Award-winning cricket writer looks to Chalke up a hat-trick

Stephen Chalke did not take up cricket writing until 1997, when he was in his 50th year, yet it is a measure of the strong contribution he has made to the genre that there are few cricket libraries or personal collections that do not contain something he has written or published.
His publishing business, Fairfield Books, has grown from its beginnings as a self-publishing vehicle for his own debut book to boasting a catalogue that now stands at about 30 titles. His authors include veteran cricket journalist David Foot, broadcaster Pat Murphy and the current Nottinghamshire batsman, Mark Wagh.
No fewer than seven Fairfield titles have captured national book awards.  
The latest, Of Didcot And The Demon, a collection of the cricket writings of former Times reporter Alan Gibson, was Cricket Society and MCC Book of the Year in 2010, scooping the award for Fairfield for the second year running and for an unprecedented third time overall.
Fairfield has also won the National Sporting Club Cricket Book of the Year twice and Wisden Book of the Year twice, an achievement not matched by any other publisher.  Chalke has won each of those awards in his own right.
Yet the Chalke imprint could break new ground again when the 2011 Cricket Society-MCC winner is announced on April 19, with Chalke’s own semi-autobiographical diary of a season, Now I'm 62, among the titles on a shortlist of five.
Although up against a strong field comprising Duncan Hamilton’s A Last English Summer (Quercus Books), The Cricketer’s Progress – Meadowland to Mumbai by Eric Midwinter (Third Age Press), Harry Pearson’s Slipless in Settle – A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket (Little Brown) and Following On - A Year with English Cricket’s Golden Boys by David Tossell (Pitch Publishing), Chalke’s story of the 2010 season at Winsley Cricket Club in Wiltshire should be considered a strong contender for the prize.
Chalke, captain of Winsley’s third eleven, changed the names of the club and the players to afford himself a degree of artistic licence but journalist Simon Redfern of The Independent, who has played cricket alongside the author for 20 years, testified to its authenticity in his review:
“There is far more diary than fiction in his account of captaining a lowly league side in Wiltshire while also turning out for the wandering friendly side he helped to found.
“Why not, then, just play it straight? Possibly because changing names and locations has given Chalke more freedom to discuss his team-mates, and his family, without the fear of offending any sensibilities. 
“There is plenty of humour as, using the nom de jeu Philip Stone, he recalls desperate scrambles to field a full team, and the foibles of the players finally assembled.
“ But he doesn't play it strictly for laughs in the vein of Marcus Berkmann's book with a similar theme, Zimmer Men; interwoven is a more introspective thread.
“Remembering how his father made a fool of himself at the age of 62 in his last game, Stone/Chalke reflects on his childhood and relationship with his parents, while wondering whether he is also in danger of making a fool of himself by playing on.
“An unusual book, beautifully written, in my opinion it works triumphantly on several levels.”


The Cricket Society-MCC Shortlist
A Last English Summer by Duncan Hamilton (Quercus)
Slipless in Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket by Harry Pearson (Little, Brown)
Following on: A Year with English Cricket's Golden Boys by David Tossell (Know The Score)
The Cricketers' Progress: Meadowland to Mumbai by Eric Midwinter (Third Age Press)




Oakley's Cheltenham tour de force

Robin Oakley spent much of his working life as a political journalist, rising from provincial beginnings on the Liverpool Daily Post to be political editor of The Times and then the BBC, where he succeeded the legendary John Cole in 1992 and gave way to Andrew Marr in 2000.

But in his heart he clearly preferred the affairs of the turf to affairs of state.  Building on the Spectator column on horse racing he took up as a sideline in 1994, he has now severed his ties both with Westminster and Brussels -- he was until recently European political editor for CNN -- to concentrate on writing horse racing books.
The author of a fine biography of racehorse trainer Barry Hills and a portrait of the horse racing community in Lambourn, Berkshire, Oakley has delivered a tour de force to coincide with this week’s Cheltenham Festival.
Oakley’s Centenary History of what might be termed the national championships of jump racing is an enthralling history of the events which have made the Cheltenham Festival uniquely special in sport, from its modest beginnings to the lavish hospitality and packed stands of the present day, with the emphasis on the equine heroes that have become part of racing legend.
The Gold Cup takes pride of place, the book beginning with an account of Dawn Run's famous victory in 1986, when the Irish mare became the only horse to complete the double of Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. 
Oakley likened his 18-month task to being “like a child let loose in a sweet shop" although he has had to miss out on part of his annual treat this year due to an unfortunate clash of engagements.  Instead of staying at Prestbury Park for the Gold Cup following the launch of his Festival history on Tuesday, he has had to leave early to fulfil a speaking engagement on board the luxury liner Queen Mary 2 on a cruise from Hong Kong to Dubai. 
Oakley, 69, is already working on his next racing book, a biography of the trainer Clive Brittain.

