Alan Carter: Light in the Darkness
Retro Speedway launch their latest book this weekend, so we asked publisher Tony McDonald what readers can expect from Alan Carter's Light in the Darkness and the story behind its release . . .
Speedway Plus: Tell us what the book is all about.
Tony McDonald: It's Alan Carter's life story in 320 pages, warts and all. How he grew up in a deeply troubled Halifax family haunted by a string of tragic events that began when he was six-years-old. That's when his younger brother died in a car accident that saw his mother, Christine, paralysed from the waist down. He describes in graphic details all that he and Kenny had to do to look after their mum, which clearly had a profound effect on them both at a young age.
When Alan was 15, his mother committed suicide. And, as we all know, he was 21 when Kenny took his own life after shooting dead his wife, Pam, in May 1986.
Alan lost his own daughter in year 2000 and his personal heartache also included two divorces, the loss of his home, the collapse of his business and bankruptcy, which led him to the brink of a nervous breakdown and psychiatric treatment.
Oh yes, and he also had a rollercoaster career as one of Britain's top road-racers, becoming the youngest ever 250cc GP winner (at Le Mans in 1983) and seventh in the world championships. He was signed up by the great Kenny Roberts to race alongside American hotshot Wayne Rainey in Roberts' first GP team.
But, above all, this is a compelling human interest story. The road-racing aspect is almost incidental and Alan doesn't bore readers with chapter and verse on what he did on the track.
SP: Are you concerned that Retro Speedway will attract criticism for publishing another book on the Carter family, with strong emphasis on the terrible crime Kenny committed?
TMc: Not at all. People always have a choice about what they buy. And the fact is, Kenny Carter is still one of the most talked about riders speedway has ever known. Tragedy sold out when it came out in 2007, and so did the re-printed edition, but Alan Carter's story is better for a number of reasons. None of the Carter family would talk to us before Tragedy came out and I fully understood why. When Alan first approached us last August about doing his book, he said he'd read our book on Kenny and that it was 99 per cent accurate.
But no-one knew Kenny as well as his younger brother - they went through so many nightmare experiences together as kids and Alan has shone a whole new light on his family that we weren't able to do in the book about Kenny.
Apart from his amazing honesty, Alan has also provided more than 200 pictures for the book from his own personal collection. We've published photos of Kenny and other members of the family that no-one beyond their close circle will have ever seen before.
SP: How honest has Alan been about Kenny and the horrific act his elder brother committed back in May 1986?
TMc: I think a lot of people will be shocked by just how honest and forthright Alan has been. Like Kenny, he is a straight-talking Yorkshireman who calls a spade a shovel. He makes no bones about it when he writes that Kenny was a cold blooded murderer and what he did to his wife Pam was pre-planned.
Honesty doesn't quite cover it with Alan, though. One of the lovely things about him is his humility and the way he is always prepared to criticise others while at the same time being very hard on himself. This is not the type of book where the subject boasts about how many titles and medals he has won and all the other great things he has does to enrich the planet - yes, I accept that Ivan Mauger's book has sold well, but how much self-proclamation can anyone take? Alan Carter is refreshingly honest, very humble and I expect readers will admire him all the more for it.
SP: Does Alan shed any further light on why he thinks Kenny did what he did at the end?
TMc: He puts forward six different reasons, or factors, behind what he thinks caused him to lose his mind. He puts a lot of the blame on their late father, Mal, who Alan is very candid about throughout the book. Basically, he says that Mal was a bully who put too much pressure on both of his sons to succeed.
SP: Given that Alan made his name in road-racing, is there enough speedway content in this book to satisfy fans of our sport?
TMc: Absolutely. There's more compelling reading about speedway in Alan Carter's book than there is in most speedway books that have come out in the past 10 years! Readers will probably also be surprised - shocked even - by what he says about Bruce Penhall and Peter Collins, who were of course both major rivals of Kenny's and hated by him at one time or another. Alan has some very interesting observations on the way his brother conducted himself.
Alan rode - and demolished - Kenny's Weslake in practice rides at Ellesmere Port and his views on speedway as an outsider are also interesting and thought-provoking.
Alan watches all the speedway GPs on telly and fully understands the sport and how it operates.
SP: It sounds like grim reading in a lot of places? Will people have nightmares reading it?
TMc: Well, there are obviously a lot of heartrending stages to the book - it's definitely not Harry Potter! But Alan also possessing a wonderful line in gallows humour and, being so self-deprecating, there are numerous lines that will make readers laugh out loud.
But if you are shocked by bad language, then be warned. We've applied plenty of asterisks throughout the book but then that's because Alan tells it like it is. There's no sugar-coating going on here.
SP: How many copies do you expect to sell - what is the book's potential?
TMc: We've initially printed 3,500 but expect a quickly re-print. Bearing in mind that Alan will be actively promoting the book around the road-racing tracks of the UK (he is currently competing in a classic bike series on a 350cc Yamaha), I see no reason why sales won't reach five figures. Pre-orders have been very strong.
From the few people who have already read it, feedback has been tremendous. Speedway Star editor Richard Clark has given Light in the Darkness a superb review in this week's issue, while we showed proofs to Bruce Penhall, who describes it as "a great, great story".
Bruce shares our belief that Alan's book can easily be adapted for film and/or television and we are, in fact, now talking to two British companies with this in mind. A small, independent production company has already been to Alan's home to film him with a view to pitching his story to one of the big TV companies, while Bruce is putting out feelers in Hollywood. He reckons Zac Efron would be ideal to play the young Alan.
I loved working with Michael Lee on his book last year, because that too was a great human interest story that goes way beyond the tale of an ex-speedway rider. Like Alan, Mike tells it like it is and surely that's what people want from the subject? No bullshit. But it's fair to say that I've not been this excited by a book for a long while as I am by the Alan Carter story.
I really hope it's a big success as much for him as for ourselves. After all that Alan has suffered and had to cope with throughout his life, the bloke deserves a change of fortune and lots more light to get rid of the darkness.
SP: Do you have any further plans for book releases this year?
TMc: None at the moment. We want to put all our efforts and resources behind Alan's book, because it has greater potential than anything we've ever done in the past seven years.
We are, though, also committed to producing retro DVDs. Mark Loram: The People's Champion was a delight to put together - what a nice guy he is - and this weekend we're also launching our new Shawn Moran DVD. If people go to the home page of our website, they will see an eight-minute trailer for it.
SP: How do people buy a copy of the Carter book?
TMc: Every copy bought direct from ourselves will be personally signed by Alan. The book costs �16 (post-free in the UK, or add �5 per book from overseas) and is available online at www.retro-speedway.com or phone our credit/debit card hotline on 01708 734 502.
If anyone has any further questions, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published on 23rd June 2011
"I agree on how many books can you read about the same rider year in and year out. We already know all that. This is the book you want to read. "
"I have read this cover to cover and yes there is enough about Speedway to keep fans happy but it's about Alan and his life/career. This is Alan's story, it's a great read and well done to him for baring his soul."
"Read the whole book in 3 days (obviously I had other things to do work, kids etc lol) but every spare moment I couldn't put it down. A great read but obviously very sad for many reasons but the last chapter was so positive and I'm so glad it was. Hope life keeps on the up for you."
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