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Martin Amis On Snooker

Renowned writer Martin Amis passed away on Friday at the age of 73. He loved playing and watching snooker for much of his life. Here’s an interview with him which was first published in the 2010 World Championship programme…

Martin Amis has created some of the most bewitching characters in recent British fiction. Notably Keith Talent, the shady darts player in London Fields, or John Self, the hedonistic rascal at the heart of Money.

It’s unsurprising, then, that his favourite snooker stars are the flamboyant types with a rogue element. His all-time green baize hero is Jimmy White, while his pick of the current breed is Ronnie O’Sullivan, whom he describes as: “A flair player. The fact that he can do it left-handed is astounding.”

Amis has been a passionate devotee of snooker for some 40 years. “My interest started in my early 20s, I had a hopeless infatuation with the game,” he said. “I’ve played ever since, although my top break is only 31. I once told Dennis Taylor that and he didn’t know where to look, he was mortally embarrassed.

“As I’m not quite a total mug player, I know enough to understand how incredibly difficult the game is. The top players have a huge talent, which is God-given. On top of that they have incredible technique. It’s breath-taking. Every now and then I might pot a ball which would get spirited applause. But there’s not a shot that I can’t miss. I’m lost in admiration for what the pros do.

“The way they make the cue ball perform is utterly beyond me. Jimmy White above all – he could make it do a figure of eight. The more flamboyant the shot, the more violence done to the cue ball, the bigger the risk. When I attempt something quite violent, the chances of getting the shot go down by 80 per cent. They’re attempting something of a different order.

“I find that when things are going well, you can relax and play better, and you can feel your opponent’s confidence going. But the last time I played, I had five fouls in my first seven shots, while my opponent fluked two reds and landed perfectly on the blue both times. My bonce completely went and I hardly scored a point for three frames.”

Amis once wrote a short story called Snooker with Julian Barnes, a description of a match where he takes on a fellow writer and bitter green baize rival. Amis, in the spirit of Hurricane Higgins and Whirlwind White, acquires the nickname Earthquake Amis, and comes out on top against the steadier-paced Barometer Barnes.

But he admits that his sweetest pleasure in snooker comes from watching the experts at work on TV. Amis adds: “My father Kingsley and the poet Philip Larkin both said that there is no nicer end to the day than watching half an hour of snooker. It’s restful and satisfying. The sound, the click of the balls, is soothing and civilised.”