love, For Books’ Sake. It features bold and brilliant stories from the roller derby track by both emerging and established authors, along with roller derby players, referees and fanatics from all over the world.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In case they’re not already on your radar, allow me to explain. You see, the London Rollergirls are the UK’s first, largest and longest-running roller derby league, and I’ve idolised them ever since I first saw them bouting live a few years back. In that time, this adoration has taken all sorts of forms, from a period of pom-pom shaking while performing with the Jeerios, to taking a film crew from the TV Book Club to see LRG live when For Books’ Sake got involved in the first ever World Book Night.
To me, For Books’ Sake and LRG joining forces is total match made in heaven, as well as a glorious excuse for epic amounts of fangirling and an apparent confirmation that dreams really do come true. But I realise that – on paper, at least – it’s the kind of collaboration that might not make immediate, obvious sense. After all, the remit of For Books’ Sake is promoting and celebrating writing by women. What’s that got to do with a sport centred around quad skates, strategy, stamina and speed?
In a word: women. In more words: fast, fierce and brilliantly badass women placed centre stage for their aformentioned strength, strategy and stamina. In even more words: a global (over 1,200 leagues and counting worldwide), grassroots community with masses of solidarity, drive and energy going into every bout.
My teenage romance with riot grrrl never really went away, and more than anything it taught me to love and thank my lucky stars for female empowerment in all its forms. So roller derby was always going to resonate with me. And with so much overlap between it and the aims behind me founding For Books’ Sake back in 2010, collaborating with LRG on this project has been brilliant.
What’s more, at the moment the sport seems to be exploding; out of the underground and into the mainstream. From Depression-era danceathon-style endurance test via a televised 70s renaissance to its current continual evolution and expansion, it’s so-hot-right-now. Zoolander style.
And I’ve got a theory about why so roller derby recruits, fanatics and followers all over the world are so obsessed. People respond to passion, and that’s a trait the roller derby community has in copious amounts, and one of the catalysts behind the FBS/LRG collection, Derby Shorts.
“By celebrating the writing talent of the roller derby community in this anthology we hope to share the passion, the love and the dedication we – and that includes skaters, referees, non-skating officials, fans, jeerleaders – all have for this sport,” says Helen Nash of LRG.
According to Helen, after years of being involved in roller derby, the question she’s asked most often (alongside the likes of “Where’s the ball?” “Do you beat each other up?” “How do you score points?” and “Do you all wear fishnets?”) is “why?” Why the relentless training schedule, why the countless hours at committee meetings, why the abandoning of non-skating friends to talk tactics with teammates… the list goes on and on.
She says: “We want to answer the ‘whys’ by capturing the heart and soul of this ever-changing game on its inexorable rise, from its DIY ethos and punk-rock roots, to the strength and athleticism on display at bouts all over the world…It truly is an exciting time for roller derby and we’re thrilled to work with For Books’ Sake on this anthology to offer a glimpse into the heart of our community.”
Derby Shorts comes out on Monday, and I absolutely cannot wait (while still being completely terror-stricken about what the reactions from readers and the roller derby community will be), because I’m so, so proud to have been involved with this project, and of how the book turned out.
And while I know the stories in it could never reflect the action and attiude of roller derby in its rich and varied entirety, these tales from the track – by turns beautiful, bittersweet, brutal and bizarre, and featuring everything from Victorian debutantes taking a somewhat violent turn around the Serpentine to a punk-apocalyptic London ruled by ultra-violent rival leagues – give it a damn good go.
And if Derby Shorts captures even a fraction of the euphoria, adrenaline and excitement I’ve felt while watching LRG and other leagues’ live bouts, it will definitely all have been worth it.
You can buy Derby Shorts in paperback from For Books’ Sake for only £5 plus P&P, or in person at yhe LRG championship bout this weekend.
Jane is the founder and editor of For Books’ Sake, and the co-editor of both FBS anthologies, Short Stack and Derby Shorts. She’s been known to write columns and features for the likes of Bitch, The Bookseller, Mslexia and more, as well as her own short stories (usually about naughty teenagers, sea monsters or being obsessed with Patti Smith). She loves Kathleen Hanna, lemon cheesecake and drinking too much tea.