Last Sunday my book, Around The Races In Eighty Days, was reviewed in the Racing Post. It wasn’t a surprise – I’d had the date in my diary for months since Nick they kindly asked for a copy – but I suppose the tone of it was. It wasn’t a savaging by any means. In fact, Keith Melrose wrote some complimentary things and said that the personal aspect to the journey enriched the narrative. However, the final words summarised his opinion neatly: “It is the story of a lost, obsessive, middle-aged man. And, as Steve Davis will tell you, they can be capable of some pretty remarkable things.”
I have to admit to some of those scurrilous accusations. By most interpretations of the human life cycle I am, at 44, “middle-aged”. I’m not even that bothered by it, and have discovered slippers this year, which are warm and comfy and make up for getting older. “Lost”? Not with my new Satnav, but perhaps lacking a little direction was a fair assessment of the position I found myself in. However, it is “obsessive” that I have, well, obsessed about since Sunday.
I always saw my journey as spontaneous, romantic and artistic, showing scant regard for planning, discipline and order. And the comparison with Steve Davis has haunted me these last few days. I’ve been known to occasionally smash a few balls around the green baize (highest break 37, Guildford Rileys 2008, when the balls where lying particularly favourably), and I’ve nothing against the six times world champion who seems like a nice bloke, but Mr Melrose seemed to be making me out to be some sort of trainspotter.
Then I realised something. In the words of Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting “I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. I stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep…..you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about. If I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you’d know a lot about him….but I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”
Look at the reviews on Amazon. Do they say “obsessive”? Look at the comments on Facebook – are they disappointed by the lack of “chapters on the planning” of the route? I really thought I wouldn’t be bothered either way about the review, as one person’s view would be overwhelmed by the comments of Nathan, Ed, Andy et al. These are real people who I didn’t know before they bought and read my book, and that they liked it and (more than that) took the time to write and tell me means everything to me. But the Racing Post is the industry daily, and I found that their review mattered more than I thought it would. Like I say, in many ways it was a positive piece, but I don’t think it truly encapsulated the essence of my book.
I visited 58 racecourses in 78 days, eating 19 cooked breakfasts and finding 72 winners. But numbers, even to an ex-Maths teacher, cannot tell the whole story. I could have written in depth on the many iterations of planning the route, listed my bets in the finest detail, and disclosed the times of the trains I caught. But they would not have revealed the hours of anguish, the savage homesickness and the constant guilt. They could not express the love, laughter, fear and pain of those three months.
Mr Melrose has every right to give his opinion. After all, I asked for it by sending my book to the Racing Post, and if I didn’t want to accept criticism I should never have published it in the first place. But I have every right to put my side of the story – my book is a love story, and not an obsessive one. It is my painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I’m glad it’s there, and you can make up your own mind about it.