Monday, 19 March 2018


Authors Paul Bishop and Scott Harris have put together a magnificent spectrum of the Western novels that span over a century from Owen Wister's 1902 novel 'The Virginian' to the 2015 Mickey Spillane/Max Allan Collins 'The Legend Of Caleb York'. All the usual classics are there like 'Shane', 'The Searchers' and 'The Big Country' as are writers Frank Gruber the man behind the tv series 'Tales Of Wells Fargo' riding the trail with Louis L'Amour, Clair Huffaker and Elmore Leonard.

This is not a book of lists - that is not what this book is about. Each book is summarized in a way that makes the reader hungry for more. 'I want to read that book'. Added to this is that there are author bios; facts about or behind the books that they wrote.

What comes across from the editors and the various contributors is the enthusiasm and, dare I say, the love of the western genre.

Every so often there are double page spreads of tv series, movies, a tribute to Louis L'Amour and John Benteen's 'Fargo' series - another spread tips the hat to The Piccadilly Cowboys and the Adult Westerns.

As the blurb on the back of the books says the legend of the wild west comes alive within these pages.


The 1960s saw changes emerging in the way movies depicted the west.
No way could you imagine the likes of John Wayne or James Stewart taking six gunfighters across the border to defend a small Mexican village. Lee Marvin could have but Yul Brynner got the role of the cold, businesslike Chris. 'The Magnificent Seven' became an instant classic - and much quoted in Western novels like John J McLaglen's 'Herne The Hunter' series.

Next on the scene was a scruffy, bristle faced, poncho wearing 'hero'. Took a bit of getting used to seeing how 'Rawhide's' Rowdy Yates had let himself go - but Clint Eastwood along with  Italian film director Sergio Leone took the western down new trails and in the process another classic was born with 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly'. Leone's films were inspirational with his own 'Once Upon A Time In The West'. Franco Nero as 'Django' - and Lee Van Cleef was making a name for himself.

Nor were the British far behind with Robert Shaw riding into 'A Town Called Hell' and Raquel Welch looking for vengeance in 'Hannie Caulder'.

While new stars were rising the old breed were dying. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott went to Ride The High Country for one last time. While The Wild Bunch were gunned down in a bloody gore fest that divided the fans.

If there were changes in the cinema so it was echoed in the books we read.
In 1972 New English Library introduced a new breed of hero in the shape of a man called 'Edge' created by George G. Gilman. Edge broke the mold and new heroes followed in his wake.

I must have been slow in catching up because I didn't start reading Edge until 1979. How do I know this? Because the first two books have an inscription - ' To Daddy - Christmas '78'. My two eldest daughters gave me one each and lit a fuse.

No one can quite be sure when it happened but I picked up a second hand typewriter and started writing a western. Just tapped away putting words on to yellow quarto sized paper and 'Poseidon Smith'  was born. So, too, was Pad MaGhee who followed in Poseidon's footsteps. I put the books into a folder and put them in a box - I had proved to myself that I could write a western - or two.

1980: My mother-in-law, who worked in the local newsagents, mentioned that there was a new Western magazine coming out and would I like a copy? Sounded like a good idea at the time and it was a good job that it was. Over the next four months I discovered that George G Gilman, J.T.Edson, Neil Hunter and most of the other western writers that I had been reading were British.
That Christmas my wife, Sandra, bought me some Avon aftershave in a bottle shaped like a Pepperpot pistol.

The Pepperpot pistol sat beside the typewriter as I re-wrote 'Poseidon Smith:Vengeance Is Mine'. The ms went to all the paperback publishers and came back with praiseworthy rejections. In the end I wrote to George G Gilman for advice - his reply was a suggestion that I send the book to Robert Hale.

After having to lose 5,000 words - Poseidon Smith (armed with a Pepperpot pistol) was published. Though not under my own name. The day that I completed the final draft my father in law died - the book had to be put to one side. Five days later tragedy struck again when my own father died. Later, when I returned the ms to Hale the author's name had changed to Jack Giles (named for two fathers who loved their westerns).

