An Olympic theme runs through our latest book of the month, but, as ANDREW FFRENCH finds out, there’s so much more...

THE BOOK: WITH Chris Cleave’s first novel Incendiary, timing played a crucial role.

The novel was written from the point of view of a mother whose four-year-old boy had been killed in a terrorist attack.

The day of publication was July 7, 2005, when terrorists struck at the heart of the London transport network, and in the aftermath publicity for the book was quietly scaled down. Despite its troubled start however, it has gone on to be a bestseller.

The author’s latest novel is also contemporary. But clearly in a more positive way.

With the London Olympics just weeks away, Gold focuses on the world of track cycling and the pressure top athletes come under as they prepare to compete on the world stage.

But I suspect Gold will still be a word-of-mouth favourite long after the last medals have been handed out and the bickering ends about which football team should move to the shiny new stadium in East London.

Cleave has timed his publishing run perfectly and he knows that writing a novel is a marathon and not a sprint. That’s why Gold is not all about the Olympics.

The novel focuses on three track cyclists, Kate, Zoe and Jack, and charts their progress from teenagers to successful international athletes.

The trio are involved in a bizarre love triangle in which Kate and Jack pair up, but the rivalry between Kate and Zoe is never far from the surface, both on the track and domestic front.

The writer looks at key events through the eyes of Kate, Zoe, Jack and their trainer Tom, and uses flashbacks to build up a clearer picture of their past.

As the competition between Kate and Zoe intensifies on the track, tension also builds at home as it emerges that Kate and Jack’s daughter Sophie has leukaemia.

In some of the most moving passages in the book, the author lets the reader see the world through Sophie’s eyes and, as the focus switches away from the track, the key question for the reader is not whether Kate or Zoe will be picked for the Olympic team, but how long the little girl will survive.

Gold went through six drafts but you wouldn’t know it. The narrative flows very freely and it wasn’t too long before I became emotionally involved in the story and found myself caring about the characters.

The author has done lots of research into track cycling and childhood leukaemia but that preparation never gets in the way of this gripping story, which is a page-turner from start to finish.

This may be a novel about world-beating track cyclists but what stayed with me was the moving portrayal of how parents cope when their children get ill.

In his author’s notes, the writer promotes the work of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and the research that has improved children’s chances of surviving leukaemia.

And he concludes: “Caring for sick children is the Olympics of parenting.”

THE AUTHOR: CHRIS Cleave is the author who won the Oxford Mail’s first Book of the Year competition in 2009, held in conjunction with Waterstones.

He won the accolade for The Other Hand, a gripping tale of immigration inspired by a short stint working at Campsfield House immigration centre in Kidlington, after studying psychology at Oxford University’s Balliol College in the 1990s.

The novel about Little Bee, who is being held in a British detention centre, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award, sold half a million copies in paperback in the UK and was a global bestseller.

In the United States, the novel stayed in the New York Times Top Ten for over a year, with Mr Cleave embarking on a 25-city tour of the United States to promote it.

The writer’s debut novel, Incendiary, about terrorism, won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award, and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Mr Cleave is 38 and lives in London with his wife and three children.

Before becoming a novelist, he was a barman, a long-distance sailor, a teacher of marine navigation and a journalist.

* Gold is published by Sceptre, priced £16.99, but you can get it for half price at Waterstones in Oxford and Witney with the Book Club voucher in Thursday's Oxford Mail