22nd March 2018
I have just returned from a wonderful weekend in France, having been a guest at the festival of literature held in the south-west coastal town of Royan. Vent díIrlande celebrated Irish literature and I was very honoured to appear at the impressive Palais des Congres, on the seafront, to speak about my work. It was a great moment to see Chantilly Dawns and Sainte Bastien nestling in such esteemed company.
A gala dinner was held on the Saturday evening and the local people entered into the full spirit of St Patrickís day, dressing in green and gold and making a very good attempt at Irish dancing. The entertainment and company couldnít be topped.
It was then my turn to take to the stage and translator Debbie Grascoeur did a marvellous job ensuring the audience learned about my work and influences and had the opportunity to ask me questions. It really was an enjoyable weekend and a credit to the Royan town council.
4th March 2018
Well, we survived
four days of being snowed in, having encountered the shock of empty
shelves in the Athy supermarkets last Monday, before even a snowflake
had appeared. I thought panic-buying only happened in screenplays and
sitcoms. But community spirit was in abundance when a neighbour
dropped my horse and bullock down a bale of hay, when the snow was at
I did enjoy the snow, as did all my pets, but now I'm
looking forward to some early sun, as I head to the Irish Literary
Festival at Royan, South-West France, 16th March. I am honoured that
Royan will this year feature my novel, Chantilly Dawns, but even more
exciting is to be invited onto the discussion panel which also
features short-story writer Claire Keegan and publisher Joelle
Losfeld, chaired by animator Brigitte Bastiat. That will be in the
Palais des Congres at 11am on Sunday 18th March.
At the end of
the month, together with a small delegation of Irish authors, I have
been invited to meet President Higgins to discuss the problems facing
Irish writers and our colleagues worldwide, many of whom risk
imprisonment for using their pen as a sword. It is heartening that a
prominent public figure is prepared to listen and, hopefully,
12th February 2018
news in today's Racing Post, which I suspect will be met with
negativity by most members of the press, but I live in hope. Jeremy
Wray has put forward a Team Series for Thursday (eg) nights in the Formula 1 and Premiership format, focusing on the characters of the sport. I have for long shouted myself hoarse to have betting removed from racing coverage, and this just might be a presentation package that makes this possible. Again, I live in hope...
If big brand sponsors come on board to have their teams of four jockeys and varied horses competing in their team colours in the series, it will be about the two athletes representing them, the horse and the jockey. If the televised package can focus on that, we won't need betting shows or pundits telling us the "value", simply experts analysing how each team may perform and what to look out for. This will engage new interest, not wasting time seeing where the money is going. Let's make racing a sport once more, not a betting app!
22nd January 2018
So far this month I've had the pleasure of collecting some
fascinating readers' tales for The Irish Field Cheltenham magazine, as well as enjoying the delights of Ireland's
stud farms. I was most impressed by my first visit to Bridge House Stud, where the stallions live out with a group
of mares and all look incredibly well for it.
I also attended some authors' events at the Writers' Centre and
met new friends, which is always inspiring. Now I really MUST finish the novel-in-progress this year!
distracted by Marcus Otho, the AD68 Roman Emperor, with whom I had a fling while researching and writing "Nero"!
Sometimes characters haunt you and demand attention, so he had me writing a short story, just to shut him up!
Having dipped back into Suetonius and Tacitus and devoured two more John Green novels, it really is time to write,
8th January 2018
A very happy new year to you all, let's hope it's a good one with plenty of nice surprises. Mine begins with no surprises, but the usual delight of touring the country's stud farms, viewing stallions in advance of the breeding season, which kicks off appropriately on 14th February. Thoroughbreds are hopeless romantics! Their owners are certainly hopeless dreamers!
I'm particularly looking forward to seeing new horses and the younger stallions, to see how they've matured and grown over the winter. That will be my main concern come March/early April, too, when the chance to see the Classic generation of racehorses arises. Many people now are already wishing their life away, dreaming of Cheltenham, but I'm dreaming of the following week and a first look at the Ballydoyle superstars! Flag Of Honour and Kew Gardens remain my favourites, but it will be interesting to see Gustav Klimt. I'm not holding out much hope of getting my first 2018 surprise - a marked growth and improvement in Saxon Warrior. One to follow with caution, I think.
On the writing front, I hope this year to progress with the novel-not-so-far-in-progress. I raced along with it this time last year, before the day job slowed my progress. Still at chapter three, so I hope to add at least 15 more this year! I'm also hoping to attend the Irish Literary Festival in Royan, south-west France, where Chantilly Dawns may be making an impact. Who knows what fortune 2018 will yet bring, the beauty of a fresh year and clean page.
8th December 2017
I had a wonderful time at The Derby Awards in London on Monday and, even if you aren't one of the lucky winners, it's great to meet up and socialise and celebrate a fantastic year's racing. I feel so privileged to be in such good company. It's good to see the media's role in racing recognised, because the men and women of the pressroom help to keep important issues in the public spotlight, even if I do complain there's too much relevance placed on the betting side of the sport.
We then enjoyed Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park before the genuine winter wonderland hit us here at home! My retired racehorse, Leitmotif, loves frost and snow, so greeted me this morning with the biggest smile on his face as we awoke to snow. If Rudolph's busy this year, he may put himself forward for his dream job!
23rd November 2017
It has been a busy and fraught past few weeks, not all happy, but this week the Carlow Women's Network Creative Writing Group concluded its course with a wonderful evening of readings, which as always made me feel honoured to have encouraged such talented writers. I really am lucky to be able to facilitate classes for burgeoning writers and storytellers.
Saturday will see me graduate from my own education experience, the Transformative Community Education course that kept me busy and enthusuastic throughout the spring and summer. I so enjoyed it and I hope I can take what I have learned into the classroom and improve life for my own students. Now, what to wear under that cap and gown..?
The racing has finished for the year, but now comes the best part - dreaming of next year! My Derby colts are Flag Of Honour and Kew Gardens, while we have a wealth of talented fillies again here in Ireland. Who's to say we won't be watching Aidan O'Brien trying to beat his own record come next October and November?!
3rd October 2017
What a wonderful weekend of racing - oh to be in two places
at once! Enable established herself as a true champion, with victory never once in doubt and Frankie providing a
masterclass in riding Chantilly. That said, I enjoyed seeing a masterclass from one of my favourites, Stephane
Pasquier, and Maxime Guyon as they took a typically competitive spin round Chantilly for ITV! Newmarket on Saturday
clarified the One Thousand Guineas picture slightly with an excellent win by Clemmie. Wild Illusion's win on Sunday
looks more of an Oaks type, but Happily is another entering One Thousand Guineas reckoning. Masar, however, has
blotted his Derby prospects somewhat. I can't wait to see how my idea of a Derby horse, Flag Of Honour, runs
tomorrow at Naas!
And speaking of The Derby, I am delighted to have once again been nominated for Horserace
Writer of the Year at The Derby Awards, for the tenth successive year! Most people would wait and dine out on
winning, but I'm neither that optimistic nor blase, so I am content to view a mere nomination as my Derby! It's not
so mere a feat, either. It takes a lot to produce a body of work over the year and to complete three worthy
articles to stand out within that body. I'm so grateful to my editors for providing such taxing and interesting
topics, especially Giles and Oscar at Trainer Magazine.
6th September 2017
I'm greatly looking forward to one of our biggest events of the racing year, Irish Champions Weekend. There's such a feel good factor to it, a massive buzz about the place on both days. I think everyone gets such a huge kick out of seeing so many good horses assembled in one place. Even those you barely know give you a beaming ďhelloĒ like old friends, it's like the Festive spirit come early! Will we see next year's Guineas or Derby, Oaks winners on show? I have my doubts we'll see the 2018 Derby winner, he's elsewhere, but I hope to spot Classic potential there somewhere.
Here at home I'm kept busy by the patter of tiny (webbed) feet! We welcomed nine ducklings into the family last week and with Mum and Dad make up a football team! Lots of fowls mind you, pardon the pun!
