Despite retiring from cycling four years ago, Sir Chris Hoy remains a busy man. He’s been racing cars at Le Mans, has launched various clothing lines and last week was on half term duty talking to dozens of children and their parents at The Festival Hall in London. No, he hasn’t become a children’s entertainer, but was there to tell us all about his series of illustrated fiction books, Flying Fergus.
Fergus Hamilton is the main character of the series – an ordinary boy with an extraordinary imagination. He loves his bike and has some amazing adventures that happen to him when the pedals spin backwards.
The initial idea behind the stories was based on the concept of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on two wheels rather than four as well as another film that Chris remembers well as a child: ET. Fergus learns that his bike can fly and goes to a magical world, but it’s not all about magic – themes of hard work and being part of a team feature throughout the series.
Sir Chris explained to his young audience, “If you work hard at something, then you can achieve it. Working as part of a team, you can achieve even more. It’s not about having the best bike, it’s about making the most of what you’ve got. Be the best you can be.”
Fergus’s character and experiences are based on some of Sir Chris’s childhood memories. His first bike, for instance, was rusty, old, secondhand and bought from a junk shop for £5. His Dad took it away, resprayed it, changed the handlebars and made it look amazing. Six year old Chris Hoy fell in love with his make-do bike in the same way that Fergus does in the book. “For me it was the best bike in the world!”
Some of the places in the book, like Napier Street (where Sir Chris learned how to ride a bike) and Carnoustie Common crop up and some of the characters bear a resemblance to his own family. Meanwhile Calamity Coogan, a tall, long-legged and gangly kid is based on a teenage Bradley Wiggins.
He also spoke of his admiration for fellow Scot Graeme Obree who is “an inspiration to me, still a big hero of mine.” His determination which saw him build his own bikes out of scrap metal and washing machine bearings and become a world record holder against the odds is a quality he wanted to get across in the books. Fergus makes do with what he’s got and uses his imagination in the same way.
While the characters, events and themes come from Chris, it’s writer Joanna Nadin and illustrator Clare Elsom who have helped bring his ideas to the page. Joanna Nadim is an award winning writer best known for her Rachel Riley Diaries and Penny Dreadful Series and Clare Elsom has worked on dozens of children’s books including the Maisie Mae and Spies in Disguise series.
But it was Sir Chris that everyone had come to see and hear - he told us about his love of Roald Dahl’s wonderful character descriptions like, “She had brown teeth and a puckered mouth like a dog’s bottom.” He revealed that his first ambition was to captain the Scottish rugby team and he spoke of how important his family, teammates, coaches and fans had helped him in his career.
Sir Chris has a genuine and warm manner about him that endeared him to his young audience here. What’s more his messages of the importance of team work, determination and dedication are surely excellent ones for this new generation that he is trying to reach. If you have youngsters that you’d like to inspire with cycling, get into reading or even both, Flying Fergus could well be the way to do it.