Monday, November 16, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It's shaping up to be a great yarn!
Check out the whole story here.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I was in the local Oxfam shop in Lanark, browsing the shelves looking for Western related material, of which there is always invariably none!
Anyway, as I was standing there, a couple came in with bags obviously for donations. I didn't pay them much attention until I saw one of the store assistants starting to sort through the contents.
In one of the bags was a pile of Western Time Life books! I went straight across and sure enough, thirteen books of the series in pristine condition. The assistant was pricing them at £2 each. I said I would take the lot if she did me a deal, which she did. We shook hands on £20!
I was going through them at the weekend and there is enough material for a dozen BHW's
And of course, now I'm hooked. I've got to get the whole 27!
Friday, October 9, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
To join or not to join? That is the question!
Recently there was a passionate debate on the Black Horse Western writer’s forum concerning ‘How To Write’ books. Both sides of the fiery debate, for and against, were well represented.
I think that Writers Groups (or Circles as they are sometimes known) have a similar polarising effect.
Personnally, I knew that there was a local group called The Lanark Writers but I resisted joining for many years. I really didn’t understand what they did and therefore couldn’t consider what they had to offer – or indeed, what I had to offer them!
I’ve been a member now for over three years and for me, it’s been a great experience and one that I would heartily recommend – but I realise it’s not for everyone.
Of course, I have only ever been involved in one writing group and I would suspect that we are one of the more proactive and innovative but I don’t know. It would be good to hear about other peoples experiences.
I think if you were considering joining a writers group, you might wish to weigh up the following:
You’ve got to write something every week! No sitting around waiting for the muse to visit. I’ve been amazed how many times I’ve been asked to write about a subject that I have absolutely no knowledge or interest in and would never have written about it under my own steam and yet something half decent comes out of it.
It exposes you to other styles of writing, ideas, genres etc that you just would not discover on your own. I would never have written my first Black Horse Western if I had not been listening to a guest speaker relating his experiences with Robert Hale and I thought, “I’ll have a go at that!”
It helps you network. Authors, competitions, Arts Council, publishers, guest speakers and loads of other invaluable contacts.
As long as the criticism is constructive, it can really boost your confidence. Good ideas are reinforced and bad ideas are nipped in the bud before you go and churn out 50,000 words.
It’s a pleasant (and cheap) evening out sharing your enthusiasm with other equally enthusiastic writers.
You may end up writing to please the group. One of the great challenges of writing is to find your unique ‘voice’ which may not go down well with members of your particular group.
Harsh criticism can destroy the confidence of a budding writer. The key word is ‘constructive’ criticism.
You can find yourself distracted from your own writing goal. For example, if you are working on a novel and most of the group are into poetry you may feel frustrated.
Although I have never had this experience, a more experienced writer may dominate the group.
I wonder how many other Black Horse Writers are or were members of writing groups and what their experience was in terms of a help or a hindrance to their writing careers? Would be good to know!
Monday, October 5, 2009
I know that for Western fans he is a giant but I focused all my reading on Black Horse Western authors so only now have I got around to catching up on other writers.
I found Tucker in a second hand bookshop and immediately snapped it up. The blurb reads:
"Saddlebags filled with gold! They were the prize in a desperate manhunt that led across Comanche-infested prairies into rough frontier towns. When he began to pursue the three gunslingers who had stolen the gold and left his father to die, Shell Tucker was a boy. At the end of the bloody trail Shell Tucker was a legend-and a man."
It was great and I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to 'discover' him. Very quickly, within a chapter or two you get to realise why he is held in such great esteem. For me, it ticked all the boxes both as a reader and as a student of the Western genre. Believable characters, a plot that at times leaves you breathless, accurate dialogue, well-researched and in short, a riveting read.
I'll be looking out for more of Louis L'Amour. Highly recommended.
"Not Tex," the second cowboy replied. "He'll always be just a good ol' boy. When he walks in, I'm sure all he'll say is hello."
"I know Tex better than either of you," said the third. "He's so smart, he'll figure out a way to do both. Here he comes now."
Friday, September 11, 2009
The reason WH Smith, Borders, Waterstones etc don't stock Westerns is that there is no demand for them.
I for one am a big book buyer. However, I never bought Westerns when I visited the big chains because I couldn’t find them. Pure and simple. When I asked the assistant why they didn’t stock a range of Westerns when every other genre is so well represented, she told me, “They don't sell!" How do they know if they don't stock them?
