From this months Word with Jam e-zine, below is my article on the late Dick Francis. For lots of other similar articles, some which are much more amusing, see the link in the below post.
February 14th, 2010 saw the loss of one of the UK’s most prodigious crime writers with the death of Dick Francis CBE.
He passed away at his home in theCayman Islands, age eighty-nine.
To my generation and younger, Francis is known for his literary work. He wrote a staggering fortytwo best selling books, his first, his auto-biography, The Sport of Queens, in 1957. Five years later he published his first crime thriller, Dead Cert, set in the world of horseracing.
By the time Even Money was published in 2009 he had sold over seventy-five million books worldwide in thirty-five languages.He averaged one novel per year throughout his writing career, only skipping 1998, when he published a collection of short stories instead.
But writing was the second success story in Dick Francis’ life, and many people will also remember him in his heyday in the sport of horse racing.
On resuming his racing career after leaving the RAF in 1946, he moved quickly through the ranks to become a National Hunt jockey. By 1954 he was a champion steeplechase jockey, winning 345 races in total throughout his career. His reputation for excellence was cemented when he was chosen as jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for four consecutive seasons under the royal trainer, Cazalet.
Unfortunately his most famous moment in racing was also his biggest failure, when the Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch, collapsed less than fifty yards from victory in the 1956 Grand National.
In 1957, he was forced to quit the sport following another nasty injury, being told by a trainer he should ‘quit while he was still alive.’ He had dislocated his shoulder so many times it had to be permanently strapped for the rest of his life. His sudden departure from the sport left him severely depressed, and he later admitted in an interview: ‘That final day, when I walked away from the sport I love, through Hyde Park on my way home, I cried. I nearly flung myself in the Serpentine, I was so depressed.’
In an effort to find a new career he became the sports correspondent for London’s Sunday Express, staying for sixteen years, while continuing his passion for writing fiction in private.
Francis said in 1996: ‘The Devon Loch episode was a terrible thing but I look back on it now and I can say that if it hadn’t happened I might never have written a book, and my books have certainly helped keep the wolf from the door.’
The Queen Mother was a fan of his writing, and he made sure she always received a signed first edition of each book. He admitted he made the decision not to include much of the usual sex and bad language expected in the genre as he knew the Queen Mother would not approve.
As well as achieving remarkable sales success, Francis’ writing also won him many literary accolades. He is the only three-time recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best Novel, which he won for Forfeit in 1970, Whip Hand in 1981 and Come to Grief in 1996. Britain’s Crime Writers Association awarded him its Gold Dagger Award for fiction in 1979, and the Cartier Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award in 1989.
He was awarded a CBE in 2000, which he described as one of the proudest moments of his life. In later years Dick retired to the sunshine of the Cayman Islands, and, since 2006, co-wrote his books with his son, Felix.
Dick Francis was known as a quiet man, a private person, who achieved the spectacular feat of rising to the top in two totally unconnected careers.
Tributes were paid from top names in both the sport of horse racing and the literary world.
Former jockey, John Francome, said: ‘He was a lovely person who always had a sparkle in his eye and a wicked sense of humour.’
Novelist Frederick Forsyth said: ‘He was immensely prolific. I mean, fifty years of writing about fifty books – one a year. Amazing.’
The new Dick and Felix Francis novel, Crossfire, will be published in autumn 2010.