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Dick Francis Jockey and Master of the Bad Boy Adverb and Bang Bang Beginnings

Updated on October 22, 2011
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Barbara Anne Helberg is a Fiction freelancer, Internet writer, WordPress blogger, former Journalist, and a Famous Writers School graduate.


Great Britain's brilliant author Dick Francis, who died in February of 2010, was always a thrill ride on the pages of his many first person viewpoint novels.

Just as thrilling as his suspense and mystery reads was his most outrageous and unquestioned accepted use of the Bad Boy l-y Adverb, as well as strings of adjectives, and picturesque metaphors. Francis developed a masterful use of the l-y adverb, that bad boy wordage every English teacher implores his students to mostly avoid.

Jump Jockey to Word Jockey

The former jockey turned writer used the Bad Boy l-y Adverb to enhance or set up a scene, to mesmerize his reader, and to perfectly describe his characters. All their actions, physical attributes, and emotions were fair game for the bold genius of Francis's lovingly, recklessly, spectacularly used l-y adverbs.

Perhaps Francis's best ever coined l-y adverb was "chatteringly", used in Proof to describe party-goers rambling down the slope of a yard headed for a tentful of catered delights at a horse racing owner's reception. Consequently, the huge tent collapses and chaos ensues as the guests scramble to keep from suffocating under the enormously heavy canvas. And the skillfully placed word "chatteringly" continues to ring in the ear of the reader, grippingly swelling the paragraphs of further turmoil.

Any reader of Francis, if he doesn't already know it or isn't familiar with steeplechasing in Great Britain, is surprised to learn that Francis was not a writer by first design. The author was a great jump jockey who rode the Thoroughbreds campaigned by England's Queen Mother in the final years of his career.


Steeplechase Winners to Bestsellers

"Winning races has always thrilled me," Francis told Kitson Jazynka during an interview that Jazynka published in the October, 2009 issue of Horse Illustrated.

The thrill of a bestseller seemed very secondary to Francis, as he also claimed in that interview: "Now I suppose it's having a bestseller", in answer to Jazynka's question on what in life thrilled the thriller writer.

Riding and racing were his desires from childhood, Francis revealed, but a stint in World War II, riding and racing Spitfires and bombers, derailed that ambition just as he landed his first job in the horse racing industry.

Francis was 25 years old in 1946 when he acquired his first professional ride. For the next 11 years, he rode through thick and thin, and the unavoidable injuries of the sport, and with the patience of his supportive family.

In Francis's first six books, Dead Cert (1962), Nerve (1964), Odds Against and For Kicks (1965), Flying Finish (1966), and Blood Sport (1967), he used a jump jockey, another jump jockey, a retired jump jockey turned investigator for the racing industry, an Australian horse breeder, an amateur jump jockey employed by a bloodstock agency, and a criminal investigator, respectively, as his first person viewpoint protagonists.

Those new to reading Francis's thrillers have a new experience coming in thrilling storylines, captivating language, engrossing characters, and in blockbuster beginnings that are certain to suck them in with the power of a vacuum cleaner.


Francis's Captivating Language

In Dead Cert, Francis hands the reader these Bad Boy l-y's on one page: earnestly, deeply, crossly, mildly, warily, shame-facedly, apparently, and suddenly in conversational text.

Odds Against gives the reader the first of the Sid Halley character books. Halley is a former jump jockey, now detective, with an injured hand. A one-page selection of adverbs from Odds Against include: coyly, unprintably, furiously, insultingly, severely, violently, mildly, and sufficiently.

In For Kicks, Francis uses "as effervescently as I" and "speaking easily, conversationally" to convey character mood.

Also a master of the riveting beginning, Francis opened Nerve like this: "Art Mathews shot himself, loudly and messily,..."

In Blood Sport, the reader gets thrown some dry humor along with important background information: "The western saddle seemed like an armchair after the postage stamp I'd been teethed on,..."

Francis described a hand-holding experience in Flying Finish this way: "..., never realized it could feel like being plugged into a small electric current, warm, comforting, and vibrant..."


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    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Aficionada...Many thanks for your astute comments!

      Yes, there are more Hubs coming specializing on the very special genius of Francis!

    • Aficionada profile image

      Aficionada 6 years ago from Indiana, USA

      This is terrific! I love your ironic use of adverbs even while you are describing the recommendation to avoid them.

      You could write a whole series of Hubs on Dick Francis - his characters, their varied professions, the antagonists, and some (sometimes *very*) surprising endings.

      I look forward to reading more!