Buy The Cheltenham Festival: A Centenary History (Aurum) direct from Amazon.





Tossell in line for cricket book award

Three times a contender for honours at the British Sports Book Awards, David Tossell has been short listed for the Cricket Society and MCC Book of the Year Award 2011 for his fascinating Following On: A Year With English Cricket’s Golden Boys (Know The Score).

Although the cover illustration features a jubilant Graeme Swann, the Golden Boys in question are neither of the successful England Ashes teams of recent vintage but the 1998 Under-19 World Cup winners, who were at the time hailed as a golden generation among young English cricketers.
Tossell tracked down each of the 14 players England used on their way to beating New Zealand in the final in Johannesburg and, by examining their lives in 2009, revealed the differing paths their careers had followed.
For Graeme Swann and Owais Shah, for example, 2009 saw both in pursuit of England ambitions. Robert Key and the emerging Twenty20 star Graham Napier were awaiting their country's call, while others wondered whether their county careers would continue or fall victim to economic recession.
Some had left the professional game, combining Minor Counties and club cricket with jobs in sales, property and recruitment. One had become first-class cricket’s youngest umpire.
From the packed stands of Lord's to the most rural of club grounds, Tossell tells their stories against the backdrop of a historic year for their sport, producing a fascinating insight into the cricketing profession.
Tossell, a sports journalist for three decades and currently head of European Public Affairs for the National Football League, is the author of eight sports books. His biography of Bertie Mee, his study of West Indies cricket (Grovel!) and his portrait of the 1970s Welsh rugby team (Nobody Beats Us) were nominated for the British Sports Book Awards, while his biography of Malcolm Allison received wide acclaim.
His third cricket book -- Tony Greig: A Reappraisal of English Cricket's Most Controversial Captain -- is due out in April from Pitch Publishing.

The other books on the MCC-Cricket Society shortlist are :
Now I'm 62: The Diary of an Ageing Cricketer; by Stephen Chalke (Fairfield Books)
A Last English Summer; by Duncan Hamilton (Quercus Books)
The Cricketers' Progress: Meadowland to Mumbai; by Eric Midwinter (Third Age Press)
Slipless in Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket; by Harry Pearson (Little Brown).





More Cloughie tales on way as Armitage scores a go-it-alone hit

When sports writer Dave Armitage was gathering the impressive collection of Brian Clough anecdotes that made up his book 150 BC, he had a shrewd idea there were plenty of tales of Old Big ‘Ead he hadn’t yet heard, quite apart from those he was not able to include.
Sure enough, even after interviewing close to 100 people he thought might have a story or two -- in some cases several -- to tell about the legendary manager, he soon found there were plenty more where they came from. So many, in fact, that Dave is putting the finishing touches now to a second volume, due out in the early autumn.
“People who’d already been kind enough to share memories with me began to get back to me with stories they’d previously forgotten,” he told The Sports Bookshelf. “And others who’d read the first book would want to tell me their tales.
“I quickly realised there were enough for a second book if people liked the first one.”
In fact, 150 BC was such a hit with its target audience that booksellers needed to restock after the first print run disappeared off the shelves and Cloughie Confidential, as the second collection is to be titled, will have just as much appeal.
But there is more to this success story than the satisfaction the author gleaned from seeing a good idea come to profitable fruition -- it also emphasises the growing potential of self-publishing in a difficult economic climate.
150 BC carries the imprint of Dave’s own company, Hot Air Publishing, and, while it looks just as professional a product as any offering from a big-budget publishing house, the reality is that it progressed from concept to point of sale for a relatively small outlay.
In today's second post, Dave Armitage explains the self-publishing process and how to make it work.  Read more...

“The problem for authors these days is that too many big national publishers have had their fingers burned with projects that have not paid their way and they seldom entertain an idea unless it is virtually a guaranteed best-seller,” Dave explained.
“Even if they do think an idea might be a winner, they aren’t likely to offer an author more than a fairly modest advance.
“It means that a lot of good ideas simply don’t see the light of day.
“I think that self-publishing, provided you know who your potential readers are and target them carefully, is now a genuinely viable alternative.”

