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The Final Curtain

Preparing for the house move has taken up a lot of time in the last fortnight and the house is in uproar, with almost 100 boxes filled with many of our worldly goods and another ten or twelve containing my collection of Racing Calendars, with all the results back to the 18th century.

At Salisbury  last week I met Chris and Mary Pitt.  Chris is the author of one of the classic books of modern times, A Long Time Gone.  Not many racing books go beyond a first edition, but his definitive, highly esteemed work on all the racecourses that closed since 1900 did.  We had corresponded off and on ever since the 1990s, but this was the first time we had met.  It was a pleasure.  I was glad to hear that there are very few copies of his book about Worcester races left – buy now if you haven’t already!  His more recent one about Warwick is doing well and he’s well on the way working on his next project, which is about a racing family with a dramatic, hitherto-untold story.

I’ve had no answer as to whether my terms for the new project will prove acceptable.   If it doesn’t, I will revert to the original post-Salisbury and Ffos Las plan of leisurely research on a range of esoteric racing subjects.  They have no commercial outcome.  Books may or may not emerge, but I will simply do them for my own interest.

Whatever happens, this is the time to end my blog.  I have been round the block a few times describing the process of writing, and a degree of repetition has set in.  I started on 10 February 2011 when the Bath book was in preparation, encouraged by the lovely Diana, who set up the WordPress site for me.  Bath was completed in that first year, and five more books have been written since.

I can point to the blog having thousands of views and visitors.  Not all of them will be bots or malware.   The Racing Post kindly wrote about my blog one day.  Several people have been in touch and I’ve had some interesting correspondence.  Gregory, studying an Austrian artist who was briefly interned on Brighton racecourse; Alfred, about his great grandfather jockey; Scandinavian Stephanie probing the Alfred Day family and their in-laws; Andrew, striving to redeem the reputation of the 19th century Days.

So, with thanks to my readers, regular or occasional, I will bring the curtain down here.

But the research goes on!

Same again, please

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the new project, which I will keep under my hat until I know that my sponsor is willing to give it the official go-ahead.  In anticipation of that I’ve already acquired plenty of material.  In the past I’ve been apt to start researching a book before full and final authorisation to proceed – I can’t help myself.  It’s the same again now.  I mentioned it to a friend at Brighton races the other day, who promptly told Matt Chapman, who was on duty there for Sky Sports Racing.  I had to tell him it was still premature to broadcast it, but he was fine with that and said we could do it another time.

I doubt if it’ll be the next Brighton meeting, which is on Tuesday week after Windsor’s final Monday evening meeting of the season.  Matt often appears at them, so I’d be surprised if he did Brighton the next day.   Coincidentally, I had called in at Windsor a few days earlier, hoping they could find some copies of the remaining stock of my book marking its 150th anniversary in 2016.  I was down to my last few, but they’ve given me a decent number.  I hope I will be able to sell a few more if and when Rupert invites me onto this bookstall again.  I could do with some more Fontwells and I am waiting to hear if the staff there can find some for me.

We are on the verge of moving house and this is going to be a significant distraction in the weeks ahead.  Huge numbers of books need to be shifted and there is talk from Mrs B about having custom-made bookshelves in the new abode.  It has three storeys but I’m not sure that’ll be enough.

Ascot Sales

I’ve just come back from two long days at Ascot on Rupert’s bookstall.  Key rings and fridge magnets were on sale as well as dozens of different racing titles.  It was in an excellent position inside the main stand near one of the most-used routes to the paddock, and in front of a huge picture of Estimate, who won the Gold Cup for The Queen not so many years ago.

I was there from about 11 till 6.45 on Friday and 11.30 to 7.30 yesterday.  Ascot opened its doors to the public at 11 each day and stayed open a long time after racing, especially on Saturday when there was music afterwards.  That’s all potential book-selling time, hence the long days.  I had it easy compared to Rupert and his colleague Neil, who had to get all the stock inside and move their cars away to a designated area well before I arrived, and they couldn’t reverse the process at the end of the meeting until most racegoers had left, so I dread to think what time they got home.

