Archive for the ‘Salisbury’ Category

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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I had another grand day at Salisbury on Thursday, selling more copies of the book alongside Rupert, who invariably called out to any familiar faces, “How many would you like to buy?”

I was approached by various racegoers who came up to me to say they’d already finished it, and enjoyed it greatly.  “I read it in two settings”, said one.  “I couldn’t put it down,” said another.  It’s so nice that people liked it, and that they took the trouble to say so.

One gentleman apologetically pointed out three factual errors in the text, but he did it so charmingly I didn’t feel in the least chastised.  None of them were show-stoppers.  Nor was one misprint Jeremy found.  Nobody else has pointed it out – or thought it worth mentioning.  I’m told it’s almost inevitable that this sort of thing happens.  It’s hard to get 60,000 words completely correct.

We must have sold around a hundred so far, and that’s before any reviews have appeared.  You can buy it from me by cheque (only £14.50 including p&p for readers of this blog) or from the racecourse at


There are some great banners on the course advertising the book.  I must take a picture of one next time I’m there; not, perhaps, the one which is directly underneath a permanent sign saying “Toilets”.

Sales were quiet at Ascot’s two-day meeting the previous week.  The crowd was very small by Ascot standards on the Friday.  It was much bigger on Saturday but they weren’t very interested in books.  As it turned out, the writer David Ashforth (who was also present for signing duties), Rupert’s assistant Neil (another author) and I wound up buying each other’s books.

A flurry of correspondence with the Ffos Las printers, spotting and correcting various small misprints, culminated with me being sent a loose-paper copy of the book yesterday.  Just as well, as I found something wrong despite having made “final adjustments” at least three times before.  Once I’m satisfied (again) I’ll let them know and the presses can start rolling.  Apparently they’ll need two weeks to print the necessary number of copies, which brings us up to a few days before the planned launch date of Thursday 6 June.

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Book launch days always cause me trepidation as they approach and last Sunday at Salisbury was no exception.  I needn’t have worried.   Bad weather had blown over the day before and the day was dry, and not quite as chilly as feared.  That meant Rupert the bookseller was present, with line of trestle tables selling racing books, pictures, key rings and fridge magnets.  Any racegoer he recognised was assailed with an enquiry as to how many Salisbury books they were going to buy.

The racecourse directors kindly invited me to join them for lunch.  They were very welcoming, genial and chatty, and the food was delicious.  I could get used to that sort of treatment.

There was a productive signing session after race 2.  Another after the fifth was less so, but I rejoined Rupert after the seventh and eighth races (it was a marathon card) to catch potential sales to people who were going home.  After reckoning up at the end of the day we decided sales were very satisfactory.  Once the accounting was complete and I had done all I could to help Rupert pack up (before a squadron of racecourse staff arrived to provide expert assistance), I took some stock back to my car.  An hour and a quarter after the last race, I was on the way home.

I’ll be back at Salisbury on Thursday 16th hoping to sell a few more.  Before then Rupert and I will be at Ascot this Friday and Saturday trying to do the same.  Marketingwise there is still a lot to do.  I handed in a review copy at the Racing Post’s London HQ this week.  I have yet to contact my old book-purchasing customers, but I may leave that until the Ffos Las one is ready.

As it turned out, there were no major issues with the text and it is now with the printer.  I’ve already had a pdf version back.  The main issue is, I think, is the propensity for most racing scenes to be landscape whereas a book will be portrait shaped.  There is always a dilemma about whether to have several images rotated to fill a full page, meaning you have to tilt the book sideways to look at them properly, or to have two small landscape images one above the other on a single page.  Either way, the finishing line is in sight.

I was glad to see that Hayley, one of the people who I worked with on the Uttoxeter book, was elected as a local councillor last week.  Her boss David is one already, and fortunately for the sake of workplace harmony, they both represent the same party.  I’m sure if they can repeat the success of the racecourse in their own local communities, their constituents will be well served.

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The Salisbury printing problem has been solved, with a lot of give and take all round.  In fact, it was sorted by last Friday week.  That left two full weeks for copies to be printed and delivered to the racecourse.  I expect I won’t see any until that fateful Sunday the 28th, the launch date.  There will be one (I hope) last moment of trepidation when I handle a copy for the first time, wondering if it has been printed upside down or inside out.

Ffos Las is still on ice as my proof-reader has found faults with it, but not told me what.  We do at least know what the pictures are going to be inside the book, and we have a firm of printers lined up. Welsh, of course.  The front and back covers are, I think, undecided, although I have my own preferred template in mind, which can easily be explained to the printers.

I was at Stratford last Sunday to see a horse I have a share in run.  He was down the field that day, but there will be better times ahead.  He was bought for a modest amount two years ago and has won three times for us since then, so we certainly can’t complain.   Then to Newmarket on Thursday where some rather more expensive animals were racing.  One of the faces in the crowd was the indefatigable Derek Thompson.  He was commentating and presenting at Chelmsford when I was there a few weeks ago.  The old Tommo style was undimmed.  A jockey called Philip Prince won one race.  “I always call him Prince Philip.”

Later a horse called La Cumparsita won.  Tommo took the trouble to google the name, and told the crowd it was a tango composed in Uruguay in 1916.  (You may not know the name, but the tune will be familiar.)  He used his smartphone to play a recording of part of it over the public address.  Who else would do that?

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