None of this would have happened has it not been for a well spent childhood. I guess it is just that childhood never ends - and that together with a love for a genre that is supposed to be on it's last legs we want to keep it alive.

When I write a western a gun sits alongside the keyboard - the kid won't have it otherwise.

The story of Poseidon Smith could not be written without the help of my family.

Sunday, 18 March 2018


Childhood is the most formative time of our lives.
In this day and age it is difficult to imagine a wild bunch of five year old kids running riot without a 'responsible' adult in sight. It is how we grew up and in doing so educated ourselves.

Along with 'life skills' I loved reading and writing - my mum had taught me how before I got to school. By the time I was eight I was reading books like Patrick Reid's 'The Colditz Story'. Although I could write it was down to the books that I read that taught me about structure.

Of all things it was writing that had me outside the various headmaster's office. Very often for the same offence - and my poor parents took the brunt of it.

As told in Part 1 - a western had my influences questioned. The next time occurred just after we moved to Kent. The subject was on parents and home life - but this 9 year old didn't fancy the guidelines. Instead I used a different life - one that I knew well. Friday nights outside a certain pub in Finchley you would find children sitting outside with crisps and glasses of lemonade. For most it was what it was - a night out with friends and family - for others there was another side. Two brothers would have to steer a dead drunk father home. Another would wait for a mother to decide which 'uncle' would take her home. Their sadness and resignation told the story for they would be happier when Monday came and they were back with the rest of us. I wrote about them and it must have been a convincing piece because the head read my parents the riot act. When the truth was revealed the head lectured me on responsibility and respect.

My parents would make return visits - at least they were better prepared.

I loved writing but could never stick to the brief. Teachers didn't know how to mark my work but by sheer luck I was always in the top three in English. As I was leaving school my final English master took me to one side and told me that I should never stop writing.

Wanting to be a writer was one thing - at 17 I tried my hand at writing a book but there was a competitive market and I was too young. The second novel - well less said the better (or rather all said before).

What did I really want to write?
A Western - my life evolved more around the books and movies.
I firmly believed that only Americans wrote westerns - sure there were exceptions like the British writer Oliver Strange - but it didn't stop me from toying with ideas.

Christmas 1978 came with a couple of pressies that would change the whole scene. Was it possible that dreams could come true?

Saturday, 17 March 2018


History belongs to a country yet the wild west defies boundaries.
In a recent interview with Paul Bishop (one of the editors behind '52 Weeks. 52 Western Novels') I was asked about my early influences. Was it books or movies? In fact, none of those.
I was born in the wild west, not that I really grasped it at the time.

The wild west was The Sandpits - a park in North Finchley (North London). Flat grassland flanked by trees that led down to a slight mound then swept down into a bog and a pond. Though, in a child's eye - a swamp and a lake. Eventually, a stockade would be built on the mound with a 'Wendy house' for girls. Though it doubled as a ranch house.

In 1950 - and for some this may be hard to imagine - a wild bunch of five to seven year olds would troop off to the park where chases and gunfights would ensue. The older kids had cowboy hats and pistols - we five year olds had to content ourselves with sticks. At the end of the day we would amble home tired and dirty. That was our introduction to the Wild West - we were born to be gunslingers. The early influences were our peers who had learned things from scratch.

As a six year old I was old enough to head down to the Odeon cinema to go to the Saturday morning pictures. For sixpence you got a cartoon, a serial (Flash Gordon; Rocket Man) and a movie - Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers and very early John Wayne. The western had come alive - as kids with sticks we had chased down rustlers - and there on the big screen were men doing just what we did. That Christmas I got a stetson, a pair of holsters and a vest (the latter made by my mum) and two silver Chad Valley cap-firing pistols. It was like being given a rite of passage. I was one of the big kids.

Then Tex Ritter came to Haringey Arena. It was the most thrilling day of my life - I was so excited and speechless all at the same time. Roping steers; bucking broncos - a pure feast of all things western. The finale was wild as a stagecoach was attacked by a bunch of Indians and it looked daunting until Tex Ritter and the Cavalry turned up to save the day.