I'm also back to work with Creative Writing classes and am enjoying my new group, so inspiring. I can't wait to start hearing their stories. I was a student myself during the year (and still have the Student Card to prove it!) and was delighted to pass with Credit a course in Transformative Community Education. I learnt such a lot and it was a lovely excuse to revisit Marx! I hope that will now benefit my new students.
11th August 2017
Just back from a
fantastic week at the Rebellion Festival, a four-day punk festival held in Blackpool's Winter Gardens. It did mean missing a lot of Goodwood, but the music
is great, the atmosphere even better and the people wonderful. So good to mix with people with such wonderful ethics and sense of brotherhood for all. It's
always sad to leave and return to a society that's largely quite narrow-minded and a prevailing "I'm alright Jack" attitude.
That said, my first two
jobs back in the real world were compiling an interview for the trainers' association and profiling the two new ITBA Next Generation apprentices, both tasks
so positive and enjoyable. It's good to know the people in power really care about horseracing and its employees and customers. It may not always show, but
they're working hard to correct faults and improve. The apprentices are going to have great support and education in their year ahead, another way the
industry helps. Like the punk ethos - stop worrying about yourself, help others and you'll be helping yourself in the long run.
13th July 2017
There is usually a great positive vibe at the racecourse or on farms and at industry meetings, but Iím sorry to say I felt quite sad for the racing community on two counts last week.
The first is my age-old bugbear, bookmakers. I have no objection to people gambling on horses, but it should never be tied-in as part of the sport. You donít see odds interfering with any other televised sport and nor should they in horseracing. So when leading bookmakers took the Tote to task for one of its adverts, I was really annoyed.
People always say to me, Why canít we have cheap entrance prices and better prize money, like they have in France? In France, there are no bookmakers, the Tote monopoly ensures funds are ploughed back into racing. We have the same opportunity here and I cannot believe that racing industry professionals, if choosing to have a bet, donít support the Tote. So what, if your Ä100 yields 7/4 with a bookie but only 6/4 on the Tote Ė instead of profiting Ä175 you only profit by Ä150. And when you lose, which youíll do much more often, it goes toward cheaper entrance prices and better prize money. Look upon what you lose out of your winnings (and quite often the Tote odds are better, not lower) as a charity donation to the industry. Better than the vast amounts you usually donate to a bookmaker!
Support the Tote, itís one of our own. Unfortunately, the other sorry news item was the rekindling by the Racing Post of the whip controversy, where no controversy currently exists. There is little point preaching to the converted. If you go into a saddlery shop and pick up any unregulated whip sold to children for their ponies, which are used as punishment for ďbadĒ behaviour, youíll find a nasty little device for dishing out hurt.
If, however, you pick up a Regulated Racing Standard whip, youíll have a soft, air-cushioned extension of an arm. Strike yourself as hard as you can with it, across your cheek or palm of your hand. Stop when youíre bored. Itís a tool for encouragement, like a pat on the back to keep going when youíre running a race. Think about it, folks, if it was a punishment, why would anyone punish a horse for racing, when thatís the whole point?! If it hurt, the horse would connect it with running fast and would stop. People still smack naughty dogs, kids still smack ponies they canít control. In racing, working with athletes, we know that never works. We reward good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour. That works. But thereís no point telling the armchair viewer or the anti-racing people, because theyíll never go to a stable or pick up a racing whip. For them, ignorance is not bliss.
6th July 2017
The summer season of educational courses and workshops got underway at the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association (ITBA) this week and itís a pleasure to be invited to take notes, so that educational booklets can be produced for ITBA members unable to attend. Sometimes it doesnít sound such an obvious pleasure, writing about employment law or tax issues, but the speakers are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that it does turn out to be a pleasure listening to them and I always learn something new, even if itís a topic Iíve covered in the past. Thank you ITBA, what a great service they provide.
Other parts of my day job included gathering quotes on Irelandís leading stallions, which included ďheís a horny little devilĒ and ďheís never had a bad word to say about anyoneĒ and I couldnít be in a better job, meeting such genuinely nice people and horses. The only problem is, racing thriller number four is still dormant at Chapter Two! And Iíve realised I donít have a villain. Any volunteers?
4th July 2017
You can be certain by my absence here that June was a busy month. I successfully completed a course in Transformative Community Education, to complement my role as a creative writing facilitator. It was most enjoyable and highly political Ė I donít usually get to quote Marx during my day job! The exam was taxing, my first in 37 years, but I was satisfied with 90%! 37 yearsí of practice, perhaps!
Then came The Derby, Royal Ascot and the Irish Derby, a feast of beautiful equine athletes. The humans scrubbed up nicely for the occasion, too! At Ascot, even the press room had to abide by the strict dress code, but no complaints at rushing about in far from practical clothes in 34 degrees of heat, every minute was a pleasure. I canít wait to see the two juvenile fillies Different League and September, and the colt Sioux Nation, graduate to even bigger and better things next year. The current stars are establishing a pecking order, but the hunt for next yearís Classic heroes has already begun. Exciting timesÖ
18th May 2017
So, did I say if we get to the Dante without knowing The Derby winner then it must be the Dante winner? Maybe not this year. Permian may have boosted Cracksmanís form, but he didnít look much like a Derby winner and there was only a short-head between them at Epsom. The most solid display might be Best Solution (thereíll be none happier than me, bar Saeed and the Sheikh himself should he win for Saeed!) and the horse most looking the part is Cliffs Of Moher, but they all have their question marks, as does Akihiro, who would come on for the firmer ground and distance if allowed to take his chance. I still like the somewhat disgraced CapriÖ
HmmmÖ what an unusual Derby! Thereís only one Derby winner born each year and itís much more usual to know who he is from the moment he steps out in a paddock Ė even with his dam as a foal! Thankfully, my Transformative Education classes are a lot easier! Highly political and so far easy to relate to Marx, so Iím enjoying it, particularly the example of education set by the Zapatistas in Mexico. As an Anarchist I couldnít have found a better course. Now to find The Derby winner!
15th May 2017
A hectic few weeks, as usual! On Thursday, I was privileged to attend a seminar on Equine Welfare and the speakers were fantastic, so hard-working and passionate. The Irish National Stud made everyone so welcome and it coincided with the visit of the Duchess of Cornwall, who Iím sure must have been impressed. Links to the Seminar Report are on my Facebook page and The Irish Field website.
Meanwhile the hunt for this yearís Derby winner is underway. We have Cliffs Of Moher, France may choose to send one of what appears to be a superior collection of colts and Yorkís Dante meeting will shed even further light. As usual, if weíve reached this point of the year without knowing what will win The Derby, then it must be the Dante winner.
My final excitement, between also embarking on a 12-week teacher-training course on Transformative Community Education (no wonder my last entry here was March!), is the release at long last of the paperback edition of Sainte Bastien! It is being celebrated by my publisher with the re-release of Gala Day and Chantilly Dawns, so the whole trilogy is now available in paperback from Amazon and shops. Watch this space for launch news!
29th March 2017
The Flat season has opened here in Ireland and makes its delayed reappearance at Doncaster next week, and the mighty Ballydoyle string flexed its muscles on Monday. Churchill still looks like a Guineas winner, The Derby picture remains dependent on the forthcoming trials and whether Andrť Fabre sends one over, but what is slightly different this year is the alarming change to Rule 212.
ĒEvery horse must be seen, to a reasonable and informed member of the racing public, to have been run on its merits.Ē
As my primary journalistic role (and passion) is racing welfare, both for horses and those who care for them, this phrase hurts. Punters can bet on football without having any influence on a refereeís decision or a managerís choices. Punters can bet on tennis without affecting an umpireís decision. So why is a sport rewriting its Rule Book to allow for the opinions of punters?
