Friday, 14 November 2014

EH Ward: The Mandarin Stakes

To say E. H. Ward knows his horseflesh, and about writing, is just a bit of an understatement!

E.H. has spent his life around horses. Growing up on a horse farm in the west of Ireland, he enjoyed everything horse related, from pony trekking (trail riding) to fox hunting. His love of horses took him around the world where he broke wild horses in Australia, set up a stud farm in Mongolia, and trained racehorses in Beijing. He spent many years with Coolmore Stud at their farms in America and Ireland. And now finds himself splitting his time between buying horses in Turkey for clients and his vineyard in the south of France. Ooh, la la!

When he's not working with horses, he's writing about them. E.H. writes analytical articles and horseracing and sale reviews for The Irish Field Newspaper, and for James Underwood's Racing and Breeding Digest in the UK. And in his spare time, he writes fiction.

And this year, he turned his hand to fiction. This past April, we saw the release of A Sure Thing, the story of a stud farm manager who's unwittingly pulled into the Mafia underworld, drug dealings, and murder.

Today, E. H. releases his next book, The Mandarin Stakes. The murders of the Turkish Jockey Club President in Instanbul and the Lady Chairman of the British Horseracing Authority in Newmarket, England set off a chain of events which quickly drag stud farm manager and bloodstock expert, Andrew Dixon, into the criminal underbelly of politics and horseracing.

This story takes readers on a high energy, high stakes journey around the world. Ward's expert storytelling ability and author voice captivate from page one. His protagonist, Andrew Dixon, is well-developed and one we want to follow through the story as he weaves his way through political dealings, both on the track and off. This is a fast paced story, with readers quickly turning pages on the way to a satisfying finish line. Another blue ribbon winner for Mr Ward!

Please join us in the comments where E.H. and I will be chatting this afternoon. Feel free to leave your own questions or comments. And as always, there's a free book on offer today. All you need to do is comment with your email address to put your name into the draw for an ebook copy of this book. If you can't wait, just click here to grab your copy.

• • •

When the Turkish Jockey Club President is killed in Istanbul and the first Lady Chairman of the British Horseracing Authority is murdered at Newmarket races, the two deaths appear random. But amateur jockey-turned-stud farm manager and bloodstock agent, Andrew Dixon, discovers the awful truth.

Andrew realises the relentless commercial pressure in modern racing and breeding is distorting the sport he loves into something more sinister, something his boss – an aristocrat who attended Eton and served in the SAS – is delighted to exploit.

With Europe still reeling from the financial crisis and the overproduction of racehorses, British racing’s coffers are all but empty. Harnessing the might of the Chinese Dragon is a sure bet for survival. But when billions are at stake, intimidation, blackmail, and murder are just means to an end.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, a quiet politician edges closer to China’s highest office.

On the eve of a major trade agreement between Britain and China, Andrew faces the terrible reality that ruthless forces, with high-level connections, have hidden agendas and shocking methods of persuasion to make the Chinese agree to a lucrative gambling deal.

As the stakes are raised, it becomes impossible to know who is manipulating whom.

His life on the line and his credibility in ruins, Andrew must team up with an old friend in the Met and defy the odds in a race against time to stop a brutal, public atrocity, which will send shockwaves far beyond horseracing – through Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and around the world.

Istanbul. October 2009. 9pm

The restaurant bustled around him as Okan Yildiz forgot his troubles and smiled warmly at his daughter, who was cutting up kofte meatballs for her five-year-old son.

She glanced at him. Returned the grin. “That’s better, Father. I haven’t seen you look happy in months.”

Okan’s eyes flickered. “Jockey Club politics, my dear Sinem. It has got under my skin.”

“Then step down, Father. Please don’t get so stressed. It’s bad for your health. You should be enjoying life, family, and your horses.” Sinem put down her fork and gripped his meaty hand. “It’s what Mother would’ve wanted.”

With his other hand, Okan ruffled his grandson’s hair. Winked. Made the boy giggle.

“I know, my dear,” he said. “But I still have so much to do for racing in this country. If only they would let me.”

Sinem arched her brow. “Then just tell them what to do.”

Okan raised his palms. “Please. I am not a dictator, but I wish I could make people see the big picture. They only think about short-term gain.”

He sighed and pushed his plate of lamb away. Wiping his mouth and thin, greying moustache, he stared out the window at the Marmara Sea with the faint lights of Prince’s Island in the distance.

When he was elected President of the Turkish Jockey Club, he had vowed he would do better than his predecessor and invest wisely in the future of Turkish racing. But he knew, then and now, that the jealous in-fighting of the Club might undo him.

In the current dilemma, it was tempting to take the easy option, but he had never done that – even as a child in the harsh winters of Eastern Anatolia. No, he would have to do the right thing. By the Club and by Turkish owners and breeders.

A chiming in his pocket made him scowl. He pulled out the device and checked the name on the screen. Letting out a sharp breath, he silenced the call and tossed the device on the table. He stared at it. After a few minutes, he stood. His daughter looked surprised.

