Saturday 30 January 2010

A Fistful of Legends - Now Published!

Express Westerns' anthology of western short stories A Fistful of Legends is now available to buy from and Amazon. The ISBN is 978-0-557-19954-9 and the price is $15.95 (about £10 or 17.50 Euros).

As an extra special offer to celebrate publication, the first person to contact me at this weekend (and pay!) will be able to buy with free postage and 10% off. That's $14.36 for only one person. In fact you can have 10% off Where Legends Ride, our earlier anthology too! You just need to send me the money via paypal within the next 24 hours.

The book has been edited by Nik Morton and co-edited by Charles Whipple. It features an introduction by James Reasoner along with a front and back page cover illustration designed by Jennifer Smith-Mayo based on an original painting by David McAllister. The 21 stories in this bumper size book are :

DEAD MAN TALKING by Derek Rutherford
BILLY by Lance Howard
HALF A PIG by Matthew P Mayo
BLOODHOUND by C. Courtney Joyner
BIG ENOUGH by Chuck Tyrell
ON THE RUN by Alfred Wallon
THE GIMP by Jack Martin
VISITORS by Ross Morton
THE NIGHTHAWK by Michael D George
DARKE JUSTICE by Peter Avarillo
CRIB GIRLS by Kit Churchill
MAN OF IRON by Chuck Tyrell

Discover what it’s like to ride with damaged men and sinister night stalkers, tragic doves, plucky homemakers and gun-toting belles. Experience for yourself the harsh reality of birth and death, love and hate, revenge, retribution and robbery. You'll find it all here, penned by a whole posse-full of Western writers old and new.

So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

Also and

Friday 29 January 2010

Black Horse Westerns are now more popular than Harry Potter

Article posted as part of the Black Horse Western weekend at The Tainted Archive

They say you can prove anything with statistics, so I intend to prove that the Black Horse Western series and its tales of gunslingers and their Peacemakers are more popular than the boy wizard and his magic wand. The amazing thing is, it's true!

The evidence comes from the UK's PLR system. British authors are lucky in having a scheme in which they receive a small payment every time a book is borrowed from a UK library. Currently this stands at around 6p per loan and when an author has several books out this mounts up to a worthwhile payment. The scheme though has a second advantage of letting authors see how many times their books have been borrowed. At the very least this provides welcome comfort that someone has actually read your books, but over time it provides interesting results to mull over about both the success of your own work and also the state of the western generally.

On a personal level my 1st IJ Parnham BHW The Outlawed Deputy was published in 2001 and my 18th Sharpshooter McClure is out this month. Nine years on the first book along with its Large Print Linford Western version is still being borrowed around 50 times a month. During those years the book that has been most popular with borrowers in terms of average loans per year is Dead by Sundown and the one that has been least popular is Mendosa's Gun-runners with the former attracting 75% more loans than the latter. I initially found this bemusing as I rate Mendosa's Gun-runners as being one of my better novels to the extent that when people ask me which of my books they should try it's one of the ones I usually mention. I never mention Dead by Sundown as it didn’t strike me as being particularly special. On the other hand Dead by Sundown is a good title for a western and it has the best cover I've ever had, one that has a great composition and which ties in perfectly with the title. Mendosa's Gun-runners has a dull title and the cover was fairly generic.

This theme continues. My second most successful book is The Last Rider from Hell, which has a good title and a nice cover, and my second least successful is Calloway's Crossing, which has a good cover but a dull title even though again it's one of my favourite books. Continuing down the list, also in the bottom half as regards average loans are Yates's Dilemma and Calhoun's Bounty, both of which have great covers, but perhaps their relative lack of success hints that titles with a named person aren’t so interesting to readers. Having said that my other titles that feature a name Devine's Law and Wanted: McBain have been popular, but then again their titles sound more dynamic than vague concepts such as a dilemma or a bounty. There could be many reasons for the spread of borrowing, but I'd offer the reasonable conclusion that the title is very important in giving a book a better chance of someone taking it off the shelf.