From my catalogue (!) we were selling Salisbury, Fontwell and Windsor (reduced prices if buying two or three) and Croydon.  We sold 18 over the two days, so I was very pleased.

One sees very little of the actual racing when helping to man the bookstall.  At any moment someone might want to talk about one, buy one or have one signed.

On Saturday a couple of gigantic racing trophies were put on display next to our stall, and that helped bring browsers along too.  One book that caught the eye of quite a few racegoers was the Croydon book, which hasn’t been on public display for many, many years.  People were, not surprisingly, astonished that there had ever been a racecourse there.

I had ten fresh copies of it printed recently.  It’s 20 years since that was published, yet sales still occur from time to time and every couple of years or so I have to replenish the stock.  I’m getting very low on the other old ones and need to find out if the racecourses have any to spare.

While I was at the races on Friday a suggestion came from out of the blue about another racing history book I might write.  Even though I’ve been adamant that I want a rest from it after working on Salisbury and Ffos Las for the best part of three years, I find it difficult to say no.  I am getting in touch with the proposer to see if we can take the idea further.

I only met John McCririck once, when he agreed to do some book-signing at Fontwell – not a course at which he was seen regularly.  We’d  already had the exceedingly successful launch, where Josh Gifford signed a hundred copies and remarked that he’d not written so much since his school days.  On a later occasion A P McCoy agreed to sign some.

McCririck was dressed in his familiar winter gear of tweeds, deerstalker and cigar.  I’m sure he completely baffled people who bought The History of Fontwell Park by scribbling a great long spidery screed on the title page that included something about Edwina Currie.  This was a few years after he appeared with her on the TV reality show Celebrity Wife Swap.  They didn’t hit it off.

People who didn’t want a book, but asked for their racecards or something else to be signed, were firmly rebuffed.  Yet anyone who wanted a photo taken with him was welcomed and he posed in his trademark wide-eyed open-mouthed style.  It was puzzlingly why one but not the other was acceptable.

I couldn’t find the Salisbury book in the Racing Post’s online Shop but I was reassured it was there, under New Titles, and it is also in the section called “Flat”.

Incidentally, when selling the book at Ascot a month or two ago a relatively new hardback “The Triumph of Henry Cecil” attracted a lot of interest from browsers.  Other racegoers who had already bought and read it commended it.  There have been other books about Cecil, but this one is the inside story about his revival from what had seemed a career-ending slump, with the glory of the Frankel years contrasting with his battle against cancer.

Now that Salisbury has been reviewed by the Post, I ought to send them Ffos Las.  I hope they treat it on its merits and don’t compare it with Salisbury, which has 400 years more history behind it.  I need to send copies of both to the British Library so that they will be there for posterity.

The Salisbury book is reviewed in today’s Racing Post.

It’s pleasing, although quite sparing as regards comments about the quality of the book (“tales told in detail and told with devotion” is more or less all).

The writer takes the view that the older history is much more interesting than the present.  He does refer to several highlights of the course’s long-ago past that I hope will entice buyers. Racing Post review 300619

It’s a mixed blessing that the review is printed directly below one about Chris Pitt’s excellent book about the history of Warwick races.  Another course with a long history, it has the benefit of staging jump racing for the best part of 200 years, which is an activity that I feel generates more – and more interesting – incidents and anecdotes in a biography than a flat race-only course.  Presentationally the Warwick book is very attractive, there is a constant flow of interesting content and I’d say Chris is a livelier writer than me.  So, if you have any cash left over after buying Salisbury and Ffos Las, the Warwick book (titled Chandler’s Leap and Other Stories from Warwick Racecourse) is available from the racecourse for £16.50, presumably with postage and packing to add if necessary.

Last Monday the Daily Express article by Neil Clark about me was printed.  It’s pretty good, although the newspaper’s sub-editors have deleted some text and added some of their own.  There are some baffling typos (three years were added to my age, which instantly made me feel that much older) and it’s a pity it wasn’t published during Royal Ascot, but I am happy with it on the whole.  Their decision to have a picture of the Queen rather than me was a wise one.

Daily Express article re JB with pictures

I see no sign of it on the Express website.  Perhaps I’m being greedy!  Given that it was in the general features section in the middle of the printed newspaper, I wondered whether it would go under Sport, Lifestyle or Entertainment.

