Shifting Shale

With his books Showered in Shale, When Eagles Dared and Shale Britannia, Jeff Scott’s appreciation and wonder of this dangerous sport and his ability to describe and narrate the minutiae and entirety of the Speedway experience deservedly won him plaudits far beyond the specialist media.

By Jeff Scott: 2006 – A Race Odyssey

Like the modern-day gladiators of motorcycle speedway, author, observer and minutiae obsessive Jeff Scott goes round in circles, Shifting Shale – just like his fearless heroes.

Only the shale he is shifting is not the pinky gloopy stuff which adorns the tracks in the rundown stadiums of broken dreams but his masterwork Showered in Shale – a 320,000 word analysis of what once was “Britain’s second largest watched sport” (after football). He sets off again around all the tracks in the country to ‘press the flesh’, meet his public and most importantly, sell some books.

So, not only is this another unique speedway observational book – but a book that will appeal to anyone who has promoted their own work. Scott sets up his stall in the shadows of these mostly decaying yet hugely attractive full-of-triumph-and-tragedy corrugated arenas to sell his wares. His only weapons are charm, humour and unsold volumes.

And it is mostly from this table-side vista a freshly askew insight into the joys of watching four riders race four laps on an uncertain surface on a methanol guzzling 500cc two wheeled monster with no brakes. It’s a spectacle that defies logic insomuch as firstly, four riders try to squeeze into the first bend when there is only space for one and secondly, to turn each corner, the rider actually accelerates and steers to the right. Although he’s turning left …

Which, in effect, is the power of this new book – built as a blog, but now read as a book. Reading Jeff Scott, there are no brakes. To stop, you have to throttle off and put your foot down. But the buzz is so captivating, it is a very hard thing to do. And when he leaves his tableware to the elements and wanders into the pits, the bar, car park, centre green or up to the referee’s box, once more, you are actually there.

Elsewhere, he enjoys being a guest of Sky Sports at the prestigious Speedway Riders Association end of year bash, a day astride an actual speedway bike at Sittingbourne Speedway, comparing sales figures with legendary former riders, hobnobbing with riders on the Isle of Wight ferry and even spending the night sleeping with two speedway riders at the Norfolk Arena …

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Press Quotes

“The sport’s most prolific and entertaining author”
Peter Oakes, Speedway Star

“Shifting Shale sees Jeff in a more inquisitive and observational mood… he uses perception, humour, irony and  straight talking in equal measure”
Martin Neal, Evening Gazette

“Makes marvellous, opinionated, reading…Jeff is a good listener, with a quick ear for a good quote, and his books are peppered – indeed at times salted — with the words of others, too”
Dick Barrie

“Scott is a talented author, the like of whom speedway has not seen before”
John Hyam, South London Press

“Bill Brysonesque”
Jim Henry Speedway Researcher

Press Reviews

Billy Jenkins Website ‘Jenkins Lauds Speedway Writer!’, Billy Jenkins

Billy has followed the dangerous sport of motorcycle speedway since the age of twelve, when he would cycle the eight or so miles to Crayford Speedway from the family home in Bromley, Kent to marvel at the Crayford Highwaymen.

When not performing with The Fantastic Trimmer & Jenkins circa 1979 – 82, he would set off on his motorbike three times a week and maybe take in the noise, unique smell of Castrol R and methanol at Hackney, Wimbledon and Rye House. He even raced in the non motorised version of cycle speedway for a couple of seasons, turning out for the Beckenham Monarchs in the Radio London League.

He would often take jazz musicians to the track to expose them to the realities of the speedway rider’s life. They get paid by results. Crash and break your leg – no pay and certainly no work for months. When fit, the top riders will race in maybe England, Sweden, Poland and Denmark every week throughout the summer season. Puts the namby pamby life of the musician moaning about RSI and travelling into perspective!

It’s a unique, yet timeless sport that swims strongly against the contemporary tide of turgidity, compliance, the corporate and the bland.

In 2006, Billy discovered speedway author Jeff Scott, who had just published his first book ‘Showered In Shale’. The writing in Jeff’s Blog was so brilliant, musician and author began communicating and as Jeff puts it in the credits of his new book, ‘….was kind of adopted by Billy’.

The end result is Mr Jenkins proudly gets the front cover strap line on Jeff’s fourth and latest masterpiece ‘Shifting Shale’ – and Billy cannot recommend Jeff’s work highly enough.