Totalling up these statistics I found that after nine years the title that has been borrowed the most is The Last Rider from Hell. That was my second book and it has now been borrowed 11,000 times. As at June 2009 an IJ Parnham western has been loaned 87,000 times and with someone taking out one of my books every 29.4 minutes I should reach 100,000 loans on March 17, 2010 (at 9.22am approximately). I'm also currently the 1498.3th most borrowed author. I find that all encouraging. But even more encouraging is that I can detect no sign of waning popularity no matter how I play around with the figures. Trends are in truth hard to work out as new BHWs are always the most popular. The first year after publication is when the most loans happen. Thereafter loans fade away so every year an individual title will be borrowed fewer times than it was the previous year, but if I compare the trend of my recent books to that of my earlier ones the conclusion is an interesting one.

The Gallows Gang in 2009 came out in January as did The Last Rider from Hell in 2002, but the recent book was borrowed more often in its first half year than the old book. Massacre at Bluff Point from 2007 hasn't tailed off as quickly as Bad Day in Dirtwood did from 2003. It's the same with the rest. But apparently library lending statistics show that library loans in total fell over the last decade by around 20%. If that decline was across the board the trend ought to show up, and yet my latest titles are doing as well now as my earlier ones did, if not better.

This health becomes even more apparent when considering the Large Print versions. Traditionally these are borrowed around 50% more often than the normal print versions, and my more recent Large Print titles are noticeably more popular than my earlier ones. Obviously I can't with assurance say that my figures, which PLR derive from a statistical sample and which next year could plummet as a different part of the country is sampled, prove the western generally is healthy, but I am certainly not getting a picture of a dying genre, declining readership, and budget-strapped libraries cutting back. The picture for me appears to be that BHWs are as popular as they ever were and Large Prints are growing in popularity, and as someone who has now accepted I'll never be able to see the small print on product labels again I understand why.

Taking this analysis to its logical conclusion, I looked at how many BHWs have been published since my first book. The answer is 874 and so I've provided about 2% of the series. I reckon I'm an average author being neither much more popular nor much less popular than others are and so I'd estimate that all BHWs and their Large Print reprints are loaned at least 1 million times annually. According to the PLR site only four authors are currently being loaned more than 1 million times headed by James Patterson. JK Rowling wasn't one of the four and therefore she was loaned less than 1 million times. Ergo Black Horse Westerns have more fans than Harry Potter... So, fellow BHW writers, the next time someone discovers you’re a writer and feels obliged to ask if you're doing as well as JK Rowling is, you can reply that you're not, but the series you write for is!

Saturday 23 January 2010

The best ever customer review on Amazon?

I enjoy coming across amusing customer reviews on the Amazon site, but today I happened upon a small goldmine of wit and surreal sarcasm that customers have added to the bizarre product of a picture of Paul Ross, who apparently is the brother of British tv presenter Jonathon Ross.

Prior to finding this weird alternate universe called the Mirror Print World, my favourite set of amazon customer reviews were for a self-published book written by a rabid religious nut-job who had published her ravings all without a single thought being given to sense, punctuation and grammar, and all written in capitals. This inevitably attracted bucket loads of sarcastic reviews all written in capitals.

Almost as good was one of the worst ever books by a professional writer The Crossroads of Twilight, which was volume 87 or so in an interminable fantasy series and was the one where the fans finally rebelled against the lack of plot development. There are about 2,000 one star reviews of that book and most employ more creativity than the book they are tearing apart, but now even those delights have been bettered with something that is just too bemusing for words: an amazon shop that sells large framed pictures of things nobody would ever want hanging on their walls such as portraits of major celebrities like Su Pollard and Adolph Hitler along with nudie Dalek pictures and William Shatner's swimming pool.

