Saturday, 31 January 2009
The Western - an overview
I take that as a compliment as I hope that other Britsh writers will.
The western, as we know it, has been around for - what - 149 years?
Names like Lariat Lil, Fred Fearnot or Denver Dan may mean nothing today. Same could be said of authors like Edward Sylvester Ellis.
Ellis found fame by writing westerns for the publishers Beadle & Adams of New York in 1860.
And just about everybody knows about Beadle's dime novels that cost 5 cents - 30,000 words in a small 160 page book. (About the size of a Black Horse Western these days - though the word count is a touch higher).
Mention of Beadle prompts that the most famous of their writers was Edward Zane Carroll Judson better known as Ned Buntline.
There were those who jumped on the bandwagon and produced magazines like 'Wide Awake Library' and 'The Buffalo Bill Stories'. The British were not far behind producing 'penny dreadfuls' that today would be regarded as 'pirate' copies for which the original American writer would not receive a cent. Another British book was produced by a Frenchman, Gustave Aimard, which went under the title of 'Aimard's Indian Tales' - it proved to be a hit.
The influence of the western spread so that the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would bring it up in the Sherlock Holmes story 'A Study In Scarlet' and return to the theme in 'The Valley Of Fear'.
The inner story of 'A Study In Scarlet' - which involves two children being found and brought up by Mormons - would influence the writing of the classic western 'Riders Of The Purple Sage' (1912) by Zane Grey.
Also, in 1860, as the western 'novel' was born, so to was Owen Wister who would write 'The Virginian' with it's background set against the Johnson County war.
By the 1930s the Western, as a novel, had gone out of fashion. The Depression had set in but the Western was in the cinema - so if people weren't reading they were watching.
If the Americans weren't reading Westerns - the British were and they had a hero in British writer Oliver Strange's ten 'Sudden' novels that were written between 1930 and 1940.
After the Second World War the Western novel picked up again with the likes of Ernest Haycox, W.C.Tuttle, Frank C. Robertson and Louis L'Amour.
For a while the novel and the western movie co-existed with novels being turned into films and vice versa. Then the book and the film encountered a new kid on the block - television. As the western writer, Elmore Leonard, says: "Television killed the western. The pulps were mostly gone by then too, the market was drying up."
Although Elmore Leonard turned his attention to writing crime novels he did not give up on the western genre. One of his later stories written for the Western Writers Of American anthology 'Roundup' was 'Only Good Ones' which was filmed as 'Valdez Is Coming'.
The 1960s saw the emergence of a new kind of western movie - the spaghetti western and in it's wake came the first of a new kind of western hero - George G. Gilman's 'Edge' books.
George G. Gilman was the pen name of the English writer Terry Harknett who had already written the novelisation of 'A Fistful Of Dollars' and 'Hannie Calder'. 'Edge' was at the spearhead of a group of British writers that included John B Harvey, Angus Wells and Laurence James. Shelves that had been dominated by Louis L'Amour gave way to the likes of 'Herne The Hunter',
'Apache', 'Jubal Cade' and 'Hart The Regulator'. Very often these books were written by The Piccadilly Cowboys in collaboration with each other. Others like Bodie, Edge, Steele and Hart had just the one writer.
Like all good things the western went on the wane - yet again.
This time though it covered all media - books, movies and TV.
The western is dead - or so they say. I say they can't make a coffin big enough let alone arrange a funeral.
The influence of the western has always been there. Take a look at the movies, the made for TV films and some of the novels that are read. In the words of the German western writer G.F. Unger - the story is the same it's just that the weapons are different.
Over the past few years I do believe that the western has evolved. Series like 'Longarm', 'Slocum' and 'The Gunsmith' are still going strong. The western has wandered into the realms of detective fiction - James Reasoner's 'Wolf Head Crossing' is an example. Even into Sci-Fi/Fantasy if you count David Gemmell's Jon Shannow books.
Americans like Robert J. Randisi, David Robbins, Jory Sherman and Peter Brandvold and others still fly the western flag.
And for the British? The British are still in there with American, European, Australian and the New Zealanders who write for the only UK publisher of westerns - Robert Hale Ltd - Black Horse Westerns.
Here you will find the likes of David Whitehead, Lance Howard, Elliot Conway, Chap O'Keefe and Rory Black. New writers like Ross Morton and Matthew P. Mayo along with first-timers Jack Martin and Terry James - all writers who believe in the Western.
