Racing painting is novel inspiration

As one of England's great horse races takes place on Saturday, Mark Nicholls spoke to Norwich-based author DJ Taylor about his latest book, Derby Day, and the painting which inspired it.

The painting is crowded, colourful, flamboyant and full of life… full of all Victorian life in its mid-19th century depiction of a day at the races.

For the artist, William Powell Frith, it made him a fortune, secured his reputation and attracted the attention of monarchs. The Derby Day, now in the Tate Collection, is a great Victorian panorama, painted to reflect one of the obsessions of the period – horse-racing.

All Victorian society is there, heading for the Epsom Downs in June… high life and low life, society beauties and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gipsies, hawkers and acrobats, punters and thieves as whole families stream along the Surrey backroads, towards the greatest race of the year.

Yet for Norwich-born writer DJ Taylor, it has proved a fascinating inspiration for his latest novel.


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Derby Day weaves an intriguing and imaginative plot around the characters in the scene, encased within the genre of the Victorian novel with Taylor drawing on this panorama to retell their stories in the Victorian vernacular in which he has become so accomplished.

Taylor said: 'Everybody lives or falls by the outcome of the race. Some have their lives transformed for the better but the race is the catalyst that changes everybody's lives in one way or the other.'

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For the full story see EDP Sunday in this Saturday's EDP.

Derby Day, published by Chatto & Windus in hardback at �17.99, is out on Saturday and reviewed in the EDP Sunday supplement books pages. There is a launch event at Jarrold's store in Norwich from 5.45-6.45pm on Thursday (tickets �5 on 01603 660661).

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