It is already bad enough that stewards are non-professionals and often ignorant of the valid excuses jockeys and trainers present after a race. Now we are faced with jockeys having to be seen to achieve the best possible placing in a race Ė which is NOT achieving the best possible placing FOR THEIR HORSE. I hope you can appreciate the difference there. Because the new Rule 212 can potentially damage the welfare of a racehorse as well as the livelihood of its rider and trainer.
A top jockey can still nurse a young horse home in a race, giving it an educational day out and a happy experience in readiness for its subsequent career, because a top jockey can afford the fines and suspensions. A lesser jockey can afford neither. On the Flat, we have young horses making their debut and itís crucial for their mental well-being they enjoy the experience. It isnít crucial they win. Next time, they have already taken in the atmosphere and surroundings and will concentrate on the job in hand. This time itís the happy experience that matters. In NH, a horse may have taken a few spills at home and needs a confidence booster. It isnít about going all out for the winning post, itís about restoring the horseís confidence and ensuring he or she enjoys the experience. Rule 212 is clearly NOT about that at all.
Itís not safeguarding the horse, itís just safeguarding the punter and I donít think any decent-minded punter wants that sacrifice made on his or her behalf. Yours, Annoyed of Kildare.
26th February 2017
This week came the news of Thierry Jarnetís retirement. My initial favourite jockey was Joe Mercer, very much of the old traditional British riding style, but like all my riding heroes a sympathetic jockey with beautiful hands and balance.
Once I started going racing in France and discovered Philippe Paquet, I had a new hero. Until 1990, the best jockey I was fortunate to see ride. Today, all great international riders have adopted that short style, but in the late 70s it was still frowned upon in Britain and the French riding style seen as something belonging in the circus! For me, it was the epitome of horsemanship and race-riding, to so perfectly match the horseís point of balance and amplify the power of hands of silk. None achieved it better than Paquet.
And then one day in 1990 I spotted Monsieur Paquet circling behind the stalls at the start of a race! Impossible! But seeing Thierry Jarnet for the first time was like turning back the clock. I had a new hero, one I was lucky enough to meet and interview more than once. I have so many happy memories connected with Jarnet and they epitomise why we love horseracing, just as Jarnet epitomised what a good jockey is. I wish him as much pleasure in retirement as he provided us in his career.
22nd February 2017
At the weekend we enjoyed four days of good music and excellent company in Tufnell Park, London, for the four-day punk festival Another Winter Of Discontent. Such a pleasure to mix with top class bands, old and new, and like-minded people sharing such a great ethos. Also a pleasure to meet new friends and catch up with old friends. Discontent suits punks, but truthfully Contentment would be more apt!
10th February 2017
Adam Haslett recently wrote: ďA psychiatrist friend once pointed out to me that one of the definitions of psychosis is a fixed belief in an imaginary world lasting months or years, which no one but the patient himself is able to perceive. He wondered aloud if this wasnít also a decent definition of a novelist.Ē Like Haslett, I think he has a point!
So, psychosis is one of the prerequisites of being a good writer. The world you create has got to be real and the people inhabiting it equally real and an intimate part of your own life. Good fiction is all about creating real people in real situations. Thatís why genuine real people in their genuinely real situations will never work in fiction! Too far-fetched to be credible! As I write this, spookily Bad Religion have just popped up on my random jukebox to tell me truth is stranger than fiction and life is the crummiest book theyíve read! Howís that for perfect timing?
I mention all this because I held a really enjoyable creative writing workshop during the week and the only lesson to be taught is there are no rules to creative writing. As long as you have a Beginning, Middle and End, introduce a character we can engage with and relay what that character wants and how they achieve it, you have a story. Go for it, folks!
1st February 2017
A new month and an exciting week. Tomorrow I shall be pitching one of my novels, Chantilly Dawns, to a film director and weíre hoping it translates well to screen. A previous novel, Nero, led me on a similar journey and that was such a good experience, introducing me to the different medium of screenwriting and lasting friendships among scriptwriters. I called on them for help with my pitch! Who said writing was a lonely experience?
Having spent a lovely morning yesterday at the Horse Racing Ireland offices with Aidan McGarry, introducing me to the great new initiative to support trainers, it was lovely to see the big Flat strings back in work on the Curragh, albeit still chubby and woolly! Our dog, who likes to run along with my own horse, barking wildly, was unusually quiet when faced with 30 of them!
On Friday, I shall be at the national horseracing industry seminar in Clonmel and the speakers will definitely have me scribbling capacious notes. Read all about it in next Saturdayís Irish Field! Needless to say, Iím still only 10 pages in to the new novel and thatís unlikely to change this week!
17th January 2017
Another year, another promise to do better! My diary isnít always kept up to date, but then again like most peopleís diaries, there often isnít much to put in it.
Iím usually looking forward to seeing the next Derby winner in a pre-season work-out at this time of year, but have yet to see a likely 2017 Derby winner. Churchill is far and away the best of last yearís juveniles that Iíve seen, a Guineas type for sure, but not quite bred to see out The Derby trip. Like Golden Horn, we may play a waiting game this season, but weíll know for sure by May.
The Derby, as with all the prestigious races, is important to provide a measure throughout the years. Horseracing isnít about betting, despite the mediaís best efforts to convince us otherwise, itís about the horse and jockey, two athletes paired. The horse is what engages us and no matter which year your interest in racing is sparked, you can become an instant expert by seeing the races your favourite horse this year has won and looking back on the horses before him who won those same races, right back to 1780 and further in some cases. With the Pattern Race Programme, itís all self-explanatory, so I hope no more races suffer name changes or get displaced within that programme.
As a writer I understand the value of history and its ability to ground us. I have just started the new Ďnovel-in-progressí; this time last year I was nearing the end of the previous Ďnovel-in-progressí, now on the bookstore shelves as Sainte Bastien. Incredible what a journey it is! Iím only ten pages in so far, but already I have twice as many pages of notes and scenarios in my head, spurring me on, and Iím so aware that a sense of past and history root the story, if only for myself. Itís all one world, within my books, and the connection, even slight, helps strengthen that world. I wish the media understood that when promoting horseracing. It needs to be promoted as a sport, not a betting medium.
10th December 2016
It was a very special week last week, with the UK launch of Sainte Bastien held at the Newmarket stables of trainer Ilka Ganera-Leveque. Saint Wendredís , Hamilton Road, proved the perfect setting for a truly living launch, the horses enjoying the attention and the guests getting a genuine feel of the bookís content. As Turf historian and author, Michael Tanner, said of Sainte Bastien when officially launching it: ďYou can smell the strawĒ and that afternoon you actually could!
I canít thank Ilka and her team enough and also all those who travelled such long distances to be there and buy copies. As a result, a healthy sum was raised for the Freddy Tylicki Fund and my thoughts are with Freddy, who took such a nasty fall only last month and whose life will never quite be the same again. As a jockey he was an inspiration to many and Iím sure as he bravely begins a new life he will prove a great inspiration to many more.
My diary updates suffered as a result of the book launch and continuing feature-writing and deadlines and Iím afraid it will hardly improve. There will be an exclusive Irish launch shortly and the features continue to heap pressing deadlines on my limited time. So perhaps I should be realistic and finish here with Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope 2017 is a good one.
23rd October 2016
The Flat season is now sadly over for another year, but perhaps it might allow me to keep more up-to-date with my diary! I donít currently have a novel on the go, although Iím toying with ideas. I have an excellent plot in mind, but I need a character to arrive in my head and seduce me! My work is character-driven and a plot is nothing if the reader (or author) doesnít care about the protagonist.
Iím not alone in this. I had the great honour of mediating a panel of authors at the recent Kildare Readers Festival, where I was joined on stage by authors Margaret Scott, Martina Reilly and Martin Malone. What the audience learned was that we have day jobs and must fit in our writing wherever and whenever we can. We have ears on elastic when it comes to characterisation and we allow our characters to dictate the story to us, rather than controlling them, even if that may mean not knowing the ending until we get there. Basically, the writing of a good novel is not unlike the reading of a good novel!
