Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Because I am an absolute fanatic

for the novels of Dick Francis, I am pasting in this little essay in its entirety. (Thanks to Sarah for the link.) It's up at the Penguin site, and it's really rather touching. I don't know what it is with these books, but I have an almost unmatched fixation on their charms--I am very, very glad he decided to write another novel:

In August 2000, as I approached my eightieth birthday, Mary, my wife, and I decided that after 38 novels, a collection of short stories and two biographies, it was time to call it a day and retire from writing.

Mary and I had always worked on the books together. She was brilliant at the research and had the uncanny knack of asking the right questions to get the information we needed. She learnt all sorts of new skills in the pursuit of knowledge for the stories; she became a pilot for Flying Finish and Rat Race; she took up photography for Reflex and painting for In The Frame. We would discuss the plot every night and she would read through the pages and polish the prose. And so it had been for nearly forty years with a new book every autumn. Now it was time for a rest. But sadly, just a month after we took the decision, Mary suddenly died. Our rest in retirement together was non existent and I was left alone.

It was not a happy time for me and, despite the best intentions of my family and friends, I was suddenly very lonely. They say that time cures, and it does in so far that the raw pain of grief slowly diminishes, but time alone does not heal the hole that exists in the heart, the void that can only be filled by the presence of someone you love. Then, in April last year I was invited to speak at an event in Maryland and to attend the Maryland Hunt Cup steeplechase. I was a house guest of Charlie Fenwick, the American jockey who won the Grand National on Ben Nevis in 1980. Another of his guests was a lady from Virginia called Dagmar Cosby. We had a wonderful weekend in spite of the incessant rain and, for the first time in sixty years, I fell in love. At last, the void was closed.

Felix, my younger son, had tried often to get me to agree to write another book. He said that he would do the research and act for me in the way that his mother had done. Finally, with my life now more complete again, I agreed, and the result is Under Orders, the first Dick Francis novel for six years and one that many people, including me, thought would never be.

Felix and I have greatly enjoyed producing Under Orders. In this story I return to the racecourse and the current steeplechasing scene. My character Sid Halley returns after an eleven year absence (but he’s not much older than he was when he first appeared in Odds Against in 1965). This is the fourth Dick Francis novel in which Sid Halley, the one handed ex-jockey turned private detective, is the main character.

In Under Orders, Sid is asked to investigate the murder of a top steeplechase jockey, gunned down in broad daylight during the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Was the killing something to do with race fixing or is there some other explanation?

Someone once asked me why I always write books about horses. I replied that I don’t; I write books about people. Horses may always be in there somewhere but it is the people who act out the story on the page; it is the people who provide the characterisation; and it is the people who are the goodies and the baddies. The horses and the racing world merely act as the canvas upon which the story is drawn. To say that Dick Francis novels are all about horses is like saying that Gone With The Wind is all about the American Civil War, or Billy Elliot is all about the miners’ strike.

(If you're curious, here's the digest of previous Dick Francis posts at Light Reading.)

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely article. I liked it all, but one highlight is that he writes about "people not horses".

    Incidentally, I really like DF novels too! I've read them all, apart from the last two or three. Perhaps I do not like them with the same intense obsession as you;-), but I do like them.