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Sunday 2 June 2024

How To Back Horses & Yourself

Friend of the blog Andy Fletcher will need no introduction to anyone who follows the comments around here. He can be relied on to contribute to any discussion with wit and wisdom, so it's no surprise that his book How To Back Horses & Yourself is a thoroughly enjoyable read that will half the time have you laughing out loud and the rest of the time scribbling notes to remind yourself of all the brilliant insights.

Andy has walked the walk, having had considerably more success picking winners than most bookies have had picking their ties. That said, personally I'd give good money to have a tiepin like the one on the cover, if only because it would please my granddad, who was a great one for the horses. He'd claim not to understand my maths homework and then he'd reel off the statistics for a series of races at a speed that would have left Red Rum in the dust.

Andy has kindly given permission for a little taster of the book. This is one of the appendices, so it doesn't convey the full value of the book's contents but it does show you that our man has the gift to entertain.

Omens and Auguries 

I read somewhere that every book requires a backstory. This is a somewhat self-indulgent one, where I drone on about how my love of fantasy adventure gamebooks and a children’s book series played a part in my book’s creation. So, if you’re only interested in horse racing, I suggest you leave now, no hard feelings. Please just remember to shut the door on the way out.

SLAM! I must admit, I wasn’t expecting that many to leave. Still, we’ve cut the wheat from the chaff so to speak. Quality not quantity as they say. It would seem like it’s just you and I left then dear reader. (Stop trying to write the afterword like Stephen King and get on with it you vile polyp, otherwise prepare for pain! - The Warlock). Gulp! Right you are, oh splendid one!

Blimey, his temper hasn’t improved much this last 40 years or so, has it? That is of course assuming you remember ‘Warlock’ magazine from the mid-1980s, and perhaps more specifically, Jamie Thomson’s ‘Omens and Auguries’ column, which I absolutely loved. (Right, you were warned, prepare to spend eternity dealing with auditors you putrid maggot! - The Warlock). No, anything but that oh mighty one! You’ll find this next bit really interesting I promise!

Phew, I think we’re ok for now. ‘Warlock’ magazine supplemented the ‘Fighting Fantasy’ adventure gamebooks that were so popular in that era. However, it was Jamie Thomson’s gamebooks that were my favourites. (What was that gamebook bilge called which Thomson and his old crony Mark Smith peddled back in the day? The Day of the Toga and Kestrel, that’s it! - The Warlock). Erm, I think you mean ‘The Way of the Tiger’ and ‘Falcon’, oh supreme one.

Being a fan of ‘Monkey’, Bruce Lee and ninja films, it was no surprise that ‘The Way of the Tiger’ were my favourite gamebooks. Undertaking the ‘Teeth of Tiger’ throw was certainly not advisable unless in the vicinity of a bouncy castle. Some of my GCSE artwork were ninjas ripped off from the books. When the artwork didn’t get graded, the school told me my work had vanished. The irony.

‘Golden Dragon’ by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson was another favourite series, though even the fabled WHSmith book ordering counter couldn’t find ‘Crypt of the Vampire’. I roamed across the Midlands for months trying to locate it. A few years later, I bartered my entire magazine collection with someone at school who owned a copy. (WHAT?! - The Warlock). Erm, except ‘Warlock’ of course your greatness.

On a nostalgic internet browse in 2011 many years later, I stumbled across a book called ‘The Dark Lord’ by Jamie Thomson. I wondered whether it could be the same Jamie Thomson, favourite author from childhood? It was, and I was pleasantly surprised when Dave Morris, author of the ‘Golden Dragon’ gamebooks, replied to a remark I’d made on a comments page about it.

Doubtless I wasn’t within the intended age readership range, but the Dark Lord book was brilliant. The humour a throw-back to the author’s ‘Warlock’ column. (Pah, that piffling Dark Lord is no match for me, I could destroy the pipsqueak with my eyes shut! - The Warlock). Oh, I totally agree your wonderfulness.