Meanwhile, the blogs from the characters of Sainte Bastien, my latest novel, continue, but this week itís my turn and the title, holding out for a hero, provides a hint for the topic. I canít start the next book without one! The blogs can be viewed at maverickhouse.com
16th September 2016
It was a great weekend of racing in Ireland, France, Germany and Britain, but we were away celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary at Brighton racecourse, no less! We had a lovely time at the Undercover Festival, our thanks to organiser Mick Moriarty and his family, and all the bands and audience who made it special.
The blogs from the characters of Sainte Bastien, my latest novel, continue and this week itís the turn of the main antagonist, Dominic. They can be viewed at maverickhouse.com and my own blog may be next!
6th September 2016
It has been a busy few weeks, between work and play. Although work largely IS play, Iím privileged to say! Lots of racing and the arrival of the sad, but Ďbest book of the yearí, Wildenstein Dispersal catalogue from Goffs, a real trip down memory lane with each turn of the page a veritable Whoís Who of famous horses.
The blogs from the characters of Sainte Bastien, my latest novel, continue and can be viewed at maverickhouse.com. They actually inspired me to write one of my own! Iím also writing several articles for forthcoming magazines, including an interesting one on Purebred Arabian racing, as well as further education opportunities for stable staff, from which I learnt a lot.
I could only write a blog of my own if I had news, of course, and while there is still no date for the release of Sainte Bastien as a paperback, I suppose my own big news is that the next novel-in-progress is starting to form! Set within a betting office, but there will no doubt be a horse or two as well.
Iím never far from horses or music (one is beginning to affect my hearing, alas!) and next weekend the music takes preference. We have enjoyed a summer of punk festivals and will ďSee Ya Down The FrontĒ at Undercover, held at Brighton Racecourse Ė how apt! The rest of you can enjoy a feast of top class racing at the Curragh, Leopardstown and Doncaster. Iíll be catching up with those I missed at Chantilly quite soon, instead!
16th August 2016
My publisher, among others, requested a blog, but as I do very little of interest other than create stories and characters, I thought those characters were in a better position to write an interesting blog! So my first port of call was to Mark Ashton, retired jockey and the first person the reader is introduced to in my latest novel, Sainte Bastien.
Mark Ashtonís Blog
I know I had a bit of an embarrassing blip, but on the whole retirementís good. More time to spend with the wife and kids. That puppy Iíd always promised them. And Iíve been getting a load done round the house. Yeah, lifeís pretty good. Itís not what I wouldíve wanted, no one plans to retire at 30. As a jockey, you know itís coming. 45 or 50 tops, if injury doesnít get you first. So itís a bit of a kick in the guts this soon, íspecially as Kymís a good five years older than me. Heís my replacement. Seeing him with my job, that sucks, I can tell you.
I miss it, of course. That rush. That adrenalin kick. Unless youíve experienced it, youíve no idea the rush you get, riding a racehorse at 45 miles an hour. Nothing compares. Not pissing about on ponies. Not even doing half-speeds on racehorses on the gallops of a morning. Thatís all Iím allowed since my back went. Shoved up on the quieter ones, out of sympathy, while everyone else gets to notch it up a gear on the good ones. It hurts, I donít mind saying. And itís not my back Iím talking about.
But, really, lifeís good right now. Just hanging out with Kerry and the kids. I missed out on that, riding. Youíd be out on the gallops by seven in the morning and not home from the races ítil seven at the earliest, in bed by ten, seven days a week. So Iím just making the most of it now, chilling out a bit ítil I find my feet.
Lifeís good. You just need reminding sometimes, thatís all.
11th July 2016
Well, the big news at last! Long awaited, I must say, but it took me 14 months to write (plus two years of thought process before the pen work began!) so a couple of months of production isnít so bad for my new novel SAINTE BASTIEN, out as an eBook this week!
Whatís it about? At the risk of paraphrasing artist Brian, who lives downstairs in TVís "Spaced", it's about Pain, Fear, Ambition and Loss. A widower loses control of his troubled teenage son and must choose between protecting the family name or those around him.
The widower is a racehorse trainer, his son an apprentice jockey, so the background is horseracing, but as with Chantilly Dawns and Gala Day, you donít need any interest in, or knowledge of, horses or racing to enjoy it. In past reviews both The Irish Field and Crime Pays have described me as ďIrelandís Dick FrancisĒ so letís hope Sainte Bastien is the best one yet.
As a writer, Iím constantly trying to raise my game and Sainte Bastien was certainly a challenge, so I hope it meets with approval. The paperback edition will follow on the heels of the eBook and there will be an official launch, both in Ireland and the UK, so watch this space!
11th June 2016
A pleasure to see a win for Harzand, Pat & Mr Weld in The Derby, even though they pipped my long-time tip, US Army Ranger. Meanwhile, itís our world championships next week and Iím so excited about heading off to Royal Ascot. Usually we look forward to seeing one good horse at a meeting. Next week, Iíll be looking forward to seeing three or four good horses in the first four races on all five days!
Iím also in sporting heaven, with three great football matches in one day! I love tournaments and wall-to-wall football on TV, but how to fit the afternoon matches in with the racing next week?!
Finally, my publisher tells me Sainte Bastien will be out this month, so Iíll keep you posted. Listen out for my appearance on Dublin South FMís Rhyme And Reason, due to be aired on 1st July, where Iíll be discussing Sainte Bastien and writing, as well as choosing three of my (40 or so!) favourite songs.
See you at Ascot!
26th May 2016
I am delighted that Prof. Dr Hasan Bahar is keeping me posted of the 1st Century racing finds in Turkey - who knows, my next racing novel might be set in the past!
Here in the present, things are moving along with Sainte Bastien and I now have a publicist assigned by the publisher, as well as being delighted to have on board a very special racing guest to launch the book. All we need now is a publication date!
Looking ahead to the future, next weekend is the race all thoroughbreds are born for, The Derby. Some 17,000 foals are born each year throughout Britain, Ireland, France and Germany, but only one of those will win The Derby as a three-year-old. So when you see him, you tend to know! Last year I was convinced it was Moonlight Magic, but having got a first look at US Army Ranger back in March, prior to his first race, I am quite confident he can pip Moonlight Magic to that famous Epsom post. The French colt Cloth Of Stars could be there for third. Exciting stuff!
6th May 2016
What an interesting week for horseracing. In Turkey, a set of 2000-year-old Rules were discovered in a stone tablet in the ruins of a Roman circus. And more up-to-date, we have the first Classics and Classic trials. US Army Ranger remains strong for The Derby, I was impressed by his Chester win (unlike the pundits talking through pockets!) Midterm is one to look forward to next week and Air Force Blue could yet return to glory in the Irish Guineas. Minding and Alice Springs look like an Oaks 1-2!
No news on the launch date of Sainte Bastien yet, but you can be sure Iíll keep you posted. Itís already had some massively encouraging reviews, more than one of which included the words ďwowĒ or ďwonderfulĒ, which I was optimistically aiming for when writing it, but never dreamed Iíd ever achieve!
21st April 2016
Sainte Bastien is currently with the publisher and Iím awaiting a launch date, which is expected to be in May, so all very exciting! There will be a UK launch, too, in Newmarket Ė a ďliving launchĒ at a racing yard, where fiction and reality will meet and readers who know nothing of racing and horses will get the chance to meet a trainer and racehorses, in June sometime.
Meanwhile, Iím back in the real world of horses again and looking forward to the Classics. My favourites from last year have progressed or disappointed, Moonlight Magic sadly being a case of the latter, while US Army Ranger and Kellstorm, unseen last year, are now heading my list, slightly ahead of Landofhopeandglory and Johannes Vermeer.
Iím most looking forward to seeing Herald The Dawn, to see how heís progressed over the winter, but Air Force Blue is looking very well and a hard one to beat in the Guineas. A highlight of the year even further ahead is the prospoect of an Arc run at Chantilly! What a year awaits, happy days!