Like many others, I get my Western fix from the local library where there are dozens of them - great! When you look at the inside back cover you find lots of scribbled initials, markings and symbols. These are, the librarian tells me, where people mark their books with their own ‘brand’ so they don’t take out the same book twice. Some of these books have twenty or more markings on them. The librarian tells me there is great demand for Westerns but budget constraints limit how many they can buy.
For the last couple of weekends I’ve been visiting our local car-boot sale where, I was glad to see, a pretty professional book seller has set up. The books are good value and generally of a high quality and I was delighted to see a few trays marked ‘Westerns’ but then disappointed to find only a few books in each. “Does nobody read Westerns any more?” I asked the bookseller.
“Quite the opposite,” he told me, “I can’t keep up with them! These trays were full this morning but I just cannot get enough cowboy books – especially those Black Horse Western ones they do in the library!” and to prove his point, I bought ten books from him – Matt Braun’s and Louis L’Amour's among them.
Since I’ve started writing Westerns and joined forums and on-line communities, I find there are literally hundreds of people out there who are real Western enthusiasts who would buy books if they were available and printed in a more competitive paper back and marketed as effectively as say, Mills and Boons.
Now let me get one thing clear! I am NOT criticising Robert Hale Ltd who have done a fantastic job in keeping the Western genre alive and kicking in the UK and without whom there might be no Western books being published at all which would be a calamity! They have also been fantastically supportive of new authors who might not be in print otherwise and for which I will be eternally grateful.
It’s just that, there is always a little niggle in the back of head that says that tastes and fashions in books like every other product come and go. Who would have thought that a book about a magician in a private school would have captured the imagination of children the way it did? Where did that sudden interest in vampires come from? A few years ago there might have been one or two harrowing tales of childhood now the book shelves are heaving with them!
So on the one hand, I’ve got to listen and respect the judgement of the professional publishers and retailers who have been doing this a long time and who say that there is no mainstream demand for Westerns.
But everywhere I come across Western books – libraries, car boots, online enthusiasts, I hear a different story.
What’s going on?
The line up of talented authors is impressive with a good mixture of ‘old hands’ like Chuck Tyrell, Gillian F. Taylor, Ben Bridges, I.J. Parnham and Lance Howard to relative newcomers such as Lee Pierce and Ross Morton.
Most contributors write for the Black Horse Westerns series published by Robert Hale Ltd and the one thing they all have in common is they can tell great yarns. According the blurb the book is full of tales of ‘hot lead, cold hearts and more leather-slapping action, adventure and edge-of-the-seat danger than you could ever hope to find on either side of the Mississippi” – and lives up to this claim and more!
The quality of writing is superb and as David Whitehead says in his introduction, “despite what its critics say to the contrary, the humble but oh-so-much-fun Western isn’t ready for Boot Hill just yet. And the newer generation of writers represented here are determined to make sure it not only survives for a good long while to come but that it also positively thrives.
For anybody new to reading Western fiction and for those who think they may want to have a go at writing it, Where Legends Ride, would be a great place to start - available from Amazon!
PS - Rumour has it there is a second anthology of Western Stories soon – watch this space for news!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Thanks to fellow BHW author IJ Parnham who compiled this list of best-selling Black Horse Western books according to Amazon as at 7th September.
Althought Gun Law is not officially released until 31st December, it is available for pre-order through Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and of course, not forgetting your local library.
The full list looks like this:
1. The Short Creek Rustlers by J.D. Ryder (Jul 2009)
2. The Frontiersmen by Elliot Conway (Oct 2004)
3. Trail Scum by Corba Sunman (Jan 2001)
4. Ruben's Ruse by Ben Coady (Jul 2001)
5. Iron Eyes Makes War by Rory Black (Oct 2009)
6. Bowie of the Alamo by John Glasby (Dec 2002)
7. The Tarnished Star by Jack Martin (Jun 2009)
8. Trail of the Burned Man by Thomas McNulty (Nov 2009)
9. Bad Men Die Hard by Dave Hooker (Mar 1994)
10. Gun Law by Lee Walker (Dec 2009)
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The other night I was watching a favourite TV show of mine called Mythbusters, which if you haven’t seen it, is all about taking ‘urban myths’ and either proving them or debunking them using semi-scientific experiments. They often take examples of Hollywood stunts and test to see if they could have actually worked in reality and a lot of these stunts are from Westerns. For example…
Can you shoot the hat off a cowboys head? We’ve seen it a hundred times in movies but turns out you can’t! A handgun bullet travelling at a few hundred miles an hour will just go straight through hat material with almost no resistance leaving the hat unmoved. You can shoot a hat off with a shotgun but you tend to take off the top of the guys head as well which sort of defeats the purpose!