I rooted around this twilight zone wondering if this was a joke I wasn't getting, but the shop really does appear to be linked to the Mirror newspaper chain and so it is a genuine company that is offering over 300,000 pictures to inspire the masses. It also appears that many other people have happened across this twilight zone too and have wondered what was going on. The nexus of the cult of the Mirror Print World appears to be centred around the 250, and growing, reviews that have been added to the giant portrait of that major figure in the entertainment world Paul Ross:

If you only buy one 20 inch canvas print of Paul Ross this year, this is the one to get.

I am thrilled with the recent bereavement gift I received of a Paul Ross canvas.
It has hugely cheered me since the fire and the loss of my entire family, 2 cats, gerbil, iguana, stick insects and pet house spider. Why oh why did I choose that night of all nights to have a massage after bingo?

And the fun appears to be spreading to the picture of a Uterine Fibroid:

I was very disappointed that the photograph did not - in any way - feature Paul Ross.

A truly spectacular print; whenever I'm feeling down and need a little lift, I stare lovingly at it and whisper to myself "At least I don't have whatever on earth that is."

Then there's the cheery picture of an Alzheimer's sufferer's MRI Scan:

It seems totally crass to have a framed print of a person with Alzheimers!! especially when its advertised as 'Set in a modern frame with a custom mount, your print will look stunning in any room. An ideal gift for your family and friends.'

You can also enjoy Cosmetic Breast Surgery:

So much about the world today is twisted and cruel and ugly and sad. If it's not the annual apocalpyse in Gaza, it's new, super-aggressive forms of cancer, or Paul Ross, or the yawning, sickening gap that divides unbridgeably the super-rich from the dirt-poor. So it's nice to slam the door on all that once in a while and kick back and gaze, lost, at something as aspirationally beautiful as this: a photo of a blood-spattered surgeon stabbing a knife into someone's wap.

Then there's the Hitler picture:

A good quality print which predictably doesn't capture the playful, fun loving nature of the late Fuhrer.

This print certainly adds a certain feeling of gravitas to my child's bedroom.

Su Pollard's portrait:

Before I bought this print I genuinely didn't know who Sue Pollard was. Now I know...oh yes. And I like to think that now she knows me.

Woman rejecting a plate of food:

This is perhaps the best photograph of a woman rejecting a plate of food I have ever owned.

The Chuck Norris mug:

Any mug with Chuck Norris' image on it will be unbreakable - until Chuck says otherwise.

Anyhow, more of this kind of stuff at The Box Canvas Print of Paul Ross

Thursday 21 January 2010

Review of The Treasure of Saint Woody

Laurie has posted a very generous review at Laurie Powers Wild West

Thanks, Laurie!

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Discounted copies of A Fistful of Legends now available on are now selling A Fistful of Legends as the on-line retailers gradually gear themselves up for next week's publication. The amazing news is that they are currently offering the book at an unbelievable discounted price of £9.00 INCLUDING POSTAGE. As this price is £1.50 lower than their sales price for Where Legends Ride (which costs £1.25 less than A Fistful of Legends on, this is extremely generous and is an offer not to be missed... while it lasts!

Follow this link.

Sunday 17 January 2010

A Fistul of Legends now available on is the first on-line retailer to offer A Fistful of Legends for sale. They are selling at its full retail price of $15.95, but the book is eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping. I'll report as the other on-line retailers provide links and they should all be available before publication at the end of the month.

Follow this link to buy through Also note that Where Legends Ride can be purchased through Amazon for $13.95 here.

Friday 15 January 2010

The Story With No Name

And so here's chapter 24, the final instalment of the Story With No Name.

Thanks to everyone who wrote a section and thanks to all the readers who have stuck with the tale for the last 6 months. It's been a lot of fun. Joanne Walpole (Terry James) suggested a serial story way back in the summer and it's been great to see how everyone has picked up the gauntlet and run with it.

Parts 1-16

Parts 17-23

'Get your ugly hides out here,' Walt said, 'and Bourbon gets to live for long enough to hang.'