17th March 2016
Monday was a red-letter day for me, as at long last I typed the final full stop of Sainte Bastien! Itís a terrific feeling to see it all through to its conclusion, especially as I was more than happy with that conclusion. It all just fell into place so well. Sometimes it can be a struggle to find those last all-important concluding few words, but on this occasion they just found me!
I now suddenly find myself with spare time! But it will be merrily filled, not least with the start of the Flat season at the Curragh on Sunday. Not only a good dayís racing, but after racing will be the opportunity to see the very best of the Ballydoyle horses. Canít wait!
4th March 2016
Often wondered what it's like to write for a living? How to get a book published? How to get a book written? Why not come and meet me and many other writers tomorrow from 12-5 at the Irish Writersí Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin, where we will be happy to mingle and chat! As a facilitator of creative writing, I like nothing better than to encourage new writers, so feel free to seek advice.
Meanwhile, Sainte Bastien is just about ready to go to the publisher, its final thrilling chapter completed far above the world, on an aeroplane, no less! Thank heaven for Word app on a mobile phone!
1 February 2016
Other than taking time out to follow the Irish Stallion Trail and meet lots of old friends, as well as those only recently retired to stud, I have been working away on the novel.
Sainte Bastien is racing towards its finishing line, a hands and heels ride after a lot of bumping and interference in the back stretch! The plot is very dark and Iím thoroughly enjoying unravelling the characters and revealing their fate!
Watch this space!
10 January 2016
Happy New Year! No point my resolving to keep my diary regularly updated, you can see how that will pan out from the date of my previous entry!
But I do resolve to get my novel-in-progress, Sainte Bastien, finished ASAP. Nearing the finish line and can no longer reveal any of my trials & tribulations along the way, as at this stage theyíll be plot spoilers! Suffice it to say, itís going well and to plan.
Stud farms across Ireland will open their doors to the public on 22nd and 23rd January, so take advantage and call in to as many as you can, itís a great day out and youíll learn a lot about horses. When else can you text your friends ďIím just having tea at the Aga Khanís, on my way to Sheikh MohammedísĒ!
20 November 2015
David Redvers today spoke out on behalf of QIPCO on the unnecessary coverage given to betting during televised racing. At last someone agrees with me! The sport of horseracing pits a pair of skilled athletes against other pairs of skilled athletes. If people want to bet on the outcome, so be it, but that isnít what the sport is about or how it should be presented.
Iím sure people bet on football matches, rugby, cricket and tennis. But you donít see the MotD panel referring to the opinions of punters when analysing how United will fair against City. Itís irrelevant; and so it should be in racing.
13 November 2015
Despite my absence here, progress on the completion of Sainte Bastien has been slower than hoped. Itís a complicated plot and just when I was happy with the timing and revelations, Iím now so close to the end Iím losing track of what Iíve revealed and what has yet to be leaked! Iím spending more time checking back through than writing! I was the same with Gala Day, I recall my heart stopping as I read the final proofs, believing a whole chunk had been missed out somehow Ė but the chunk just appeared a few pages later! A hazard of the author knowing slightly more about events than the reader!
Meanwhile, Iím still reeling from the sad passing of Pat Eddery, one of the true greats of the turf from a golden era of wonderful jockeys. Every tribute recalls his kindness and sense of humour, and I remember the two combined, when he kindly gave an injured friend and party of four a lift to the yard in the non-existent back of his coupe!
Many tributes cite Dancing Brave as one of his most memorable rides, but not for me. Greville rode the same race in The Derby, the difference being the photo went the wrong way. Itís easy to be the hero when the photo goes the right way. For me, Patís finest rides were those you wouldnít have noticed or remembered, on Fox and One Fleet Street. No one else would have won on them. Patís quality was there for all to see on the big occasion, on the best horses, but it was his ability to conjure up the best performances from the average horses on the mediocre days that made him Champion Jockey and a joy to watch, every day. RIP, Pat.
03 November 2015
I will be in hibernation mode now that the Flat season has ended, but it gives me a great opportunity to knuckle down and finish the novel. Sainte Bastien is trundling towards a thrilling conclusion and all of the threads I wove, which I never thought I'd cope with, have unravelled nicely, with thanks more to the characters than the author! I just follow their progress!
24 October 2015
Well, it took to the very last day of the season, but at last two very realistic Derby prospects have appeared, to join Johannes Vermeer on the Derby list! The impeccably-bred Moonlight Magic looks every inch the part, while Landofhopeandglory oozes class and looks sure to see out the St Leger trip as well, so 12f is well within both their grasps. Roll on 2016!
12 October 2015
The Flat season draws to a close, but weíve been blessed once more in seeing some wonderful top class two-year-olds about whom we can spend the winter dreaming. Last season the Guineas looked set to go to Gleneagles, so letís hope Air Force Blue can follow suit. Together with Herald The Dawn, he is one of the best of his generation Iíve seen here at home, and Smash Williams wouldnít be far behind. I also like Black Sea, who looks a nice middle-distance prospect.
We also have a wonderful crop of fillies, probably the nicest generation of the fairer sex weíve had in a long time. Itís a pity Pascal Baryís Antonoe fractured a pelvis, as she looks top class and letís hope she enjoys a speedy recovery. Ballydoyle, Minding, Coolmore, Now Or Never, Star Of Kings and Miss Katie Mae are all a bit special, bit I especially love Miss Elizabeth, Alice Springs and How High The Moon. Jim Bolger and David Wachman have some very nice fillies as well!
With my feet touching back down to earth again after the thrill of Arc weekend, itís time to settle back to the novel once more and replace the Curragh with the fictional activities of Sainte Bastien! Thank heaven the real world isnít so dark and menacing!
18 September 2015
I know I said Iíd keep my diary up-to-date here, but as readers of The Irish Field, Trainer, EBN, Black Type, International Thoroughbred and Owner Breeder will verify, I have been horribly busy of late! Enjoyably so, I should add.
Thanks to the recent Congress held by the International Thoroughbred Breedersí Federation, I am also considerably more knowledgeable on genetics and vetting practices!
I havenít enough hours or space to fill you all in about the thrill of Irish Champions Weekend, but there will be more than one British Classic falling to an Irish-trained horse next year, of that Iím confident. The exciting Arc weekend is next on my agenda and I canít wait!
So I give you ample warning that the diary will remain un-updated! I will be spending next week concentrating solely on my forthcoming novel, Sainte Bastien, and recommend you check back here in one weekís time!
06 September 2015
Not easy, being a thriller writer. Having just checked my Rules of Racing, does my villain get his victim stood down for the mandatory 21 days, which seems like a cunning plan until I realise I have to handle the absence of said victim for three whole weeks! Guess I'll just have to wreak havoc in some other underhand way! You just can't have these villains running about the place giving authors headaches! And now I'm realising the BHA make as good a villain as the old dreaded Jockey Club, which I retain for literary purposes of terror!
05 September 2015
Quite sad, Iíve just been collecting tributes to the late Bart Cummings, as well as having to write one of my own, and it was only a short while ago we also lost a valued racing friend, Lindsay Charnock.
Meanwhile, everyone on the televised racing today is paying tribute to Clive Brittain! Happily, not dead, but we will miss him greatly in his retirement. My fondest memories of him were the cheery ďhello, loveĒs at every racemeeting in the late 70s & early 80s, it always made for a good start to the day. In later years, the pleasure of having a dance with him in the winnersí enclosure just canít be beat. We even stole a dance at The Derby Awards!
And I can still recall word-for-word the most entertaining commentary, via a mobile phone, of Clive and his driver getting from airport to hire car to motorway, when running late for the Moyglare Stakes! Fortunately, Rizeena didnít run late! Racecourses are going to be a lot emptier now, as will be Newmarket Heath at 5am!