Mr Scott is also a brilliant photographer. His ‘sideways glance at speedway’ Shale Britannia, is a gorgeously melancholic study of everything that is great about the sport away from the spectacle itself of four riders hurtling their lethal machines shoulder to shoulder at high speed over an uneven shale oval.

We at say – ‘get on your 500cc speedway bike with no brakes that accelerates pound for pound faster than a Formula One car to and snap up one of Jeff’s books now’!

The Argus, Brian Owen, 7th December 2007

If the smell of methanol wafting up West Street doesn’t get you longing for summer, Jeff Scott will…[in Shifting Shale] Jeff tracks the 2006 season, helped by a few Sports Argus posters. The use of key quotes adds a nice touch. You’ll read the quotes first, then get wrapped up in about 350 pages of what is now trademark Jeff Scott – insight, enthusiasm and quirky interpretation of the shale sport. Bring on summer.

Sports Pink, Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough, Martin Neal

SPEEDWAY. It’s all about four blokes on motorbikes turning left, right? Wrong? Not in Jeff Scott’s world, anyway – and it’s a world I’m quite happy to inhabit myself.

Author, photographer and shalesport obsessive, Jeff has been a regular face at tracks up and down the country since embarking on his Showered in Shale project, a weighty tome chronicling his journey to every speedway venue in the country during the 2005 season. Now he’s at it again, with two new books on the shelves – Shale Britannia and Shifting Shale. And what makes them so fascinating is that for Jeff, speedway goes far deeper than the act of four  riders  out on the track racing.

Those yet to fall under the spell of this wonderful sport will view us as a bunch of anorak-clad saddoes waving our programme boards in desolate stadiums watching a sport that’s decided by whoever gets to the first bend first. But, as Jeff recognises, it’s the characters and the character of our speedway arenas that make the sport what it is. In Shale Britannia, Jeff brings together an intriguing selection of offbeat photographs taken during his latest trek round the country. From the shabby sheds of Stoke to plush stands of Poole, Jeff has captured it all on film. And if that really is Miss Arena Essex, I’m glad I don’t live in Southend any more!

Shifting Shale is the follow-up to Showered in Shale and sees Jeff use words to  create his pictures – in his usual meticulous style, of course. But where its predecessor was more a chronicle of his quest for endless speedway action, Shifting Shale sees Jeff in a more inquisitive and observational mood. Eager to find out what makes the people who make speedway tick tick, nothing gets past him. He even manages to note that I was absent from his visit to last season’s Redcar Bears v Glasgow Tigers match due to illness!

He has his share of run-ins (with the track shop man who seemed to think he was the health and safety officer too) and laughs (like when King’s Lynn team-mates Chris Mills and John Oliver end up talking tactics while sharing the bottom bunk of the hospitality cabin at Saddlebow Road) – and he uses perception, humour, irony and  straight talking in equal measure in the process.

South London Press, John Hyam

THIS latest book from prolific speedway author Jeff Scott is as quirky and as delightful as his previous mega-offering ‘Showered in Shale’. It covers some more memories of his touring experiences at various tracks. More importantly, considering it is now nearly two years since Wimbledon were evicted from Plough Lane by the GRA, the Dons get plenty of mentions. There are controversial issues like the ill-fated relocation bid at Central Park, Sittingbourne, and how this was seen by the long-standing neighbouring Kent club Sittingbourne Crusaders. There is one assessment by Steve Ribbons, who was linked with the Crusaders after initially masterminding Wimbledon’s return to Plough Lane after 11 years’ closure in 2002. Basically, Ribbons’ opinion was that a Central Park base for Wimbledon was a non-starter. His actual comments need to be read for appreciation on a thorny subject.

Author Scott has also chronicled a series of delightful quotations from ‘Speedway Star’ on topics affecting the sport as seen by the promoters, riders and others who keep speedway ticking over. Many of them were made by the Dons’ last Plough Lane promoter Ian Perkin. They deal largely with the relocation happenings between late 2005 and into 2006. As read in the ‘Star’ on a week-to-week basis, their context appeared very different and less amusing than in the new collated form in ‘Shifting Shale.’