In 2012, my wife and I went on honeymoon to Sorrento and the only book I took with me was The Dark Lord sequel, ‘A Fiend in Need’. We encountered weather of biblical proportions. Having several gripes with the travel firm Thomson, I had a flash of inspiration to write a book, comprised of increasingly unreasonable complaint letters to them, working title ‘Dear Thomson’. It would be based upon real events, with the irony of only having the Dark Lord book to read. I made notes, but writing a book was too much like hard work.

A few years later, much to my delight, I had another comments conversation with Dave Morris, that led to me discovering he has a blog, ‘Fabled Lands’, which I have continued to read. I also rediscovered his excellent ‘Virtual Reality/Critical IF’ and ‘Bloodsword’ series. (Spare me your sycophantic gibbering about that lickspittle’s drivel! - The Warlock). Of course, brilliantness.

Years later, I mentioned ‘Dear Thomson’ on the Fabled Lands blog. After words of encouragement from Dave, an abridged version of ‘Dear Thomson’ felt the need to expunge itself from my system over the course of a few days, enabling me to sharpen the pencil as it were for the main event of ‘How to Back Horses’. I sent ‘Dear Thomson’ to Dave, who gave me some kind feedback and useful writing advice. I quite like ‘Dear Thomson’, so have left it here for prosperity.

See, that was a really interesting story wasn’t it your appendixness? (Not in the slightest. On the subject of Thomson, he’ll feel my wraith when I find out which rock he’s crawled under, and… hang on, what did you just call me, you snivelling little worm? - The Warlock). Gulp! Erm, just a slip of the tongue oh wonderous one. Anyway, you can’t just go around punishing people anymore, things have changed in the last 40 years! (Yes, I’d heard they’d banned smoking in most places, but we’ll see about that! - The Warlock).


How To Back Horses & Yourself by Andy Fletcher is now on sale from Amazon, and for one week only you can get it at half price. Don't miss your chance to back a winner.


  1. We went on honeymoon to Sorrento too. The weather was ghastly at times. My letters of complaint (mainly about our hotel room flooding) went to TUI. I forget whether they are still around but the voucher they sent us in recompense went unused and I'm sure is expired regardless.

    1. It looks so nice when I Google it, and I love Italy, so I was imagining it as The White Lotus s2 only without the murderous gangsters -- but now you and Andy have put me right off going.

    2. It's lovely. Just that damn bad luck weather. It wasn't as bad as when we went to Sardinia and had a cyclone on our last night. Our carpark flooded and filled our basically new hirecar with foul water. That was an interesting conversation when we took it back. The rental chap nearly cried.

      Anyways, give it a go.

    3. And I thought Somerset was wet!

  2. It wouldn't surprise me if it was the same hotel, Simon. Although the name of it escapes me.

    I don't know whether it's the done thing to comment on a post with yourself in it, Dave, but just to say, thanks for the post and the recommendation. Oh, and thanks again for your helpful advice with the formatting and publishing of the book. And thanks a million for doing the superb cover. I think that's all! If any of your blog readers have a tiepin company they'd recommend, I'll get that sorted for you!

    1. You're welcome, Andy. If by some chance I do get the tiepin then I will then have to buy a tie -- not an item of apparel that authors have much call for.

      Google Translate suggests the name of the hotel might be (or anyway should have been) il Diluvio.

    2. Belair, as I recall. A bit of a walk up a steepish hill but quite nice. Apart from having to explain to the concierge just why my wife was in tears about our flooded room.

    3. You'd think the one advantage of being at the top of a hill would be not getting flooded out. On my honeymoon we had to switch rooms because ours had a rat in the rafters -- it was a palapa with a thatched roof, so I wasn't too surprised.

    4. The hill and the view are very familiar. Not the hotel name and balconies though. The latter of which I was sat on reading Mr Thomson's tome, when a pair of wet shorts fell from above and missed my head by inches. No rats thankfully. The ants must have frightened them off.

      Right, off now to buy a load more discounted doorstops that my wife doesn't know she needs.