03 September 2015
A marvellous dayís racing on the Curragh on Sunday, with so many high-class two-year-olds in action. How High The Moon already looks an Oaks winner and there are some potential Classic colts aplenty, too.
Yesterday was the new term of creative writing at the Irish Wheelchair Association and I am blessed with a lovely group of very talented and focused writers. Itís a pleasure to go in each week and hear their stories.
My promised updates here may waver a little, as next week sees a busy time, with a visit from the European Thoroughbred Breedersí Associations to Ireland and some major industry and veterinary conferences, which I will be reporting on, as well as recording in booklet form for those unable to attend. And it culminates in Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh on Sunday, with visits to trainersí yards on Sunday morning Ė canít wait!
This weekend, however, will be a quiet one spent working on Sainte Bastien, the forthcoming novel. So please excuse my absences here!
27 August 2015
It was pointed out to me in the paper today a woman who is Irelandís only author to be in Amazonís Top 20 this year. Great stuff, but as I didnít get similar publicity, just to remind you all, my own Chantilly Dawns was in Amazonís Top 10 in 2013!
Thanks to both Chantilly Dawns and Gala Day topping my publisherís sales, as well, this year, I must press on with Sainte Bastien Ė much requested!
26 August 2015
Two interesting pieces completed yesterday on the employment situation within the European racing industry and on the improved programme for NH fillies & mares. Theyíve taken a good while to draw together all the facts, figures & quotes, but at last read like interesting stories!
Meanwhile, an obsessive apprentice continues to cause menace in and around Sainte Bastien! Fortunately, thatís the novel and not another factual piece for a racing magazine! I set myself a big (too big!) task of weaving plot threads, but, like the articles, theyíre all starting to come together nicely now. Phew!
25 August 2015
Torrential rain spoiled the day for the Joggers, but full marks to them all and their incredible fundraising efforts. The rain didnít spoil an excellent weekend of racing and we may have seen both Guineas winners in Ballydoyle or Coolmore, two completely different fillies but both with Classic potential, and Herald The Dawn. The Derby winner is the next one to spot and that is likely to be in the National Stakes.
Head down now to complete two features, as well as more spare time dipping into Sainte Bastien! Non-writers wonder why I donít give up the day job for the novel! The sad truth is, only 6% of professional writers earn a full-time living from fiction. The rest of us have day jobs. The one or two you hear about in the papers, earning millions Ė they ARE the only one or two! But if it cost me to write, Iíd still write. I just love what I do!
22 August 2015
This had best be a joint posting with tomorrow, as Iím only just home from the races and have a lot of work to write up! Some very nice two-year-olds on show today and certainly thereís a lot of good things to come from Coolmore. Ballydoyle won going away, but is looking a bit of a sharp juvenile rather than a Guineas filly. More to see yet before next yearís Classics become foregone conclusions!
I hope everyone turns up for Jog For Jockeys and has a great time tomorrow, while I will try to get more of the novel and some articles completed in what is a very shortened day, due to going racing! Not quite another day in the office, when the office is so wonderful!
21 August 2015
A good weekend ahead at the Curragh, beginning immediately with a very hot pointer to next yearís filliesí Classics, when Coolmore takes on Star Of Kings. Later tomorrow Ballydoyle and Miss Elizabeth, of whom Iím very fond, will go head-to-head.
Sundayís action begins with runners of a different sort, the excellent and great fun Jog For Jockeys. Those registered also get a free afternoon at the races, having run over the track themselves.
Answered will be my first four-legged highlight, while Dawn Approachís brother, Herald The Dawn, is an intriguing juvenile star, meeting Shogun in the Futurity. Will there be 2016 Classic clues, I wonder?
20 August 2015
It was a thrilling start to the York meeting and disappointing to see a horse as good as Golden Horn lose his unbeaten record, but full marks to Arabian Queen and one of the few owner-breeders still in the game, Jeff Smith.
I suppose the biggest shock of the day for me, as an Ďoldieí who remembers when the race was The Graveyard Of Champions and Jeff Smith was a new young breeder, was watching a stewardsí inquiry on TV and seeing jockeys treated with respect! Iím glad times have changed, even though I hate to see changes to the traditional Pattern Programme and old race names replaced.
19 August 2015
Home from a wonderful morning at nearby Ballmany, where I met with Charles O'Neill and the ITM team. So enthusiastic and they do so much for Irish racing. Only three weeks until Champions Weekend and I can't wait for the Thoroughbred Trail. Plus there's the Stallion Trail to look forward to in February! Today, though, I will be glued to York races on TV!
18 August 2015
True to my word (so far!) comes another update! Today I have pottered around more than once with dog, Amber, and the horse & bullock, Leitmotif & Gary, which keeps me fresh and ready to sit at the laptop.
As usual, I'm juggling a couple of articles with approaching deadlines and working on each as I gather the info' and quotes from relevant people.
When I'm halted in progress I switch to the novel! Sainte Bastien grew by 800 words yesterday, which I'd hope to better today, although it will be an evening's 'hobby'.
The rather exotic title comes from the same name of the fictional Berkshire stable in which it's set. In reality, it owes much to my sitting watching a football match and Bastien Schweinsteiger! I thought Bastien was a good name and a play on bastion, my fictional yard being a bastion of old-fashioned values, which the fifth generation imcumbent threatens to destroy!
17 August 2015
It isn't the time of year to be making resolutions, but I've seen others far busier than I am keeping up with blogs, so you may now start following me more regularly! I am mainly beavering away on the novel, Sainte Bastien, which is already being marketed at the Frankfurt Book Fair, so I'm galvanised into having it print-ready by October! I'm more than pleased with how the characters and plot are developing so far and enjoying watching the story unfold towards the climax I have in mind.
Meanwhile, I'm still busy with articles for the racing press and had the great pleasure of speaking with trainer Mark Tompkins today, a lovely man who has served as Chairman of the Newmarket Trainers' Federation since 1997, so he's the perfect go-to person!
I'm looking forward to going racing at the Curragh at the weekend and have enjoyed some fun-filled days at the Booleigh Ska Festival and Rebellion Punk Festival, so it's not all work! But, for now, head down and complete Sainte Bastien, as well as reaching other deadlines. There are nice pieces imminent in the Goffs Magazine on Yeomanstown Stud and Oaklawn Stud, which I really enjoyed writing, so thanks to those involved.
Once again I have been absent from updates here, but my next thriller, due out in October, is well under way and I'm working on its completion. Called SAINTE BASTIEN, after the Lambourn stable in which it is set, it promises to be far darker than my previous novels.
Apologies for my absence, but as always I have been caught up with writing duties beyond my Diary! Currently I'm beavering away on my latest novel, a rather dark thriller based on the difficult relationship between a trainer and his apprentice jockey son.
Last year I was busy with several fascinating ITBA seminars and, of course, enjoyed my days at the Curragh, Leopardstown and Naas races, not to mention further afield at Royal Ascot and Longchamp.
I also received a most beautiful trophy from the Libyan Horseracing Authority for Services To The Racing Industry, which was an incredible honour. I then had the pleasure of judging the Libyan Horseracing Photographer of the Year Awards. Wonderful talent on display.
Right now Iím looking forward to stud tours and getting back to the Curragh for the first day of the Flat in March and seeing the tremendous Ballydoyle string in action! Unlike most, I'm not quite convinced The Derby winner is among them, as I carry a torch for Criquette Head-Maarek's Epicuris, but seeing both Ol' Man River and John F Kennedy in March may convince me otherwise!
7th December 2013
I had a marvellous time at The Derby Awards in the Lancaster London, where I was a losing Finalist once again, picking up silverware behind Chris McGrath.
Not a busy time for me racing-wise, but Iím looking forward to a family holiday shortly in St Johann, Austria, where weíll be sampling a bit of every activity, including skiing!
2nd November 2013
Apologies for some lengthy absences here! I really am kept busy writing full-time, with Ďspareí time devoted to horse, bullock & dog, so the Ďnextí novel isnít progressing that quickly, either!
