For nearly fiveyears the signature at the bottom of this page has featured the familiar G andV of Garry Valk. Under Garry's stewardship, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reached levelsof success few of us so much as dreamed of in 1965—the most obvious achievementbeing the doubling of our circulation. Now he is moving on to become publisherof our sister magazine LIFE, and leaves to me the imposing task of maintainingthe standards he has set.
Garry also leavesme the pleasure of addressing you weekly, and I am happy that I can begin bycalling your attention to an unusual piece of fiction and the background of itsdistinguished author. The story, A Carrot for a Chestnut (page 48), is the workof Dick Francis, who, after a career as one of England's foremost jockeys, hasjoined the ranks of its best-selling mystery writers.
Racing's lossdistinctly has been fiction's gain. After seven years and eight novels it isclear that Dick Francis was too good a storyteller to keep in stirrups.Curiously, for all his evident skill at long fiction, Francis had never writtena short story until we invited him to try one for us. We think you will agreethat in his maiden outing Francis shows championship form.
Englishsteeplechase racing is always the background of Francis' fiction, andunderstandably. In 1953-54 he had 76 winners in 331 rides on the National Huntcircuit. Although he never won the Grand National, he is well-remembered forhis misadventure there in 1956 aboard Devon Loch, a horse that suddenlycollapsed in the stretch while holding a six-length lead (SI, March 25,1968).
January 5, 1970
Francis was thefirst-string jockey of the late Lord Bicester, whose stable was one of thefinest in England, and later rode frequently for the Queen Mother. World WarII, during which he was a glider pilot, delayed his start as a jockey until1946, but by the time he retired in 1957 he had ridden in 2,305 races with 345wins, 285 seconds and 240 thirds.
The Franciswriting record is even more impressive. Since publishing his first mysterynovel in 1962, he has sold nearly two million copies of his eight titles. Hisworks appear in 11 languages, and he numbers among his avid fans many eminenthorse owners, including the royal family.
Francis works inhis small, comfortable country home near Oxford. His writing day begins early,and by 7:30 a.m. he may be out riding across a neighbor's field to clear hishead after rapping out a scene or two. When he is writing about racing, hesometimes turns out as many as 2,500 words in a session, but love scenes givehim a little more difficulty.
In addition to hisfiction, Francis writes a racing column for the Sunday Express that requireshis presence at the track most afternoons. There he visits with trainers,officials, owners and jockeys, signs copies of his books for mystery-story fansand sits by the saddling ring pondering the outlook for the next day's races.Picking winners, says Francis, gets more difficult with experience. But ACarrot for a Chestnut is a Francis winner—and don't you dare read the last linefirst.