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  • Written by Curtis Gillespie
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  • Playing Through
  • Written by Curtis Gillespie
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Playing Through

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A Year of Life and Links Along the Scottish Coast

Written by Curtis GillespieAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Curtis Gillespie


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42146-3
Published by : Crown Crown Trade Group
Playing Through Cover

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A blend of evocative memoir, lyrical travelogue, and passionate golf pilgrimage, Playing Through chronicles the year Curtis Gillespie spent with his family in quaint Gullane, Scotland. A seaside town crammed with championship golf courses, Gullane charmed Gillespie so much as a college student that he vowed to return one day with his father. That journey never came to pass, so thirteen years later Gillespie uprooted his wife and daughters and moved to the small Scottish village, hoping to learn something about himself and the delightfully gruff natives with their peculiarly addicting sport. Against the backdrop of a uniquely beautiful landscape, Playing Through deftly explores the bonds of fatherhood, friendship, and the irresistible lure of links golf, and in the process offers up a story rich in comedy, warmth, and insight.



In my mind, the story always begins in my bedroom, in 1987, in a flat at 2 Alfred Place, St Andrews, when I awoke to find my narrow, messy bed had not its usual one occupant, but two. Moving slowly and quietly, I propped myself up on one elbow to have a peek. She wasn’t much to look at, really; over-tall, gaunt, cold to the touch, and with a stiff page of mustard-coloured hair. Not that I found her unattractive. Quite the opposite, and to prove my devotion I nuzzled up close, whispered sweetly into her ear, wondering huskily how we’d managed to come together under such unlikely circumstances. I placed my hand on her javelinesque waist, stroked along the racoon-like black and white stripes of her skin. Haughty and distant -- the way she’d been from the start, in truth -- she chose to say nothing. Go ahead, be fickle, I thought, running a hand through my messy, longish hair. You’re the same as the other seventeen. I rolled over and away from her, scanned my bedside table for my clock, found it, and discovered I was late for lunch, let alone breakfast. I also found, beside the clock, a small sheaf of paper -- perhaps thirty sheets -- and a handful of envelopes. The notepaper was light blue in colour, highly elegant, of a sophisticated grain. There looked to be an emblem confidently embossed at the top of each sheet of stationery. Picking up a single page, I saw the words Royal and Ancient Golf Club curled above the scalp of a heraldic logo, and St Andrews beneath the chin. It seemed golf had been involved in acquiring this paper (as well as my bedmate). A match, possibly, the day before between the University of St Andrews Varsity Golf Team, on which I played, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, known to the world as the R&A.

I looked down at the paper again. I had no idea how I’d ended up with the stationery, and it seemed a good bet the answer wasn’t going to enhance my reputation in the better circles about town. Swinging my feet out of bed, the damp chill of March on the east coast of Scotland -- which being indoors did not parry in the least -- speared at my legs and torso. I reached for a T-shirt, put it on, and glanced back into my bed. My naked, steely companion ignored me. She was as stiff and uncommunicative as a long steel pole; this did not come as a surprise, since she was, in fact, a long steel pole. Flinging back the bedsheets, I removed the pole and leaned it against the wall, at which point its coarse page of plastic yellow hair uncurled to reveal a home address. A large black 1 beside a large black 8. This flagpole had been torn -- presumably by me -- from its home, the green on the final hole of the hallowed Old Course. It’s a big field, really, the 18th hole, but a field rumpled with humps and mounds and swales, and the massive weight of its own history, and which concludes at the green fronted by the Valley of Sin. This is perhaps the most recognisable, most consecrated, spot in all golf. I considered the flagstick leaning in such a slatternly way against the wall, and felt my blood thinning, felt the need to sit down. I might as well have snuck into the Galleria dell’Academia in Florence and snapped the privates off Michelangelo’s David.

Something moved in the dregs of my memory, and I tried to tease out a coherent string of events. Too much alcohol had been involved, it was clear. I thought hard, concentrated even, but in the same way you get tyres and shopping trolleys when you dredge a lake looking for a body, so the night before emerged from the deep in muddy clumps of apparently unrelated imagery, each of which drew a cringe: walking down South Street and seeing my short, curly-haired friend Simon grabbing some poor dog by the testicles, and saying, ‘Oy, oy, ’ow’s that then?’ My taller, spotty, red-headed friend George, who also played on the golf team, attempting, and failing, to clear a car park full of cars in the heaving of some sort of spear (my bedmate, perhaps). The team’s best golfer, Mike, banging on the door of the local curry house deep into the night because he was so desperate for a vindaloo. Me, belching softly, loosening the knot of a tie while slumped geriatrically in a deep leather chair. This must have been a dinner at the Royal and Ancient after the match. Few other occasions could incite the wearing of a tie.