Exciting news just in means fingers crossed until this day next month - for the second year running Iím a Finalist for the Clive Graham Trophy Writer of the Year at The Derby Awards in London!
My name will join those of Nicholas Godfrey, Greg Wood and Chris McGrath inside the Golden Envelope and it really doesnít matter which is drawn out on the day, itís just amazing to once again be in such esteemed company. Itís my fourth place in the íArcí!
10th September 2013
Apologies, folks, but head down and ultra busy, as usual! How can I complain, it isnít work at all, meeting beautiful horses and their lovely owners, breeders and trainers!
Still on cloud nine after a great day at Leopardstown on Saturday and seeing next yearís Derby winner! The dilemma is, is it Free Eagle or Australia?! Time will tell, but Australia has a Guineas to pick up along the way!
15th July 2013
Just home from scorchio Newmarket and a terrific time with my Tattersalls hosts. Rolline is the best hostess imaginable and Darley made the visit special with their wonderful stallions (& champagne!)
But I was there to work and film and Sylvia proved a wonderful director (even if she did stretch 12hr shifts out of us!) and we all loved every minute. Dr Amad & Radwan bought nine gorgeous horses for Al Shaab Stud and Call Ahead is definitely my pet (and Rail Star the perfect beauty)!
I was very honoured, not to mention shocked, when Dr Amad announced that I have been nominated for Person Of The Year for Services To The Racing Industry at the Libyan Racing Awards later this year. It really is a terrific honour and Iím simply glad I was able to be of so much assistance, particularly to Dr Amad and Agriculture Minister Mr Alorfy.
Perhaps I can now look forward to meeting Call Ahead & her stablemates again and seeing the beautiful Sabratha, a Roman site on the beach near Tripoli!
4th July 2013
As usual, Iím a bit hectic at this time of year and you wonít always find this page updated! After a glorious Royal Ascot and an excellent Irish Derby Festival Iím off to the Irish National Stud studentsí graduation tomorrow, as well as filming once again in the morning, this time for the Shergar program thatís been sold to the UKís Channel Five!
Next week Iím looking forward to attending Newmarket July and the sales, in the company of Dr Amad & Radwan Alshaab, of Libyaís Al Shaab Stud. Sylvia Stevens will be filming us for her forthcoming documentary on Libya and the way racing is helping to rebuild the country. I think that will be a Channel Four show, eventually.
I also had the pleasure last week of meeting Geoff & Carolyn Richardson and their wonderful GG Tour group from Australia, both at Ascot and here in Ireland, where we were guests of Mick Halford. Not to mention spending a delightful evening in the company of Lester Piggott and his daughter Tracy at the Riverbank Theatre in Newbridge. Itís all go!
11th June 2013
Just to let you all know that I shall be gracing television screens again, this time appearing on the documentary ďShergar: Countdown To A KidnappingĒ, which will be shown on TV3 at 10pm on Monday 17th June! Looking forward to some archive footage of Shergar, if nothing else!
15th May 2013
It has really been a busy day! Iím currently sitting up until the wee hours completing a profile of trainer Jim Bolger for the next issue of Trainer magazine, having returned from another excellent ITBA seminar, on Foal Health & Care, and spending the morning recording for a forthcoming TV3 documentary on the kidnapping of Shergar! Not bad for a dayís work!
2nd May 2013
Flat out, as is appropriate for this time of year! Looking forward to the first of the Classics this weekend and an exciting clash on Monday at the Curragh between Camelot and Parish Hall. Then a visit to Jim Bolgerís on Tuesday and an interesting seminar at the ITBA on Care of Foals the following week. Plus a trip to Dublin to record a forthcoming TV programme that will prove of interest to racing fans of my age group!
This week found me interviewing various trainers, starters and turf club officials from all over Europe, as well as a visit to Limerick University to hear the excellent presentations of the final year Equine Science students. What a great job they did and so informative.
Iíve also a good few rock gigs throughout May and especially looking forward to Echo & The Bunnymen, The Specials, Subhumans and The Mob, among others.
21st March 2013
The first day of Spring & the Flat is three days away! Canít wait to be back at the Curragh & especially looking forward to seeing Viztoria & also the Ballydoyle string after racing!
Also looking forward to seeing the brilliant poet Andy T with his excellent band at Sweeneys on Saturday night.
Last night I was lucky enough to attend the ITBA Western Regionís seminar in Ballinasloe & learnt so much about conformation in broodmares and how to read a catalogue page and spot the hidden gems. Well done to Hugh Ryan of Carrabawn Stud for organisng it & stepping expertly onto the panel at short notice!
26th February 2013
A busy time again! Iíve had the very great pleasure of working with Michael OíCallaghan of Rangefield Bloodstock, owner/breeder Gerry McGrath, and John Messara of Arrowfield Stud on three enjoyable forthcoming features, plus some interesting research on starting stalls procedures throughout Europe!
Last Monday saw me scribbling down over 7,000 words at the excellent ITBA seminar held in Kilkenny! Very informative & educational, and a pleasure to meet everyone, as usual.
The essence of the advice - keep yourself & your horse in the best possible company! Keep your mare in the top 20% of a stallionís book & her offspring in the top 20% of the catalogue. Donít over cover or reach too high at the sales.
All of which means that the next novel isnít progressing as quickly as it should! Iím hopelessly in love with the unlikeable Dominic, though! I always fall for the Wrong Ones in fiction! If only for him, I must get his story written!
30th January 2013
Last week I enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of Ballylinch Stud & had a lovely day, not only seeing their stallions, which are the best looking in the country, but also meeting the semi-retired Soviet Star (the last of Ďmyí generation!) & meeting the freshly retired filly Wizz Kid. A real honour.
Then it was into the ball gown for the ITBA Awards, very enjoyable. I managed to get home before anything turned back into a pumpkin! Well done to all the worthy winners.
A big thanks to the ITBA again when the Northern Region hosted a seminar in Portadown. That was very educational & I enjoyed the company of Richard Pugh & Marc MacRedmond en route & learnt so much from them.
Basically, prepare the NH horses from 2yrs-old, to help them strengthen and prevent injuries in later life when they reach the racecourse. And trainers like to see lots of runners on the damís side in preference to a single blacktype winner, as theyíre looking for soundness.
Advice I canít use, having only the adorable Linamix gelding, Leitmotif! But itís always good to learn!
24th January 2013
Sorry for my absence here! I have been kept busy as webmaster for The Irish Writersí Union and setting up the Unionís Facebook page, too. But itís back to business now, with much looked forward to stud open days on the horizon! Stay tuned and Iíll keep you posted, maybe!
Donít forget to follow my weekly blogs on www.jockeytv.net, which also has some great interviews.
It will be glad rags on Saturday as Iím off to the glamorous ITBA National Awards. Canít wait!
19th December 2012
Not a bad week, during which I managed to get cleared up in the garden (both dog & I VERY muddy!) and complete a chapter a day of my kidís book (for pony-mad 8yr-olds!)
Excitement, too, to find a part of my weekly blog for JockeyTV quoted in the Kingsley Klarion, one of my favourite racing magazines! I was then praised on Twitter for managing to include John Oxx and Johnny Depp in a single sentence in another of my JockeyTV blogs! Well, I aim to please!
Meanwhile, my beautiful silver salver from The Derby Awards has pride of place and looks very pretty, reflecting the Christmas decorations and lights.
Merry Christmas, folks, and a happy New Year to all. xxx
10th December 2012
I had a wonderul time at The Derby Awards and still canít quite believe it all happened! Iím so appreciative of all the support I had and all of the other nominees were so kind. I was very pleased Alastair Down won, mainly due to the chance of hearing his speech! He didnít fail us and it was a great finale! I even received a silver medal, which canít be bad!
My thanks to the lovely John OíRiordan who interviewed me for Heart Of Racing in The Irish Field last weekend. Quite difficult to be the one doing the chatting, instead of the scribbling!
