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Archive for the ‘Fontwell’ Category

Bromley research continues, mostly in the form of typing up a lot of handwritten notes I’ve made at the British Library.  Getting a wizzy special IT pen a few years ago that supposedly translated handwriting into Word proved useless.  Taking notes by tapping away on a laptop in a library somehow seems alien to me; on the few occasions I’ve done so it feels like it’s taking longer than old-fashioned scribbling.  Typing up the scribble at home more or less doubles the time needed, so the laptop route is faster, but sometimes one simply prefers to avoid the most logical route.

A feature on “Ten things you didn’t know about Bath races” was due to appear in the Racing Post today, and I gave them some suggested contributions earlier this week.  I haven’t seen the paper to see if it actually appeared.  If it has, I hope my name was mentioned.

The possibility of a couple of exciting new projects has arisen.  One big, one small.  I won’t know about the big one for a few months – that’s subject to discussion and agreement of other people.  I am very hopeful about the smaller project, which would be a novelty for me, but it would be premature to say any more for now.

A third possible development involves the Fontwell book.  At some point I will need to get the racecourse management to take a view on whether they want any more, and what expense (if any) they’d be prepared to go. It’s also been suggested to me that I could do a picture-less Kindle version.  That’s a process I know nothing about and while I’m sure I could google various guides, I’d prefer if I could find a real life person who’s done it themselves.  And as I write this I remember that there’s someone who reads this blog who has travelled this path and might be able to help me ….

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Most of my old book-buyers have now bought Windsor. While I was packing one to fulfil my most recent order a bookshop rang, asking me to supply a copy. Oh good, that’s another one, I thought.   Five minutes later they called back to say their customer had decided to order it direct from the racecourse.  Well, at least that shows there is some awareness that they are selling it.  They haven’t asked me to do any active promoting of it and as there’s been no need for me to be there, I’ve not been to the races for two months.  I expect to return for their next Monday afternoon meeting.  I know the usual race day presenter and some of the commentators have been plugging it, for which I am very grateful.

Meanwhile “light relief research” is being directed toward Bromley, a fairly short-lived Victorian suburban course close to where I live. Unlike Croydon, the subject of my first book, it never had any great status and nobody has written much about it before.  At least my work helps keep library user statistics up at a time when so many are under threat of closure due to austerity measures.  One of the readers of this blog is fighting to keep his local library going.

I am running low on Fontwell books and the other day I asked the racecourse if they could spare some. It sounds like the answer may be no; they could only lay their hands on a few.  It’s not 100% confirmed, but if they are also close to running out that’s quite an achievement.  For some years I believe they’ve been giving them out as mementos to winning owners, so even if they’re not selling many they are still getting value from them.  I never expected that the thousand we printed would all be used.  Do I dare to dream of a second edition?

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I’ve more or less completed the fifth and last of my local newspaper articles.  I’ll polish it off tomorrow.  And a good job too, as inspiration has become increasingly difficult!

My trip to Eastbourne to sign a Windsor book was very enjoyable apart from heaps of traffic on the way from Brighton, and even more on the return journey via another route. (At least I was crawling along on a fine warm day in pleasant countryside.)  My hosts were very welcoming and I was surprised to find that, despite actively contributing to reminiscences of Windsor on the local history forum they had moved away from there over 50 years ago.  It was further confirmation of the impression I have that as time goes by, memories of one’s youth become clearer.

Brighton races were enjoyable and one bet resulted in one winner.  That was also the case at Salisbury a few days ago, where the “Jim Beavis Signing” sign given to me at the Epsom book signing a fortnight earlier was back in use, advertising a variety of my books on display.  It was another sunny day and the good crowd included some buyers.  Strangely no Windsors were sold, but two Bath books were quickly snapped up and I had to go back to the car for reinforcements. We also sold some Brightons, Fontwells and The Days.

In the last couple of months I’ve been to Salisbury as much as I had in the previous ten years.  It really is a very pleasant place when the weather is good, though when departing the road from the course to the A36 is slow going.

Earlier in the week I met a fellow author of much greater esteem than me.  Amongst other things he told me about readability statistics in Microsoft Word, of which I was unaware.  He also told me the advice he’d been given about never starting a sentence with “It” or “I”.

I venture to suggest that last one is difficult when blogging.

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Relieved

The Windsor book is out and it looks fine.  Phew!  People at the racecourse are pleased with it.  We are, however, well behind on the marketing front compared with previous books.  I had expected to be interviewed by the compere there on Monday evening but seeing as the poor weather for most of that day kept the crowd well below expectations, I suggested we defer it until a day with a bigger attendance.  He can’t interview me at every meeting.  The new plan is to do it next Saturday, Gentlemen’s Day.  How many of the gents are prospective book buyers, I wonder?  I hope there can be a second on-course interview later in the summer, ideally to coincide with a book signing – the signer being someone rather better known than me.

