Wednesday 31 December 2008

A Western Year

Published by Hale - Black Horse Western - Feb 2008
Roamer is having a bad day - he is savaged by a grizzly, robbed by bandits and attacked by wolves. So by the time he makes it to the little Rocky Mountain town of Tall Pine all he wants is a cup of coffee, a hot meal and a soft bed. Instead, the sheriff jails him for murder.
Layers of lies and a string of killings blacken the very soul of Tall Pine as a seething mob marks Roamer's homely face as guilty and seeks its twisted justice with his blood. Can he stop the townsfolk from destroying themselves or will they kill him first? It's a race against time for Roamer as the savage mob rips apart its little town, leaving innocent people dead and the wrong people in charge.
This has to be my top book for 2008. Even now, nearly a year gone now Roamer's fight with the grizzly still lives in my mind.
Matthew P. Mayo is a relatively new western writer and I have read all three titles that he has written so far. The other titles are WINTER'S WAR and HOT LEAD, COLD HEART.
Other western writers that I have enjoyed this year are Rory Black with his Iron Eyes series; James Reasoner's 'Death Head Crossing' and his Longarm novel 'The Restless Redhead'; Chap O'Keefe's Misfit Lil; the western novels of Australian writer Jake Douglas; Corba Sunman - another Black Horse Western writer and the discovery of Hank Mitchums's Stagecoach Station series.
Also, this year has seen the collaboration of British writer Dave Whitehead and the German western writer Alfred Wallon with the excellent re-telling of Adobe Walls in 'ALL GUNS BLAZING'.
And I have to mention that June this year saw the publication of Jack Giles 'LAWMEN'. His ninth and my 'first'.
It would be interesting to know what book of the year other people nominate. In the meantime a Happy New Year.

Wednesday 24 December 2008


A Merry Christmas to all and all the best for the New Year.
I'll be back when the festivities are over.
Thanks to all those who follow my blog.

Friday 19 December 2008

Wild Westerners Day - 22nd Dec 2008

Check out the piece on The Tainted Archive (link in side panel). Here in the UK bookshops do not sell westerns - why not? Go into stores and demand a western book or go into the local library and ask why the haven't stocked up on new westerns.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Michael D. George - Western Writer

RAWHIDE RIDER by Dale Mike Rogers due to be published 30th January 2009 by the Black Horse Westerns imprint of Robert Hale Ltd.
Seasoned gunfighter Rawhide Jones quits working for Diamond Jim Brady in an attempt to start a new life as a lawman far from Laredo down in the border town of Santa Maria. But Brady has other ideas and sets the rest of his gunmen on Jones' trail to kill him for nobody quits Diamond Jim Brady and lives to tell the tale. Can Rawhide Jones survive and turn the tables on his evil boss? With the help of Marshall Ethan Parker and his two sons, Jones tries to do the impossible and live.
So what do Black Horse Western writers Dale Mike Rogers, Boyd Cassidy (author of the Bar 10 books), Roy Patterson, John Ladd, Walt Keene, Dean Edwards and Rory Black have in common?
They are the pen-names of 57 year old, Cardiff, Wales born Black Horse Western writer Michael D. George.
Last year he nearly died and his health suffered but he can still write.
This year saw the publication of Rory Black's 'THE REVENGE OF IRON EYES' in July and Michael D. George's 'KID DYNAMITE' in August.
I first became aware of Rory Black's Iron Eyes books when Steve M did a review, last August, of the novel 'SPURS OF THE SPECTRE' on his excellent blog Western Fiction Review (see panel for the link). I was hooked on the character and wanted to know more.
From time to time I read the back numbers at where I came across an article by Black Horse Western writer Lance Howard. One of those who responded to the article was Michael D. George.
Recognising some of his pen-names I wrote to Michael asking for an interview and this is the result.
1. Thanks for agreeing to this interview.
It is my pleasure to be interviewed.
2. What prompted you to become a writer? And why westerns?
Well, ever since I was a small child I sort of knew that I wanted to write. After years of trying I just thought that I would try westerns and 'THE VALKO KID' (BHW April 1999) was accepted. The funny thing is that when I was about 13 I tried to write a western called 'The Valko Kid'. 34 years later I got it right. I have a vast knowledge of the wild west but never used it until 1998.
3. Was your first accepted book a western or something else?
No, like I said Valko was it.
4. With so many pseuonyms do you work on more than one book at a time?
No, I tried that but my brain could not cope.
5. Of all the books that you have written do you have a favourite?
My favourite book is 'The Valko Kid' because it was the first but Iron Eyes runs a close second.
6. Which of your books would you recommend to a new reader of westerns?
That's a tough one. I think my novel 'THE MEXICAN BANDIT' (by Roy Patterson - BHW Jan 2001) is fun. I am sure that someone new to the genre might like it as it is different to the average 'oater'.
7. Rory Black's character Iron Eyes is very interesting. Can you tell us something about the inspiration behind his character?
Iron Eyes is a mystery even to me. I had just written a book 'KID PALOMINO' and John Hale of Black Horse accepted it but said that I needed more action in my next book. So I thought "I'll give them action." I started to write about a saloon with blood dripping down the walls and there was Iron Eyes. He just came into my mind. At first, Mr Hale was not so sure about the character as he did not fit the 'hero' stereotype. I explained that he was an anti-hero and since then has proven to be my most popular creation.
8. Do you have any tips for new writers?
Know what you are writing about so that fiction relates to fact. It has to ring true or you will fail. Detail.
9. Finally, what do you think of the western genre today and how do you see the future of the genre?
I think westerns are as good today as they have always been.
The future lies in the hands of the buyers for W.H.Smith etc though. There was a time in the 70s when the western filled acres of space and sci-fi and fantasy was regarded as dead. Now the reverse is true. It is all in the taste of those people. Publishers cannot make paperbacks if companies like Smiths won't give them shelf space.
If TV had a few family shows on the west like 'Gunsmoke' and 'Bonanza' the attitude would change.
There are no masculine parts to stores like there was. I think buyers are missing a trick though - men have to be made welcome or their money stays in their pockets.
It has been nice talking to you, Ray.
Thanks again Michael.
I do think that he has a point there. It does seem that writers and publishers are at the mercy of a handful of distributors who control what the public reads.
As a few additional reads that I have read are Roy Patterson's 'The Way Station' (this has a great action packed cover that fits with the book); Dean Edward's 'The Valley Of Death' and Dale Mike Rogers 'The Mustang Men'. All worth a look.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Duane Eddy

Think of the 'PETER GUNN' theme and I can't help but couple that with the name of Duane Eddy.

It is strange to think that this year marked his Seventieth birthday and that he has spent fifty of those years twangin' that old guitar.

Duane was born in 1938 in Corning, New York and moved, in the fifties, to Pheonix, Arizona.

There are various versions of his influences that range from gospel and blues to a love of the guitar playing of Gene Autry and Django Reinhardt. Whichever way you look at it all those influences flavour his music.

In the mid-fifties he met up with DJ Lee Hazlewood with whom he began writing music which Hazlewood began to produce. Duane was signed up to Jaime Records (released under the London label in the UK) and, in 1958, released the first track 'Movin' and Groovin'' that proved a modest success and established that 'twang' sound. This sound came from the bass strings of the guitar.

'Rebel Rouser' was the big breakthrough record and it was this that made me aware of rock n roll.

Duane Eddy holds the record for the shortest disc to make the top 40 with 'Some Kind-a Earthquake' that plays in at 1 minute 17 seconds.

In 1960 a recording of 'Ghost Riders In The Sky' by The Ramrods was thought to be by Duane Eddy for the legendary twang and the calls and whistles that were the hallmark of Duane Eddy and The Rebels (his backing group). In fact The Ramrods were a Connecticut group consisting of Claire Lane (drums), her brother Richard (sax) with Vincent Bell Lee and Eugene Moore (guitars). They had the sound down to a T so it is understandable that there was some confusion at the time.

Though it is said that Duane Eddy never varied his sound time has proved that he could be innovative. The album 'Songs Of Our Heritage' shows another side of Duane Eddy's work as this is probably the first 'unplugged' type of album by any artiste. Also there is 'Twangy Guitar And Silky Strings' that combines Duane Eddy's sound with a string orchestra. When Duane signed to Sinatra's Reprise label he produced two big band style albums - 'The Biggest Twang Of Them All' and 'The Roaring Twangies'.

Duane Eddy made several films: 'Because They're Young', the 1968 Biker movie 'The Savage Seven' and 'Kona Coast' with Richard Boone.
His first appearance was as a guitar plucking cavalry trooper in 'A Thunder Of Drums' with Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Richard Chamberlain and Charles Bronson. He followed this with another Western 'The Wild Westerners' - a B movie where he was billed in third place - ahead of singer/actor Guy Mitchell. He wrote the film score and the main title theme was the B-side of 'Ballad Of Palladin' which was the theme from the Richard Boone series 'Have Gun-Will Travel'. Duane Eddy guest starred in two episodes of this series.

