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A Boxing Match is at the Heart of David Albertyn’s Widely Praised Debut Novel

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  • A Boxing Match is at the Heart of David Albertyn’s Widely Praised Debut Novel

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    By Rick Assad

    David Albertyn’s debut novel, “Undercard,” has earned lavish reviews. Released in Canada in 2019 and in the United States last year, the book has already been translated into French and German for HarperCollins, one of the world’s leading publishing houses, and the film rights have been sold to Shaftesbury – heady stuff for a first-time author.

    “Undercard” is a fast-paced crime thriller with more twists and turns than the Grand Prix of Monaco. There are four central characters, childhood friends unexpectedly united in Las Vegas. The plot, which unfolds over a 24-hour span, revolves around a bout on the undercard of a casino mega-fight.

    "It's been hugely rewarding having 'Undercard' out there in the world, and especially with the reception it's been given,'' said Albertyn, a native of South Africa and a resident of Toronto. "It was a dream come true to finally publish a novel, and it's obviously given me a lot more confidence in my writing, but also confidence in myself…But probably the best part of all is when readers tell me that the book was meaningful to them.”

    A high-level tennis player and a coach of the sport, Albertyn has always enjoyed sports, including boxing. Why did he choose the sweet science as the backdrop for his novel?

    "I knew I wanted to feature sports in "Undercard,'' as I have an extensive background in sports as an athlete, fan, and coach, and incorporating fields that one is familiar with brings an element of authenticity and uniqueness to one's writing,'' he pointed out. "I wanted each of my four main characters to be an athlete in a different sport (one of whom, Antoine, is a boxer) and once I chose Las Vegas, home to so many major fights, as the setting, I knew that boxing would be the featured sport.''

    Albertyn continued: "Having been a fan of boxing since I was a child, and having trained in it at various points in my life, I had familiarity with it to begin with, but I did as much research as I could. I attended amateur and professional fights; I watched a ton of fights on television and online, both contemporary and classic bouts, trying to pick up as many details as I could. I watched documentaries, shows and narrative films about boxing; and I read a number of non-fiction books and articles about the sport and its competitors. I will say that I also drew on my own experiences of competing, even though they came in other sports, as I feel that some aspects of competition are universal to all sports.''

    Of the three male characters in the book, is there one Albertyn identifies with?

    "If I had to choose one, I'd pick Antoine, who is my favorite character in the novel, and the one I wanted to build the story around. I wanted to explore an utterly goal-oriented character, whose entire life is constructed around a single purpose, who can achieve their objectives no matter how much the circumstances are stacked against them,'' he stated.

    In truth, Albertyn had two other novels that were not published, and while this was disappointing, important lessons were garnered.

    "I learned an incredible amount from my first two attempts at publishing a novel. Probably the greatest lesson I learned was to write something that was meaningful to me and that would appeal to the publishing industry,'' he said. "My previous work tended to focus on one or the other. This time I very much tried to do justice to both. So ‘Undercard'’ engages with various topics that I find interesting and important, and at the same time it's set in Las Vegas, this sexy, exciting setting that is immediately eye-catching for publishers and readers. I also realized that I needed to enlist outside help, as I knew I had been close with my first two tries. So, I took a creative writing correspondence course [with Humber College in Toronto], where an advisor helped me revise my m****cript.

    How did Albertyn, who said if he wasn't a writer and tennis player/instructor, he would have chosen to be an actor, come up with the idea for the story?

    "The storyline came about gradually. It was really an amalgamation of a lot of ideas that I was ecstatic to find all fit together in one narrative - for instance having the story take place over 24 hours, something I'd always wanted to do; having revenge a key theme, being a fan of revenge stories; having an action scene in the background of a major sports event, an idea that had been with me for years,'' he pointed out.

    While doing background work, what did Albertyn learn?

    "My research taught me about the Iraq War, boxing obviously, the WNBA, the history of Las Vegas, the casino industry and casino moguls, how private and state security forces are used in urban spaces, the Black Lives Matter movement (my research largely taking place from 2016 to 2018, so before last summer's protests) and I'm sure other areas that I cannot recall now,'' he said.

    "There were fascinating things I learned on all these subjects, but I'll mention the role of these casino hotel resorts in world politics and business was very interesting. A lot of meetings and deals of all kinds between powerful groups and people take place in these casino resorts, making them play a significant role in world events.”

    Albertyn wants to continue writing novels, but is certainly open to other genres.

    "I might try to write for magazines one day, but I would definitely like to write for film and television,'' he said. "I majored in Film Studies in university and always hoped that I would do screenwriting. I have several ideas already, but I plan to stick with books for a little bit until I'm more established as an author before I make that push.''

    “Undercard” isn’t as boxing-centric as other novels such as Leonard Gardner’s celebrated “Fat City,” but boxing fans in particular are bound to find it an enjoyable read.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel