“I Like Alf: 14 Lessons from the Life of Alf Engers”

On Wednesday evening I held the launch for my new book at Look Mum No Hands! which is a super venue with very friendly people. It was also central and accessible for a big part of the likely audience, and for Alf and Judith to get to. It was an amazing evening and very busy. At one point the queues for a signed book were heading out the door. Everyone wanted to speak to Alf, to hear something, or to tell him something about an experience they had or try to share the impact he had on their lives. It was an emotional few hours.

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Alf discussing his career; Aende just visible to the left. Pic Dean Addison.

I did a brief introduction, speaking about how and why the book came about. I then did a Q+A of sorts, showing key photos from the book (and some that didn’t make it in) and asking Alf questions about each one. He answered fully with lots of detail, humour and an admirable insouciance.

The book looks great. It’s what I’d call a ‘little book’, coming in at about 150 pages or so. I’ve covered the full range of Alf’s lived experience over the past 78 years, and intertwined it with social history and cultural change. Like ACE, my previous book, I include myself in the process and the narrative, recounting details of the meetings and using it as a narrative mechanism to keep things moving, add levity and also get to the key details and describe the process. I think it works, but to be honest, it’s just how I write. I try and avoid it crossing over into narcissism.

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78 years young; the King. Pic: Dean Annison.

Dean Annison was there, a big fan of Alf’s. He bought along an Aende from the mid 1970s, drilled to within an inch of its life. It was a spectacular sight. He took lots of fantastic photos, many of which are in this post. Barry Chick was there and it was a privelege to meet the chap who built the record machine – this forms the climax of the narrative. Michael Broadwith and Helen Simpson there, along with Raph Dadswell, another member of the illustrious End to End club. Mick Ballard popped in, and there were a whole host of other cycling legends who kept their heads down.

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The amazing Judith, incredible Alf, and the author.

There have been some very early notices regarding the book which indicate that it will be received positively. It’s the most nerve-wracking bit. i think I’ve been suffering from ‘second album syndrome‘. I can’t even look at the book. I think, or at least did think, it’s terrible. Too short, not lyrical enough, not got enough eye-opening similes, somehow not good enough in many different ways. I’m not sure this is true but I think it’s inevitable when you’ve been working on something for so long. It’s also much harder to write a book about one person, there is a far narrower sense of scope and the degree of responsibility is clearer. I had a debt to Alf to tell his story, and whilst I might have views about things, this is his book, about him, telling his story. He gave generously of his time and he thought I was the right person to tell it. To all extents and purposes, even though it’s not marketed (as if it’s actually marketed at all) as an authorised biography, that’s what it is. Alf gave it his blessing. His voice, literally and figuratively, was in my ear throughout the process, along with that of the other people who contributed or are somehow invested in the narrative. There are things I left out which will never see the light of day, for obvious reasons, or for complex reasons, but ultimately because they don’t fit in with the tone of the book, or the purpose of the book. There are also some minor details which maybe I would have put in, but the editorial process being what it is (and essential) I was convinced to leave them out.

Obligatory “I wrote this” selfie

We’ ve done a print run of 1000 copies in the first edition. I have a set of postcards and stickers which I’ve included in the early ones that I’ve sent out. As an author, I often recommend people buy the book from me wherever possible. It means paying full price, avoiding the loss-leading or free postage of Amazon, for example. The reason I do this is because of the way my two and half years work on this is rewarded. The standard royalty rate on book sales is 10%. For every book sold I get £1.39p. This means that the publisher gets a fee – which is only right – for covering the cost of the printing, the editorial service (an ongoing and epic process) and the other typical costs; proofing, layout and so on. Distributors get a cut. Book sellers take half the RRP. Their cut is much bigger than anyone elses. My royalty rate is protected, even if everything else is discounted – the race to the bottom from Amazon hits the publisher hardest. Ergo – support your local author and publisher, keep it independent, reward creativity. By buying direct the publisher and the author come out of it a lot better.

If I buy the books from the publisher I get a discount. This means I stand to make around £5 from each book by selling directly. Over the course of a print run this means I can get some degree of a return that convinces me that writing (admittedly niche) books can possibly, just possibly, be something more than a labour of love, and least can be justified on the fee for each book, if not the hourly rate (!). It also works out better for the publisher.

Aende/Pongo special – more void than substance
Sachs Huret Jubilee – weapon of choice
Tighten carefully

So: if you want a book, and a signed one at that with postcards and stickers, please contact me directly via this blog or other channels. If you leave a comment (any comment) i can see your email address.

I’m out of the initial stock so there are no more Alf signatures (and won’t be anymore unless we do another event together), but I get a re-up on stock on Tuesday when I will do another post run. I do have the set of launch postcards (4) and stickers to add in, until they’ve all gone.

And back to those initial notices:

This is from Keith Bingham. He’s arguably the most respected cycling journalist of the past 50 years. This is amongst the highest praise I’ve ever had. I hope he enjoys the rest of the book.

What can I say? This is incredible! I devoured the first chapter within minutes of taking the book out of the envelope. Great narrative and style. He’s captured the enigmatic Alf and the period in question like no other.

This is from Alf and Judith:

I just wanted to say very well done and congratulations for the book, it’s fabulous.

This is from Mick Bradshaw, a contemporary of Alf’s and lightning quick bike rider:

Absolute belter of a book, ain’t put it down since I got it yesterday.

I hope everyone else enjoys it. At the moment, pending it dribbling through to Amazon, you can buy it online from the distributor, Cordee. But obviously, you’ll be buying the deluxe edition from me instead.

Finally, the launch event was joyous. It was everything I value about cycling; community, generosity of spirit, shared experiences and the fellowship of the road. It is why I write about cycling. And now onto the next project(s), of which there are potentially three.

25 thoughts on ““I Like Alf: 14 Lessons from the Life of Alf Engers”

Add yours

    1. Hi,

      I would like to buy a copy of your new ‘I Like Alf’ book please.
      Just let me have an email with costs and how you would like the payment.

      I would also be interested if you do a future talk on the book in Bristol. As mentioned following your book launch in London.


  1. Hi Paul – one copy of the Alf book please sir. Email me the details and I will pop the money across over the airwaves. cheers.

  2. Hi Paul, I thought I had asked you to tell me how to buy a copy from you but I haven’t heard yet from you. Apologies if I have missed your reply but could you please let me know. Pete Humphreys.

  3. Hi there. I would like to buy 2 copies of your brilliant-looking book. One for me and one for my mate I used to ride with when we were teenagers. Alf was our time-trialling hero in the ’70s.

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