Right now my scribblings are focused on my novel and a childrenís book, which should keep me occupied through the Festive Season.
25th November 2012
Getting quite excited about going over to London next week for The Derby Awards! Really looking forward to meeting Lee Mottershead, who has been a real gent & very supportive.
Iím also enjoying writing a weekly blog for www.jockeytv.net. Itís a nice chance to put my own views across sonetimes. This week my attention was brought to a race at Wolverhampton when Robert Winston was blamed for finishing second on White Deer. The easiest & less taxing answer is always pilot error, but a simple review of the race clearly illustrates otherwise. A shame Winston isnít getting much-deserved credit for a canny ride on a wily horse instead of all the vitriole currently floating around on the racing forums.
11th November 2012
Great excitement in the Oliver household this weekend! Iím usually thrilled & honoured to be nominated for The Derby Awards, never expecting anything better, so when I saw the four Finalists for the Journalist of the Year category I fell through the floor - Alastair Down, Lee Mottershead, Lissa Oliver and Peter Thomas! Wow! Quite unbelievable to be mentioned in the same sentence as them and already Iíve reached the frame, what more could I ask!
6th November 2012
I enjoyed a wonderful evening last night in terrific company attending Anne Hollandís book launch and supper after. Winners All is Anneís 21st book, no less, and features 15 of her favourite horses. Anne and Leo Powell both gave very entertaining talks and I was regaled throughout dinner by two very special racing men, Nick OíToole and Don Forster. What an inspiration Don is!
And then of course this morning I awoke early to a whole scale Irish victory in the Melbourne Cup! The first seven horses home are Irish breds! Congratulations to all involved.
31st October 2012
I have just started working for www.jockeytv.net and recommend checking it out for some very interesting programmes, most recently a visit to the Northern Apprentice school and some smashing reminiscences from Richard Pitman.
Congratulations on a genuine family affair at Doncaster at the weekend. The Derby favourite, Kingsbarns, was not only trained by Aidan OíBrien, ridden by Aidanís son Joseph and bred by his wife Annemarie, but Annemarie bred the colt from a mare bought by her father.
Iím busy right now very happily writing up an enjoyable interview with Steve Parkin of Clipper Logistics who brings such a fresh and much-needed approach to racing.
22nd October 2012
I have just received the latest issue of Racetrack magazine and am reminded what an amazing season itís been. Featured tributes include So You Think, Black Caviar and Frankel. Werenít we truly privileged to see all three this year at Ascot? And in a season in which we very nearly had a Triple Crown winner, too. We should count our blessings! And we still have Camelot to look forward to next season, not to mention the first of the juvenile Sea The Starsí!
Meanwhile, with the Flat season drawing to a close, I can settle down to work on the new novel, which promises to be much darker than Chantilly Dawns.
9th October 2012
Back from a glorious weekend in Paris! The weather was mainly gorgeous, although we got soaked on a 2hr walking tour of Montmartre with host Alex! I couldnít tell you what the weather was like on Sunday morning, as I was too transfixed by the galaxy of stars awaiting me in the Longchamp stables! Bliss to be let loose among them all for the few hours before racing started.
27th September 2012
Iím very pleased to be able to announce that I have just been nominated for the Clive Graham Journalist of the Year Award at the annual Derby Awards held in London each December. This is the fifth year in succession Iíve earned a nomination and Iím so grateful to all my editors for giving me such great opportunities, not to mention all those Iíve featured who have provided wonderful subject matter. The Derby Awards are the most entertaining lunch of the year and I canít wait, even though I donít expect to win.
24th September 2012
It was an excellent weekend of racing, with everyone at the Curragh glued to the big screen watching Camelotís oh-so-close Triple Crown bid, followed by our own St Leger. Camelot ran a great race in narrow defeat, the first to attempt the Triple Crown in 42 years. None of us thought weíd see another attempt again, but letís hope he has paved the way to further ambitious plans.
Then it was Arc trials day at Longchamp, with the Moulin thrown in for good measure! A treble for Thierry Jarnet, whoís riding out of his skin this season, just to put me in my place for promoting William Buick as my favourite jockey ahead of him!
Several very interesting articles in progress for leading magazines, meanwhile, but I still found time to work on the next novel, so stay tuned!
11th September 2012
Just home from the excellent course in Digital Marketing run by the Equisoft team at ITBA headquarters. Now I know how to Tweet without being a Twit and how to dynamically Blog here on the oft-neglected Diary page! Visit the ITBA website to hear about the course and get a useful booklet on the subject (but give me a chance to write it first).
Nail-biting time as the St Leger looms close. So very much at stake...
5th September 2012:
Iím sorry I donít keep up to date here! But what a hectic year! Deadlines with various magazines have kept me busy, not to mention breaks away!
The first was Royal Ascot - marvellous! Frankel, Black Caviar, So You Think and so many more! Then Camelot at the Irish Derby, can we dare to hope for a Triple Crown hero?
We were at the Rebellion Punk Festival last month & thoroughly enjoyed over 250 bands during the four days! Also attended Electric Picnic, which wasnít great, but The Cure were! Well worth going, just for them (3hrs15m of hit singles!)
I also had the great honour and pleasure of being one of the 111 writers who set a new Guinness World Record at the Irish Writersí Centre in June. ďRead For The WorldĒ rested a record previously held by 75 writers at the Berlin Literary Festival, although those 75 writers read in a single day at 28 different venues. As if not enough, I was reader number 76, so officially took the record!
Read For The World took place over a continuous 28 hour reading marathon at the Irish Writersí Centre, beginning at 10am 15th June and ending at 2pm 16th. Writers had to read from their own, published, books and the chosen passages were pre-approved by Guinness World Recod authorities, who were represented by two adjudicators throughout the event. Among the readers were Seamus Heaney and Roddy Doyle.
I read at 5am and was very chuffed to discover that I was reader number 76 - so I had a lot of pressure! Mess up my passage from ĎChantilly Dawnsí and the 103,000 who tuned in worldwide to the live webcast would know it was me who lost the Record! Luckily, we all succeeded!
It was another honour to judge the young writers for the Martin Wills Awards in March, not to mention a great pleasure. It was rather like a typical Arc - a line-up of top class champions, but only one can win. In this case, one from each age category, plus a runner-up. Nevertheless, it was incredibly difficult to choose from the excellent finalists and although anyone who failed to make those final two places must be understandably disappointed, they should also be immensely proud of their work. My hat is raised to all of you who entered, well done.
I was also included in the recent Waterford Writersí Weekend literary festival and had a lovely time. Myself and Anne Holland, discussing racing books, were treated like royalty - thank you to the organisers for looking after us so well.
Itís been a busy year of interesting profiles and features and, as always, some really nice people to meet. My thanks to Dermot Weld, Katie Walsh, Colm Murphy, David Marnane, Brendan Duke, Andreas Jacobs and to the Ashaab brothers of Al Shaab Stud in Tripoli, for providing such riveting stories. The ITBA Expo was another success and the Forums were entertaining, although I had a tough time keeping up with so much reporting!
Looking back on 2011 there were highs and lows. We lost our beloved dog, but among the better surprises were the publication of Chantilly Dawns, my television debut as TV3ís ĎEquine Expertí, a 4th successive nomination for Journalist of the Year at The Derby Awards and successfully completing two courses, one at the National Stud Newmarket, one at RACE, Kildare - my first return to the classroom in over 30 years!
The next novel is underway (but donít hold your breath, Iím STILL only up to page 8!) & Iím also enjoying the immense pleasure of working on a retired French Flat jockeyís autobiography, for so many years a hero of mine, his story is a real joy. So stay tuned!
You can hear me discussing Chantilly Dawns in a radio interview on the archives at www.askaboutwriting.net/radio.htm
The Crime Always Pays website for crime fiction has just posted a very good review of Chantilly Dawns, as well as my Q&A session, so check it out on Crime Always Pays