The one thing that is coming back to me is that demand for these westerns, over the past three or four months, has exceeded the supply. When something like that happens it sounds like a resurgence of interest.
Throughout the history of the western it has 'died' and been revived - like everything else it has gone through cycles but has never gone away.
In 2010 the western novel will celebrate it's 150 anniversary - it would be good to celebrate yet another comeback.
Friday, 30 January 2009
Friday's Forgotten Books: Gently Go Man by Alan Hunter
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Saturday, 24 January 2009
Peyton Place and Grace Metalious
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Rebel Run by Jack Giles
Black Horse Western published by Robert Hale Ltd - 1985
It was supposed to be escape proof, even more so as it was Confederate prisoners of war who were building their own cage. The Commandant worked them hard enough so that they would be too tired to try anything.
Then Van Essen, a Confederate artilleryman, arrived. He had already broken out of two prison camps and was looking to make the next one third time lucky.
The Commandant had other ideas so he assigned Van Essen to a workforce that consisted of cavalrymen. Men with a reason to treat the new arrival with mistrust and suspicion. For they had their own plans and Van Essen was an added complication.
Escape was the one thing that they had in common and when they got out the whole Union Army would know they were on the loose.
Probably, the most frequently asked question is that with my memory loss how did I view my books.
So from this unique stand point I thought that I would do a review of a couple of my own books.
For starters REBEL RUN is not a standard western - that is if it can be classified as a western at all as all the action takes place in the Eastern states during the American Civil War.
I suppose, in many ways, that a book like Rebel Run would have been inevitable at some stage. My interest in the American Civil War dates back to my schooldays as did my passion for the World War Two escape books like Pat Reid's 'The Colditz Story', Charles McCormac's 'You'll Die In Singapore' and Paul Brickhill's 'The Great Escape' - books that are still on my bookshelf.
The book opens with a view of the island and 'pans' back to the privations of the rough and ready prison camp where the reader meets Van Essen. Van Essen was a Sergeant with the Virginia (Rockbridge) Battery and was taken prisoner at Cedar Run on the 9th August 1862.
At the beginning of the book Van Essen comes across as tough and cynical and will use anybody in his own bid to escape. Very much the loner and the outsider he is placed with a group of cavalrymen who hold a grudge because they are the victims of 'friendly' artillery fire. They, also, have their own escape plans. In charge of the cavalrymen is Sergeant Dave Becker who makes it clear from the start that despite their equal rank while Van Essen is with them he will take orders.
Eventually, they do escape and become a fighting unit when they come across a battery of cannons heading for the Union front line. It is here that Van Essen takes charge and the relationship between himself and the cavalrymen begins to change. They destroy the cannons but are persued.
As they debate on how to cross the Union lines so a curious twist of fate occurs as the Confederate Army comes to them in the shape of Rodes Division as it sweeps up the relaxed Union troops of Howard's XI Corps near Hazel Grove.
And I like the last line - it has a double meaning.
So what do I think of it. Well, it was the first Jack Giles book that I read after my stroke. On the plus side it made me want to read more books by that author. There is a downside in that the early confrontation between the two sergeants - well, it's rather stock - but it does get lost in the progression with the action sequences and none of the characters were there to make up the numbers and all had personalities.
I was, also, intrigued by the historical detail that when I got the Internet I decided to check it all out. This, in turn, was an eye opener for every Battery, Division, Regiment and Corps existed and was where it is said it was in the book. As are the farms and Hunting Run that are mentioned. And all that research had been done before the Internet existed.
So, if anyone wants to read a Jack Giles then I would say start there with 'Rebel Run' - a western that isn't a western.
Monday, 19 January 2009
Beat To A Pulp
So when David Cranmer wrote to say that it was a pity that so many of these 'magazines' were closing I thought that I might miss out. Against that trend David has started up his own magazine BEAT TO A PULP with stories editted by Elaine Ashe.
The opening story 'The Instrument Of Their Desire' by Patti Abbott is the story of an elderly lady recalling an incident from the Depression in 1931. It certainly set the benchmark with this warm and emotional story.
What I like about this magazine is the diversity - the reader just doesn't know what sort of story that will be published each week. It is rather like reading an anthology by O. Henry who wrote so many different types of stories.
In contrast to the first story there is 'A Man Called Masters' by Jack Martin - a western that is a cut above with it's attention to some small details. For example, the use that the hero puts a tin pot to when he is stranded in the desert. This is Jack Martin's first published western - his 'The Tarnished Star' will be published as a Black Horse Western in June of this year.
