Dick Francis

You cannot live in a rural community, as I do, without observing what an all-encompassing interest horses are to many. Not only racing but riding, owning, grooming, breeding and showing. The equestrian fan is totally absorbed by their pastime. Quite an industry too. It’s not my specialst subject – only ridden twice, once on the Guinness Estate as a guest (good), the other in Algeria (bad). Amazing creatures though. Equine athletes. Limited expertise here. Must say I prefer Delacroix to Stubbs. But do check this stunning volume, Horses by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Jean-Louis Gouraud. The sheer beauty of the animal does not escape me. Also the fertilizer is very impressive for the garden.

And I do enjoy reading a good thriller . . .

Dick Francis. . . Who could not help but be gripped by the extraordinary events at Newbury Race Course last weekend? In the viewers’ enclosure several of the race horses suddenly became extremely distressed. And two died instantly. Ghastly, even on the radio. Possible cause is suspected to be an electric shock from an under-turf source. Not only was it an attention-grabbing news item but I was struck by how many reporters said the event was ‘like a Dick Francis novel’.

A select few authors become synonymous with a sport. Norman Mailer on boxing leaps to mind, but more often than not it is sport as a major strand of popular culture that inspires the novelist, rather than sport per se. Short story writers, however, do favour the activity. But I digress. So you see why I value great writers so highly – for their skill and craft eludes me.

Dick Francis was a serious achiever in British National Hunt racing before he started writing about that world. He won over 350 races, becoming champion jockey  just as British National Hunt racing, in the 1956 Grand Nationalwhen the horse inexplicably fell when close to winning the race. Wikipedia just told me that bit. ’56 is the year I acquired a hyphen.

At Pan Books Dick Francis sales were cantering along nicely. But the feeling was that he should be read beyond his devoted fans in the horse-racing fraternity. “Whether you followed the gee-gees or not they are a good read” they said. And we need covers for his books that stretch his appeal to include them. I was skeptical (the description of jockeys as dwarves dressed as clowns always tickled me) but gave it a shot. I read a few. They were right. He writes at quite a clip. Fast paced, accessible, one sitting reads. All made credible by his wealth of insider knowledge. So the challenge was to package his novels without overt equine imagery to keep the thriller appeal wide as possible. OK marketing peeps.

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The design shown is about nefarious deeds with counterfeit vintage wine against a racing backdrop. I designed two dozen or so with photographer Colin Thomas. A few are shown above.

A graphic design snippet for you: See the bubbles on the meniscus? When photographing drinks you need to be able to control the bubbles. Especially with wine. Too many will appear oxidized. Too few looks flat. And, whilst there is some settled wisdom, opinions differ on the ideal size and number with the wine producer. An air-filled syringe is a time consuming option and as bubbles burst they splash colour on the perfect glass. Solution: you can buy plastic bubbles in unlimited configurations to drop into liquids. They pick up the colour by reflection. Life before PhotoShop.

Thrillers are often referred to as ‘electric’. Maybe that was the cause of the Newbury tragedy? Time, and Clare Balding, will tell.

Will they ever find Proof?