Good Reading : November 2010
NOVEMBER 2010 ı goodreading 27 behind the book A mistaken name at a restaurant. A bag of money meant for a tax scam. Could have been me who ended up at the bottom of the harbour. I told that tale at a dinner party one night and a guest asked if I had any more racing stories like it. 'Sure, enough to fill a book,' I joked.The guest was a publisher and she wasn't joking. She wanted a book of all my racing yarns and that's how I got my first break as a writer.The result was my autobiography, A Strapper's Tale. I'd spent a lifetime with racehorses, working as a strapper for top trainers such as Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings and I was once a strapper of champion galloper Kingston Town, before taking out my own trainer's licence at Epsom. So the racing game was something about which I could comfortably put words to paper. After writing A Strapper's Tale I started to think about writing fiction. And why not? All those years working in stables provided an endless supply of stories and colourful characters I could draw from. I've always been a huge reader of crime fiction and enjoyed all the Dick Francis books. I thought I could do something along those lines, but more contemporary and with an Australian flavour. That led to me writing the 'Punter' series -- Punter's Luck, Punter's Turf and Silk Chaser.The main character, John Punter, isabitofanenigma--a professional gambler and the black sheep of a successful racing family. He might not have the credentials of a private detective, but if you really need to find out what's going on down at the track, then he's your man. Punter is a combination of people I've met over the years, but some of the racing characters I've used are as real as the day I met them decades ago. Their haracteristics are so strong, heir personalities so vivid, that even now I can still remember he lines on their face, the way they swore or lit a cigarette. Only their names are changed, although I do occasionally get racegoers who grew up in that era contact me and say that they recognise this or that person in one of my books. I have fond memories of the con men and scammers who used to hang around the stables. Guys like Trader Bill, who has become a regular in my 'Punter' novels. Trader always wore a grey dust coat at the track whether it was summer or winter.There was a good reason for that. When Trader pulled up a sleeve he'd have a half dozen watches trapped to his ar m ready to sell. Authentic fake Rolexes,' he'd boast. 'Even the jewellers can't tell 'em from the real ones.' Or Wharfie George, who'd ar rive like clockwork outside our stables every payday, his boot full of contraband from the docks. Towels, shirts, shoes, radios. Any size, any colour. Betting has always played a big part in stables, but it's not always connected to the nags. At Tommy Smith's stables we had four brothers working for us as strappers, all superb athletes and horsemen. One of them, Ray, used to bet any newcomer that he could he beat them running a lap of Randwick racecourse, his handicap being that he would car ry a water melon. I never saw him get beaten. I haven't found a part for Ray in one of my books yet, but with athletic prowess like that, it's only a matter of time before he gets a gig. Fighting and crime writing go hand in hand. Mad Charlie Dawson is based on a jumps jockey who was once a Golden Gloves contender. The booze and too many falls sent him crazy. When he started drinking, all he wanted todowasfight--andit didn't matter how big or how many opponents there were, he'd be in there swinging. If you drank at the Turf Club in the 70s you learnt pretty quickly never to look Mad Charlie in the eye. And Tiny, the bouncer who appears in Silk Chaser, is 'bor rowed' from a horse breaker I used to know at Caulfield. A gentle giant, barely able to get into his F100 without hitting his head on the roof. Never looked for trouble, never raised his voice. Only had to hit you once and you stayed down for good. Although many of these characters appear in Silk Chaser, I should add that the serial killer is entirely fictitious. That took a lot of research and was one of the hardest things I've had to write. I wrote it in the first person, trying to see events through a killer's eyes and I found it to be my most challenging task yet as a writer.There's been no shortage of material written in this genre; it's a well-trodden path. But I tend to tur n off books that gratuitously describe violence, sex and torture. If you depict slice-by- slice how a killer flayed his victim alive, then what have Ray used to bet any newcomer that he could beat them running a lap of Randwick racecourse, his handicap being that he would carry a watermelon. I never saw him get beaten. Doping scandal, Flemington 1976. Peter Klein leads distressed filly Saviour away after discovering she’d been got at.
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