This week's story is by Charles Gramlich called 'Whiskey, Guns And Sin'. An action packed piece that touches a lot of buttons for me. How can I put it - spaghetti westerns mixed with those of the Piccadilly Cowboys meets Hell Ride with a dash of Sin City graphics. The only thing that disappointed me was that, like all good stories, it came to an end.
The total list of stories so far are:
'The Instrument Of Their Desire' by Patti Abbott
'Hard Bite' by Anonymous-9 (worth reading - a little unusual)
'Disimpaction' by Glenn Gray (gives an new meaning about being up to the armpits)
'A Man Called Masters' by Jack Martin
'Backing The Stakes' by Kieran Shea (read it - hate to say anything that would act as a spoiler)
'Whiskey, Guns And Sin' by Charles Gramlich
The link to this magazine can be found on the panel.
Saturday, 17 January 2009
A Couple Of Bits About Books
By joining the site you will receive an invitation to join. This means that you can post details of new books and their covers. It's a site that is publicity driven. At the moment there are only two Black Horse Western writers there. (link in panel)
THE TOP TEN SECOND HAND BOOKS: This comes via the Daily Telegraph of the 5th January 2009.
This was supplied by Richard Booth's Bookshop of Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire (or mid-Wales - depends on which side of the border you are.
Hay-on-Wye is the second hand bookshop and is the largest in Europe.
1. Kilvert's Diary by Francis Kilvert
2.On The Black Hill by Bruce Chetwin
3.Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
4.Self Sufficiency by John Seymour
5.Origin Of The Species by Charles Darwin
6.The Famous Five Stories by Enid Blyton
7. The Mabinogion (I would have expected this book to be higher - it's Welsh, you see.)
8.To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9.Food For Free by Richard Mabey
10. On The Road by Jack Kerouac (should be higher - biased as it's a personal favourite)
Friday, 16 January 2009
Forgotten Books: The Big Pick-Up by Elleston Trevor
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
The Battle Of Britain -1940
Friday, 9 January 2009
Friday's Forgotten Books: Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Wild West Monday - Monday March 2nd 2009
It is better to read his blog for more information.
For one, I will be out there again because I believe that it is time that bookstores stopped dictating what we read. To me a bookstore is a place that sells books - and that it should cater for all tastes - that is the purpose of a bookshop.
In my interview with Michael D. George he mentioned that books shops no longer catered to the masculine genres.
I still agree with that comment.
So I'm going to change genres for a moment.
Where are the war novels?
Sure, you can buy war books in the non-fiction section but where are the war novels? There was a time when Robert Hale Ltd published war fiction but that market dwindled away to nothing when book shops stopped selling them.
The horror writer Shaun Hutson cut his teeth with war fiction; as Samuel P. Bishop he wrote the three 'Track' western novels again in a climate when the western was fading from the shelves.
So if you don't want the same fate for the western then, please, do something about it.
Nothing happens, in this world, unless you allow it to happen.
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Thoughts On Comic Books
Each Christmas I buy my children a 'special' present - one that is just from me to them. For the first time I was a bit stumped for something to give to my youngest son - that was until I read an article on 'The Essential Silver Surfer' on THE TAINTED ARCHIVE blog (see panel for link). Said son was overjoyed with that choice.
As I browsed along the shelves of 'A Place In Space' one of our two local comic stores I had to smile at other books in the 'Essential' collections. There was the first volume of 'The Punisher' in his original costume - which was pleasing as it won an arguement with my eldest son.
Usually, when I go into these shops it is in search of something specific and I, rarely, browse. However, on this occasion I stopped for next to The Silver Surfer was 'The Essential She-Hulk'.
As I flipped through the pages it was like going back in time.
In the fifties parents were warned about a new 'thing' coming in from America - it was called 'horror comics'. Parents were warned by 'concerned' groups that these would be damaging to their children. So, we seven and eight year olds began to read these 'Amazing Stories' and 'Weird Tales' that had no effect on us whatsoever - except stimulate our active imaginations.
With these comics came the likes of 'Superman', 'Superboy', 'Supergirl' and 'Superwoman' that were followed by 'Marvelman' and 'Marvelwoman' etc. And, of course 'Batman'. For every man there seemed to be a woman like 'Spiderwoman' and 'The She-Hulk'.