Buy 150 BC: Cloughie - the Inside Stories direct from Amazon

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Taking the self-publishing route


Not so long ago, self-publishing would be dismissed as little better than vanity publishing, where authors would pay to see their work in print and make nothing in return.
But falling print costs have made it much more possible to turn a profit even from fairly small sales.  Dave Armitage -- author, publisher and publicist for 150 BC -- reckons that in a difficult market place, being a one-man show might be the way ahead.
“It’s not going to make you a millionaire but if you can sell a thousand copies, maybe even fewer, there is a worthwhile profit to be made,” Dave said. “If you can sell more, of course, the rewards will be higher.”
Of course, there is no guarantee that a book will generate a thousand sales, tiny though the number might seem when you consider that The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 4.5 million.
Finding even a thousand buyers requires the author to know the market and target it vigorously.
But having achieved success with a self-published title, Dave is well qualified to offer advice and guidance to any writer eager to dip his toe,
“The first step is to come up with the right subject,” he said. “It helped in my case that I was writing about a big name in Brian Clough with wide appeal but if you feel there is enough potential interest you could do a book about a non-League football team and still make a little money.
“It is always worth testing the idea on somebody else rather than rely solely on your own judgment, especially if it is a subject close to your heart.  But once you are sure the idea is good you can move on to the next step, which is to decide whether there is a market for the book.
“If, say, it is a book about a relatively small club, are there enough fans who might buy a book about it?  Could you sell 700-800 copies?
“And where will it be on sale? Is there a club shop that would stock copies? Are there shops in the local town who would have it in their window?”
The big question for many budding author-publishers, naturally, concerns how much money might have to be risked in order to see a profit down the line.  Retailers -- distributors, if you use them -- all take a slice of sales revenue. It is this area where making the right calls is essential.
“You’ll have to pay the printer whether your book sells or not so you will want to know there is a good chance of getting those costs back at least.
“And remember that retailers such as Waterstones and WH Smith will be taking a big percentage of the cover price.
“Your book might have a cover price of £14, for example, but your 1,000 copies are not going to make you £14,000.  It will be more like £7,000.
“And you will have paid maybe £5,000 to the printer for the 1,000 copies to be produced.  That brings it down to £2,000.
“If you have more copies printed at the beginning, it will cost you less.  But it is probably wiser to start small. The rates you would pay for 10,000 copies are very economical by comparison, although not if you end up with 8,500 copies unsold.
“The bigger the sales the better, of course.  If you sell 2,000 copies at £2 profit on each, that’s £4,000 in your pocket.  Sell 3,000 at £3 each and you’ve made £9,000.
“But the way I look at is this: your book on Telford United or whatever might be a labour of love but if you can make just £1 a copy then you’ve got some reward for your hard work.”
Getting the book into the shops is also down to the self-publisher‘s own efforts.  Unless you can afford to pay a distributor’s cut as well, you will have to do the leg work to visit local bookshops and don a salesman’s hat, too, to persuade them to put your bok on their shelves.
Aside from getting the sums right, there is one other, hugely important element to making self-publishing pay and that is publicity.
“It’s vital,” Dave stressed. “You can have written the best book in the world but without publicity, it is dead. People will not know it exists.
“So contact the local newspapers and radio stations in the areas you are hoping to sell the book.  Be prepared to give away a few copies to be reviewed or as competition prizes, offer to be interviewed as a local author, ask if they would be interested in serialisation.
“I was lucky enough that Waterstones, encouraged by how well 150 BC sold in their local stores, adopted it as a core range, which meant a copy could be bought in any store across the country.  And I managed to get extracts spread over five nights in the Nottingham Post and three nights in the Derby Telegraph.  As advertising space that was worth hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
“Not every book is going to generate that level of interest but even a five-minute slot on a local radio show can turn into extra sales.”
Other tips to bear in mind, Dave says, are the need to find a second pair of eyes once your manuscript is complete -- “you need a friend who is a schoolteacher or a journalist, perhaps, to read it through, looking for spelling or grammar mistakes” -- and the need to pay attention to how the finished product looks.
“What you don’t want when your book finally makes it to the shops is for it to look amateurish.  I had a cover price of £18.99 on 150 BC and if someone is going to pay that they want to leave the shop with a quality product.
“If they are buying it for somebody as a Christmas present, they’ll want him or her to be impressed when they take off the wrapping paper.
“A good printer will help you lay the book out but it is worth spending a couple of hundred quid on a graphic designer so that it looks right, with a nice, well-designed professional looking cover.
“When people are browsing through the latest titles from the big-name publishers, yours does not want to look like the poor relation.”
In short, the message is to do your homework, plan carefully, adopt a painstakingly professional approach and be prepared to blow your own trumpet a little to get your book noticed.
And sports book readers who might otherwise be offered only a limited choice as mainstream publishers tighten their belts will thank you for having the conviction to go it alone.