How many times have you seen a baddie get shot and fly off his feet through a window or door with the force of the blast? Won’t happen. No matter the calibre of gun, according to the Mythbuster guys, the body will just drop vertically – which of course seems kind of boring on the big screen so they’ve got to spice it up!
A few weeks ago there was a lively discussion on the Black Horse Western Writers Forum about whether you could ignite a barrel of gunpowder by shooting it. Again, big explosions are great TV but the consensus of opinion from people who know a lot about this stuff says it just won’t happen!
How many times did we see in the old movies our hero getting busted from jail by his compadre. They tied a lasso round the bars, tied the other end around the pommel of a horse and then pulled the bars out. The hero climbs through the square gap and is away before you can say, “Hi Ho Silver.” ‘Couldn’t have happened’ say the Mythbusters team. They constructed a replica frontier jail using the same materials and construction methods. A modern JCB couldn’t pull the bars out never mind one horsepower.
Not to be outdone, they decided to use a stick of dynamite! They’ve done that in the movies hundreds of time, haven’t they? This time it was a success! It blew the bars out sure enough but using pressure sensors on a dummy inside the jail they proved that nobody could’ve withstood the pressure from the explosion in such a confined area and even if they had, nobody could’ve got out the window because it was so small.
And so here lies the dilemma! Readers are looking for adventure. Writers have to keep coming up with fresh ideas and angles on old scenarios. It’s a fine balance between fact and farce and it takes a lot of skill to keep a story historically accurate and entertaining too but it’s a balancing act Black Horse Western writers are particularly good at!
I’d love to hear of any other Western Myths debunked!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
In a literary relay, the current author takes over where the previous author laid off. There's no telling where this thing might go!
Check out the next thrilling installment at Jack Martins blog!
(Don't forget to scroll back through the archives to read the previous four parts!)
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The Lone Ranger stood up, hitched his gun belt, and said, "I do...Why?"
The cowboy looked at the Lone Ranger and said, "I just thought you would like to know that your horse is about dead outside!"
The Lone Ranger and Tonto rushed outside, and sure enough, Silver was ready to die from heat exhaustion. The Lone Ranger got the horse water, and soon, Silver was starting to feel a little better. The Lone Ranger turned to Tonto and said, "Tonto, I want you to run around Silver and see if you can create enough of a breeze to make him start to feel better."
Tonto said, "Sure, Kemosabe," and took off running circles around Silver. Not able to do anything else but wait, the Lone Ranger returned to the bar to finish his drink.
A few minutes later, another cowboy struts into the bar and asks, "Who owns that big white horse outside?"
The Lone Ranger stands again, and claims, "I do, what's wrong with him this time?"
The cowboy looks him in the eye and says, "Nothing, but you left your Injun runnin'."
Monday, August 31, 2009
A lot of people think they can – 119,000 people to be precise!
That’s how many signed up to the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) website last year to try and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (that’s about 1,666 words per day).
NaNoWriMo is the brainchild of Chris Baty who kicked it all off in July 1999 with just 21 people. But the idea has obviously scratched a creative itch for a lot of people and now, every year more people sign up and pass the magical 50,000 word target.
There is a full set of rules on the NaNoWriMo website but basically, starting at midnight November 1 people start churning out a novel which must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before 11:59:59 PM on November 30. Strictly speaking, of course, you will have had a year to think about your book and plan it accordingly but that’s okay as long as no previously written material is used.
Novels can be on any theme and in any genre and in any language. The definition of what is a novel is pretty relaxed. "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too,” say the organisers.
50,000 is pretty short for a novel but is a perfect length for Black Horse Westerns. (It’s not a novella which is generally agreed to be about 40,000 words.) Notable novels around 50,000 words include The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and The Great Gatsby – proof if any were needed that a ‘short’ novel can punch way above its weight!
Organizers of the event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. What is really refreshing is that there is no prize - anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner and the only reward is the achievement of the finished novel.
So if you need a deadline to get down that best-selling novel you’ve sitting on for years, why not try NaNoWriMo this year? Chris Baty has also written “No Plot? No Problem” which is a guide to the whole process of trying to write a novel in 30 days.
