D’ESCOUSSE: A local author is happy to see her latest work is a national bestseller.
Describing it as a biography of one of the most famous horses in harness racing history, Marjorie Simmins wrote Somebeachsomewhere: A Harness Racing Legend from a One-Horse Stable about the Truro-based horse.
“It took me a little while to realize that this was our horse. The horse came from Truro, Nova Scotia, was owned by east coast Canadians, and was the fastest standard bred pacer in the world,” she noted. “When I realized he hadn’t had a full, comprehensive story done on him, I was pretty excited.”
The book is Amazon’s number one horse-racing bestseller. “Beautifully laid-out” by Nimbus, Simmins said the book includes pictures, illustrations, and an appendix with the horse’s statistics. She said the publisher will be marketing the book in the United States, and in horse-racing hot spots like Ireland and Australia.
“It just came out, so that means there are a lot of people who pre-ordered,” she said. “What a gift to see that. I was absolutely thrilled.”
Somebeachsomewhere has a Canadian sire from Ontario and the horse was born in Ohio, before he was co-purchased by Truro car dealership owner Brent McGrath, and brought to Schooner Stables in the Hub Town.
“After only the briefest time, they realized they had this genius horse,” Simmins said. “Brent McGrath actually quit work and became the full time trainer during the horse’s second year of racing. It was just one bit of a magic after another. He broke records every time he went on a track; he was like a locomotive coming down the track. If you watch him on Youtube, you can barely believe your eyes. All you every hear is the race announcer saying, ‘And here comes Somebeachsomewhere as he comes flying down the track. It was just an improbable story.”
Noting the horse’s six owners are successful, Simmins said they are not super rich, putting together a mere $40,000 to buy Somebeachsomewhere.
“It’s not a lot of money for a top pacing colt. It was just improbable. They didn’t have a lot of money but they somehow won the bid. They came back here, and they have one horse in the stable,” Simmins said. “It’s really an east coast Canada story. These aren’t superstar, well-to-do people, they’re just regular people who have successful lives and they’re doing this as a hobby. This is not full-time for any of them, they all have their own careers.”
Calling the success of horse, “unexpected,” Simmins noted that the horse “wasn’t spectacularly well bred” but eventually some earned a loyal following.
“You have a horse that could’ve gone in any direction; he could’ve been very good, he could’ve been okay, he could’ve been indifferent, but he turns out to be spectacular,” she said. “The whole story is just one surprise, after another, after another.”
Simmins is the author of Coastal Lives, a memoir about living on Canada’s East and West Coasts (2014), and Year of the Horse (2016), which details her life with horses in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. In the spring of 2020, Simmins’ third non-fiction book, Memoir: Conversations and Craft (2020) was published.
Simmins began her career as a freelance journalist in Vancouver, appearing regularly in the Vancouver Sun and writing for trade magazines. She also published numerous essays and articles in magazines and newspapers across Canada, and in the United States, and has stories in Canadian and American anthologies.
Among the magazines Simmins has written for are: Canadian Living, Magazines Canada, United Church Observer, Halifax Magazine, Progress, Atlantic Business, and Saltscapes. She is a regular reviewer for The Antigonish Review and Atlantic Books Today. She has also written feature interviews for The Reporter.
She has won a Gold Medal at the National Magazine Awards for “One-of-a-Kind Journalism,” and two Gold Medals at the Atlantic Journalism Awards for Best Atlantic Magazine Article, and in Arts and Entertainment, Any Medium.
In November 2020, she was awarded the prestigious Established Artist Recognition Award by Arts Nova Scotia.
Simmins has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of British Columbia, a Certificate in Adult Education from Dalhousie University, and a Research Master of Arts in Literacy Education, at Mount Saint Vincent University. She teaches memoir writing across Canada, at venues such as at the UBC Alumni Centre, in Vancouver, BC (2016); at StoryFest, in Hudson, QC (2017); at Thinkers Lodge, Pugwash, NS (2014-2019); and the Fortress of Louisbourg, NS (2019).
In September 2020, Simmins took part in the Cabot Trail Writers Festival.
Although she grew up with horses and participated or watched almost every discipline involving horses, Simmins said harness racing is a little new.
“It’s in my backyard, I’ve got Northside up in North Sydney, and there’s Inverness, which is always a great track to go to. It’s just such pretty town, and very devoted fans in Inverness. And then of course, we’ve got the oldest track in Truro,” Simmons said of the harness racing scene across the province.
She said the subject was “irresistible,” bringing together all her strengths as a writer, a journalist, a life-long equestrian, and a Maritimer of 25 years. She said there are 15 interviews with people directly involved in the horse’s life like his trainers, his breeder, his owners, and a veterinarian, adding the book is for everyone.
“You have his whole career laid out in the book which was just incredibly exciting to write about,” she added. “The book is very deliberately written for both people who are familiar with standard bred racing, might be directly involved in the industry, and for people who wouldn’t know a standard bred pacer from a pot-bellied pig.”
Simmins recounted that the book took two full years to write, a time during which her life “completely changed.”
“It took every ounce of determination,” she said. “I had to finish the book after losing Don, and make sure it was one of my best books ever. Two years of hard work.”
Simmins added she is working on another book, about which she is not yet prepared to talk about, and in the meantime, she will promoting Somebeachsomewhere at harness racing tracks in the province. The book is available at locations around the Strait area including the Fleur-de-Lis Café and Tea Room in Port Hawkesbury, Stephie’s Celtic Gifts in St. Peter’s and at Telile in Arichat.