The Queen's Coronation bought something new into our lives - a black and white television and with it came 'The Cisco Kid', 'The Range Rider' and 'The Lone Ranger'. I just could not get enough. Along with tv came comics - Kid Colt and Ghost Rider (early Marvel I believe). These new American comics were branded as bad influences - too violent for young children who watched the equivalent or listened to 'Jeff Arnold' on the radio or read his strip in the 'Eagle' comic.

In fact writing a short western story at school had the head drag my mum and dad into his office wondering about my influences. Nor would this be the last time that my parents would be held to account for the things that I wrote.

I was about fifteen when I finally hung up my guns. I mean my collection of cap guns - I had been reluctant to part with them but then it is never easy to surrender a child hood. The event that caused this was with a real Colt .45. I had joined the Air Training Corp where I was assigned to the Guard Of Honour. We drilled with Lee Enfield rifles armed with blank rounds - but when on duty they were not. To cut a long story short - we went down to a firing range and I discovered that I was pretty accurate. I don't know the how or the why but I hit what I aimed at. To use someone else's quote 'I know how to use a gun - I just don't have a need for one'. So the kid hung up the toy guns and quit the A.T.C.

It was far easier to let the celluloid stars do the gunfighting - or read the likes of Frank C. Robertson, Luke Short, Louis L'Amour to keep me enjoying my favourite genre. As for writing - that was best left to the Americans.

Only things were going to change - and I discovered  a different use for a gun.

Friday, 12 May 2017


Once in a while a book turns up that takes me back to the past.

Reading Nik Morton's afterword is just like that as he mentions influences and books that he read back in his youth.

The title story 'Codename Gaby' harks back to the likes of Odette Churchill. 'Carve Her Name With Pride' and 'Moondrop To Gascony' with the female agents who were trained and dropped into France to work with the resistance. Many did not survive - while of those who did nothing has been known about their exploits until they died in old age.

Another story in this collection 'The Reckoning' is set against the backdrop of the English Civil War. This tale is inspired by The Laughing (or Gay) Cavalier Claude Duval. Drawn by Frederick T. Holmes between 1953 and 1959 for 'Comet' comic before Duval appeared in his own comic as part of  Thriller Picture Library.

The magic of 'The Proper Thing To Do' is that it was the type of story that turned up in the written word comics of the late 50s like 'Adventure', 'Wizard' etc. The story deals with the heroism aboard the ill-fated troopship 'H.M.S. Birkenhead' and the birth of 'women and children first'. It is told in present tense and first person which carries the strength of the story.

Although I have picked on my three favourite stories - there are many others that would have sat well within those nostalgic years. Despite that every story in this collection brings it's own resonance - some that make you stop and think. This is just good, solid storytelling at it's best.

This collection is available on Kindle or paperback versions.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A FORTUNE FOR WAR by Ryker Frost

This is a Black Horse Western from 1988

Providence Ryan is a farrier by trade from the English county of Hereford but has spent several years in Australia as a convict. Having served his time for housebreaking he has worked his passage to America and is in the process of crossing the continent intending to return home.

Arriving amongst the silver mines of New Town looking for work either for food and lodging or the means to pay for them he bumps into the colourful gambler Ezra G Sheldon who, on hearing Ryan's quest, mentions that he knows of a woman who is desperate for a man.

The woman in question is Anne-Marie Bouchette who's freight wagons of pure silver ore are trapped in a warehouse. With the drivers scared off by unknown forces and the local sheriff and his deputies she needs to find someone who will stand up to them. Trouble is that the law are Confederate soldiers waiting for wagons to take the ore east to fund the Southern cause.

Anne-Marie (real name Ann Mary Butcher) is, also, the local brothel owner. She grew up in Whitechapel in London's East End who, in order to survive, became a prostitute. Seeing a future abroad she arrived in New Orleans via New York. Now she owned her own business and sworn off mixing business with pleasure.

From the moment that they meet there is chemistry between Ryan and Anne-Marie and sparks fly.

Despite his misgivings - Ryan agrees to help even though it means that he has to learn how to use a gun on the job.