I’m seriously considering doing it myself to see if I can churn out a BHW. I’ll let you know how I get on!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The Western is not dead. I say this with total assurance because I have just read a Western that has rekindled my faith in a genre the critics have attempted to flog to death with their incessant negativism. It’s true the Western has had its high and lows, but this is natural for a genre so fraught with the very essence of the American experience.
The book I’m referring to is Packing Iron by Steve Hayes and it’s published by Robert Hale in London as part of their famed Black Horse Western series. For those unfamiliar with the Black Horse Westerns, they appear monthly and are generally lending library titles with a small print run. They have a devoted and passionate following among readers and writers alike, and in recent years the Internet has made acquiring titles a tad easier. The stable of Black Horse writers include many British, Australian, and American writers (men and woman) devoted to the thrill-a-moment action story that made Louis L’Amour a household name.
These writers are not getting rich; they are writing these books because they love the genre and they love to write. The books all run no more than 45,000 words and are packaged as small hardbacks with classic pulp-style illustrated covers. Certain titles, such as Haunted Pass by Lance Howard, command premium prices from collectors. It’s not uncommon for titles to go out of print within a few weeks because of the high demand and low print run. The stories are all noted for their attention to detail, fast pace and solid action scenes. Some occasionally rise above the traditional, entertaining oater. This brings us to Steve Hayes.
Steve is no rookie; he’s enjoyed a fantastic career as a screenwriter and novelist. Now he’s turned his attention to Westerns. It’s not necessary that you read his previous Western, Gun for Revenge, although that fine book does introduce the central character in Packing Iron. Gabriel Moonlight is one of the more refreshing characters to appear in decades. He is the heart and soul of Packing Iron. A third Gabriel Moonlight novel, A Coffin for Santa Rosa, is forthcoming.
Steve isn’t a writer to waste words. His style is concise but each paragraph is loaded with more description and insight than you’ll find anywhere. This is a writer that cares about his story. Caring is a rare commodity among writers these days. While Packing Iron fulfills its obligation to be a traditional Western on one hand, on the other it’s unconventional simply because it’s so good.
With Packing Iron part of Gabriel Moonlight’s history is told in flashback, but Hayes is more concerned about Gabriel’s immediate plight. Wounded in a shootout, he is rescued by a young girl named Raven and her mother, a young widow named Ingrid Bjorkman. Raven is not your usual teenage girl. She had rescued a black stallion from an injury and hand-fed it water until the horse recovered.
Raven has a knack for handling horses. She’s also impetuous and highly intelligent. The heart of Packing Iron involves Gabriel’s growing fondness for Raven and her mother. His slow recovery from a near fatal wound offers him plenty of time to get to know them. But Gabriel has unfinished business, and there are men hunting him. To say more about the plot would be an injustice to the author. I leave it to inquisitive readers to discover Gabriel’s story on their own.
What distinguishes Packing Iron from other Westerns is the emotional investment Hayes offers his readers. As the story builds, it became impossible for me not to care about Raven and Gabriel. I soon forgot this book was even a Western. Naturally, Steve Hayes doesn’t let his readers down. Those requiring gunplay will find it, but the real heart of Packing Iron are the splendid characters.
In his introduction to his 1921 novel, To the Last Man, Zane Grey wrote: “Romance is another name for idealism; and I contend that life without ideals is not worth living.” I recalled those words as I read Packing Iron because Gabriel Moonlight lives by his own code of honor. Moonlight is the literary descendent of Zane Grey’s Lassiter from Riders of the Purple Sage or Buck Duane from The Lone Star Ranger.
It’s this attention to detail and, again, this compassion that Steve Hayes infuses into his narrative that elevates the book above the usual fare. Hayes has written a novel that outshines anything you’ll find among Dorchester Publishing’s monthly offerings, and Signet hasn’t published a notable Western in decades. The New York publishers have lost the footrace when it comes to Westerns, but the Brits at Robert Hale Publishers have kept it alive. Novels like Packing Iron are precisely why the Black Horse Westerns are prized by collectors.
I was fortunate to read an advance copy of Packing Iron. Hayes is a superb storyteller, with masterful pacing and plotting, strong characters, and swift action; his novels belong on a shelf with Louis L’Amour and Jack Schaefer. Given that the demand for Black Horse Westerns is growing, I suspect copies of Packing Iron will be scarcer than hen’s teeth upon publication. I recommend ordering it the moment it’s available, either through Robert Hale’s website or at Amazon.com (UK).