Silence greeted him. So with a sideways glance at Sawtell to co-ordinate their approach, he moved on towards the crude shack. They had seen nobody on the way and Bourbon had become increasingly agitated adding weight to Walt's belief that his Apache helpers had abandoned him, but what awaited them here remained a mystery.

The shack had curved walls that met at an apex, appearing to have been constructed from timbers taken from the boat where they'd left the others. The door was a gap between two planks and Walt narrowed his eyes trying to discern what was within. Nothing was visible, but Sawtell still grabbed Bourbon's arm and swung him towards the gap, forcing him to enter first. Bourbon staggered on for two paces, then grabbed a plank to stop himself from tumbling inside. The timbers creaked ominously as he hung on.

Bourbon righted himself then turned to face them, one hand still holding the plank. He was smiling.

'There's nobody here,' he said. 'Just me.'

'Then why are you smiling?' Sawtell said.

'I was remembering how your brother Joe pleaded for his life, how he screamed when I ripped him in two. But most of all I'm remembering what I used to loop out his guts--"

Bourbon didn't get to complete his taunt as Sawtell roared with anger and leapt at him, his gun hand rising to pistol whip Bourbon's jaw. But goading him into being reckless had been Bourbon's plan. He jerked to the side, his hand coming into view. Steel flashed from the cutlass that had been hung inside. He ducked beneath Sawtell's blow then came up, slicing the cutlass into Sawtell's guts.

Walt was treated to the sickening sight of the cruel curved blade erupting from Sawtell's back. For long moments both men stood poised, the only motion being the steady drip of blood from the blade tip. Then Sawtell murmured something and he staggered away to leave Bourbon standing free. And in his right hand was Sawtell's silvery pistol.

Confident now, Bourbon delivered a kick to Sawtell's rump that sent the impaled man tumbling into the shack. Like Bourbon had done Sawtell grabbed a plank, but he succeeded only in dragging the plank down with him. He fell into the shack as one by one the planks toppled in on him.

The collapse of the shack didn't dampen Bourbon's smile. He raised the gun to sight Walt's chest.

'Before you kill me,' Walt said, 'are you going to tell me the secret you were hiding out here?'

Bourbon rocked his head from side to side as if considering then shrugged.

'Nope. You just get to die. Then I'll leave to enjoy myself killing the others.'

His eyes narrowed with a sign he was about to fire, but then a pained roar sounded behind him. Two planks parted. An avenging angel of death rose up, a blood-soaked cutlass held aloft.

'For Joe!' Sawtell screeched with his dying breath.

A gleaming red meteor streaked through the air, turning end over end, its unerring target Bourbon's back. Then the cutlass hit home... hilt first.

Bourbon fired, but the blow had nudged him forward. Walt felt an insect bite to the cheek as the slug scythed wide. He didn’t give Bourbon a second try. He threw his hand to his holster and in a moment his six-shooter cleared leather. He fired quick and low, catching Bourbon in the hip, making him stumble. A second shot to the chest made him keel over.

Walt paced forward keeping one eye on the downed man while he glanced at Sawtell. He was looking at Bourbon with dead eyes, but his last sight would have been his brother's killer dying. Walt knelt beside Bourbon, noting the spreading blood, the ragged breathing.

'Before you die,' he said, 'are you going to tell me the secret you were hiding out here?'

'It's yours now,' Bourbon murmured. 'May it give you the peace it gave me.'

Bourbon's back arched then flattened.

Walt paced over him. He dragged Sawtell aside then kicked and hurled the planks away. When he'd peeled the sections back like an orange, a casket remained sitting in what had been the centre of the shack, old and rusted enough to have been aboard the galleon and to contain secrets that men had died to protect.

Walt put a hand to the lid, but it wouldn’t move. He shot the lock, without success. Twilight redness was bathing the casket in hellish light when he tried the cutlass. He slipped the tip under the lid and worked a hole in the old wood giving him leverage. With a lurch the lid swung up.