In 1994 the Grammy Award winning Duane Eddy was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame.
Over the years Duane Eddy's guitar playing has influenced many other artists ranging from Paul McCartney and George Harrison to Bruce Springsteen.
Duane Eddy plays the end titles to the John Travolta movie 'Broken Arrow' and those twangy guitar plucks to announce the villain are his fingers at work. Hans Zimmer, who wrote the score, is quoted as saying: "I always thought that Duane's style was being ripped off by the spaghetti westerns. But this time I got the real thing."
I can see his point. There have been times when I have thought that - the score to 'A Professional Gun' with Franco Nero sounds as though it was something that came from Duane Eddy.
That's the thing with influence - the sound is always there.
To use the title of one of his tracks I guess Duane Eddy will always be 'The Man With The Golden Guitar'.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Walt Masterson

Just going to echo the announcement on The Tainted Archive that Black Horse Western writer Walt Masterson has died. Christopher Kenworthy, who has written several books under the Masterson name, died from leukemia. He will be sadly missed and my family and I would like to express our own sympathy to Chris's family.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

God Forgives...I Don't

Starring Terence Hill, Bud Spencer and Frank Wolff
Directed by Giuseppe Colizzi
This movie saw the first pairing of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer who were better known for the Trinity movies and, maybe, that is what taints this film.
God Forgives owes more to the 'Dollar' movies and, therefore, has a laconic sense of humour.
The story is simple. The outlaw leader, Bill San Antonio (Wolff) fakes his own death by forcing Cat Stevens (Hill) into a gunfight over a game of cards. Piece by piece the whole story comes out through a series of flashbacks.
When a train is robbed and all the passengers killed the finger points at it being the work of Bill San Antonio - but he's dead. Insurance Investigator Hutch Bessy (Spencer) is sent to look into the matter and enlists the aid of Cat Stevens who works to his own agenda. He wants to see San Antonio dead and, at the same time, has his eye on the money.
The film is slow to start off with but it is paced so that it livens up quickly.
The DVD for this film is of poor quality - watchable though - but this is down to the production company.
Two further films featuring Cat Stevens and Hutch Bessy followed. 'Aces High' with Eli Wallach and 'Boot Hill' featuring Woody Strode. Both these films and 'God Forgives' were directed by Giuseppe Colozzi.
For film buffs: Terence Hill was born Mario Girotti in Venice during 1939.
Bud Spencer was born in Naples during 1929 as Carlo Pedersoli.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Home Is The Hunter

After all the house hunting and surviving the horrors of moving this small family have settled into their new home.
As each of us have individual traits we all have our ways of settling in.
For me this means the strategic placing of my bookcase and putting all my westerns onto the shelves. Once that is done I can turn around and say that I am home.
The wife, Sandy, on the other hand must unpack the kettle and make a cup of tea.
However, the newest member of our family, namely our teenage granddaughter Chantel has astounded us.
We moved into our new home on Friday and, by the time we went to bed, we still had boxes to unpack and other things to do. But Chantel single handed put up her bed and made it; put up her curtains; connected DVD player, Freeview Box, Playstation and TV together; set up her music player and hung her clothes in the wardrobe.
While we were slogging away she was phoning and texting friends and letting them know that the move had been a success.
This was not a selfish act. Chantel did offer to help but we refused it for the obvious reasons. At least, for her, normal service had been resumed.

I have to admit that I was unsure about down-sizing.
It had to be done as neither Sandy nor myself were able to cope with a large garden. Now everything is on one floor and it is someone else's job to take care of the gardening.
The peculiar thing is that now everything is in it's place we seem to have more space.
My thanks go to my two sons, Jack and Scott, who took the brunt of the heavier loads and my daughter-in-law, Nicola, who drove the van.
And to my two small grandsons Luke and Ryan who recognised their grandfather's priority by piling books onto the bookshelf. Eventually, I will teach them things like alphabetical order and that it is not necessary to put as many books as possible onto one shelf - but it is the thought that counts.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Gone Away

There will be a short silence for a week or so as we are moving house. We go off line tomorrow and return around the 9th/10th Dec - so I'll be able to catch up then.

Thursday 27 November 2008


Due for publication on the 30th November 2008 by Black Horse Westerns (Robert Hale Ltd)
Cal Hennessy was on his way to meet up with old friend Billy Dixon at Adobe Walls. The plan was to catch up on each other's news over a beer or three. But before he got there he ran into two dead men and a bunch of blood-hungry Commanches. Trouble was brewing on the staked plains of Texas and Hennessy, who was no stranger to it, quickly found himself in the middle of a full scale Indian war. But gun swift though he was, would even he survive the killing to come?
This new novel comes from the writing talents of Black Horse Western writer Dave Whitehead and German western writer Alfred Wallon.
So, how did this collaboration come about?
Dave Whitehead wrote to me and said: ' Alfred and I had been planning to collaborate for a while. We're both great admirers of Ben Haas who wrote westerns under the names of John Benteen, Richard Meade and Thorne Douglas. In fact that's where we got our pseudonym Doug Thorne.
The plan, initially, was to write something similar to Haas's JOHN CUTLER stories about a professional animal hunter. But then Alfred remembered that he had an old manuscript entitled 'The Trap Was Called Adobe Walls' that had been translated into 'German-English'. I offered to smarten up the translation for him but, by the time I finished, we had a book that was down to only 80 manuscript pages long. I suggested that Alfred write some additional material, but he countered that with a suggestion of his own - that I write the extra material and incorporate it into the story thus making it a true collaboration. I did exactly that.'
Alfred Wallon also wrote to me about this collaboration and said: ' When I started to correspond with David we soon found out that we had something in common in our love for the same western authors. It was not only Ben Haas but Matt Chisholm and George G. Gilman. Even our way of telling a story seems to be similar. So that was a good starting point for anything further.
I always prefer stories based on historical facts - with a lot of realistic details. The American author Terry C. Johnston is one of those that I admire - I have all his books.
If two authors share the same interests - a collaboration is always something good - especially when they both believe in what they are doing.
David did a very nice job in doing the detailed research about Adobe Walls and he brought that period to life. When you read about what happened around the old Spanish fort you see everything before your eyes.'
In Alfred's opinion ALL GUNS BLAZING is evidence of good collaboration.
Alfred Wallon was born in a small village in Germany in 1957. He had learned to read before he went to school and was soon into westerns. He watched TV series like 'Bonanza' and 'High Chaparral'.
He is the writer of the German western series 'RIO CONCHOS' and writes with a visual style that, he hopes, will encourage younger readers to the western genre. He quotes fellow German western writer G.F.Unger who says that the western is not much different to the sci-fi and fantasy books that the younger generation read - it's only the weapons that are different.
As Alfred says: ' You only have to show them what you are seeing - the landscape, the killing of the buffalo, the plight of the Indian tribes and the struggle for survival at Adobe Walls.'
So will there be any more collaborations between Dave Whitehead and Alfred Wallon?
Dave Whitehead says: ' Our second, ALASKA HELL, is about half completed at the moment and, with a bit of luck, there will be more to come.
It's an interesting collaboration - a German western writer and a British western writer writing together in what is, basically, an American art form.'
A final word from Alfred Wallon: ' The American writer, William W Johnstone, summed up his view of the western in a forward to a book - "The west lives on. And as long as I live, it always will.....". Need I say more.'

