It’s going to be a busy week. Tomorrow I’m interviewing an amazing chap for my new book.
Thursday I’m off to Stockport for a book talk with the lovely people at Rare Mags
Sunday is the National Hill Climb. I’ve been getting warmed up for this one by watching the BSCC classic at Burrington. It was a great race. However, my choice of cheer scarf hasn’t met with universal approval.
Hope to see everyone there, and hoping for vaguely clement weather. It’s not looking that promising at the moment…
paul jones, author of the previously reviewed mousehold press publication ‘a corinthian endeavour’ proved with that particular book that, beyond any doubt, he is possessed of inherent skills as a wordsmith. i like alf ranks alongside many of the other superb publications to come from adrian bell’s mousehold press. the latter has proved to possess an uncanny knack of publishing cycling books that have changed the face of the genre. classics such as herbie sykes ‘the eagle of the canavese’, jean bobet’s ‘tomorrow we ride’ and graeme fife’s exemplary biography of brian robinson, have now been joined by this essential publication.
the prose is intelligent, the narrative addictive and the author’s prescience in framing the life of one of british cycling’s great characters commends it to every individual who considers themselves a connoisseur or apprentice connoisseur of the sport. time-trialling and, indeed, pretty much all forms of road and track racing, have substantially changed since the time of alf engers. whether this is seen as a good thing or otherwise, probably depends a great deal on your age and nostalgic reverence, but as someone far wiser than yours truly once said, ‘in order to comprehend the present, one must first understand the past.’ buy one for yourself and a second copy as a christmas present for your best pal in the peloton.
“Book arrived a few days ago. Looks and reads great. Nice to see the photos of Alf. I spotted the large-flange hubs — or “Mozzi Record Strada Flange Grandi” as it said on the Campagnolo boxes — which you rarely see now.
I used to really like those hubs. So to celebrate I dug out and polished an old pair and then reverently placed them back in their box.”
“Loved the Alf book. Just a joy to read your prose and experience Alf’s story. I could have quite happily devoured another 170 pages! It was also fabulous to see Alan Lear’s name mentioned. At the time of the Alf sub-50 project, Alan might have been with Lampard RC. A few years before that though, Alan was with the Watford Roads CC. Largely moribund at the time, the club was however my ‘home’ one and I joined it as a 14 year old schoolboy racer.
Alan was recently back from France, where he’d been for several seasons with the ACBB in Paris, I think. A team British lads sometimes were invited to join to try and ‘make it’ abroad. Alan was generous with his time and introduced me to long rides into the Chiltern hills. On one such, we went to watch the Chiltern GP (or it might have have been the Archer GP in the Chilterns!). A former ACBB team mate of Alan’s was racing – none other than Regis Ovion, Amateur World Road Race Champion, resplendent in the world champs jersey. Cue starry eyed kid attempting a bit of schoolboy French. Alan was of course fluent and chatted away with the world champ.
Happy days! Thanks again. Can’t wait for your next book.”
I’ve written two books about cycling. You can get them from the usual outlets, both online and in bookshops – although you might have to order from the bookshop, I doubt they carry it in stock.
Better still, you can buy it directly from me. I get more money and so does my publisher, amazon get none. This is what works best and means I’m more likely to write more books.
I accept paypal, cheques and BACS. Price below includes postage and packaging. If you buy multiple copies I’ll arrange a refund of excess postage fees. If you are abroad please leave a comment on this post and I’ll contact you from there to arrange postage.
If you don’t want to paypal then leave a comment on here requesting a book and I’ll email you the details.
“A Corinthian Endeavour: The Story of the National Hill Climb Championship”
The best hill climb book in the world ever.
“I Like Alf: 14 Lessons from the Life of Alf Engers”.
Signed copies available, use the button below and you’ll get an email confirmation from me!
It’s such a ridiculous rites of passage. When you first start doing the longer rides, it’s almost as if every single ride ends in near-bonk experience, a visual foreshortening, entering the field of stars, shaking like a shitting dog type of thing. Then you get fitness and form, and learn how to avoid the bonk and it becomes a repressed and distant memory, something gone but never forgotten and something that happens to other people. But it never really goes away. One day, it lurks stage right before exploding into your field of vision, it stalks through long journeys, just like the entity in ‘it follows’, which although ostensibly about teen sex and horror and STDs, is actually one big metaphor for the knock.
So anyway, my recent confession prompted some absolute horror stories from the gang. This one came from Madison Genesis rider Isaac Mundy:
“I once bonked so hard in Brittany I was reduced to pillaging very unripe corn from a field. And then seeing it again.”
Even the strongest of us all had a terrible story of misjudgement:
“We were out doing one of those self-consciously epic rides in the Alps, up and over various climbs, all around the place. I’d eaten all my food by about 11am. We then headed up the Sarenne and the lights went out. I resorted to scouring the side of the road, looking for a discarded gel wrapper just so I could suck out what was left in the bottom and somehow make it up to the top of the mountain.
And then there is the pocket rocket’s tale of woe:
It was in the Alps… I blew my doors off. The other lads went on ahead. I was dead. I was actually trying to thumb a lift up the Galibier. It was game over. I would have killed someone for a cup of tea and a welsh cake.
And Greener’s story of a ride home with just a banana and Cheddar Gorge collapsing on his head.
Feel free to add your own sorry saga to the pantheon of bonks.
I’ve got quite a long commute. It’s not Cottingtonesque, but it is 17 miles each way and I can just about scrape together the energy to do it three or four times a week. It’s also quite hilly, 1500ft on the way out.
Yesterday I rode in, did a bit of work, then headed home just before lunch. I calculated that a couple of custard dreams and a bourbon would see me home.
I’m fairly well attuned to the incipient taps of the bonk hammer. I keep a couple of gels in my bag for emergencies. Or at least, I used to, until a caffeine gel exploded in my carradice all over my pants. That was a sticky day.
Anyway. I was in the middle of nowhere, also known as Clutton. No food, no money. The bonk took hold with alarming rapidity, blood sugar crashed through the floor. I thought, ‘what would Alf do?’. Then realised he’d ring Alan Shorter to come and get him. I was stuck.
I remembered seeing an honesty box of apples in a driveway a week or so back. I had a mile to go. I managed some sort of parody of what pedalling looks and feels like, only to find that the apples were gone. My mind was empty.
Half way down the climb I saw some blackberries. I ate handfuls. They tasted beyond good, they were blackberries grown by the God of cycling, and they limited the effects, smoothed off some of the edges. A mile or so later I found some windfall apples at the side of the A37. They were very much beyond fresh and nestled up against a dead Badger. I found one that had a section that looked edible (apple, not badger), in amongst a liquid bruise held together by skin tautened by carbon monoxide. I scrubbed it on my Lycra and it tasted good. It was my get-me-home apple. It worked.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.