We sold some more books at Salisbury’s very pleasant meeting on Wednesday and heard some more positive feedback from those who had read it.

I’ve been writing to some of my old book-buying customers – some of whom have been on the mailing list for 20 years – and was gratified to receive prompt replies, containing cheques, asking with just one exception for both Salisbury and Ffos Las.  There are more marketing avenues to follow up for both books in the next few weeks.

Dampness

After the anticipated excitement two weeks ago of the Ffos Las book launch and Daily Express article, damp squib is the phrase that comes to mind.

Hardly anybody was at Ffos Las last Thursday week and the number of sales I made was tiny.  I signed more than I sold.  That was thanks to Tidds, one of the people who have worked there from the start, who had already bought a number of copies to give to different people.  He is one of those invaluable types (in any organisation) who knows where everything is, what happened x years in the past and what has to be done in the latest crisis.

Two of the possible four in-laws kept me company and gave me great moral support.  They really shouldn’t be let loose on a racecourse, though; I found they’d put £2 each way on a 4/11 favourite.  (It finished out of the frame)

There will be more of a push on the book this Thursday, which is close to the true 10th anniversary of the course’s opening.  Though I won’t be there, I hope they will get some local rugby-playing celebrities to sign copies, and endorse it in the other sense too.

The Daily Express feature, which was expected in the aftermath of the Derby, had to be deferred because there was too much Trump and D-Day news for it to be fitted in.  Until when, I don’t know.  I sincerely hope it will be in this week, tied in to Royal Ascot.

The day after Ffos Las, I travelled up to Uttoxeter, to go racing and meet some old friends.  It rained all day but the racegoers, many there for Sausage & Cider Festival (particularly the latter) didn’t seem too bothered.

Weather permitting, I will be back at Salisbury on the 26th trying to sell that book the annual members and the regulars who haven’t yet bought one.

I have nearly finished reading Chris Pitt’s book about Warwick.  It’s a good story and presentationally this book is much livelier than mine.   I’ll say more about it later.

Double excitement here as the clock ticks down to two key events.  One is the launch of my new Ffos Las book, at the races there on Thursday evening.  In my typical pessimistic fashion, because I have not yet seen it in physical form, I worry that there’s something wrong.  So far it always has been all right on the night…

Some of the in-laws are going to be with me at Ffos Las to mark the occasion; there’s extra pressure!  Here’s hoping that the weather forecast (cool, bright spells and showers) is wrong.  It will have a bigger splash at their race meeting on the 20th, closer to the precise date of the course’s tenth anniversary.  Sadly I won’t be there for that, but it would be nice if some Welsh rugby celeb could be present to sign a few copies.

Before then I hope to see my name in the national press, if not in lights.  The Daily Express is doing a feature about me and my love of racecourses and writing about them.  This is entirely thanks to a very kind gentleman I met just a few weeks ago at Ascot when we were helping to sell books on Rupert’s stand.  Neil is a racing journalist who turns his hand to feature writing as well for the Express.  He’s a very versatile chap, for one of his most recent articles was about rabbits.

His pitch about me to the powers that be there was successful, and we have had some long chats that he has turned into a feature-length article.  It should appear on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but we may not know until going to the newsagents that day and buying the paper.  Appearing soon after the Derby and not long before Royal Ascot is particularly happy timing, when racing is more in the mind of the general public.

I hope this will boost Salisbury and Ffos Las book sales.

Neil himself has written a jolly good book himself about Edgar Wallace, a prolific author in the early part of the 20th century yet largely forgotten now.  His books weren’t exactly great literature, but they were page-turners and wildly popular.  In the 1920s one in four of all books bought in this country was an Edgar Wallace.  I bought a copy of Neil’s book at Ascot and have finished it already.

Since then I have started on Chris Pitt’s new book about the history of Warwick races.  It is coincidence that all these books about racecourses are being produced at the same time.

Despite all this going on, I must say that it feels peculiar not to have one of my own works to be getting on with researching, writing or checking – a situation I have rarely been in over the last 20 years.