Sunday 23 November 2008

Elliot Conway - Western Writer

Published 2006 by Black Horse Westerns (Robert Hale Ltd)
And one of my favourite Elliot Conway novels.
Elliot Conway is a writer who is now in his eighties and is still writing western novels. His 44th book 'THE DEATH SHADOW RIDERS' is due for release in July 2009.
Elliot Conway is the pen name of Albert Hill, from Darlington, who left school with hardly any qualifications and earned a living as a bill poster.
During the Second World War served in tanks and once wrote a book about his experiences in Burma. Unfortunately publishers, at the time, thought that it would not do well.
Despite this Albert Hill still wrote the odd article for the company magazine and the local paper.
Albert Hill's western writing career did not start until he was in his sixties. He had seen an advert in 'The Northern Echo' regarding creative writing and responded to the invitation by attending a meeting held at Crombie's Cafe in Darlington. The second meeting did not go well for the journalist that was heading the course was posted to London. However, with thirty people all wanting to write and gathered under one roof they took matters into their own hands and the Darlington Writers Circle was born. Albert Hill is, today, the Chairman of that Writer's Circle.
So for my first ever interview I had a long talk with Albert Hill about his work and influences.
Influences: From childhood he had liked westerns - both film and books and lists Charles O. Locke and Alan Le May as favourite writers - writers that he wished that he could emulate. He spoke about one of Alan Le May's forgotten books 'The Unforgiven' which was made into the film starring Burt Lancaster and how it reverses the story told in 'The Searchers'.
The first book? Was the third book that I wrote. I sent two books to Robert Hale and I was not sure which one to send - so I sent him two.
The first 'THE MAN FROM SHILOH' was published in 1987 when Albert was aged 65.
Do you have a favourite Elliot Conway novel? He names 'THE CHICKAMAUGO COVENANT' amongst his favourites for he was able to relate parts of the American Civil War into the story.
Also, he named 'THE GREENHORN' and 'THE COMPADRES' as amongst his favourites as he was able to bring in more real characters like Geronimo and General Crook into the storyline.
How did the trip to the USA influence you? 'The original BBC concept was to take us out to The Alamo but that was changed to Wyoming instead. Irene (Ord - also known as Tex Larrigan) and I had a great time visiting Butch Cassidy's cabin, the Big Horn where Custer's Last Stand took place. We stayed in Cody named for Buffalo Bill. We watched a cattle round-up run by a chap from Arizona - Bob the cowboy - it was all very breath-taking. Irene came back with a book inside her head and ready to write. It takes me a little longer.'
Albert writes in longhand and then types it up on an old electric typewriter - he does not own a computer.
Is there anything else that you would like to write about? 'I would like to write a novel set around the Pontiac Wars. '
Well, I for one, would look forward to that.
Pontiacs Rebellion occurred in 1763 when the North American tribes united under the Ottawa chief Pontiac. Dissatisfied with British policies around the Great Lakes Region after the victory in the French Indian War (1754-1763) the warriors joined forces to drive the British soldiers and settelers from the region.
Albert Hill is a man who does not keep his writing skills to himself. He takes his writing skills into school where he teaches creative writing. He also does one to one reading with children and is very encouraging.
I would like to say thank you to Albert Hill for his time and all the information that he gave me. It was really appreciated. I have read many Elliot Conway books and enjoyed talking to him about them.
One of my favourite Elliot Conway novels is 'THE PANHANDLE SHOOT-OUT'. Not only does this story concern Marshall Lund's accidental killing of his deputy and how he comes to terms with it but there is an interesting story within that story concerning Big Ellie Braddock - and she's not called Big Ellie for nothing. What Big Ellie does have is a warmth of character that very few male writers have acheived. This is one book that should be read.
I hope that this article will encourage others to write - for, as seen here, there is no age limit.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Tex Larrigan - Western Writer

Published June 2004 by Black Horse Westerns (Robert Hale Limited)

In November 2003 the writer known as Tex Larrigan died.

Tex Larrigan was the nom-de-plume of a white haired lady who wore large framed glasses who's name was Irene Ord.

Irene was born in Darlington, Lancashire in 1920 the daughter of a draper. She married and had five children. It was those children who would set her on the writing path for she told them bedtime stories that she would write down as her children would want to hear those stories again.

From this Irene began to write a column for The Northern Despatch newspaper .

Her first novel, DESERT ROMANCE, was published in 1977 and went on to write about 30 novels under the names of Emily Wynn and Kate Fairfax. When her publishers decided not to publish anymore of her historical bodyrippers she found guidence from Albert Hill (better known as Black Horse Western writer Elliot Conway) who suggested that she write a western.

Both Albert Hill and Irene Ord had been founder members of the Darlington Writers Circle.

In 1989 her first western 'BUCKMASTER' was published under the name of Tex Larrigan by Hale's Black Horse Western brand.

This was a story where Buckmaster, riding the Oregon Trail, comes to the aid of a woman who is looking for revenge against her ex-lover who has seduced her daughter. Told in the first person it is one of those times when the reader becomes convinced that it could have only have been written by a man and for some years I have been under that illusion until I discovered her identity in The Directory Of Twentieth Century Western Writers.

It is said that Irene could turn out a book in four weeks. Ideas just kept coming to her so that in the period 1977 to 1986 she had 28 published books to her name.

Irene had never been to America. All her books were a combination of good research and a fertile imagination. In 1998, with Albert Hill, she went to Wyoming for a BBC tv programme. Here she walked in the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, visited the site of Custer's Last Stand, fired a gun and rode horses. She came back with enough material for several books.

Eventually, her output was reduced to about two books a year and, on her death, left two or three manuscripts that were published after her death.

Besides writing as Tex Larrigan, Irene also wrote western novels under the names of Curt Longbow, James O. Lowes and Newton Ketton.

Tex Larrigan writes a good page turner with well drawn characters that, for me, makes these books very collectable and there are many on my bookshelf. Irene, known as 'Tex' her nickname, is a talent that has to be read.

Friday 14 November 2008

Forgotten Books: Passion Flower Hotel by Rosalind Erskine

Published by Pan Books - 1962.
Sarah Callender is a bright but naive 15 year old, who attends Bryant House Boarding School, and has just finished reading a book on the sociology of prostitution.
Having read about this her mind turns to the needs of the local boys' school. Sarah and her four friends form a syndicate to investigate the possibility of selling their services to the boys.
They convert the area beneath the school stage into their 'bordello' and advertise their wares under three categories - Vision Only; Touch and Nothing Barred.
Thus, the scene for The Passion Flower Hotel is set.
It doesn't happen without problems. Demands for certain types of girls means that Sarah and her syndicate have to expand by roping in other girls into their secret world. Eventually, things get out of hand and discovery looms.
Through it all Sarah, being the brains, manages to remain aloof which makes the others suspicious.
This is a wonderful well-written rites of passage book and the writing is witty, clever and very observant.
The look into the mind of a fifteen year old girl was so striking that many believed (and the book was marketed this way) that Rosalind Erskine was a young schoolgirl herself. That is believable for it was so modern and up to date that it did seem impossible for anyone older to have got into that sort of mindset.
Some years later it was revealed that the author was not only twice the age but, also, a man.
His name was Roger Erskine Longrigg (1929 -2000).
There were two sequals: Passion Flowers In Italy and Passion Flowers In Business - but the first book is the best in this trilogy.

Monday 10 November 2008

The Legend Of Lord Snooty

Marmaduke, the young Lord of Bunkerton was better known to comic readers as Lord Snooty.
Despite his upper-class description he liked nothing better than mixing with the kids from Ash-Can Alley.
These were Rosie, Hairpin Huggins, Skinny Lizzie, Scrapper Smith, Happy Hutton and Gertie The Goat.
Lord Snooty and his gang made their debut in the 'Beano' on the 30th June 1938 - so were there from Issue no: 1.
The Beano was a rival to the Dandy that had first appeared in December 1939.
Lord Snooty was drawn by Dudley Dexter Watkins, the creator of Desperate Dan who appeared in the Dandy. Watkins would make 'guest' appearances in the Lord Snooty strip.
During the war years Lord Snooty and his gang would take on Nazi Germany. In one classic strip they dress up as Hitler and Goering to help capture the crew of a U-boat. In another, the Germans attempt to bomb Bunkerton Castle - only the ramparts are manned by a bunch of trained seals who toss the bombs back across the channel to where Hitler and Goering are sitting. As the bombs fly towards them Hitler asks: 'M-mine goodness, Goering, what are these?' Goering responds: 'These are bombs, Adolph! What do you think they are? Sparrows in steel helmets?'
In 1949 Lord Snooty took a break but returned in late 1950 - it was last appearance of the Ash-Can Alley gang though Scrapper Smith would remain along with the twins Snitch and Snatch. Joining Lord were Big Fat Joe, Doubting Thomas and Swanky Lanky Liz who had 'starred' in their own strips.
In 1958 Albert Holroyd, Robert Nixon and Ken Harrison joined the drawing team.
The book contains some great historical detail including both Lord Snooty's first and last appearance in the Beano.
It was an experience to read some of the Lord Snooty stories that I had not read before and catch up with those that I had.
For £5.75 this is a good buy.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Chap O'Keefe - Western Writer

MISFIT LIL CLEANS UP - published October 2008 by Robert Hale Ltd under the Black Horse Western imprint.
Keith Chapman, who writes under the name of Chap O'Keefe, was born in Enfield in North London in 1943.
Writing was in his blood from an early age - his first written words appeared on 'Smiler's Page' in the 'Adventure' comic in 1955 - and he got paid for it.
Keith went into the world of publishing and going on to edit such things as the 'Sexton Blake Library'.
In the 1960s he was in Mitcham, Surrey where he was the editor of various British pocket comics like Western Adventure Library and Cowboy Adventure Library.
One of the difficulties that he encountered was matching covers with stories - an easy way around this was to send the cover to friends - like Vic J Hanson - to write a story to fit the picture.
I was an avid reader of these comics and the Sexton Blake stories.
Eventually, Keith took up the pen himself and began to write western novels for Robert Hale.
The first Chap O'Keefe novel that I read was 'SHOOTOUT AT HELLYER'S CREEK' the first of the Joshua Dillard novels. Dillard is an intriguing character for he is an ex-Pinkerton man who becomes a hired gun/detective. All the Joshua Dillard novels have that mystery element but Dillard, for all his hard work, never seems to profit from his skill.
Apart from the Joshua Dillard novels Chap O'Keefe has created a western heroine in the shape of Misfit Lil.
Chap O'Keefe has written a number of stand alone books amongst which is 'GHOST TOWN BELLES' which has to be one of my favourites. There is a hint of the deep south novels of Erskine Caldwell in the make-up of Mad Dan Dungaree and his daughters (the belles of the title).
The hero is not one of those quick draw artists but a gentle, out of work cow hand who is drawn into the story as he attempts to 'rescue' the belles.
Another book 'THE OUTLAW AND THE LADY' was recently reviewed on the blog Western Fiction Review (see side panel for the link).
Chap O'Keefe is an interesting and solid writer who almost saw the above book become a film. Pity that did not happened for his descriptive style is very visual.

