ABOUT TEAM SUZUKI
How long does it take?
Over the years, many people have asked, “How long did it take to write TEAM SUZUKI?”
I always say “About three years,” because I vaguely recall starting it around 1978 and finishing it in 1981. When they ask, “And how did you write it?” I stumble because it’s not very simple.
You need the confidence that only experience can deliver. The first published piece I wrote concerned my ownership of two Brough Superiors. This appeared in Fishtail, the Velocette Owners’ Club magazine in 1969, shortly before I joined British Leyland as an engine designer.
Working for ‘The Austin’ at Longbridge in Birmingham sharpened my analysis of engineering problems and I began to write technical articles for CYCLE, then the USA’s largest circulation motorcycle magazine. I was already writing technical articles for Motor Cycle Sport as ADT (Alvin D Tankstraddler, the D stood for Dwight) and other British magazines. In the early seventies, I was content designing car engines in the week and racing my 1937 Velocette KSS, and 1938 Triumph Speed Twin at the weekends. But by 1975 I became fed up with British Leyland. Although BL had named me as the inventor on six of their patents, precious few had made it into production. It was like hitting my head against a brick wall.
I Join Suzuki
Early in 1976, I joined Heron Suzuki GB as their sole technical representative. Since 1965 I’d spectated at Oulton and Mallory (I was always taking exams when the TT was on) but at Suzuki GB, I began to see racing from the inside thanks to the paddock passes given to me by my new pal Rex White. I rubbed shoulders with the Grand Prix team and a year later, when I became Suzuki’s service manager, the small building at the rear of Number 91 Beddington Lane that housed my new department and my office also contained the GP race team. Riders, sponsors, mechanics, Japanese designers, all used the same facilities so it was only natural that some of them became my friends. I was still writing for various magazines (always using a pseudonym) and I was by then ghosting Pat Hennen’s technical column in a US magazine.
With Heron Suzuki, I travelled with the team to many of the British events and occasionally to European GPs and began to understand what lay really behind the success of riders like Barry Sheene. His fans imagined that winning a race was all about riding skills but I knew it was also – possibly mainly - the hundreds of sweat-wringing man-hours of machine preparation expended by his support crew for every hour spent racing on the track. I had the germ of an idea that people would like to know about what goes on in a successful race team.
So it was a combination of sharpening my writing skills and having access to interesting stuff that the notion of writing a book became plausible.
And then I met Masazumi Ishikawa. He had been educated at Harvard and spoke excellent English. He told me that he was one of Team Suzuki’s managers of the 1960s. I saw him a lot as Ishikawa-San managed Suzuki Japan’s homologation department and I was Type Approving the Suzuki SC100GX (the Whizz-Kid that became the first Suzuki car to be sold in the UK). During his many UK visits, Ishikawa-San brought me personal photographs and excellent memories. Sometimes documents. He translated a great deal of a Japanese book I had bought in Tokyo, The History of Japanese Racing Motorcycles - which I now know was written by my friend Yori Kanda who lives just a few miles from my home. Ishikawa-San told me of other Suzuki people I dealt with who were also ex-Team Suzuki members. I started to interview these people during their UK visits.
Before I knew it, I was thinking about the structure of a book. How I could place these memories. What secrets I could reveal without risking alienating Suzuki Japan. In fact, Suzuki Japan were extremely accommodating and allowed me to take photographs inside their race shop and provided all the help I could ever imagine.
But writing a book isn’t only about putting words on paper; it’s about knowing who to talk to and being confident that what you write will eventually be printed. I was extremely fortunate in this latter regard.
I knew Roy Bacon, possibly the most prolific author of motorcycle books – through my day job. Roy would call me about technical problems he was trying to answer in his Mr Fix-It column in one of the comics. Roy introduced me to his editor at Osprey Publishing, Tim Parker, a Laverda enthusiast. I liked Tim from the outset and he became a big influence on my book.
I also knew Jeff Clew, another prolific author and a director of Haynes. During a visit to Japan, I actually bumped into Jeff in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Hamamatsu (this is where Suzuki accommodates all its visitors). He told me he was there researching a book on Suzuki. I told him that this was the purpose of my own visit. Jeff offered to publish my book and sent me a contract to sign. But by then, I’d virtually decided to go with Tim at Osprey and although I read the Haynes contract, I didn’t feel able to let Tim down.
How do you write a book?
I think all authors use different methods. Here’s what I did. Having located the people I wanted to interview, I listed the questions I wanted to pose and that I knew they would know about and tape-recorded an interview with them. In the end I had about fifty hours of interviews.
Team Suzuki was written during the birth of desk-top computers. At the time, I owned a Commodore Pet but couldn’t afford the word-processing software to help me. So I scrounged an old Olympia typewriter from Heron Suzuki and transcribed the entire interviews. That took a long time and probably amounted to 250,000 words. I started each new point made by the interviewee on a new line preceded by a Tape reference so that I could quickly return to the original recording. So DEG1-1843 was my first Degner tape and the tape counter reading was 1843.
I Cut and Paste
I already had a chapter structure so I physically used scissors to slice the pages and pages of transcripts and place the extracts into piles according to Chapter and Topic. I then placed the contents of each pile into order and pasted them on blank sheets. This allowed me to see the quotes of different people about the same subject alongside each other.
While I was doing this, I was also collecting photographs from Japan, Heron Suzuki, many magazines from the UK, Europe and the USA. Everything was filed into their relevant chapter folders.
Chinese Water Torture
Fast forward to 1981. The book is now written, all 120,000 words of it. It had been through three drafts, all typed out by hand on my typewriter. I sent it to Tim Parker. He thought it was great but too long (my contract specified 100,000 words).
Now it’s easy to shorten a book. The short way is just to remove an entire chapter. The long way is to say, ‘Hey, these are MY words. These are all important facts.’ And so I set about re-writing the book using ‘tighter’ prose. I edited the existing manuscript and my wife re-typed the shorter version. She counted the words on every page. In this way, the book was physically shortened without losing any of its content.
And then, when I was beginning to think that it really was all over, Tim asked me for picture captions and gave me some words of wisdom, “Introduce new facts in the captions. Don’t say the obvious and don’t simply repeat a slug of text from the manuscript.” So now it was over.
Oh no it wasn’t because I insisted on having a detailed Index. I always check the indexes of factual books I buy. Without a decent index, the book is fairly useless in my view. So having bought around 1,000 index cards from W H Smiths, I set to indexing the galley proofs (page-numbered by then) provided by Tim.
When it really was all over, I vowed never to write another factual book. I remember thinking that factual books have a limited market whereas a novel can have an appeal to millions of readers.
Over the years since then, I’ve started and shelved a number of thriller novels and rom-com screenplays and guess what? Now I’m back, researching and writing other factual books on motorcycle racing. See you in three years.