Why writer is backing a racehorse as winning theme for latest book
Terence Blacker grew up in a horse-mad family. His father was an international showjumper, his mother a superb horsewoman, and his brother came within a whisker of winning the Grand National.
So it was not surprising that Terence – a keen amateur jockey – once saw his future as a racing journalist.
It didn’t happen. Aged 23 he veered off the expected course into a career in publishing.
But somehow he was always looking over his shoulder at what he had left behind.
Now an author and journalist, with a string of books to his name, he has returned to his first love.
His latest novel is set in the world of horse racing he once knew so well.
Racing Manhattan tells the story of misfit teenager Jay Barton, and her special bond with a brilliant but misunderstood racehorse.
Together they take the male-dominated world of racing by storm.
The equine heroine of the book, which is aimed at young readers aged 11-plus, was based on a real horse.
Petite Etoile was a dark grey filly who raced in the late 1950s.
“I started reading about her character,” said Terence who lives in Rushall near Dickleburgh, “and that inspired Manhattan.”
He says this is the book he always wanted to write. “It has meant more to me than most of the others.
“I had been very, very involved in the world of racing, and have ridden most of my life.
“Hanging over me was always this unfinished business, a love of racing and fast horses. That’s why I wanted to do this book.”
Terence, 68, was born in Suffolk, but his father was in the Army so the family was constantly on the move.
“Every member of my family loved horses, grandparents, cousins, everyone, and we owned horses and ponies,” he says.
“In a weird way I was closer to the ponies than to other children because we moved every two years and never stayed in one place for a long period.
“My roots are in Shelley near Hadleigh, Suffolk, where my grandparents lived. It was the nearest thing to home for me – the happiest memories of my childhood.
“I went to a miserable prep school at seven, on to public school, and then Cambridge to do English ... not very well, because I was racing most of the time.
“I was at one of the greatest universities in the world and spent my time riding in the 2.30 at Uttoxeter!
“After university I had various jobs on the fringes of racing including door-to-door horse tonic salesman.
“But then at 23 I suddenly decided there was more to life than horses. To be any good you have to be obsessed, and I didn’t want that.
“I went to Paris and worked for a bookseller, then went into publishing and ended up as editorial director of a paperback company.
“In my 30s I realised rather belatedly I wanted to write stories rather than publish them.
“Looking back I can see I probably always wanted to be a writer, but was too wimpish to think I could do it.
“Now when I talk to children in schools I tell them to get on and do it – don’t be a wimp like me.”
Though horse racing played a big part in Terence’s early life he was mainly involved in steeplechasing, where amateurs could ride against professionals.
His knowledge of flat racing was less extensive. “Part of the book is set in a yard in Newmarket, and I wanted to get it right,” he said.
So he turned to some big names in horse racing including celebrated trainer Sir Mark Prescott.
“He was incredibly helpful. I spent a couple of mornings at his yard in Newmarket and spoke to the lads there.”
He also consulted Duncan Gregory, operations director of the British Racing School, and Matt Mancini who was director of the Racing Centre.
Terence has written columns for The Independent and The Sunday Times, and his previous books include novels for adults and children.
“My novels have quite a humorous edge to them, but they’re all very different,” he says. He also collaborated with the cast of the cult TV comedy The Young Ones, editing The Young Ones Book and co-writing Neil’s Book of the Dead with Nigel Planer.
Terence lives in Rushall with his partner Angela Sykes, who is manager of Diss Corn Hall.
He has two children in their 30s, and two grandchildren.
It remains to be seen if the horse-mad gene has passed on down the line. If not, he won’t mind at all.
“I have just bought, at an auction in Diss, a very nice rocking horse for my grandaughter Winnie, who’s five. “In fact, I rather hope that’s as far as her interest goes,” he said.