Walt edged forward to look inside. The casket was empty, other than a book, lying at the bottom. He drew it out. The book lacked a cover, giving no hint of what lay within. He opened it. His right eye twitched.

'Does that end our quest?' a voice called out behind him.

He swirled round to find that while he'd been preoccupied Lola had followed him here. Flanking her were Zack and Choo.

'Yes,' Walt said raising the coverless book. 'But it also starts a new one.'


Thursday 14 January 2010

The Story With No Name - Parts 17-23

Part 17 - Peter Avarillo

The town of Bannon was quiet under the heat of the midday sun when Walt Arnside rode along the main street.

He was stiff and tired from the journey that had been punctuated with nights of fitful sleep.

All he wanted was to fill his aching belly and find a soft bed where he hoped to sleep without being plagued by the nightmares of his desert experience.

He had howled as the blood flowed back into his right hand causing painful spasms. Pain that was replaced by anger as he fought the knots that bound his left hand to the stake. Anger that was not spent when, with a rasping roar, he sent the Texas Ranger badge flying through the air to plop, in a spray of sand, close to Silas Bartlett’s feet.

And then more pain as blood rushed through his starved ankles into his feet. Rolling, cursing as each spasm surged up his legs.

Only when his body settled did he try to stand and staggered over to the remains of Silas Bartlett where he plucked the lance free. He paid no attention as the corpse crumpled to the ground. Instead he concentrated on plunging the tip into the sand to clean it. But even then his imagination played with his anger as each time the tip hit the sand so it was stabbing into the body of Zack Roden. Into the body of Silas Bartlett. And into that of a man named Bourbon.

Until exhaustion and tears of frustration drove him to his knees.

Slowly, sanity came back to him and with it an absolute priority. Using the lance as a support he pulled himself back to his feet, then hacked at the cactus. Holding the mashed flesh above his mouth squeezing precious drops of water onto his tongue. Groaning as the water moisted his tongue, mouth and throat.

It was nearly dusk by the time he felt strong enough to crawl to where Deuce Harmon’s body still lay stiff in death. Painfully, stretching taut burned skin he had stripped the clothes from the corpse and dressed himself before laying back in the sand waiting for his strength to return.

He stared long and hard at the mass of tracks that pointed south west and knew that he was in no fit state to go off in pursuit. He had to be stronger and better equipped before he could even think of going on the vengeance trail.

The galleon, even if it existed, was no longer the goal. He wished that he had never heard of the damned boat. Wished that he had not stopped that train nor heeded Silas Bartlett’s call. For from that point on he had been shot at, gutshot and left for dead and, been staked out to die in the desert. He had put his life on the line for people that he had looked upon as friends and each had turned out to be an enemy. Nor could he be certain where Lola stood in all this.

Where to go? Matlock would not be safe and he had no wish to head back to Lola’s cabin. Bannon seemed to beckon as the safest haven where he could work out what to do next.

Slowly, he climbed to his feet and crested a dune. He stopped dead, his mouth gaping as he saw Harmon’s horse tethered to a cactus. Looking cautiously around him he approached the animal.

“What the hell?” he croaked, sure that the animal had run off after Sawtell had emptied the saddle. Then allowed himself to grin. “Thanks, Sawtell. I do have a fighting chance – now.”

After leaving his horse in the livery, Walt strode across the hardpan to the cafe opposite. He felt a tad rich after he had discovered just over fifteen dollars in notes and loose change in Harmon’s denims. At least he could pay for his immediate needs.

Part 18 - Cap'n Bob Napier

Arnside washed the trail dust from his hands and face at a watering trough, beat the dirt from his clothes with his hat, and strode into Molly's Cafe with hunger tearing at his belly like cats in a sack.

"I'll have whatever's ready," he told the plump, smiling waitress, "and a pitcher of water, please."