The compere is a top man. I will refrain from naming him in order to spare his blushes.  He has contributed to the content and the promotion of my previous books and he is always very supportive.  He’s one of those people who you invariably feel better for having talked to him.

My own marketing duties include contacting people on my mailing list to alert them to the existence and availability of the Windsor book. I also need to send complementary copies to some of my prime helpers who gave me their time, life stories, family histories or photographs from their private collections.

A trip to Uttoxeter last week yielded very welcome news about the number of sales of their book. They’re higher than I dared hope after only seven months.  It’s quickly leapt into second place (behind Fontwell) in terms of total sales.  They have covered their costs, so they’re happy.  By naming their recently-refurbished restaurant “1907”, the year the course started, they have reinforced the heritage aspect of racing there.  They have other plans to extract value from the books, notably by including them in some of the special admission packages for race days.  And then they can push it again on the approach to Christmas (“the ideal gift”).  So there’s no need to put it on Amazon (and therefore drop the price) yet.

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The Uttoxeter book is finished – hooray! I have seen the proofs and agreed them.

The racecourse has decided to put the launch back to 22 November, a Sunday meeting that is a Festive Family Day. Then there are two fixtures in mid-December and another on New Year’s Eve, which are all potential selling opportunities.

I will be interested to hear what ideas for marketing it arise. Having done some local radio shows in the past to plug my other books, I had better brush up a few things to say in case I’m asked to do so again.

Meanwhile there is an end in sight to the Windsor research that I can do using material I have at home. There is, however, more to be done in libraries elsewhere. And I am still waiting and hoping for input from at least one of the family members connected with its management. There’s additional work to be done trying to trace the descendants of other families who used to be involved with it.

The fact that dealings with the printer took much less time than I’d originally estimated, based on my experiences with past books, implies that settling on a format virtually identical to the Bath book was helpful. Some of my earlier books were typeset by someone else and in hindsight that complicated things, as there was a need for them, me and a firm of printers to deal with each other. I can therefore allow myself a little more time to write Windsor, which I anticipate starting after Christmas.

I was glad to get some feedback from the most recent enquiry about Alfred Day, saying that my response helped to pinpoint some of the gallops on the South Downs that he used. I often don’t get to hear the outcome of other enquirers’ researches.

The predominantly fine weather of the last few weeks has encouraged me to go to quite a few meetings and although Brighton last Tuesday turned nasty mid-afternoon, trips to Fontwell and Newmarket took place in glorious conditions.  I am making hay before the hard winter that’s supposed to be approaching – although doesn’t someone say that’s going to happen every year?

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One of the perils of researching is spending a lot of time doing something that doesn’t yield starry results.  Typically this happens when ploughing through form books noting results, in the hope that something interesting turns up when enough has been ploughed.  Of course, you will never know if the golden nugget will appear on the next page.  Otherwise, you have to make what you can of what you find up to the point where boredom or time constraints tell you to go no further.

Some years ago I crunched a lot of Fontwell results data for the inter-war years.  Last week I was corresponding with another researcher and it turned out he has compiled a lot of Windsor data.  I said I’d like to see it.  We agreed it was difficult to put a price on it, and he had the idea of swapping his Windsor spreadsheet for my Fontwell.  I’m game – I hope this will come off.

I continued correspondence with the Croydon jockey’s great-grandson.  His research is hampered (or, depending on your outlook) simplified by being based abroad, and thereby having few opportunities to inspect physical records.

I’ve been given the answer to the Bath riddle from a month or two ago, but I have yet to look in the form book for the year in question to see how visible it was (ie how I missed it).

Windsor continues, though not at the pace of the preceding fortnight – indeed, a few potential sources have replied to say they haven’t got anything for me.  It’s all quiet on the Binda and the Uttoxeter fronts, but there are enough other things going on.

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The McCoy factor

Racing news has been dominated by the announcement by 19-times champion jump jockey A P McCoy of his imminent retirement. My sole encounter with him was a brief one, when he kindly agreed to do a book signing at Fontwell. It was a month or so after the official launch with Josh Gifford, so quite a few of the regulars had already bought their own copy. He spent a precious bit of spare time he had between races sitting next to me at a table with a pile of books. Thanks to him we sold another twenty or thirty in very quick time.

A question came up the other day about whether a horse called Potentate held the record for the most wins at Chepstow. I knew he’d won nine times there and thought it was about 20 years ago, but what if there was something else that had won more back in the distant past? Fortunately the local racing history expert came to the rescue with the information that a horse called Chaos had won ten there.

It made me think how that sort of course record is not easy to find. How does one find out about each course’s record holders or frequent winners? It occurred to me there is no publicly available computerised record containing all race results going back (say) a hundred years. How good it would be to be able to tap into something like that! There are a few organisations who possess the information in book form. I should enquire with them to see if there is any prospect of computerising it – especially as I will have more time to spend on that sort of thing when I pack up work at Easter. I can’t imagine it will have any commercial value, but it won’t hurt to ask.

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