No, the Western isn’t dead. It’s in the hands of Steve Hayes and Robert Hale Publishers, and may they ride a long and fruitful trail for all of us to follow.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I've been back for a few weeks and hopefully now that we are settling into our lovely lives here in Lanark, I can knuckle down and get writing again - not to mention keeping this blog up to date!
Look forward to talking to you again soon!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It's been interesting to say the least with some real highs and lows. I think the major challenge for me, especially in the first few months, was homesickness. For much of that time, for various reasons, I was here on my own and missing my wife and kids badly. However, 'every cloud has a silver lining' they say and rather than moping about, I got down to writing. One of my complaints when back in Scotland was that I never had the peace, quiet and time to write. Well, in Kuwait, I had an abundance of all three - although the lesson there is to be careful what you wish for!
Being completely 'dry' ie alcohol free (another challenge), there is a real coffee culture and most of the big chains have free Wi-Fi so I did spend a lot of time sitting in coffee shops and bashing away on the laptop. In terms of my fledgling writing career, I can safely say the last twleve months have been a big success with acceptance of Gun Law for publication and Gold Fever well on it's way with another four books roughly drafted out.
From a writers point of view, experiencing this extreme climate has been great material for future Westerns. When would a wee boy from Scotland been able to experience temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in the Summer, spectacular sand storms and the awsome remoteness of walking across real desert scrub land? It's all 'grist to the mill' as my old Dad likes to say!
It now looks as though this contract will be drawing to an end so we're getting ready to pack our bags, saddle up and move on out! Next stop might be Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India or.....Lanark! But wherever we end up, one things's for sure, I'll be busy on the next Western - look out for a plot involving camels, deserts and at least one sand storm!
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Before I left my home in Lanark in Scotland last May to work in Kuwait, I belonged to a lovely group called the Lanark Writers. We met every Monday night to share our enthusiasm for writing and it was a great opportunity to review each others 'work in progress.' Sometimes, a guest speaker would be invited and one particular night, Tom Bryant, who was the current writer in residence at Brownsbank Cottage came along. He spoke about ways of getting our work into print; and one of those ways was writing for specific genres like Mills & Boon or Black Horse Westerns.
His words struck a chord that night (thanks Tom) and the next day I went to the local library and borrowed a handful of BHW's. I quickly read them over the next few days and once I had got a handle on the required style, I set to work re-writing a cowboy novel I had started and then abandoned (as usual) a long time ago. After a few weeks I had something I wasn't too ashamed to send off. Mr John Hale took pity on me and decided to publish the book, which I'm not afraid to admit, was a real thrill!
The point of me telling you this is that I know some aspiring writers may not want to be pigeon-holed into a specific genre or house style like BHW or Mills & Boon. For some, they may feel that these genres are somehow 'beneath' them (they're the ones who probably haven't finished a novel yet) but for a beginning writer like me, it's been a great experience. It proved that after starting and abandoning at least half a dozen other books, I could apply myself and finish a full length work. It made me get organised in terms of planning plot, structure and characters and researching historical facts (more of all that in later posts) and last but not least, it's given me a massive boost of confidence -so much so I'm now working on my second novel (working title, Gold Fever) and the ideas for more are piling up quicker than I can write them. Plus the fact, I'm now part of a great community of fellow Western writers (again, more on that in later blogs!)
Bottom line, anyone who feels that they have a book in them, they could do a whole lot worse than cut their teeth on a Black Horse Western! So get going and WRITE THAT NOVEL!
- What Makes A BHW So Good?
- Help Is Out There...
- Part 11 of 'The Story With No Name' (Short Story C...
- Write or Die!
- The Story So Far!
- New BHW from Jack Martin
- I Hit Pay Dirt!
- National Novel Writing Month
- Time Life Westerns
- The Louis L'Amour Official Website
- Part Ten of the Short Story Challenge
- Writers Groups
- 'Tucker' by Louis L'Amour
- Part Eight of the Short Story Challenge
- Cowboy Joke
- Part Seven of the Short Story Challenge
- Thinking of Writing a BHW Western?
- ► September (7)
- Could You Write a Book in a Month?
- Short Story Challenge Part Four!
- New BHW Review - Packing Iron by Steve Hayes
- Short Story Challenge Part Three!!!
- Stagecoach RIdes Again!
- Short Story Challenge Part Two
- Short Story Challenge Part One
- Gun Law - Now Listed on Amazon and Ready for Pre-O...
- Howdy! - I'm Back in the Saddle!
- ► October (17)