An interview with Matt Hansen, May 23, 2004
Canadian Matt Hansen has one of cycling's more unusual resumes. A rider with the Division III Jet Fuel Coffee team, he is also a published novelist and a journalist for Canada's Pedal magazine. Kristy Scrymgeour found out how he balances the athlete and the artist.
Cyclingnews: When did you start writing? Is this a passion you have had for a long time?
Matt Hansen: I began writing as a result of riding, more or less. I did a little bit of university right after I finished high school, but then began riding full-time in 1996. Although I enjoyed my time training and racing, I always found it to be a bit... unfulfilling mentally. I'd often find myself doing crossword after crossword puzzle with friends and teammates like Michael Barry or Andrew Randell: this was the only intellectual stimulus one has, when one is traveling and racing so much. I actually conceived the idea of writing a novel after a few years of publishing my own comic book: I always felt I had good stories but my drawing just wasn't up to par. So, one summer in between racing and training I decided to pen a story about the challenges of a disabled boy in an unforgiving society, and Beautiful Retard, my first novel, was born. After that, I began writing and working with Pedal Magazine, and their website, pedalmag.com, and eventually went back to university and completed my degree.
CN: How did you get involved in bike racing?
MH: I got involved in cycling through my family. My father, Jorn is a many-time veteran national champion, and both my brothers, Christian and Jeffrey have raced at an elite level on the road and in cyclo-cross. In fact, my eldest brother, Jeff, is racing with me this year on Jet Fuel Coffee, which is really cool. I began racing at around 13 or 14, racing in local club events with the club in my area, the Newmarket Eagles. I also was fortunate enough to spend some of my junior years racing and riding in Europe as my family went to Denmark as my father (who is a university professor) was on sabbatical. I think this kind of racing was very good at an early age.
CN: How do the two lifestyles mix, being a novel writer and a cyclist/cycling reporter at the same time.
MH: It's certainly an interesting mix. I mean, now that I am riding a lot more again (the last two years I have been injured and not training very much) I realize that cycling is indeed a very draining sport. It takes a lot to sit down at the computer and write, either novels or reporting, after a long ride or race. Writing, like cycling, I guess, takes discipline. You really have to say "ok, I HAVE to write now."
As far as being a journalist, well, sometimes I think being a rider can actually hinder your journalistic abilities. I think sometimes I am a crummy journalist as I think from the athlete's point of view too much. Last year at the worlds I didn't want to bug riders before their rides, warming up etc. despite them being swarmed by other pesky journalists. I just couldn't bring myself to going up to a rider as he/she warms up on the trainer before the TT, asking the usual "so how do you feel today?" type questions. And also, sometimes I forget how extraordinary some of the people I hang around are: people like Michael or Dede Barry, for example. I think of them more as friends, when in fact, I have access to some of the best cyclists in the world! So sometimes I forget to bring my journalist hat with me. But I am getting better, I think.
CN: What is the book about, tell us a bit about it and the other books you have written.
MH: My latest novel, which is my second, is called Therapy. It's about five different people with five different regrets. I actually wrote it a few years ago when I was going through a strange time trying to proverbially "find myself". A lot of the constants in my life, cycling being one of them (due to the injuries), were suddenly removed and I found myself confused about life and many things. So, I decided to write a story about people being confused, having regrets, unsure if they were doing, or had done, the right things and made the right choices. The story centers around the characters' central regrets and a strange therapist who asks them if they could, would they begin their lives tomorrow with those regrets undone. It's a cliché question, but a unique, (I think) story in that there is a lot of interplay with really interesting characters and destiny and fate and all that jazz. My first novel, "Beautiful Retard" I wrote almost four years ago, and was inspired by my mother, Ingelise, about a developmentally disabled child in a high school, as my mother teaches DD kids.
CN: What else are you working on now? What's next for you?
MH: As far as other projects, I have a screenplay I completed with Joe Finkleman and is in a pre-productive limbo right now. We are still waiting to see what will happen with it. I also just finished a sitcom which is in the same situation. I'm about half-way done my next novel and my agent is speaking with a well-known publisher so I hope this will be my 'big break'. We will see, though. I really don't care too much about money and stuff, but it's nice to know that your story can be told to as many people as is possible. I've applied to graduate school so we will see how that goes. And just these past weeks I have begun working again with something that got me writing in the first place: comics. I have been given a shot to try my hand at working with the Transformer comics, with Dreamwave productions. I'm really excited about that and I hope it will go well for me.
CN: Does riding inspire you to write? If so, how?
MH: Riding is a great source of inspiration, for sure. Riding, like cycling, for good or bad, is a very solitary thing. A lot of times I get ideas while riding, or play with storylines on a long ride. It seems things are much clearer, often, when out riding in the country, with no one or no thing to disturb you.
CN: How is your cycling progressing since you began training again?
MH: I began training again on January 2. The past few years I have only been riding once or twice a week and very slowly due to some nagging leg injuries. However, my good friend Andrew Pinfold invited me to stay with him at Geoff Kabush's place in Victoria B.C. and try and rehabilitate my leg. January and February were very tough, both mentally and physically, and I did a lot of riding sitting on his wheel! But lately, I am not feeling that bad. It is really rewarding being able to ride again as one appreciates what one has lost. Things like the breeze in my hair, the wind at my back, whizzing down a hill, even riding in the rain, whatever, feels great. I didn't think I'd ever be able to race properly again so just finishing races is nice, too. I am still progressing but I am happy to be able to be somewhat competitive and I hope I can help my teammates when we race abroad. I don't really have any lofty goals, but I do want to get closer to the level where I was before. I also appreciate how much work it takes to be a cyclist again -- I guess I forgot how hard it is! But since I work with Pedal and pedalmag.com, I can still work around my cycling schedule, more or less, which is nice.
Writing is a lot like cycling in that one always hopes to get better and better. I have a kind of insecurity about my old stuff (books) as I know I have progressed a lot, and I'm always looking ahead to my new stuff. I tell people "no no, don't read that -- just wait until my NEXT one -- THAT is good, I promise!" So it's nice, just like in cycling, to see the progress one makes.
Matt Hansen's website is www.matthewhansen.net.