“I’m sorry, my dear, but I’ll have to cut our dinner short. I cannot eat until I settle the matter at hand.” He winked at his grandson again. “Grandpa has some work to do, my boy. We have to go.”

The boy nodded.

“But, Father!” Sinem protested.

He raised his palms again, a stern look bristling his moustache. “Finish your food, my dear. I’ll tell them to bring the car round.” He peeled several banknotes from the wad in his pocket, placed them on the table and made for the door, thanking the manager on his way. Outside, he gave the valet his ticket and paced beside the road, punching the numbers on his phone.

The Friday night traffic bustled by on the coast road. An endless river of cars: honking, screeching, roaring. Okan turned his back on them and put a hand over his free ear.

“It’s me,” he growled into the receiver. “I’m done thinking about it and there’s nothing you can do to change my mind… I’ll be telling the Board tomorrow… No, not a chance.”

He pocketed the device and lit a cigarette. Spinning on his heel, he saw his daughter coming out of the restaurant, hand-in-hand with her son. Okan’s face softened with pride, and he relaxed slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a car approaching. He turned, expecting to see his own black Mercedes pulling up. Instead, the car mounted the footpath and slammed into him, tossing him over its roof like a rag-doll. He was dead before he hit the tarmac and two other helpless drivers rolled over him.

Sinem’s screams cut into the night air.

Inside the restaurant, heads turned. People rubbernecked.

The security camera outside the popular restaurant revealed the car to be a black Renault, reported stolen hours earlier. The police found its smouldering chassis in a Western suburb the following morning.

Two days later, the investigating officer told a distraught Sinem that it was becoming standard practice for joy-riders to destroy all DNA evidence in stolen vehicles. A simple hit-and-run accident by unknown perpetrators. Sinem refused to believe it.

The cop rolled his eyes at her hysterics. He told her there was no evidence to suggest a conspiracy and declared the case closed, sparing himself months of tedious interviews, investigations and paperwork.

• • •

E.H. Ward was born in England in 1973 to a racehorse trainer father and a mother who studied speech and drama at the Royal Academy in London. He moved to his mother’s native Limerick in Ireland at the age of nine and grew up riding, pony clubbing, fox-hunting and working for local racehorse trainers and stud farms. After school and a brief stint in the British army, he returned to England to start full-time work with racehorses. He spent the ‘90s travelling the world working with horses and in the bloodstock industry. From England, he moved back to Ireland then down to the Hunter Valley in Australia where he worked on a large stud farm and travelled and spent time on a cattle farm, breaking-in wild horses.

From Australia it was on to Kentucky the home of American horse racing and breeding, where he began working for the US arm of Ireland’s renowned Coolmore Stud. He spent the next ten years working at Coolmore and was put in charge of their China/Mongolia project, spending six months creating a stud on the plains of Inner Mongolia and a year training racehorses on the outskirts of Beijing.

He was seconded to the Turkish Jockey Club for a year to upgrade and run the Turkish National Stud, before returning full-time to Ireland in 2001, as an area manager at Coolmore’s Tipperary headquarters .

In 2006 he went back to Turkey to build and manage a racing/breeding operation on the Aegean coast working with a local businessman who wanted an international standard manager/advisor.

He is married to a Frenchwoman, and they have one son aged five. He currently divides his time between the stud farm near Izmir and southern France. He writes analytical articles and horseracing and sale reviews for The Irish Field newspaper and James Underwood’s Racing and Breeding Digest in the UK.

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  1. Welcome to Heart of Fiction, Eric, and congratulations on your newest novel, The Mandarin Stakes.

    Tell our readers about the research that went into this book. Did the time you spent in Beijing influence the story at all? If so, how?

  2. Hi Kem! Thanks, it's very exciting to have my second novel out there already. Yes, my memories of Beijing did provide me with easy-to-access research. I lived there for a year back in the late 90s when the Dragon had woken up and was getting into its stride. I will never forget the sights and sounds of that amazing city and culture. I also met a few "movers and shakers" as I was in the business of selling racehorses, and those that buy and race horses tend to be quite well-off. It was then that I learned the concept of 'guanxi', which basically means 'connections' or 'social network' but is a key - essential even - ingredient in getting anything done in China.
    For example, when I had to get my visa extended, out business partner informed me that I would have to go to the Central Security Bureau in Beijing to process the paperwork, but that his secretary would escort me there and provide translation. Now, this is a massive building with queues for the booths that can last for days, so I brought a sandwich, bottle of water and a book. However, when we arrived, our driver double-parked outside the building and a smiling army officer opened the door and greeted the secretary and I with a warm grin. He then ushered us inside, through the packed halls and up to a office, where they processed my visa in 15 minutes, while we drank excellent jasmine tea. As we returned to the car, I expressed my amazement at the service. The secretary smiled and said; "My father is a general in the army, who has some friends in the security bureau. He did not wish to see us waste time queueing."

  3. Wow! That's quite some tale. One to tell your children and grandchildren...or perhaps add into a story ;-)