Paralympian Ellie Robinson on Thief on the Track, her sports-based mystery

Paralympian Ellie Robinson on being an author, the inspiration behind Thief on the Track, and why there should be more sports-related novels.


Hannah, Maria, and Seb are at the World Championships in Tokyo, bonding over their excitement at watching their favourite athletes compete. But Jesse Marks, a star runner on the US relay team has had his gold medal stolen! As the three new friends begin to investigate, several suspects begin to emerge.. We have the honour of chatting with Paralympian Ellie Robinson on being an author, the inspiration behind Thief on the Track, and why there should be more sports-related novels.

First of all, how’s the jump from being an athlete to being an author so far? Obviously these are two very different careers but are there any surprising similarities?

I have to say, I’m much more in my element as an author than as a swimmer. As much as I loved the competition and friendships that sport brought, I am suited to the day-to-day reality of writing, really. The ability to let my mind wander, the opportunity to express my passions & opinions (of which I have several) and the nurturing aspect of crafting a book – I find them all so personal and it allows me to work with a strong sense of identity, which you don’t have scope for in sport. Where in sport, you are defined by your times, medals and other extrinsic qualities, writing is a career by which your personality – the inner you – defines you. I can definitely say that I don’t regret the transition from body to mind, as the fundamental driver of my career.

You have been to the Games before so you know how they work but were there anything you only learned about from writing this book?

Thief on the Track is built entirely from my own experience. I was fortunate enough to compete at the Rio and Tokyo Games, getting the chance to immerse myself in the atmosphere and culture of the exclusive athlete zones. All of the scenes in the hidden media sections are based on my experience at the Beijing Winter Games in 2022 with Channel 4. Very rarely does an athlete have the opportunity to see what it’s like on both sides of the arena – quite literally, the venues are split into two sections, which as an athlete, I had no idea about! One thing I did do when writing the book was spend a lot of time on Google Street View, trying to map out escape routes and thrilling chases through the streets of Tokyo. The geography had to line up! My editor and I spent ages looking at tube lines and points of interest to make sure that people could actually travel the paths that our main characters take.

And how did you balance between sticking to the actual design of Games and modifying it such that it fits the story?

I wanted to make sure that the Tokyo Games was an amalgamation of my experience in Rio and Tokyo. So while it’s not an exact replica of either athlete village, pool or sport park, every aspect I’ve written about does exist in some way or another. I’ve drawn from all the venues that I’ve been to as an athlete and presenter to create one fictional dream venue. Of course, writing fiction does allow for a bit of artistic license, in the creation of prize-giver outfits, parades and the layout of certain venues, but those ideas have to come from somewhere. They must be based off of something. For me, that just means Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021 venues, and Beijing 2022 food conveyor belts and cleaning robots.

Many readers have never been to the Games before. Were you worried that some readers would be confused by the setup of the book?

One of the reasons that we chose to set Thief on the Track at a multi-sport Games is because almost everyone is familiar with its inspiration: the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Fortunately now there is enough media coverage – not just of Olympic sport, but of football, F1 and more – that gives people a real behind the scenes sneak-peak into life as an athlete. Look at Drive to Survive, Full Swing and All or Nothing. The demand for exclusive access into the lives of athletes is huge in our media – so why not supply that demand for young people in books? In fact, I believe that rather than being a risky new genre, it was a gap in the market that has somehow slipped through the net.

What adventures will we see Hannah get up to in the upcoming books?

Hannah will be travelling the world with her two new friends, exploring new cultures and getting caught up in the action of the world’s best sporting events. With each book, we’re definitely going to raise the stakes, so the cases to solve will be coming thick and fast!

Thief on the Track is out now. (Simon Kids)
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