Sunday 2 November 2008


SURVIVORS was a 1970s BBC series. It was created by Terry Nation - better known for his 'Dr Who' series.

At Christmas, a couple of years ago, my wife bought me Series One and Two. This came as a bit of surprise as I hadn't a clue why she bought it. As it turned out it was one of those programmes where I would not miss an episode.

Survivors is set in the UK and deals with a world wide flu-like virus that wipes out all but a handful of survivors who, gradually, come together in order to survive.

Although dated - it is reflective of the time. One 'brilliant' moment was when a band of looters steal TVs from a shop - at a time when there is no electricity - why?

Apart from that the series did have a serious message. If you were a survivor what would you do? In one episode there is a good performance by George Baker as an ex-MP who is starting up a dictatorship with his own ideas on ethnic cleansing - dispose of anybody who disagrees with him.

As the series progresses the survivors begin to learn new skills and take up farming - this leads to trading with other communities. And yet none of these groups appear to want to join each other which is something that I could not quite fathom. Maybe, the answers are in Series 3 which I'm hoping Father Christmas will put in my stocking.

By the end of series two contact is made with survivors from Europe.

Now, the BBC have re-made this series and airs later this year. Written by Adrian Hodges who is, also, a executive producer with Susan Hogg (Larkrise To Candleford)

Julie Graham will take over the Abby Grant role and Freema Agyeman (better known for her roles in Dr Who and Torchwood) takes on the role of Jenny. These were the main leads in the original series one. Another Dr Who actor - Shaun Dingwall has a part to play along with Max Beezley (brilliant in the adaptation of Tom Jones and Hotel Babylon) as Tom Price.

From the trailer I am in two minds - a hospital scene that looks a bit '28 Days Later' and a man playing football with a kid on an empty road doesn't seem real to me. At least, the original had abandoned vehicles around - and a hint that people had died while still on the road - and the remains of a multiple pile-up on a motorway.

Still, I will watch the opening episodes - give it a chance to impress. Until then - well I'm sticking with the original.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Soundtrack To A Life: Trad Jazz

My grandparents decided to get a new TV so they let me have their old one. Now this is 1959/1960 and kids did not have TVs in their bedroom - well, I did.
Good old black and white with a clear picture from an indoor aerial. Had to shift my room around so that I could stretch out and watch the telly at the bottom of my bed.
At 9 p.m I could watch Rupert Davies in the BBC series 'Maigret' which was followed by Jazz Club. The Trad Jazz of the time was infectious and it wasn't long before my friends - and dad - were up there in my bedroom enjoying the likes of Barber, Bilk and Ball.
The L.P.s that came out following the success of the TV show tended to dwell on the music of Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball - sometimes combining all three on one disc.
TRAD PARTY - is a 3 CD set that I picked up for £3.00 from HMV (something that hasn't been repeated). Throughout this compilation is the reminder that Trad Jazz was not confined to the three Bs. Alex Walsh, Monty Sunshine, Terry Lightfoot and Bob Wallis all featured on the Jazz Club programme.
Standout tracks for me are: Sweet Lorraine by Mick Mulligan's Magnolia Jazz Band with a young George Melly. Then there is Ace In The Hole by The Clyde Valley Stompers with vocals by Lonnie Donegan and Beale Street Blues with Ottilie Paterson and the Chris Barber Jazz Band.
Just three out of 66 great tracks - but then this blog would go on forever.
There was something about Trad Jazz - maybe it was the sychopation - that harked back to the swing music of Harry James and Artie Shaw and the jazz guitarist Django Rheinhardt.
Also, it brings back memories about how a group of us took Trad Jazz records up to our local youth club - good background music while we were playing snooker - and, for a while, it replaced rock'n'roll music.

Friday 31 October 2008

Forgotten Books: Horn Silver by Frank C. Robertson

Frank Chester Robertson (1890 - 1969) was an Idaho sheep and cattle farmer who wrote more than 200 western novels - the first, 'Foreman Of The Forty-Bar', was written in 1925.
He was President of the Western Writers Of America (1959-1960).

HORN SILVER was the first adult western that I borrowed from the library and it left a lasting impression.
The story is quite simple - the hero, MacGruder rides into the town of Horn Silver to find the runaway daughter of a friend. He rides into a town that is living in fear and not just by the threatened closure of the Rattlesnake Mine - but by, possibly, one of the most evil lawmen that I have encountered in western fiction.
Marshall Huggard has one rule either work or get out of town - he won't stand for loafers in his town. Also, he has a quick answer to those who don't do as he tells them - he arrests them and then he, and his deputies, gun the culprit down 'while trying to escape'.
In the mix is Rosy Parnell who owns the Frisco Bar. He is a likeable character but a chancer as well who has his fingers in too many pies. The Svedin family who are fighting to keep the mine running against the odds - safety has been put to one side for the sake of greed.
With the various characters, including MacGruder, playing their own parts in the story Frank C. Robertson shows that these people are real and that there is good and bad in all of them. But Huggard, alone, is the only character without a redeeming quality.
Having re-read this book my childhood opinion is unchanged - it is as good today as when I first read it.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Jack Giles: Dealing With Memory Loss part 2

It is interesting just how much concentration that the brain has to handle. The obvious things that we concentrate on are driving, reading, writing, watching TV or a movie and listening to other people.
We have to concentrate on where we are going so that we can remember how to do that journey again.
Then, again, we also have to concentrate on what we say. This was something that I don't think that I realised until the stroke. I could only hold a conversation for a few minutes and the words that I uttered came out slow and slurred to the point that I would sound drunk.
At first, I could not watch TV or read a book - the slightest distraction would throw me.
The one thing that I always feared was losing my sight and never be able to read a book or watch a movie again. The loss of concentration never occurred to me - not until it happened.
Concentration and memory are linked. What was the point of reading something if I could not remember what I had read?
Rehab taught me to write things down as I read - just brief notes so that I could pick up a book and continue reading from where I left off. It was a long process but reading proved to be the best therapy. That and a Playstation.
I was a bit stunned when the therapist suggested that I tried a Playstation game to improve my concentration. Also, it proved a good aid for hand and eye co-ordination.
I spent a lot of time crashing, getting beaten and killed - because I had to do two things. One I had to remember which button did what and had to do that while concentrating on what was happening on the screen. By Christmas time I had just about got the hang of it and Jack gave me a game called 'Resident Evil' as a Christmas present.
'Resident Evil' is not just about shooting zombies and monsters. There is a storyline and problems that need to be solved - and it did play a part in the improvement in both concentration and memory.
Around the same time I was able to read a full chapter of a book and recall some of the salient points. Still had to make notes - but they were growing less and less.
Another thing the therapist did was to put me in front of a keyboard and a computer screen. It was like being at school and learning to write all over again. Hand, eye and concentration co-ordination.
At first I hated it for I was all over the place and half a simple sentence would turn out as a load of gobblygook. Despite all this there was a rebelious kid inside of me that was not going to be defeated.
As the last sessions came up the therapist just left me with a keyboard and a blank screen and nothing to copy. I wondered what she wanted me to do and she said that I could write whatever I wanted to write.
Like what?
She shrugged and said that I talk about my past so why not do a short piece about a favourite memory. And then she left me alone in the office.
I stared at the blank screen. I did this for several minutes.
Then I wrote - ROCK 'N' ROLL REQUIEM

'We lived for the moment then
We lived our rock'n'roll dreams
Black leather and denim
White silk banners in the wind
Jukebox tunes through expresso steam
Talking love and death of those unseen
Fighter pilots on 650cc steeds
The dream ton and those who died
No thoughts of twisted wreckage
Nor blood streaked scorchmarks.
Their names never adorned a memorial
Nor any roll of honour
Lives no less tragic than those of heroes
Of Buddy, Eddie and James Dean.
We were children of the war back then
Our spirits just as high
Our patriotism was to ourselves
And just as young - we died.'