I got dressed, brushed the malt-flavoured algae off my teeth and tongue, and went downstairs to use the phone. Jane, then one of my flatmates and still a dear friend, regarded me with immediate amusement. I sat down beside her. A fellow golfer, and a member of the Ladies’ Team, Jane was not averse to a drink every now and then, and so I reasoned that if anyone was inclined to be sympathetic, it ought to be her. I was mistaken. She brushed a strand of black hair away from her eyes. ‘Got what you deserved, looks like to me.’

‘I woke up with the flagstick from the eighteenth green of the Old Course in bed with me.’

Jane actually kicked her heels in the air as she snorted with laughter. ‘Oh, that’s brilliant!’ she exclaimed. ‘That’s too rich. You are a marked man, my friend.’

‘I don’t think anyone saw.’ I rested in my palms the pulsating bowling ball that was my head. ‘What time did I get in? Do you know?’

In the years following her graduation, Jane went on to work very reputably in the world of high finance, and even at school she was nothing if not a confident and accurate dispenser of information. ‘I got in at about two. Your door was still open, the room empty. Nick and Sue were already asleep. I read for thirty minutes, fell asleep fifteen minutes after that. No sign of you to that point, I’m afraid.’

‘I have to phone George or Gareth, maybe Mike.’ I looked at my watch. ‘Two. They’ll be up.’

‘No, they won’t,’ laughed Jane. ‘They’re bigger piss-ups than you! Anyway, I’m off. Tee time at half-two . . . on the Old Course. You’d better get that flag back in the green by the time I come through eighteen. I want to know where I’m aiming.’ She waited for me to raise my miserable head before peeling off another ripple of laughter. She had very good teeth, I noticed with some bitterness.

Gareth’s phone was busy -- his roommates, I reasoned -- so I sought out Mike next. As the Number One player on the team, and the only one with any real talent, Mike was looked upon with some awe by the rest of us. A long-hitting left-hander, Mike is now a high-ranking executive with IMG, the company that represents Tiger Woods. His phone was busy. He was still asleep, of that I was sure. He’d been one of the most serious drinkers the night before, and for a man as skinny as he was then, he could drink all night.

George was my next best bet. As a long-time consumer of considerable amounts of ale, George had the ability to attain a certain level of inebriation very quickly and then maintain that level throughout the night, no matter how much he drank. In this way, he often claimed, he could be a sociable and relatively articulate evening’s companion, all while getting utterly and comprehensively ‘pished’. I knew this to be the truth. I’d come to the University of St Andrews in 1986 to do a doctorate in history, and hadn’t known a soul upon arriving. My second week there, I tried out for, and made, the Varsity Golf Team, which was where I’d met George and Gareth. They were two of the most amiable people I’d ever met, and two of the biggest drinkers. The phone continued to ring, which was no surprise, since I was not really expecting George to answer. As I was about to replace the phone on its cradle, a startled ‘Hello?!’ sprang from the other end.



‘You’re up.’

‘Yeah . . . well, it’s two in the afternoon.’

‘You don’t sound hungover.’

‘. . . yeah . . . who’s this anyway?’


There was a short stretch of emptiness coming from the other end of the line, and for a moment I thought we’d been disconnected, but a low chuckle soon began gurgling from my earpiece. ‘Fuck me sideways,’ he muttered. ‘You were fabulous, mate.’

‘I hardly remember a thing.’

From the Hardcover edition.
Curtis Gillespie|Author Q&A

About Curtis Gillespie

Curtis Gillespie - Playing Through
Curtis Gillespie has written for publications in Canada, the United States, and Britain. His writing on politics, sports, science, and the arts has earned him three National Magazine Awards in Canada. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Author Q&A

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?
From my early teen years I thought being a writer would be a great and wonderful thing, a thought that was mostly related to my love of reading. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and would often stay up deep into the night with my book. I remember thinking that if it was so much fun to read, then being on the other side of the page would probably be quite a bit of fun, too. Of course, it took me a long time to do anything about it! I scribbled here and there, but it wasn’t really until I’d had my fill of university that I started to write with any degree of application. My wife, Cathy, who was then my girlfriend, was very encouraging and motivating, and that was certainly a key factor in giving it a serious effort.

2) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
I think the book is there to be enjoyed on many different levels; at least, that’s my hope. If a person likes travel, there is an element of that. If the person is interested in families and how they operate, there is that. If the person likes golf, there is that. What I tried to do in Playing Through was write something that had a great degree of ‘connectedness,’ in that I wanted to show how all the elements of our lives -- family, friends, love, death, play -- are part of the same tapestry, that each informs the other. That’s certainly the way it is in my life, and I suspect it’s the case with most people. I would think that a book club could have quite a bit of fun discussing the ways Playing Through makes them think of the ‘connectedness’ of their own lives.

I suppose another way to do the same sort of thing, would be to go through the book and note those scenes and moments where I’ve tried to capture some of this complexity, this poignance, in our lives. It was something I was shooting for, and I hope it worked!

3) Is there a routine that you follow when you are in the midst of writing?
I’m always in the midst of writing! I view writing as something that I am continuously immersed in, whether it’s taking notes, writing in a journal, finishing a short story, doing a travel piece, writing a political profile. For me, the variety and constancy means that it’s actually difficult to find a routine, which I consider a good thing. From a purely technical standpoint, I try to get my day going by about 8 am, work throughout the day, spend time with my family, and then if I have the time and energy (which is not something I count on!), I’ll try to do a bit more work in the evening.

4) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your books?
Not really, but I have had some funny things happen during readings. When Jessica was younger she came to some readings for my first book, The Progress of an Object in Motion, and occasionally we had to stop and remove her because she seemed to enjoy making herself the centre of attention! During one reading, I became aware of a rhubarb in the background, and soon heard her shout back to Cathy, “I will not be quiet!” We’ll have to see how it goes during the readings while touring for Playing Through!

5) What question are you never asked in interviews, but are desperate to answer?
I can’t honestly say I’m desperate to answer an unasked question. Most of the things I’m burning to say, I say in my writing.

6) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
Not really, but I can say that when they have appeared they do give me pause for thought, in that I stop and realize, “Wow, I actually am a writer.” It’s a nice feeling, if a little bit disorienting.

7) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
Albert Camus, George Orwell, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, Jonathon Raban, Graham Greene, Alistair MacLeod, Margaret Laurence, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver…the list is just too long! I think every piece of writing I’ve ever enjoyed, as well as the ones I haven’t enjoyed, have been influential to me as a writer; they have all shaped the way I think and feel, whether I’m conscious of it or not.

8) If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for a living?
I worked for many years in the social services, first with persons with mental illnesses and then with persons with mental disabilities, and I always found that gratifying. I’m still involved in that field in some ways, sitting on boards and doing projects here and there. I love working with my hands, carpentry and plumbing and wiring, though I’m not that great at it. It’s a good question. May the crossing of that bridge never occur!

9) Besides golf what are some of your other passions in life?
Golf is actually quite far down on my list of things in life that I’m passionate about, which is as it should be, since it’s nothing but a sport, and sport, while great fun and endlessly diversionary, isn’t all that important. It’s what golf has brought into my life that makes the game so meaningful.

I’m very passionate about (in general order of importance!) my wife and children, my family, my friends, reading, writing, eating, drinking, travelling, exercising, music and being in charge of the remote control when I watch TV with my wife.

To give you a more concrete answer, I really enjoy spending time with my daughters, Jessica and Grace, I enjoy travelling to different parts of the world (often on assignment) and especially deviating from the beaten path, I enjoy a vodka martini on a hot summer day, I love dry red wine, I am intensely passionate about curry and particularly hot curry (a love I developed in St Andrews, incidentally), I love cooking, I enjoy playing squash, I enjoy watching and playing soccer (I was a goalie on the University of Alberta soccer team).

10) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
The Stranger, by Albert Camus.

From the Hardcover edition.



“A lovely homage to fathers and sons, to life and death, and to the mysterious bond that exists among lovers of this most maddening of games.” —Chicago Tribune

“A fine book. Gillespie looks shrewdly and charmingly through the prism of golf at the pain and glories of fatherhood.” —Los Angeles Times

“This book offers an interesting and unique mix of golf and autobiography amid the game’s hallowed settings in Scotland. . . . The descriptions tickled fond memories for me.” —Arnold Palmer

“A moving personal story and a treat for armchair golfers and travelers.” —Booklist

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