Lovely appreciation by Peter Oakes in the Speedway Star
BELIEVE it or not: prolific author Jeff Scott has a day job….
The long-time fan, who has just added two new titles to his growing speedway catalogue, spends his working life publicising other people’s books.
And his own spare time touring the tracks and flogging his own works of art!
This week he’ll be lugging boxes around the country, visiting Coventry on Friday; Ipswich Saturday; Sittingbourne Sunday; Birmingham next Wednesday, Redcar on Thursday; and a northern weekend at Workington and Newcastle.
He’ll very nearly drive and train as many miles as he’s written words over the last couple of years as the sport’s most prolific and entertaining author.
Like most things that are out-of-the-ordinary, the 46-year-old Scott is an acquired taste.
You either love his work or you hate it: a bit like the way the sporting public is finely divided into those who love speedway and those who can’t find a good word to say about it.
Let’s declare where I stand on the controversial Mr. Scott.
I got immense satisfaction out of his first book Showered in Shale; I quite enjoyed When Eagles Dares; I was absolutely captivated by one of his more recent offerings Shale Britannia: A Sideways Glance at Speedway; and I’ve just scanned Shifting Shale: 2006 A Race Odyssey but will, when time permits, settle down to read every word of it.
Count me among the converts for here is an author who scorns the conventional, is always looking for the unique, and has a matey-yet-highbrow view of his own speedway world.
In a day when so many books are simply cuttings jobs from old newspapers, magazines, and programmes; his are the result of hours, upon hours, upon hours of personal research and observation.
And, not content with that, Scott then spends nights and nights touring the country, setting up his table, and selling (or trying to sell) his books.
This really is a labour of love as he is refreshingly honest about sales figures.
His best-ever day was at Cardiff for the British Grand Prix where he managed to turn-over 70 units but he adds as a self-deprecatory aside that at the same collectors’ fayre Tony MacDonald sold more than double that of his new book about Kenny Carter!
His worst night? That was at Coventry where the only book he sold was snapped up by security officer Keith before the turnstiles even opened.
Clearly he’s not going to get rich quick, explaining: “I’m a fan really, but I have had more privileged access to all sorts of things which is nice.”
When he’s not writing, or selling, Jeff is promoting other authors’ work as a publicity consultant..he is clearly very, very good at his job.
Who else has ever managed to get a full page in colour in The Big Issue about a speedway book as he did with Shale Britannia?
Jeff says: “It’s all down to the title, that’s very important. It’s as banal as that.”
Clearly Scott has taken that philosophy into his own writing as chapter headings in Shifting Shale include the eye-catching Charfmed in Thurrock; A Night of Thrills and Talk of Sex at Alwalton; and Butterflies, the Five Ps and Big News in The Sun.
Certainly far more eye-catching than a straightforward report on meetings between Arena Essex and Ipswich; Peterborough v Reading; and the Craven Shield Final between Poole, Coventry and Eastbourne!
His fascination with the shale began after his family uprooted from their native North East – he’s a staunch Sunderland soccer fan as well – to move to the Home Counties forty-plus years ago in search of work.
He recalls: “The person to thank for becoming interested in speedway was George Grant, a trumpet player in the Tadley Band.
“All my mates were talking about going to speedway but we didn’t have a car and just when I wanted to go Reading had to leave Tilehurst and closed down for a year.
“But as soon as they started again at their new track at Smallmead in 1975 I went.
“George was a friend of the family and I got a lift every Monday night.
“We had to leave really early because of the number of people going, we had to get there about six to 6.15 to get a space.
“George was passionate about speedway and at the time I was about 13 which I think is the ideal age.
“I didn’t miss a meeting for years. Then I went to Sussex University and when I was a student I stopped going but then I started going to Arlington to watch Eastbourne.
“I liked to visit my parents and in the period 1998 to 2004 I rarely missed a Reading fixture although I lived in Britain.
“Whenever I got a chance to see speedway I would. That’s where it all started really.
Reading has remained Scott’s first love although he’s also become an adopted member of the Eastbourne family, now esoterically listed in their match day programme as the Eagles Writer in Residence!
His attachment to the Berkshire club shines through in Shifting Shale, his tales from his 2006 nationwide odyssey.
Considering those words [long quote deleted] were written in the early days of the BSI empire they proved to be perceptively accurate and reflect the tone of Scott’s writing throughout all his books.
He is always willing to criticise, never slow to praise and clearly has no major vested interest born over financial links with any club or promoter.
He sums it up: “Riders risk their lives, promoters risk their money, and the stadiums are full of people who think they can do it better!”
Maybe that is also a clue to why he has become a latter-day author.
There are over 100,000 books published every year, and Scott is in a unique position to know the market, big or small.
After leaving University, with degrees in English Literature and Philosophy, he worked in a variety of jobs for the publishers Prentice Hall.
As he moved on and up the ladder he spent a lot of time abroad, living in Amsterdam for four years and visiting so many different countries.
“I came back to England on a regular basis,” he says, “but in my job I was here, there and everywhere. I flew every 2.8 days for a decade, I clocked up the air miles. I had the flying of a speedway rider – except without engines!”
He became a pupil of the poet Michael Donaghy, a New Yorker brought up in the Bronx who moved to London in 1985 and made the capital his home until he died three years ago, still only aged 50.
“He told me ‘you should write about things you really love’ and that was where the idea to write about speedway came from.
“I also love football and Sunderland but it has become a bit too plastic. I’m more a fan in the Championship than the Premiership because that’s where you see what proper fans and crowds are like, more old fashioned. With Premiership football and all seater stadia you are encouraged/forced to become consumers, you are a customer, not a fan.
“Speedway still retains what is sometimes missing from football, it’s more local, more community based, more intimate.
“I went around the tracks in 2005 to see what it was like and it has been a great journey.
“People were a little bit suspicious to start with but I can genuinely say I have been overwhelmed with kindness.”
There have, however, as the pages of his travelogues reveal, been some folk who have hardly put out the welcome mat.
You only have to read about his experience at Belle Vue with track shop franchise operator John ‘Freaking’ Jones to realise that he wasn’t always greeted like a long lost friend although much of the dialogue between the pair at Kirkmanshulme Lane is definitely not suitable for a family magazine!
THE SCOTT CATALOGUE
SHOWERED IN SHALE
A unique behind the scenes look at the 2005 speedway season in which the author travelled 10,000 miles, attended 70 meetings and watched over 1,100 racers. 504 pages over 320,000 words. £20.
WHEN EAGLES DARED
A month-by-month account of the 2005 season which featured a number of Eastbourne Eagles fixtures. 170 pages. £10.
SHALE BRITANNIA: A Sideways Glance at Speedway
The author and his digital camera, travelled to tracks around the country and captured the unseen images of a sport in the 21st century. 256 pages,245 colour images. £15.
SHIFTING SHALE: 2006 A Race Odyssey
A 275,000 word analysis of the sport as Jeff sets off again around all the tracks to press the flesh, meet his public and, most importantly, sell some books. 352 pages. £20.