I do not know where that came from but the title did not come until I wrote it. I had never written poetry - read poetry but never attempted it myself.
The therapist liked what I had written and I told her about the book that I had written when I was younger. She asked the obvious question to which I gave a negative response.
A couple of months into the new year and I ventured, as mentioned into the last post, into the library. I picked up a couple of westerns both Black Horse Westerns and I can even remember the titles: Elliot Long 'Marshall Of Gunsight' and Chap O'Keefe: 'Shootout At Hellyer's Creek' and David Whitehead: 'Law Of The Gun'. I had no idea who these writers were but they were all good reads - and since then have read all three books again in different circumstances. Of the three I had to renew one as it taken almost a month just to read the first two.
Now, nine years on from that stroke my concentration levels are higher and the average book will take two or three days to read. Writing takes a while and comes in short shifts - anything from one to three shifts a day though sometimes I will miss a day. It is all a matter of mind and whether I can concentrate.
What I do know is that I have regained control of my life - it has taken time and could not be acheived without the support of my wife and family, the people at the Rehab centre and countless writers and others who don't know how that they helped me over the years.
Along the way I discovered that I had become a writer but took the view that as I had acheived that goal - it was job done. That was until I came across a review of one of my books by Steve M on the Black Horse Express site which set a ball rolling to the point where I wrote my first Jack Giles short story 'A Time To Live' that was included in the anthology 'Where Legends Ride'. A story that led to the novel 'Lawmen'.
If someone told me, at the beginning of 2007, that I would have started writing again for real I would have dismissed it.
Thanks Steve.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Jack Giles: Dealing With Memory Loss

Some things about a stroke are easy to talk about - others are difficult.
Waking up to an unfamiliar world is bad enough - but, though it took time, I adjusted to it and learned how to use these things. These are just material things.
The real stuff though, with memory loss, are those things that I can never experience again.
I was present when my first daughter was born; I was there when she spoke and took her first steps. Those are the things that are lost forever. A whole life that was lived in thirty years - it is as though it has never been lived.
How do you tell your wife and children and grandchildren that you don't know who they are?
I chose to keep quiet and grunt in the right places.
Except that it does not always work.
I felt confident when the doctor asked me if I knew what year it was - it was 1999 I had seen the date on a newspaper.
Any history of strokes in the family?
I was about to say no when my wife mentioned that my dad had died of a stroke. Just the sort of thing I didn't want to hear while lying on a hospital bed. So, I discovered later, had my grandfather - and I could not just ask who else in the family were dead.
Later, I would discover that most of the family that had been a part of my childhood had gone. Both sets of grandparents and many of my uncles and aunts. My mother was still alive and living in Australia where my sister and brother-in-law had emigrated to.
Sooner or later I would have to own up - but I was content to build on what I had.
About a month after the stroke I had to attend Rehab. There I had to do simple physical things like balance co-ordination that entailed being able to lift my left arm and right leg together and balance on my right arm and left leg. Sounds simple but the number of times I raised my left arm and left leg and fell flat on my face were quite a few. Got the hang of it in the end though.
The one person I remember was Heather the psychotherapist. She was very attractive and the 24 year old me opened up to her - though the 54 year old me had to keep on reminding me of my age.
Pretty soon she cottoned on that I could talk openly about my past (childhood and teenage years) and present but faltered and was vague about the thirty years in the middle. In the end I confessed and she talked to me about ways to talk to my wife. As she said I wasn't the first that this had happened to nor would I be the last.
It wasn't easy and, though Sandy understood, she found it difficult to accept. There were a number of reactions from the kids but time heals and now no one mentions the fact. Having said that one of the boys might say 'Do you remember....?' and I still grunt and they laugh and tell the story anyway.
Memory loss is no joke.
There are those who have lost a complete life and for others memory loss continues to the point that a person could walk to the shops and forget their way home. It has happened.
I know how that feels.
The first time I went into town on my own I went into a shop and came out a different door to the one I entered. I stood there in a panic before retracing my steps and finding the other door.
My wife used to take me into town until she felt sure that I would be able to find my own way around. She had to show me how to use money and how to price things. We had gone from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency. So many adjustments - my numeracy had gone to pot and I couldn't remember a simple thing like a PIN number. After explaining my difficulty to the bank we managed to devise a number that I could remember.
There were other things that I had to learn like I could no longer smoke on the top deck of a bus.
Also, on a visit to the library, that time had moved on and the popular writers of the past were no longer on the shelves. Thank goodness for westerns. There were shelves of these but all the writers were unfamiliar but I selected a couple and took them home. They were the best therapy for me.
But that's another part of the story.

Monday 27 October 2008

James Reasoner - Western Writer

DEATH HEAD CROSSING by James Reasoner was, or so I thought, the first book by this author that I had read. I liked the characters that he had created and that mystery element that pervaded in the book. Not just a western but a detective story as well.
It was not until later that I discovered that that book had not been the first James Reasoner book that I had read.
Now I'm not a fan of the Longarm books by Tabor Evans. I had read the first couple but nothing more until I came across a book called 'Longarm And The Restless Redhead' that I picked up. The sole reason was because I wondered how the author was going to use the title.
The title suggested 'The Case Of The Restless Redhead' a Perry Mason novel by Erle Stanley Gardiner. For my 10p I got a Longarm novel that I enjoyed and there was something differant about the book.
Thanks to Steve M and his Yahoo site Frontier Times I began to learn more about James Reasoner and the fact that he had written under various 'house names' and that there are titles in the Trailsman and Stagecoach Station (Hank Mitcham) series that have James Reasoner's stamp on them. There are, probably, others that I have yet to discover.
James Reasoner lost his home in a devastating fire. Not only is he rebuilding his home and life but is still putting out new books and to me that is inspiring.

Sunday 26 October 2008

To Re-Read Or Not - As The Case May Be.

Following on from Forgotten Books - my wife, Sandy, will read a book then donate it to a charity shop. In her way she says that once she has read a book it is unlikely that she will read it again.
On the other hand there is me - if I have enjoyed a book I keep it.
Every so often I will have a cull - cut out the dead wood as it were - though it's very rare that a western hits the dust.
So the result is that I have bookcases full of books that stand the test of time. Books from the forties through to around the mid-seventies.
With books by British writers these books were written before political correctness created a stranglehold on the written word. The characters in these books use the same words that the man on the street uses today - but a language that modern writers cannot re-create in their books. I wonder what would happen if someone, today, tried to write a book on the lines of Colin McInnes 'Absolute Beginners' or David Storey's 'This Sporting Life' today. The author would have to make changes - that is what would happen. It happened to one of the above books. I picked up a copy of a modern imprint of 'This Sporting Life' - just curious - and found that 'offensive' words had been deleted.
But I have the original and that works fine for me.
There is another reason for holding on to these old books - because it is by re-reading them over the years I have, somehow, gained something new. Something that may have been missed by a fifteen year old but picked up by an older me.
Very often I find myself thinking 'I don't remember that bit' and there are times when I think that a book is important. Take life in the Raleigh Cycle factory in 1950s Nottingham, or the plight of a single pregnant girl in 1960s London or back street abortions during the same period.
Alan Sillitoe, Lynn Reid Banks and Nell Dunn wrote about things that we 'knew' about but in re-reading those books I feel that there is a history there that most fifteen year olds have never heard of.
Detective fiction has changed. Erle Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane and others had central characters who solved crime. Nowadays, it seems that every detective book is about the 'hero' having drink problem, marital breakdown or simply sleeping around (very often all three at once) and takes up more reading space than the actual detection of a crime.
And, I'm aware that Steve Carella had a wife and others had girlfriends etc but the books were shorter and family life did not intrude too deeply into a book to the point that it took over from the crime being solved.
Sci-fi and fantasy hasn't really changed. David Gemmell was able to put more action and keep the interest going in 325 pages than a modern detective novel of the same length.
Another modern author who can do that is Martina Cole - but apart from a couple - they're not exactly detective novels. Certainly, a writer who's two books I have kept will be worth a re-visit in a couple of years time.
I'm always in favour of re-reading books. Maybe, it's a comfort zone that I can relate to - or maybe, it's just that books don't get written the way they used to be written.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Forgotten Books: Dark Wanton by Peter Cheyney

