The Last Great Race
Hey folks! Welome to my blog today. It gives me great pleasure to introduce author Mark Morey and his Historical Fiction novel, The Last Great Race. Also, Mark treats us to his thoughts on Setting the Scene 🙂 Aaaand …
Mark will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Please click on the banner above for links to his other tour stops 🙂
This story is based around the life of one of the most fascinating and enigmatic sportsmen of his era, Achille Varzi: multiple race winner, twice Racing Champion of Italy and a hero to his many followers. Told partly through the eyes of Varzi and partly by fictional Italian-Australian racing journalist Paul Bassi, we follow the many triumphs and tragedies of Varzi’s life: his passionate love affair with Ilse, his tragic morphine addiction, his recovery from his addictions, his marriage to Norma and his re-signing to race for Alfa Romeo.
Only war intervenes, and Paul and his wife Pia leave Achille to spy for the British at the naval base in Naples. Paul and Pia endure hundreds of Allied air-raids, they join the partisans who fought off the German army until the Allies could rescue them, and then they survive in a near-ruined city as best they can.
By 1946 Italy is still shattered but life is returning to normal, and no more normal is Achille Varzi winning the Grand Prix of Italy that year. Over the next two seasons Achille Varzi scores more successes, until he makes his only ever driving mistake and is killed in Switzerland in 1948. Even though he died too young, Paul and Pia know that Achille Varzi would never have lived in his life in any other way.
Marshal Balbo sent a large, black Fiat for the victor, and Achille was surprised to share the big car with Hans Stuck. They were driven to the Governor’s residence which was more like a palace, and escorted to the banqueting hall. One large table was at the end of the hall, and Achille was to share the victor’s table with Hans Stuck; one at the left and one at the right and a space in the middle. The Air Marshal appeared from a side doorway and greeted both men, and then he stood between them and took a bottle of white wine from an ice cooler before pouring some. He raised his glass, and despite a room of hundreds it was hushed.
“I want to congratulate the true winner of the nineteen thirty six Gran Premio di Tripoli,” Balbo said before turning to his left. “Hans Stuck!”
Everyone stood and they all toasted Stuck and Achille couldn’t believe it. He won the race; he won it despite using only fourth gear, and Stuck was being feted for finishing second! Or first, because the team orders came from Balbo? Achille looked around the room and everyone who was anyone in motor sport was there; including the drivers: Caracciola, Chiron, Nuvolari, team mate Rosemeyer and everyone else. Team managers too, including Enzo Ferrari, Neubauer and that idiot Feuereissen. Watching him being made a fool! How could he share the victors table with Stuck feted as winner? How could he be humiliated in front of men he’d beaten over the years? Achille got up and left through the open door to the side.
Setting the Scene
The Last Great Race travels to Italy, France, England, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Libya and Tunisia during the years 1933 to 1948. To describe individual scenes, wherever possible I used photographs or I used film footage from YouTube. It’s always easier to write from a photograph or film clip than to just make it up, and usually the description that comes from using a photo or a film clip is more alive and more detailed.
One of the scenes was the car racing circuit at Monza in 1933, and there were many pictures and also films of races from this era which I drew upon. Although those pictures and films were in black and white, I coloured my description:
They reached the park and a uniformed policeman manned the boom gate. Paul pulled up and the policeman strolled to the car while Paul fished for his pass from the inside pocket of his jacket. He held it out and the policeman nodded and opened the gate. They entered the park which was too beautiful and peaceful for a racing circuit. Large and formal, with many tall trees shading lush, green grass, and with the lawns bisected by footpaths and the race circuit. Paul followed the access road to the car park at the end. Ahead were the boxes, which was a long, timber building partitioned into spaces for each car for each team; with a roofed spectator area above for important people like sponsors and journalists. Hoardings displayed advertisements for fuel, oil, tyres, sparkplugs, wine and spirits, while many colourful pennants fluttered in the light breeze. Outside the boxes and facing the straight were mostly red and a few blue cars glinting in the sunshine. The main straight was very broad and at least three times the width of most circuits. The cars started on the western side of the straight and headed between trees to the Curva Grande and the road circuit. The cars returned on the eastern side of the straight adjacent to the boxes before taking to the banked oval which crossed the road circuit on a bridge. The oval then looped around the outside of the road circuit to bring the cars to the western side of the straight again. On the opposite side of the main straight were one large and six smaller, roofed, timber grandstands with seating capacity for many thousands, set two metres high on brick bases so that spectators standing in the open area closer to the track wouldn’t block the view of those seated behind. They were grandstands that would do justice to the best football or cricket grounds in the world.
Characters stay in many hotels during their travels, and in some cases I found current hotels that may have existed in the 1930s, and used pictures from hotel websites and other sources. This is one in Provence, France:
The hotel stood on the narrow strip of land between Rue Quartier Les Bosquets and the blue waters of Étang de Berre, with the hotel windows overlooking the lake. It was even better to reach their destination after more than 500 kilometres of driving.
Paul opened the small boot and they took respective bags to a glazed door which Paul held for Pia. Reception was small as expected for a small hotel, with a couple of leather chairs and a polished, timber counter with a book and a bell, and behind that were pigeon holes and a door. Nothing that didn’t need to be there, and despite dark red and gold patterned wallpaper, it was a bright room from light flooding in from big windows and the glazed door, both catching the mid-afternoon sun. Paul went to the counter and rang the bell, and a middle-aged woman came through the doorway a few moments later. Paul sensed Pia watching him from near the door.
One final example is this one, which shows you don’t have to use a lot of words to set the scene:
Achille woke from his near-slumber by the entrance of a tall, young man in racing overalls accompanied by a beautiful, blonde woman almost as tall. Achille was truly startled by the woman of his past. He fixed her car, he admired her legs when she sat to smoke a cigarette, he admired the way she spoke. She kissed his cheek and he fantasised about kissing her lips. But it wasn’t her because that was many years past. The young man noticed Achille and he crossed the box with his cap, goggles and gloves in one hand, and his beautiful companion in tow.
And from there, Achille Varzi’s life will never be the same again.
Writing technical documentation and advertising material formed a large part of my career for many decades. Writing a novel didn’t cross my mind until relatively recently, where the combination of too many years writing dry, technical documents and a visit to the local library where I couldn’t find a book that interested me led me consider a new pastime. Write a book. That book may never be published, but I felt my follow-up cross-cultural crime with romance hybrid set in Russia had more potential. So much so that I wrote a sequel that took those characters on a journey to a very dark place.
Once those books were published by Club Lighthouse and garnered good reviews I wrote in a very different place and time. My two novels set in Victorian Britain were published by Wings ePress in July and August of 2014. These have been followed by a story set against the background of Australia’s involvement on the Western Front, published in August 2015. Australia’s contribution to the battles on the Western Front and to ultimate victory is a story not well known, but should be better known.
Staying within the realm of historical fiction, one of the most successful sportsmen of the 1930s, Achille Varzi, lived a dramatic and tumultuous life. It is a wonder his story hasn’t been told before, beyond non fiction written in Italian. The Last Great Race follows the highs and lows of Varzi’s motor racing career, and stays in fascist Italy during the dark days of World War Two.