A couple of years ago I had the idea of turning this blog into a full blown book. It was in the middle of 2014 and my wife, Alex, had just been diagnosed with biliary cancer. I was clearly going to be spending a lot of time at home, so I welcomed the prospect of a new project.
It all seemed pretty straightforward, for eight seasons my blogs had given a regular report on the Alex Timpson stable, so all I needed to do as to string them together to produce the full story of Alex’s racing career.
It didn’t really work, there were plenty of unconnected anecdotes, with too many gaps in between and didn’t give a true impression of life as a race horse owner’s husband. That summer we had one of those unbroken spells of sunny weather that most Englishmen quickly forget but the scientists point to as positive proof of climate change and global warming. I spent much of July sitting in our garden, rewording my original pieces for Eclipse into a more coherent short book that I thought described how Alex and I matured as a couple with growing connections to racing.
I didn’t show the finished manuscript to Alex but I sent a copy to Karen at Eclipse, who came round to my home to deliver her verdict. As soon as Karen said “I quite like it” and “It’s really pretty interesting” I knew it wasn’t good enough and prepared myself for the word “But……..” The advice I was given by Karen during the next 20 minutes created at least 3 months work, rewriting the book.
My original title was ‘How to Lose Money’ and in retrospect it was mainly the gripes of a grumpy old man, only too quick to point out the expensive inconvenience of supporting a wife with a passion for jump racing.
Karen had the courage to tell me that the story shouldn’t really be about me, it is about Alex, her horses and all the people who helped her enjoy the hobby of her dreams. Karen pointed out that despite my title I hadn’t revealed how much horse racing has really cost us. She suggested I might describe the financial fortunes of each season – starting with our hopes, horse by horse, and concluding with a summary of how much each of them won in prize money and lost after expenses.
Because I am most widely known for my Timpson business, Karen also encouraged me to show how being racehorse owners fitted in with the rest of our lives. My blog often mentioned that I broke a day visiting Timpson shops to watch our horses run on the screen in William Hill of Ladbrokes while Alex was at the racecourse. It is well documented that we have turned our business around from rock bottom to a multi-million pound enterprise but perhaps not so generally realised that Alex was genuinely at the heart of my success, so that, when we found ourselves in a position to afford it, I wanted to make her dream come true: she wanted to own racehorses.
However, as Karen and our friends know, we didn’t spend all our time making a ‘large fortune’ at Timpson and reducing it to a ‘small fortune’ with the racehorses. So, I also place our racing story in the context of our time as foster carers, my year as the Master Pattenmaker and include bits about the happy times we spent in Mustique, New Zealand and at the Olympics when horses were almost forgotten.
We also discussed the possibility that racing jargon could alienate readers who are not familiar with it – non-racegoers who are perhaps interested in the book because they follow my business career, and casual spectators who attend racing as hospitality guests or for the first time. This suggestion helped me learn a lot more about racing. To write my beginners guide and produce a definition of some of the most useful words and phrases, I learnt many facts that would have helped me to appear much more knowledgeable when I tagged along with Alex when her first few runners made an appearance.
What I thought was going to be a quick cut and paste type of publication, started to take a significant slice out of my life but I still hadn’t finished writing the book at the end of 2015.
It was some time before I had the courage to tell our trainers about the project and when I did they quickly realised that no-one could write a story about racehorses that is wall-to-wall good news. I hope they will feel that my book shows plenty of consideration for the tricky task faced by any trainer, especially when communicating disappointing news to a hopeful owner.
I was only eventually able to find the time to finish writing the book when I disappeared to Mustique, less than two weeks after Alex died after her 19 month fight against cancer. It gave me a chance to reflect on how much pleasure Alex got from being an owner and the joint pleasure that racing gave to us in the last years of her life. I never had the courage to show a draft of this book to Alex but I’m pretty sure that if it persuades someone else to follow in her racehorse-owning footsteps she would give it enthusiastic approval.
The book won’t be properly published until November but a limited number of preview copies are immediately available for free, on condition that any recipient promises to give detailed feedback on how this final draft should be amended before final publication.
To get a free advance copy contact contribute@EclipseMagazine.co.uk or send me a personal email to john(at)timpson.com
Sales of the final version of the book will raise money for the Injured Jockeys Fund. You can keep up with the book’s progress and developments at www.HowtoMakeaSmallFortune.co.uk