Welcome to my FactorUK blog.
I thought I would give an insight into the story behind Shock and Roar, as well as the trials and tribulations getting it prepared and ready for people to buy.
It was 18 years ago that I published The Sound and the Fury and I now realise why it has taken me so long to write another one!
From concept to finished product, it’s a long, long road to get a book published, particularly when you do it all yourself.
Creating a book is a lengthy business, and being what seems a lifetime since the last one, there was also more at stake the second time around. It was the difficult second album, so to speak.
While it’s been enjoyable for the most part, trying to fit work on the book in between earning a living inevitably takes its toll.
Like The Sound and the Fury, I designed and published this book as well as writing it. As time went on the layout had to be adapted quite a lot to keep up with events as they happened. It turned out to be a very eventful season in 2017, often off the track as well as on it.
And last year, in particular, was a very busy one for me work-wise, with the day job at the Daily Star and Daily Express, as well as plenty of BSCDA press work to fit in. By the end of the process I was relieved to actually get the book finished.
Although a freelancer, I work more for other organisations than for myself. My main job is as a horse racing journalist and assistant editor for the Daily Star and Daily Express newspapers, where today’s stories are tomorrow’s old news.
After 24 hours they are completely forgotten. With a book, however, what ends up being written is a permanent record. And when it is your own publication, there is more pressure attached to it.
It is important to me to create a book that gives readers real value for money. So in Shock and Roar it meant plenty of photos as well as words. And I wanted the book to be full-colour but it had to be cost-effective. A difficult balance.
Being a one-man band with just a few able assistants, ie. my wife, Annie and one of my mates and work colleagues, Danny Hall, it takes a massive amount of time checking everything – facts, dates, spelling errors. Even then one or two will inevitably slip the net. I also wanted to write a tabloid-style catch line with every photo caption, to try and give meaning and a personality to each photo. All of this takes an age.
Another time-consuming area is research. Unfortunately, my recall of events is not as crystal clear as it once was (I’m getting old) and so it takes time to check and re-check key dates. Even with the best will in the world, drivers themselves make mistakes and get their facts wrong, so you can’t take everything said in an interview as gospel.
So, the book evolved and deadlines I gave myself came and went until I forced myself to stick to one.
It had to be ready to go to the printers by April 25, so that I could sell my first copies at the UK Open Championship weekend at Skegness on May 12-13. Sounds enough time, but it was touch and go…
So, why write a book now?
Possibly because I have been more involved in the sport again after a number of years on the sidelines.
Between about 2004 and 2014 I probably only went to a handful of meetings a year and then only socialised with a small group of drivers who I knew well. When I was approached by the BSCDA to work as a media consultant at the end of 2016, I re-established myself into the fabric of the sport.
I timed my comeback, inadvertently, just when the sport was going through tumult with the closure of Coventry and all the on-track battles that turned into bitter rivalries. So much went on in 2017 it was hard to keep up with it all. But for a tabloid newspaper journalist, the stories developing throughout the year and into the winter months were pure gold.
And so by June of last year, I felt there was going to be enough topical and controversial stuff to create a book that people would want to read about.
I began to put together a list of drivers I wanted to include. There were a number of obvious ones, but it got to the stage where I couldn’t fit them all in, and so I had to make some very hard decisions.
There will be some readers who will be disappointed a number of leading drivers are not featured, but their time will come. The story is not over.
Once I made my choices, the next step was going to be visiting the drivers. Like in The Sound and the Fury, I wanted to interview them at their work or home environment to give an added dimension to their story.
Living in Surrey meant a lot of hours on the road. None more so than spending a day with Mick Sworder.
With Mick, it meant going out in his truck. I drove to his yard for 6.00am and I spent a very long day driving up to Retford and then down passed Maidstone and then back to Mick’s yard, before heading back south again in my car. I got home at 10.00pm that night.
Then there were others who were simply hard to pin down for a free afternoon. Dan Johnson was the most difficult, just because he is busy working on sites most of the week. As time went on, the weather deteriorated and I was forced to wait until it improved into this year. He was the last driver I visited in March, just before the season began.
But Dan and all the others drivers I went to see have been absolutely fantastic. Every one was welcoming and very helpful. Brilliant, in fact. Many were quite candid with their comments – some, as you can probably imagine, were too candid! But it was important they were able to express their views and that much of what they said went down in print. I certainly didn’t want this book to end up as a PR puff for each driver.
That’s why, for example, I tried to inject a bit of zest to the BSCDA media work I have done for the past year or so. In my view, it is vital that the public believe what they are reading and are captivated when reading it.
Rob Speak’s interview about being a promoter six months into the job on bscdaonline.com last year was a case in point. I think he was a little disarmed by what was written when I published it, but he shouldn’t have worried. The fans loved it.
I reckon the other promoters could, in general terms, benefit from that mindset.
If the book had been heading in the direction of PR propaganda I would have binned it, or at least not featured that driver in the book. I worked on the PR side of the media for the ASCAR racing series for three years, but as a tabloid news journalist I had to accept the majority of individuals and companies want to paint as perfect a picture of themselves as they can. The trouble is most people don’t believe the hype. They can see straight through it. And the end result is invariably as boring as…
PR can be good and bad – it depends on how you use it and how it’s pitched. Most PR press releases are bland and utterly forgettable. I never tend to read more than a paragraph before I know whether to bother reading any further.
In my view, an interview where a driver or promoter can express their opinions has more PR value than simply giving a positive spin on everything all the time. The skill is being able to to steer the conversation on to topics of interest but at the same time not be too controversial or negative.
Anyway, that’s enough about the pros and cons of PR. Let’s get back to the book.
Shock and Roar is a purely journalistic project, where the drivers lives and their personalities came to the fore, the good and the bad. I wanted to show the real human beings behind the wheel – it was imperative to include their flaws (we all have them), as well as their great victories – and try to capture who they really are, what they think of each other and those involved in the sport.
I had a short-list of drivers I wanted to include which grew to about 15. There came a point I knew the amount of pages taken up was getting too much production cost-wise, so I reluctantly had to drop it down finally to 11.
As the year rolled by the stories surrounding at least five of the drivers became more intense and so while travelling all over the country to interview many of them, their stories continued to change. There has never been a year quite like 2017 for discord and so much of the core of Shock and Roar focuses on that.
I didn’t, however, want it all to be in that vein. Compared to The Sound and the Fury, Shock and Roar is more intense and I needed to find some light-hearted moments to change the atmosphere in the book here and there.
There are fewer funny stories in Shock and Roar, that’s for sure, but times have changed. Drivers take themselves far more seriously nowadays, and rarely express self-reflection. But that is the same in any sport. I don’t think I have ever heard a driver raise their hands and say they were wrong about an incident they were clearly the instigator of! They always find justification for their actions.
The book, I hope, has a number of layers to it, with some enlightening moments. I decided to book-end it with Frankie Wainman Jnr at the beginning and Stuart Smith Jnr at the end. Both are from families who have been stalwarts of the sport and created much of the glue that has held the sport together for the past 50 years.
The inner core of the book surrounds the drivers who are never likely to sit around a table for drinks at a party together. Here is where the friction lay. I had to be careful not to go too headlong into some of the comments made, especially those stated as fact but could not be confirmed.
But for all of that, it was an enthralling journey and I hope you feel the same way when you read it, too.
Neil Randon 2018
Photos by Chris Clarke
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter — Izaak Walton