Peter Cheyney was born in 1896 in Whitechapel in London's East End - but it was not until 1938 that he began to write novels. He died in 1951 but in that short writing period he produced quite a number of books and short stories.
Cheyney wrote at a time when PC stood for (apart from his initials) Police Constable.
The interesting thing that I find with Peter Cheyney was that he wrote in different styles. Lemmy Caution is a tough G-Man with an eye for the ladies and a voice of his own. Told in the first person the story is told with a fast, slick patter.
'Slim' Callaghan on the other hand comes across with a liesurely pace as the English private detective solves the problem.
The tone of the 'Dark' novels is stark and, as the titles imply, dark.
'DARK WANTON' is the setting for a story set just after the Second World War and the Secret Service has 'mislaid' two lists of German war criminals. Peter Everard Quayle is the head of the Department concerned and he was responsible for the compilation of the list. Instead of handing the job over to one of his agents he decides to call in a group of people who had operated behind enemy lines during the war.
Michael Frewin appears to be too dapper and a bit of a fop. He is Quayle's second in command - but outward appearances are deceptive for he is a cold blooded killer.
Antoinette Brown, known as the Practical Virgin - elegant, sexy and not interested in men - but she is a problem solver. Her task is to recruit Aurora Francis, former agent and ex-girlfriend of the agent that Quayle wants to draw back to the organisation.
The former agent is Anthony Keirnan - a sauve debonair chap who has hidden depths.
Peter Cheyney fills the book with secondary characters - some who die while others pass through and leave their mark.
The final revelation does come as a surprise.
There is something about the Dark books that suggest the natural successor would have been James Bond.
Cheyney died in 1951 - James Bond arrived in 1952.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Jack Giles: 4: 9th August 1969?

The 9th August - it's one day that I will never forget.
I woke up that morning with the mother of all hangovers. It was obvious that I had got paralytic because I just could not move.
I just sat there with my back against the settee and my legs stretched out in front of me.
The sun shone through the window and I knew, immediately, that I had woken up in unfamiliar surroundings.
At first, I thought that Tony had got lucky the night before and we had wound up at some girl's house.
My second thought was that there was something not quite right about this room.
Looking around with my right eye - I had to do it this way as my left eye seemed reluctant to open - I took a good look at my surroundings.
Along the opposite wall close to the front window was a sideboard. On top of this was a shiny, black plastic box with a load of dials on it. Next to this was an open fireplace and then a cabinet thing with a small black television on top. On a shelf underneath was another black box that displayed green numbers that changed every so often. Sitting on top of this was a small white box from which a lead ran to a half-moon looking pad with a couple of dials on it.
To the right of the settee was another table with a white TV perched on it.
This made me wonder why anyone needed two televisions in the same room.
This was silly, I thought.
This is just a dream.
I don't get drunk.
I closed my eye and dozed off again. I was pretty certain that when I woke up in the real world everything would be all right.
Only, it didn't work out like that.
I was woken up by a sound. My eye snapped open and there was this fourteen year old kid standing there dressed only in a pair of shorts with a small, silver disc on his finger. He stabbed at the black box on the sideboard and a drawer came out. He slid the disc into into the drawer which closed. After a few seconds the most godawful noise burst around the room as someone began to tell me that they were taking their daughter to the slaughter.
Just what I needed.
I tried to shout out and tell him to turn it down - only I couldn't get the words out.
Maybe, it was telepathy but he spun around, did a double take and turned the sound down.
'Hi, dad,' he said. 'Didn't know you were here.' he pointed at the black box. 'Do you want me to turn the stereo off?'
Stereograms I knew about. Big wooden boxes with a speaker at each end that played stereo and mono vinyl discs. Discs that were black and between 7 and 12 inches. Not small black plastic boxes and small shiny silver discs.
This was way over my head.
'You alright?' he asked.
I shook my head. Let's face it I was shaking all over and I knew that I had to do something about it. Somehow those three weeks that I spent in The St. John's Ambulance, when I was a kid, was telling me that I was going into shock.
The boy came closer and I breathed instructions into his face. I couldn't speak and it was the only way that I could do it. He got the message and was soon back with a black mug full of hot, sweet tea.
This kid, obviously, had a sense of humour for when I took a closer look at the mug it had the picture of a man in black with a wide brimed hat and underneath was the logo 'The Undertaker'.
While I was drinking the tea the boy turned off the 'stereo' and asked if I wanted the TV on. I shrugged, he took it as a 'yes'.
I had to blink.
This wasn't happening.
Colour TV?
What happened next - was going to throw me completely.
He took what looked like a book from the shelf above the TV and shoved it into the box with the green numbers on it. Suddenly, the screen was filled with a wrestling match. All I could see was a man in black approaching the ring who looked like the guy on the mug.
Right then I felt like the hero from H.G.Wells 'The Sleeper Awakes'.
Books that you put in a machine and the words came alive?
I passed out.
Concious again and the boy was dressed now and he was still in front of the TV watching a cartoon of a girl jumping and climbing over some ruins. Well, it looked normal until the girl made another leap and his body jerked as though he was jumping with her. That was when I saw that black half-moon pad in his hands.
It was too much.
'What are you doing?' I croaked, a sound that brought a smile to half my face.
'You okay, dad?' he asked, with concern.
'No, man,' I grunted back. 'Can't move.'
'Want me to call mum?' he asked.
I shook my head: 'Don't disturb her.'
He just shrugged: 'I'll text her anyway.'
Too much information and I just couldn't handle it - and I needed the toilet.
Only I couldn't just get up and walk - just couldn't get up. My left side had no intentions of doing what my brain told it to do. And I couldn't ask the boy to help -partly, because pride got in the way and partly - well the boy had disappeared.
Labouriously, I crawled or dragged my body up the room and got out into the hall. Through the door opposite I caught sight of a bath. Thank goodness for that - a downstairs loo. But by the time I got there and dragged myself up onto the edge of the bath I was too late.
That was where the boy found me. He said nothing but went off and got some clean clothes and helped me dress and undress.
Just as we finished the telephone rang and he told me to stay where I was.
I heard him say: 'Hi, mum. Yes, it's me - Jack. Dad's in a bad way. He can't walk properly and his face is all lopsided...............OK, mum, see you when you get back.'
When he came back he looked very serious: 'Mum and Scott will be back tomorrow. Mum thinks you've had a stroke. You want me to call an ambulance?'
I shook my head.
I didn't want to go to hospital - it was the logical thing to do - but something inside me made me resist it.
Maybe, it was just that I couldn't leave my son home alone.
There were other horrors that I would face that day - like seeing a lopsided, old man's face in a mirror seen through the eyes of someone who was convinced that they were still 24.
Only that morning I had believed that it was 1969 - but by the time that I went to sleep that night I knew that it was the 9th August 1999.
I had somehow managed to lose thirty years of my life.
Devastating as that was - I had to look at the plus side - I may have had a son that I don't recall growing up but that kid was a man that day. He stood by me. His was the shoulder that I leaned on.
His name is Jack Foster and I am proud of him.

Monday 20 October 2008

Flash Fiction

Death Levels

I'd known Rosie for years. She'd been in and out of nick so many times that she was like a regular down the pub.
I knew her. Like I actually knew her. Talked to her. Told her to get out of 'the game' and Rosie'd just give that weak smile and I knew that she wouldn't.
Rosie had two kids - one of each and about a year between them. She didn't know who the fathers were but, then, she didn't care.
Give the girl her due she tried to get a job but not even the local supermarket would let her stack the shelves. No, all she had were her benefit cheques and child allowance and that had to pay for the gas and electric and the food etc.
The family lived in a small two-bedroom council flat. When she had the boy she went to the Council and asked for a three bedroom place. 'So what' they said. 'Be grateful with what you've got. There are others who are a priority.'
What no one knew was that those kids were Rosie's life. She wanted them to have better than her. She wanted them to have good clothes and toys just like other kids - and she wanted them to have an education.
'It's important," she told me. 'I messed up with school and look where it's got me.'
So, for the sake of her kids she went on the game - and to keep awake at nights she resorted to drugs. Rosie's life was on a downward spiral.
It didn't surprise me when I was called to a crime scene and found Rosie's body lying half-hidden beneath a tarpaulin at the back of a rundown warehouse.
Now she has just become another case to be investigated just the same as if that corpse had been the respectable Mrs Brown found dead in her front room.
What is it about our perceptions? Rosie was just another prostitute - right?
Just that we don't call no woman respectable until she's dead.
Not in the case of girls like Rosie.

