Sarah Broadley read, reviewed and LOVED The Race from Roy Peachey. So, we were super keen to ask Roy over to MyBookCorner to tell us more about what it was about Eric Liddell that inspired him to write The Race
Eric Liddell’s life story is truly remarkable. Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, he was sent to school in England before going to the University of Edinburgh where he excelled in both rugby and athletics. While he was still a student, he played rugby for Scotland and was then selected to compete in the 1924 Olympic Games.
Anyone who has seen the great, Oscar-winning movie, Chariots of Fire, will know what happened next. Liddell was Britain’s great medal hope in the 100 metres but, because he refused to run on a Sunday, which was when the heats were scheduled, he ended up competing in the 400 metres instead, an event for which he had not adequately trained. To everyone’s amazement, he not only won gold from the outside lane but he beat the world record as well. It was an astounding performance.
The first 22 years of Liddell’s life provided more than enough material for the movies, but what inspired me when I was writing The Race was what happened after the Olympics.
Liddell could have become a celebrity – to use an anachronistic term – and made his fortune, but instead he returned to China. At first he lived a relatively tranquil life as a schoolteacher but political events soon overtook him. By the late 1930s, northern China was in turmoil, with Chinese warlords and occupying Japanese troops fighting for supremacy. Leaving his school in Tianjin, Liddell plunged straight into the war zone, joining his brother in a hospital in Xiaozhang.
In Xiaozhang, he did what he believed to be right, not what was safe. This included saving a Chinese soldier, who had barely survived an attempted decapitation, from certain death, despite the very obvious danger to his own life. Reading Liddell’s own letters from this time in the archive at SOAS, University of London, was a very humbling experience.
And then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, which led directly to Liddell’s incarceration in a prison camp along with many hundreds of others. The conditions were appalling but Liddell was not one to give in to self-pity. Every account I read mentioned his amazing selflessness in the camp, a genuine desire to put God and others before himself.
The Race is a book about two people – Lili, a young Chinese-British sprinter, and Eric Liddell – both of whom are preparing for the race of their lives. But what was the race? That turns out to be a key question in the book. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away here, but I will say that, for Eric, the 1924 Olympic final wasn’t the greatest race he ever ran. If you read The Race, you’ll see why, and I hope you’ll also see why I admire Eric so much.