Cycling gets its own anthology in a new book by West Dean-based Nicky Slade,
Following the success of The Walker’s Anthology and The Railway Anthology, Trailblazer Publications invited Nicky to apply the same formula to the subject of cycling and journeys by bicycle.
The result, The Cyclist’s Anthology (www.trailblazer-guides.com; £9.99; ISBN 978-1-905864-69-0) draws on the writings of more than 50 literary figures from around the world including Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Jerome K Jerome, DH Lawrence, Dervla Murphy, Eric Newby, Dorothy Sayers, Mark Twain and HG Wells among many others.
Nicky worked on the previous two anthologies from the publishing side of things; now, as she says, for her first book in her own right, her name is on the front rather than tucked away inside.
“But actually this book is rather different in some ways,” Nicky says. “People have been writing about walking for hundreds of years; people have been writing about railways for a couple of hundred years. But people have only really been writing about cycling for the past 120 years, and quite often cycling is not the main point of what they are writing about.
“You think of Miss Marple getting on her bike, but when she rides in a book, she is getting on her bike to go to the church to talk to the vicar or something like that.”
Nicky needed writing which actually said something about the act of cycling: “It was quite a challenge to bring the bicycle to the forefront of literature. But there are actually people that are passionate about cycling and literature. I found one or two newspaper articles that listed people’s favourite extracts on cycling from all sorts of genres and eras. It was useful as a starting point.
“I found historical accounts of the development of cycling. The book is divided into themes. There first is Learning to Ride. There are some interesting things there. We all learn as a child, but there are accounts of people that had to learn as an adult and not just a bicycle, but a penny farthing. You are more than a metre above the ground over that very large front wheel. Mark Twain gives a very interesting account of trying to learn to ride a penny farthing!”
Nicky also includes a section called Cycling for All: “It is interesting how cycling had quite a big influence on women’s dress around the turn of the last century. You could ride a horse wearing a dress by using a side saddle, but you can’t devise a way of riding a bike like that, so women thought ‘Why not wear trousers?’, and society was scandalised. It became another aspect of women’s suffrage. Women were also wanting to give up corsets. How can you breathe if you are cycling uphill wearing a corset?”
Nicky also includes a smallish section on cycling in sport (“small because so many people have written about cycling as a sport”): “There is an extract from Bradley Wiggins’ autobiography. You would think the whole thing would be about cycling, but it’s actually about the mind set you need in order to be a champion, in order to be the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. I looked at the passage where he is just coming up the Champs Elysees, and he is thinking about everything that got him to that point.”
As for Nicky herself, she describes herself as purely a leisure cyclist: “But this has been interesting to do, and it has been a very interesting exercise being the other side of the table rather than working for the publisher. You would think it would be quite easy to get together a few bits of writing and assemble them, but it took quite a lot of thinking!”
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