Thoughts, musings and stories

All thoughts and opinions are mine alone and do not reflect those of anyone else, nor those of any organisation to which I belong.

My stories are the copyright of Avril King and infringements will have consequences.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


I was reading a children’s book I found in a charity shop. It was a bit “Girl’s Own” about a group of gymnasts who were competing for a place in a national team. The writing was deceptively simple, yet there were moments of sheer poetry: "Jessica’s mother brushed her daughter’s hair to a glorious shimmering cascade of pale honey , then with a practised twist , transformed it into a ball of woven gold."
Some of the tactics these girls used to knobble their competition would freeze your blood! Well, make you cross your legs, anyway. I liked the insight it gave into their minds. Having been a twelve year old girl once, albeit not sporty or competitive, I could relate to the ideas they have and the creative ways they think up to get the upper hand. Even so, I would never have guessed that those sweet little girls could be so vicious!
I’ll give you a summary of the story:
Four girls, all about twelve years old, were a team which had won competitions at local and county level. Of course, the national team would only select the very best girls from many teams all over the country.
The four in the story were from diverse backgrounds and we are shown, rather than told, what these were. I did think the names, such as Jessica  Ashley, Lauren and Kylie were unnecessarily stereotypical, and dated the story. All the same, their parents (and step-parents) were all supportive at some level, from buying the team’s outfits, to transporting them to competition venues.
Their instructor was an ex-army man whose own daughter had competed at national level. He was a hard man who demanded the best efforts and had no patience with excuses.
However, he was so focussed, he could not see the battle for supremacy which was going on under his nose.
The tale is almost an elimination contest, relating what was done to each girl, how she handled it and what she did to the others.
Although some of the sabotage was childish – and rather unlikely – such as clipping the seams in one girl’s leotard so that it came apart at a crucial moment; other incidents were downright ingenious. An example being the girl who came in early and spread Vaseline on the beam, then made sure she would not to be first to do that exercise. That one made my eyes water!
Gradually, each girl is foiled in her quest, until only one has a chance. Contrary to my expectations in a story for children, it is not the best girl who wins. It seems girls' fiction is no longer about morality tales.
The last chapter follows her to the final selection process in London, where she comes up against gymnasts who are not only better than her, but are even more competitive opponents. She comes home beaten but one gets the impression that she will be upping her game all round when she competes in the under 15s next year.
And that is how this book, called “On Her Beam”, ends.

© Avril King

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