Sunday 19 October 2008

A Place In Time

If I wrote a Western set in1877 that had a bounty hunter handing over a prisoner to Wild Bill Hickock - I imagine that I would get a pile of letters telling me that Hickock wasn't the law in Abilene at that time.
Same would happen if I had a journalist covering the battles of the Ameican Civil War with a portable typewriter on his back - or that The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was carried out by gangsters armed with Uzzi machine guns.
So, why is it that some authors today make that sort of mistake today?
It's a small mistake but the number of times that I have come across it is getting riduculous.
I refer to two small four letter words that begin with 'F' and 'C'.
Now, I'm no prude - any book set in the 1960s to the present day that use those words I do not have a problem with.
But when those two little words turn up in a western or a book that is set in the decades forward to the Sixties - it kind of jars with me.
After all if those two little words were in common usage it would be reasonable to assume that the likes of Mark Twain, Owen Wister, Ernest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac and Raymond Chandler would have used them in their books.
The thing is that until the publication of D H Lawrence's ' Lady Chatterley's Lover' in the early Sixties those two little words were virtually unknown.
The thing that gets to me that a lot of these books have been researched but, not with the authentic language of the time. In everything that I've read about The Battle Of The Somme I never heard anyone mention '....the mud in the trenches....' nor, in the 1950s, did Derek Bentley standing on a factory roof say: 'Let 'im' 'ave it.' So, if they didn't say it - why should modern authors say it.
Just keep the books in their place in time - maybe, I'd read more.

Friday 17 October 2008

Vic J Hanson - Black Horse Western Writer

In keeping with the theme on The Tainted Archive blog about Black Horse Westerns - see side panel for link.

Victor Joseph Hanson was born in 1920 in West Bromwich up in the Midlands. In the 1950s he moved to Orpington, Kent and, later, to South Croydon, Surrey. He died of a stroke in 2001 at the age of 81.

Vic J Hanson's first western novel 'Lannigan's West' was published in 1949 and his last is pictured left and published in 2001.
By strange coincidence this was the same book and the same year that I discovered the books of Vic J. Hanson.

On a trip to Orpington I found a copy of 'Requiem For Pilgrim' by Jay Hill Potter. Inside it had been signed by the author but there was another message in it that was signed simply 'Vic'. Bells rang - as they do - and I read a few pages and had just a suspicion. Fast forward another few years and I found out that my first impression was the right one - thanks to an article by Steve Holland. The biggest shock though was the discovery that Vic J Hanson (though a lot older than me) and I had lived in the same area.
Vic J. Hanson has written many stand alone books and it is these that I have read. He did write a series of books featuring a lawman named Amos Crowle - but I had not come across any of those books. I do now just having won one on Ebay.
As Jay Hill Potter he wrote the Pilgrim books as well as stand alones.
Hanson's books are superb - the kind of book that I put in my bookcase because I will read them again. The books read as though the writer has a story to tell and from the outset you want to hear it.
It is strange to think that this writer would be there in ways that I never expected. He wrote Sexton Blake stories; he contributed to Western Adventure Library, Cowboy Adventure Library and Combat Picture Library. He wrote stories for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine (a favourite of my grandfather) and boys annuals - all of which relate to my childhood and youth. He had written detective novels and, when I think about it, his output must have been phenomenal.
His editor at the time was Keith Chapman also known as the Black Horse Western writer Chap O'Keefe.
Vic J Hanson is just one of those Western writers that you have to read - he is certainly one of the best western writers there is and it's just sad that he reached Trail's End.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Blaze Of Glory

This comic ran for 4 Issues that were published by Marvel Comics in 2000.
The writer is John Ostrander with artist credits going to Leonardo Manco.
The story is about the town of Wonderment and it's inhabitants of ex-slaves and poor whites who have built a successful life for themselves.
The town is attacked by a bunch of white hooded Nightriders who are intent on destroying everything and everyone.
Enter the Western Heroes a kind of Magnificent 7 - western characters from the 40s to the 60s.
Kid Colt, The Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Reno Jones, Caleb Hammer, Red Wolf and The Outlaw Kid. Also, there are appearances by Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock.
For me the arrival of the original Ghost Rider was a good moment.
The comic book says: "There is the west of fact. There is the west of legend. This story falls somewhere in between."
'Blaze Of Glory' is worth tracking down - if you like a good western yarn.


Just to show that I am not biased - QUADROPHENIA - is the best (well, it is the only film to be made on the subject) depiction of the Mod culture.
Phil Daniels is excellent in this film and I believed in his character.
There is a great moment when Daniels meets up with an old friend in the public baths. They do some catching up on old times and they plan to go down to the local cafe - that is until the friend emerges in his leather jacket.
This was the way it happened - friends became distanced because of who they were and the culture that they followed.
The film ends with the Battle of Brighton and is, surprisingly, accurate.
The music is from the time with contributions from The Who - though classed as a Mod group, 'My Generation' was played in Rocker Cafes as well.

Rockers by Johnny Stuart

Probably, the best book on the Rocker era.
Not many books have been written about this but Johnny Stuart does do a creditable job.
He talks about the rock 'n' roll music and how it changed and the history of the motorcycle cult.
The only flaw is the claim that the Rockers speak with their own voices - and the interviews have the flavour of the old TV interviews that had people calling the Rocker morons.
Apart from that on a historical basis well worth finding.
The book contains many photographs.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Jack Giles 3 - The Rebel - 1962 to 1969

In September 2007 my wife and I took our fifteen year old granddaughter down to Brighton. It was a hot, sunny day and Madeira Drive was crowded. Lambrettas rubbed shoulders with Harley Davidsons and Vespas with Triumph Bonnevilles. Angels and Outlaws; old school rockers and mods mingled with families and holidaymakers.
So differant to that Bank Holiday in 1964.
In 1964 there were no happy families or holiday makers lazing away on that stretch of beach between Brighton's two piers. Back then the only people on the beach were a bunch of Rockers - some skimming stones out to sea while others talked or messed about - as we did. Up on the promenade the Mods were on the march. Suddenly, they were swarming down the slipways and down the steps and charged the Rockers on three sides pinning them against the sea. The chase and the Battle of Brighton had begun.
I always had a passion for motorbikes. This was born when my Uncle Peter used to give me a lift home, on the back of his Royal Enfield, from cubs. When I grew up I wanted my own bike but my parents were against the idea but they paid out for driving lessons. I took my first lesson on the 29th September 1962 and passed my test on the 17th October 1962 - much to the surprise of everybody including me.
There I was with a full licence to drive a car but amongst all the other categories I discovered that I had a licence to ride a motorbike.
Before I go any further - prior to 1963 young people who rode motorbikes were known as Leather Boys or Ton-Up Boys or Cafe Cowboys. Bikers we were not - that is a modern term and the term Rocker did not come into fashion until the arrival of the Mods.
The cowboy idiom came about because the early Cafe Cowboys wore denim jackets, Levi's and boots. The denim jacket was replaced by the black leather jacket but the white silk scarf was worn either across the lower face or knotted to one side. Brylcreamed hair combed into a quiff and sideburns finished the picture.
And they got into the saddle and flicked the handlebars around like reins.
My friend Tony - I had known him through school. We had met up one day while collecting wood for a bonfire for Firework night. A large branch had fallen through a hedge - I was on one side and Tony on the other. Neither of us was aware of the other until we started a tug of war which led to a punch up until we just sat down laughing wiping blood from our noses.
In 1962 Tony bought himself a bright blue BSA and I would ride pillion. Sometimes I would ride it myself but well away from home.
1962 started out pretty uneventful and we'd had a pretty good summer. During September I started Evening School and was ready to knuckle down and study for a couple more GCEs. That was until the Russians decided to send missiles to Cuba. John F Kennedy, the President of the USA said that that wasn't going to happen - and Nikita Krushchev of the USSR said oh yes it was. And so it went on and all the time the Russian ships were closing in on Cuba and the USA were sending ships to intercept or sink them.
A group of us were walking up to the school and, being young, we were cracking jokes. But one of our group wasn't laughing. Quite suddenly, he stopped and yelled: "What's the matter with you lot? Don't you care that we could all be dead tomorrow?"
" Then what the hell are you doing here?" I asked. "If I knew for certain that I'd be dead - then I wouldn't be here. I'd be down town looking to do something that I'd miss out on."
Besides, who would have been stupid enough to press the button.
In the end Kennedy didn't have missiles in his backyard and Krushchev got rid of the missiles in his frontyard.
The confrontation, though, made me angry to think that a bunch of politicians could play with the lives of millions like that.
Also there was a hostile reaction to teenagers by older people who made being teenage like a disease. Rock 'n' Roll had come and gone - but the beat went on. We were criticised for what we wore and the 'culture' that we followed.
Into this mix came a rock 'n' roll band who had wowed the audience in Hamburg, Germany. They had worn leather jackets and jeans - but, by the time, they hit the big time they had ditched the gear for suits and mop tops. With The Beatles came the Mods.
And I donned a leather and rode a Triumph 250 - and, because my parents disapproved, I kept the bike and gear at Tony's house.
We used to meet up at Div's (Divitos) in Orpington High Street. If we weren't there then it was Johnsons up near Brands Hatch, or The 'Gale (The Nightingale) or the Salt Box over at Biggin Hill. After a while we could be found on Chelsea Bridge on our way to or from The Ace Cafe.
It was a time of burn ups and general fun to do with bikes and, like all groups, there were those that caused a few problems.
Whichever way you look at it the Leather Boys were trouble.
When I did the ton I was riding a friend's Bonnie and I was taking it home from for him from Johnsons Cafe. I just opened the throttle and away I went - straight down Death Hill without a care in the world. Well, you only get one life so live it to the full before some idiot pressed the button that would end it all.
There had been so many accidents and fatalities on Death Hill that it seemed as though an ambulance had been permanently stationed at the bottom.
I did that ton and it was the only time that I did it. I never saw the point in doing the ton again because the rush wouldn't be the same.
As I have said with The Beatles came the Mods with their nice suits and clean looks. The newspapers with nothing to report now that Missile Crisis was over made a big deal about both The Beatles and the Mods.
In simple terms: Mods were middle class and office workers - Rockers (a newspaper term) were lower class, factory workers and slackers, dirty and greasy. Not sure where I fit in, then, I worked in an office - another of the regulars worked in an estate agents and another in the accounts dept of the local council.
Mods rode scooters that they embelished with fox tails, mirrors and headlights.
No mention of how the 'Rocker' worked on his bike and because some parts were expensive made their own parts. Or that it was the ordinary 'Rocker' who had taken a Norton frame and combined the best bits of a Triumph on it. Then added a larger, squared fuel tank to create the first of the Tritons. Later, the Triton was manufactured.
The Norton Dominator was a great road holder while the Triumph Bonneville had a great burst of speed. The Triton was the best of both worlds.
That's newspapers for you. They hyped the Mod and put down the Rocker so when there was a clash at Clacton in 1964 it looked as though the poor Mods had been set upon by the apelike Rockers.
The scene was set for The Battle Of Brighton - and, I still believe, that it was the press and television that engineered the whole thing. For once the fight was over and the newspapers got the quotes like 'teddy boys with their flick knives' and the famous ' sawdust caesers' they lost interest in the Mods and Rockers. We all got lumped together as out of control teenagers.
By 1966 the Mods had disappeared and the moral victory went to the Rockers who carried on riding their bikes.
In 1966 I wrote my first ever novel called 'The Rebel'. As can be imagined it was the story of a Rocker and stretched from the Cuba Crisis to just after the Battle of Brighton. The story was accurate and true. I collected a number of rejection slips - so I re-read and re-wrote it but still collected rejection slips. The best of these were the comment that the book was not realistic and did not conform to the facts.
Oh! Well! At least I had tried and decided that I was not destined to be a writer.
I swapped my bike for a white Mini - and, out of boredom, joined the Young Conservatives. They wanted someone to do a weekly piece for the local newspaper and I, reluctantly, volunteered. These little pieces were my first in print but that was all the writing that I did.
One good thing to come out of the Young Conservatives - I met the girl who became my wife.
A good thing - considering my next recollections.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Jack Giles 2. Learning To Write

