A Time and a Place for your Story

There is a tendency among critics to find fault with writers who follow a trend, or try to make their work more saleable by linking it to events in the past. The obvious example this year is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the positive flood of articles and books appearing now. I don’t have a problem with linking one’s work to a happening in the past. It can be extremely effective, provided that the writer has something original to say. I came to book authorship by way of freelance journalism, which of course depends on current events and in a thin time, looks back at past happenings that may link with the happenings of today. For several years I wrote for an Irish sporting newspaper about horses – breeding, show-jumping, etc. Occasionally the editor of the racing section asked me for a piece about racing or breeding, usually leaving it to me to decide what to write. I hadn’t much time to think about it, as the reason he asked me was that frost or rain had forced the cancellation of a race meeting and he was faced with ‘blank page syndrome.’ Or perhaps a regular contributor was late with his piece, owing to illness. In those days there was no email and no FAX. I would have maybe twelve hours to deliver 1,000 or 15,000 words to Dublin. I would write my piece, take it five miles to the nearest town and give it to the guard on the Dublin train. The train would be met by a junior journalist with a bicycle and rushed to the office. In 1984, the editor was faced with a missing article on Derby day. He rang up at the last second. ‘Write something – no, I don’t know what – anything! 800 words.’ He hung...