When we moved to Orpington there was a shop at the end of the High Street where comics could be exchanged. I don't know how the proprietor made any money as kids would go in with a bucketful of comics and come out the same way. I never saw any money change hands.
The proprietor was a cadaverous old man with a mane of long white hair. The shop was long, narrow and dark and lit by single, low watt bulb. All the shelves were piled high with comics from the weird to the wonderful and just looked like the setting for some horror movies.
In the early sixties the shop just closed. Many of us just assumed that the old man had died. We turned up as usual to find the shop being cleared out - the workmen were just dumping the comics into cardboard boxes and leaving them out the back. By the next morning they had all disappeared - well, we had all climbed over the fence and helped ourselves.
A couple of years back I wandered back down the High Street and was surprised to discover that it was a comic shop again. I mentioned this to the new owner who was intrigued to hear about the building's past.
As the shop has changed - so, too, have comics. I do wonder how a twelve year old back in the sixties would see something like Frank Miller's 'Sin City'. I guess back then we wouldn't get to see it for it would be on the top shelf.
I was reading James Reasoner's blog (Rough Edges - link on the panel) on the new 'Hulk' movie the other day. The boys and I had seen that movie - but it reminded me that originally the Hulk had been a 'bad' guy until he got his own comic. When he became a 'good' guy I can recall that, in one instance, his adversary was Ben 'Thing' Grimm before he became part of the Fantastic Four.
It could be quite confusing at times characters that were 'bad' guys in one superhero comic would turn 'good' in their own - like Submariner or The Silver Surfer.
While I was in the store they were doing a survey and one of the questions that they asked me was whether I preferred Marvel or DC. I looked at the chap and said that they were just labels for a publisher and that when I was a kid it was the characters that we liked - and when it comes down to it who really cares who the publisher is? It's like asking me whether I wear Nike or Reebok - I wear trainers but I prefer the ones that fit me and I feel comfortable in. I have never bothered about the label on anything. He might as well have asked whether I preferred 'Superman' or 'Marvelman' - neither would be the answer for I read and enjoyed both characters.
I did get an unexpected Christmas present from my youngest son - he must have been thinking along the same lines as myself. He got me the graphic novel of 'Bat Lash: Guns 'n' Roses'. Well, as he's a fan of the group Guns 'n' Roses.....
Sunday, 4 January 2009
Her parents were vaudeville artists.
Julie London had been a bit part player in movies during the forties when she became one of the pin up girls for the American G.Is during the second world war.
In the fifties she was 'discovered' by Alan Ladd's wife Sue Carol who was an agent who revitalised Julie London's career.
As an actress she appeared in several movies and, probably, her best role was in the Gary Cooper movie 'Man Of The West' (1958), directed by Anthony Mann, where Julie played the only female role.
She guest starred in several TV series like 'Rawhide', 'Laramie' and 'The Big Valley' as well as classics like 'I Spy' and 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'. Between 1972 and 1979 Julie London was better known as Dixie McCall RN in the series 'Emergency' in which she starred with her second husband Bobby Troup.
Her first husband was 'Dragnet' star Jack Webb.
Julie London, though, is not remembered just as an actress but for her cool, smoky and sensual singing voice with a range that covered blues and jazz.
'Cry Me A River' is her best known and only million selling disc - not only did she sing it in the 1956 movie 'The Girl Can't Help It' but has turned up in the soundtrack of other movies - the latest being 2006's 'V For Vendetta'.
My own interest in Julie London, the singer, stems from a 1957 Alan Ladd film 'Boy On A Dolphin'. It was a track that had been requested on the BBC Radio show 'Family Favourites'. I was thirteen at the time but Julie London made an impression on me. Believe it or not I did not hear 'Cry Me A River' until the following year during a music class at school.
During her career Julie London has recorded over 30 albums that have included songs that she has composed herself as well as classic tracks. Tracks like Sinatra's 'Fly Me To The Moon', Nat 'King' Cole's ' When I Fall In Love' and Marylin Monroe's 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' - and each one Julie London has made her own.
She reckoned that she couldn't sing - a 'thimbleful' she called it - and had to get up close to the microphone to make herself heard. When compared to Monroe, Julie London denied being a 'sex symbol' and just described herself as an ordinary housewife who's family came first before her showbiz career.
Maybe, but Julie London has left a legacy of songs that always remind me of black and white movies and smoky dance halls - and a talent that is missed.