Features - Interview

JULY 1, 1992

Bob Judd


You might have heard of Bob Judd. He writes novels about motor racing. Go to an airport and you will probably find copies of Formula 1 and Indy on the shelves. It sounds a great life, doesn't it? How does one do it?

You might have heard of Bob Judd. He writes novels about motor racing. Go to an airport and you will probably find copies of Formula 1 and Indy on the shelves. It sounds a great life, doesn't it? How does one do it?

Judd is a storyteller by nature and he launches into the tale with obvious gusto.

"When I graduated from university I decided I was going to be an undercover agent on the Italian Riviera," he laughs. "This came to a halt when there was a letter from my doctor saying Robert has asthma so badly that sometimes it hinders his playing American football.

"I then toyed with the idea of being a reporter. My father was a newspaper man and I think anyone who does that has immense courage. It is hard work.

"In the end did what seemed the easy way out - I went into advertising. I made a good living and travelled all over the world. I had a ball."

But he wanted more than that.

"I had done some freelance work for a woman who was a sex therapist. What she was doing was lowering people's anxieties, getting them to actually talk to each other. She was also running a programme for the bereaved and I wrote a book about that. It was immensely successful except when it came to money. If I had added up the numbers I would never have left a well-paid job in advertising.

"We did another book called Sexual Conflicts - and it did all right, but I think the public was a little sick of sex manuals - even though ours was more about the sexual communication programme.

"After that I went back into advertising and I did about 30 promotional films for Ford with Jackie Stewart.

"I'd always been fascinating by racing. I saw my first race when I was 16 and it's addictive. I don't know that there is any cure for it -- apart from an overdose. I wanted to be a racing driver but I lacked almost everything you need. My attention-span, my concentration, my eyesight and my courage were not that good -- and I'm the wrong size as well.

"I went to the Brands Hatch racing school and drove Formula Fords around long enough to crash one."

There came a point, however, when Judd had to make a decision to either stay in advertising or take a risk and write a more books.

"I was immensely fortunate in having enough money to live for a year without an income," he explains. "Most writers would give their right or left anything for that chance. I had it and took it."

He wrote a book about the advertising world: "It was about two sisters who started an advertising agency which becomes the largest in the world. It was sort of sex and shopping, but they buy corporations instead of frocks."

His agent was not impressed.

"He said it was 10 years out of date," says Judd. "That was devastating. So I asked him if I could be the Dick Francis of motor racing.

"When he got the manuscript of Formula 1 he said: 'Wonderful, I'm not going to take less than 500,000'. That amount of money was so vast I didn't even ask if it was dollars or pounds. I also didn't get it! You learn very quickly that you don't hope about such things. The important thing is to write a good book.

"Still," he laughs, "I'm having the time of my life. It's terribly hard work. I have to do all this research, going to the tracks, meeting all my heroes -- the drivers -- then going to places like the Cayman Islands where people launder money to find out about that.

"Actually, there is so much fact. So much to learn. Most racing fans probably know as much as I do about motor racing -- many of them probably know a great deal more. If you are writing for a mass audience you realise that there are people who are going to be extremely critical from a technical point of view. There are also people who know nothing about motor racing. You want to excite them without being pedestrian.

"Where fiction is magic is getting into the mind of a driver. You can explore what makes drivers different. You cannot do that with a camera. There is the noise, the heat, the vibration, the sense of danger, the way the mind speeds up, the two different times you have -- the one inside the car and the one outside. You can all do that in fiction.

"I think I could probably do better plots, but if you are writing for entertainment it's a very fine high-wire. If the reader throws up their hands and goes to see what is in the fridge, you have lost."

After two racing novels, Judd has established something of a niche for himself. A third book -- another featuring the Forrest Evers character -- is on the way. It will be called Monza and Judd was at the recent Italian Grand Prix to soak up some of the atmosphere of the Autodromo Nazionale.

"Monza is a very evocative place," he says. "Italy is a not a simple country and it is not enough to deal in caricatures.

"It's a wonderful story. Evers now has a another driver who is younger and faster than he is -- and a real shit!"

And beyond that?

"I don't know. When I started I had the idea of writing a book about a driver beginning in entry level racing. That would be followed by a second book which would see him becoming reasonably successful and beginning to be corrupted and the third being immensely successful and totally corrupted. Maybe that was too cynical."