In the background there are others with their own agendas the threads of which all come together in the finale.

This is a very British western that concentrates on the lead characters without distracting from the plot.

Saturday, 8 April 2017


"I want to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse."

You could say that Nick Romano's words from 'Knock On Any Door' was the motto of my generation. Today you can pick up T-shirts with variations of that theme emblazoned across them. Nothing changes.

At least they kept that line in the movie.

'Knock On Any Door' was first published in 1947 by Willard Motley (1909 - 1964) a Chicago born writer. The novel concerns an Italian-American altar boy, Nick Romano, who because of poverty turns to crime.

I didn't discover that book until late into the sixties - maybe, shortly after Willard Motley's death when a re-print emerged.

My introduction to Willard Motley was through the sequel 'Let No Man Write My Epitaph' (also made into a move with Ella Fitzgerald singing the title song). It was published in 1958 but the Pan paperback version did not come out until 1960.

Again the main character is Nick Romano - though this time around it is Nick junior. Nick wants to become a painter but has to care for his drug addicted mother. He is fighting a losing battle because his mother's drug dealer boyfriend is feeding her habit. Nor is it long before Nick is dragged into the spider's web and has to find away to claw his way out again.

The biggest criticism of Willard Motley was that he was a middle-class afro-american who chose to write about low class white people. Actually, who cares what he was? The fact remains that the two Romano books are tough and smack of realism. It is about human life after all.

1960 also saw the publication (again by Pan) of Nicholas Monsarrat's novel 'This Is The Schoolroom'.
Monsarrat (1910 -1979) who, in contrast to Willard Motley, was the son of a surgeon. He had been educated at Winchester and studied law at Cambridge. However, his love affair with the law was soon over and he drifted down to London where he worked as a freelance journalist. Between 1934 and 1939 he wrote four novels and a play - all but one drifted into obscurity.

Monsarrat is best known for such novels as 'The Cruel Sea', 'The Tribe That Lost It's Head' and 'Three Corvettes'. The list could go on - but 'This Is The Schoolroom' is regarded as his first major (and, possibly, important) of his works.

This is the story of Marcus Hendrycks is semi-biographical and set against the turbulent decade of the Thirties. After the death of his father Hendrycks quits University to become a freelance writer. Arriving in London he encounters revolution, hunger and death - and it is a wake up call.

He discovers the poverty and filth of the slums and follows on a journey of love and violence to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. This is the real world that his 'privileged position' had protected him from.

'The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view' - a quote from 1959 Pan edition of Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' could apply to 'This Is The Schoolroom'.

'On The Road' kind of smacks you in the face. Sal Paradise is at a loose end. He has split from his wife and recovering from a serious illness. It is not long before he meets up with the crazy 'it's my life and I'll do what I want and to hell with the consequences' character that is Dean Moriarty. They embark on a road trip that criss-crosses America in an orgy of sex, drink, drugs and jazz.

Jack Kerouac gave a vivid picture of a restless generation but has a deep undercurrent that has double act where the dominant partner is the reckless one who fails to accept any responsibility for his actions and in the process erodes Sal's dependence on him.

As an aside there is a weird connection (in the movie) to 'On The Road' and 'This Is The Schoolroom'. At the end of the movie Sal Paradise sits at the typewriter and writes about the night his father died; the first line of 'This Is The Schoolroom' is "I was unusually drunk the night my father died". I laughed at this - I do believe that I read both books in consecutive order for me to make that connection years later.

Three books - all read in 1960 when I was just fifteen. Perhaps, a couple fall into the 'forgotten books' category but should be revived. Certainly doesn't apply to Jack Kerouac. They were all influential at the time - and I still have them.

Yet all three characters - Nick Romano, Marcus Hendryks and Sal Paradise - have one thing in common by facing all that life throws at them and get to come through it all. They may be 'rebels' but as David Bowie once sang 'Rebel Never Get Old' we just get in your face from time to time.

The past is where it is - it shaped us and great to recall but it's not a place to dwell.

I'll leave the last words to Jack Kerouac: 'Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me,as is everso on the road.'