Dave Armitage is Midlands football writer for the Daily Star

Buy 150 BC: Cloughie - the Inside Stories direct from Amazon.



English take on epic Scottish triumph hailed as one of finest books on rugby


After John Carlin’s Playing The Enemy proved that a book about rugby could find an audience beyond the sport’s traditional fans -- and provided the inspiration for the movie Invictus -- Tom English repeated the trick with The Grudge.
The story of the 1990 Calcutta Cup, an epic match that not only decided the Grand Slam in Scotland’s favour but came to be symbolic of the political climate of the time, brought acclaim for English and a place on the long list for the 2010 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.
It might have made the shortlist, too, had Brian Moore’s Beware of the Dog not taken pole position as the year’s outstanding rugby book.  Moore, ironically, is one of the key characters in The Grudge.
As it is, The Grudge is re-released in paperback with no shortage of endorsements.
Stephen Jones, rugby correspondent of the Sunday Times, hailed it as “the finest book written on the tournament” praising English for “an absolutely outstanding work, weaving in the strands of history, politics, sociology, dislike and tactical nous, which makes the game probably the most remarkable ever played in the grand old tournament.”
The Glasgow Herald said it was “superb ... a fantastic drama“ encapsulating the political backdrop, centred on Scottish fury at English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s imposition of the poll tax, that “gave the occasion its power, its glory and its ultimate significance.”
The Scottish Review of Books called it “a marvellous book, in its way as gripping as that season and the match itself.”
Tom English is actually an Irishman, born in Limerick in 1969. He began his career at the Sunday Times in London but is now chief sports writer for Scotland on Sunday. In 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 he was named Scottish Sports Feature Writer of the Year. 

The Grudge: Two Nations, One Match, No Holds Barred is published by Yellow Jersey Press. Click on the link to order from Amazon.




Horse racing: the sport of Kings, Queens, rogues and thieves, equine superstars and some fine writing


With the Cheltenham Festival only a couple of weeks away, what better time to dip into The Daily Telegraph Book of Horse Racing, which promises to relive some of racing’s greatest moments through the passion and authority of some real thoroughbreds from the Telegraph stable down the years.
Subtitled Kings, Queens & Four-Legged Athletes, this 384-page anthology just published by Aurum Press draws on the fine writings of John Oaksey,  Brough Scott, J.A. McGrath, Marcus Armytage, Peter Scott and Paul Hayward, plus the anonymous Hotspurs and Marlboroughs who have been the Telegraph’s resident tipsters and commentators.  There are contributions, too, from jockeys Tony McCoy and Frankie Dettori.
Often dubbed ‘The Sport of Kings’, horse racing embraces every level of society, with room for Queens, Lords and Ladies and a fair few knaves and cheats, but also for the serious student of form, the working man looking for entertainment and the thrill of a punt, plus the housewife fondly imagined by many a Fleet Street editor to be armed every year with 50p to stake on whichever equine athlete Lester Piggott was teamed with in the Derby.
From the small change risked in the office Grand National sweepstake to the multi-million pound turnover generated by the betting and breeding industries, horse racing has something for everything and Telegraph sports books editor Martin Smith has done his best to capture the flavour of the sport from the big occasions of Royal Ascot and the Derby meeting at Epsom to the unique atmosphere of the Cheltenham Festival with its traditional Irish party feel and the homeliness of the humbler courses that provide the daily bread and butter. 
If the names of Red Rum, Best Mate, Shergar, Arkle, Desert Orchid and Nijinsky, or Richards, Winter, Piggott, Francome, Dettori and McCoy are not already familiar, then Kings, Queens and Four-Legged Athletes will ensure they become so. 

Buy Kings, Queens & Four-Legged Athletes: The Daily Telegraph Book of Horse Racing direct from Amazon.

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