As befits a Jeff Scott book, this is another  massive tome – it runs to 352 pages and you need time to assimilate its overall content. But, again, it is a winner in the speedway world where most books on the sport doing the rounds are historical works. The book reflects Jeff Scott’s unique appreciation of a dangerous sport. Scott is a talented author, the like of whom speedway has not seen before. His ability to show appreciation, describe and narrate about speedway makes ‘Shifting Shale’ a must for all who claim to have an interest in this spectacular sport.

Speedway Plus, Allan Melville

Regular visitors to the site will hopefully be familiar with the work of author and speedway obsessive Jeff Scott. We’ve featured excerpts from his work and tried to somehow help him minimise the losses his publications always seem destined to make. He’s just published his fourth speedway book in little over a year, a quite incredible rate that hints at an underlying addiction of some kind.

The good news is that the quality of Jeff’s work has not been affected by the quantity he’s produced. “Shifting Shale” is a return to the format that worked so well in his first book “Showered in Shale”. The author travels to every track in the country, meets some interesting (and occasionally odd) characters, sums up what stands out about each meeting and reports it all in an amusing and incisive manner. His first book covered his 2005 adventures, this one is firmly focused on 2006 – from the New Year Classic to the Brighton Bonanza.

Nobody else writing about speedway at the moment can capture the speedway experience in the way that Scott can. As always, the beauty of his work is in the description of the minutiae – fleeting conversations are recorded in full and the sentiments expressed subjected to analysis. The closure of a toilet block at Reading is discussed at length, it’s hard to imagine any other book mentioning it, let alone considering the implications.

There’s plenty of comment on the bigger issues affecting the sport also. The chapter on Jeff’s first visit to “BSI Reading” makes for fascinating reading, especially given the way that particular project has now turned out. He also covers the tactical ride rule, picking apart the ‘pro’ arguments advanced by some within the sport. If it happened in British speedway in 2006 then you’ll find at least one person’s opinion on it within the pages of this book.

Where this book differs from “Showered in Shale” is in the perspective of the writer. First time round he was an outsider, mingling un-noticed with the locals, free to roam and invisible to most. In this second adventure he’s standing behind a pasting table, hoping to sell some copies of the aforementioned tome and no longer just the nice man asking you questions – he’s now the nice man who’s going to remember what you’ve said and write it all down in a book. This last point does lead to an early sale as a track photographer buys a copy – just so he can send it to his lawyer with a view to suing Jeff for libel! Thankfully nothing seems to come from it, but it does highlight one of the dangers in writing a book of this nature.

In many ways, “Shifting Shale” is about more than just speedway and has more layers than “Showered in Shale”. It’s also about Jeff’s struggle to write, publish and sell a book in a small and crowded marketplace. His first night of sales activity sees more books stolen than he actually sells, on another occasion he finds himself with the very worst spot at the less popular of two rival collectors’ fayres being held in the same street. No doubt valuable lessons have been learned from these experiences and these mistakes avoided on his promotional tour for this new book.

Jeff’s increased profile also opens some useful doors, such as those of the SRA rider of the year awards. The chapter on that particular evening makes for hilarious reading – mainly due to the antics of Steve Johnson and the presence of Sophie Blake. One of the aforementioned was polite and demure while the other was very loud indeed – you’ll have to buy the book to find out who did what. Sophie also features in one of the many laugh-out-load passages within the book with the observation that the official attendance at last year’s Lonigo GP must now be considered to have been 4,500+1.

In another stand-out chapter the action moves to Sittingbourne as Jeff joins the referees in a ‘fun’ practice session. There’s no bravado in his account of the day, he admits to being petrified and relieved when he could retreat to the safety of the changing rooms. This chapter more than any other highlights just what a good writer Scott is, his self-doubt and fear come screaming off the page and will strike a chord with anyone who has ever stepped outside their own comfort zones.

In our review of Jeff’s photography book, “Shale Britannia”, we mentioned that the lack of words was a real departure from Jeff’s usual style. We needn’t have worried, normal service has been resumed here and this book contains as many words as one could possibly want (even if we secretly think he make some of them up). It runs to just short of 350 pages and given Jonathan Chapman’s description of the book as “the ideal toilet book”, Jeff may not be far off the mark with his idea to market it as “the ultimate book for the speedway fan with prostrate or constipation issues.”

In summary – you should buy this book, you’ll enjoy it and you might even be in it!