Orpington, Kent in the 1950s was like a small country town surrounded by open areas and countryside within a few minutes walk.
The housing situation following the second world war was desperate and to compensate two big estates were being built at St. Paul's Cray and Ramsden.
When we arrived in Orpington to look for a house we went straight to Ramsden - a huge muddy lot that would one day become a sprawl of private and council houses.
The queue of people hoping to get their feet on the housing rung just stretched and stretched and it took hours of patient waiting to get to the site office - and by then we were too late. All the available plots had been taken up but there was one advantage my dad had as he was a carpenter and therefore one of 'the trade'. He was put in touch with a small builder who was building six new houses up Tubbenden Lane on the site of the old Cooks Farm - of Buff Orpington fame. Dad got a pick of the plots and we went home happy.
The Orpington I lived in looked very much as the picture above.
It was a wrench to leave my friends back in Finchley and I would have loved it if my parents had chosen to go back there.
The move to Orpington was made at a time when London's overspill began to pour into St.Paul's Cray and Ramsden. Public opinion in Orpington was very anti - and I encountered prejudice from both fellow pupils and teachers - I wasn't one of 'them'.
The road that I lived in was unmade and at the bottom of a steep hill - great for sledding down in the winter and the road thick with snow. Even better for riding down on my new Hercules racing bike - until I came off my bike halfway down and slicing my right arm open. I cleaned up the cut but it soon became infected and swollen. My mum applied an 'old wives remedy' poultice to the swelling but it was too hot and in the morning the inside of my right arm from elbow to just above the wrist was blistered. We went to the hospital where the blister was cut away and I watched as I saw a glimpse of bone - that was how deep the scald had burned. For the next 18 months my arm was bound up so stiffly that I could not use it. I was in and out of hospital for all that time having the dressing changed.
As my right arm was unuseable I had to become left-handed and had my knuckles rapped for not writing fast or completing schoolwork. What with all the prejudice and this problem with my right arm I began to withdraw into myself and escaped into books and movies. During those eighteen months I made no friends apart from an older boy, who like me, had come from north London.
The prejudice would dog my tail into secondary school - but there I would meet up with a gang of older boys - a mixture of gypsies, East and North Londoners. From the moment I arrived I was warned to stay away from that gang but it was they who approached me. I had befriended one of the gang at Primary school so I was 'in'.
There was one master who taught history who bragged about his experiences in Malaya - to the extent that it could be assumed that he 'won' that theatre of war. But when the Suez crisis blew up I saw another side to him when he began to fear that he would be called up again.
His favourite punishment was the slipper - the slightest excuse and he would use it. One day I was so fed up with this form of punishment that I hid it on the rafter above his desk. What I did forget is that size 11 plimpsolls came in pairs. He did, eventually, find his original slipper - or rather it found him. During a violent thunderstorm the slipper was dislodged from the rafter and hit him on the head.
I was once slippered by him for correcting him. He was teaching us about the English Civil War and talking about firearms ' .....not like in the American Civil War when they had repeating rifles...' So, I corrected him, got the slipper and a reputation for being argumentative.
The third year was good and so, life improved from thereon.
Mr Bethell taught English and would read stories from various authors like O.Henry and Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan-Doyle. The Holmes' story 'Silver Blaze' stuck in my mind.
From then on every composition I had to write had to be a story. For example write something about a drawing pin became a mystery thriller in which the description of a drawing pin is wrapped around the disappearence of a micro-dot.
Of course, my school report claimed that I allowed my 'imagination to get out of hand'.
And my reading went in other directions as I picked up books by D.H.Lawrence (I still have a pre-trial 1960 Penguin book of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'.)
This book would in turn lead to an interesting discussion when I, as a butcher boy, delivered meat to a certain Margaret Thatcher. She thought that I had just read the 'dirty bits'. My response was that that would be pointless - the whole book would have to be read to appreciate it.
In the fourth year I was taught English by Mr. Keeble. He liked my short stories to the extent that he thought that I should get them published. I thanked him but said I wouldn't bother - authors were all older and more experienced than me. But he did say-'one day you will be a writer'.
But, I had eyes on another idea. I had picked up a book called ' Criminal Law In A Nutshell'. A fascinating book that led me to borrowing more law books that I read tucked behind the Bible during Religious Instruction lessons. The Law of England had more to interest me than the Law of God.
When the careers oficer came around and I had my interview with him and he asked me what I wanted to do - I told him straight that I wanted to go into the legal profession. After my interview I was summonsed to the headmaster's office where the careers officer was telling him about our interview. The headmaster looked at me sternly and told me to be serious and that he, personally, would see to it that I took up an apprenticeship in some factory.
I just shrugged.
He could do what he liked - I was the one who knew what I wanted.
I left school and went to work as a junior clerk in the Parks Department of a local council. Where I got into trouble for a) giving a chap an allotment without putting him on a non-existant waiting list and b) going over the Department head to get a job in the Council's legal department. After 6 months I was given the sack.
A week later I was working as an outdoor clerk for a firm of solicitors.
This job would give me a funny aftermath.
My headmaster was, also, a Justice of the Peace. I was attending the local county court when he walked in. On seeing me he said ' Ah, Foster, I thought you'd end up in front of me.' 'Yes sir, I'm here representing the Plaintiff - told you I was going into the legal profession'. His face dropped -but I had not intended my comment as a jibe - just a statement of fact.
On the whole school was good. There was plenty of school playground trade going on. War comic or comics in general were swapped around. My own choice were for books - traded for comics or rare bubble gum wrappers.
After school I went to night school - to improve on my goals I needed to improve on my education. I continued to write short stories that went into the bin after a while - I just liked to write but I don't think that I had found a voice or a reason to be serious about writing. What kid didn't think about writing THE novel - a bestseller that became a movie etc.
What I didn't know, as 1962 dawned, was that events were going to occur that would change a lot of lives. For the good or the bad I still don't know.