Paul Maunder, The Wind at My Back: A Cycling Life (London: Bloomsbury Sport, 2018), 266pp.
Whether weaving his way through the "frenetic jostle" of London, or feeling the wind in his face in the desolate moors, Paul Maunder has always loved biking. He has fond memories of his first trainer bike as a little boy, his first Christmas bike at age ten, riding through the French countryside with his family at age eleven, and even sixty-milers on Sunday afternoons with his father at that young age. He describes being "hopelessly in love with this sport for over three decades."
With a mother who was a librarian, Maunder also developed "an addiction to books," and eventually a vocation to be a writer. "I have been a writer since my mid-20s," he says, "and a cyclist a lot longer. These two cords run deep through me, and are inextricably intertwined." That much is clear, but in this self-reflective memoir, Maunder explores how these two loves have played out in unexpected but ultimately satisfying ways.
Maunder always wanted to be a professional cyclist — "its grip on my psyche had been total." But at the tender age of nineteen, he had an epiphany: he wasn't good enough to turn pro. So, in 1992, he stopped riding for about four years. Similarly, across twenty years Maunder wrote four novels and made aborted attempts on two other manuscripts, but none of that ever found a publisher. "I identify as a novelist," he writes, "a failed novelist, because I have yet to publish a novel, but a novelist all the same."
At the age of forty, Maunder turned from writing fiction to non-fiction, combining his two loves into sports journalism. He never became a professional cyclist, and he never won the Booker Prize, but "what do two negatives make? A positive. Writing about cycling came relatively easily, I enjoyed it, got paid and got into print — magazines, and then a book. I loved cycling and I'd learned the craft of writing, and putting them together seemed to work." Putting his two failed passions together made for a satisfying life. "I may have failed at bike racing. I may have failed at writing fiction, but these three hour journeys [on his bike] around my own landscape have helped to make me a happy man. That's not so bad, is it?"