She took one look at his red, chapped skin and peelings lips and hustled off, returning moments later with a large blue ewer and a tin tumbler. Walt filled the tumbler with shaking hands, drank deeply, and sighed.

"Appears like you haven't drunk nothin' in a month of Sundays, mister."

"Feels like it, too, darling. Are you Molly?"

"She's the owner, cook, and my ma. I'm Gretchen. I'll fetch that food now. I hope stew's okay."

Before Walt could answer she scurried away and was back in two shakes with a large bowl of steaming mulligan, napkin and utensils, and basket of bread.

"Anything interesting happen in these parts?" he asked around a mouthful of stew.

The juice burned the roof of his mouth but after what he'd been through a little heat was like an old friend.

"Interesting? Our marshal got his head busted and had to get shipped off to a home for the feeble-minded, our undertaker had a bunch of fingers broke, and an old prospector was in earlier swearin' he saw The Magi riding across the desert. Says it means the Second Coming is nigh and we'd all best prepare our souls."

Walt grinned at the girl's recitation and tucked back into his meal. When he finished he left a half dollar on the table, twice what the meal cost, and strode out to find a quiet saloon. A whiskey would satisfy right handsome about now, he allowed.

He took three steps down the boardwalk when the import of the girl's story slammed him like the board that sent Marshal Stryker to the drool academy. He ran back into Molly's and grabbed Gretchen by her shoulders.

"That sourdough, where can I find him?"


"Tell me!"

"Stop it, you're hurting me."

Walt loosened his grip. "Sorry, Gretchen. I need to find that prospector, right away."

She thought for a moment, tongue out. "He has a shack behind the saddle shop. If he ain't there try The Silver Palace saloon."

Arnside raced off.

He found the shack where Gretchen said it would be, but no one answered his knock. Should have tried the saloon first, he chided himself.

Walt stood at the bat wings of The Silver Palace and scanned the room before entering. Wouldn't pay to have some of Zack Roden's men inside. His glance fell on a table at the center of the room where a shabby old cuss was regaling the room with a story, much to their amusement.

"I tell ya', I seen 'em with my own eyes. Long-legged critters with necks long as stovepipes and backs like anthills, just a-lumbering across the sands like they owned the desert. I seen a picture once of the three magi when they come calling on baby Jesus and they was riding the same critters. If that don't prove it, I don't know what does."

"Sure, Gabe, sure. Have another drink. Maybe you'll tell us about seeing the Noah's Ark next."

The crowd burst out laughing. Gabe jumped to his feet and pushed through the men having a laugh at his expense. He nearly plowed Walt Arnside down as he crashed out of the saloon.

"Whoa, there, old timer. What the rush?"

"Dang-blasted fools. Wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their dumb asses."

Walt laid a comforting arm on old Gabe's shoulder. "Why not tell me your story? I'm the believing kind."

"Can't talk on a dry throat, pardner. Let's mosey up the street and find a joint where we can dip a bill in peace."

With a bottle between them and each man holding a full shot glass, Gabe proposed a toast.

"Here's how."

"Now, about the magi. . ." Arnside prompted.

"Yesterday, I was coming back from digging in the Mohawk Mountains when I seen a passel of riders out in the Yuma Desert. Makes no sense. Nothin' there but sand and snakes. No water for a hundred miles. Even the A-patch go 'round it."

Gabe refilled his glass and continued. "They was maybe six or seven on horses, but the others were ridin' those Bible animals like I seen in the picture. Four of them, they was."

"Was one a woman?"

"Too far to tell, even with my spyglass."

"Any Indians?"

"Nope. Like I said, the A-patch got more sense than to go out there."

"Can you tell me how to find this place, Gabe?"

"Sure. Might as well. The world'll end soon enough anyway."

Armed with a detailed description of how to find the last place Roden, Lola and the others had been spotted--assuming Bourbon allowed them to live--Arnside stepped from the saloon and aimed himself toward the stable.

"You!" a voice cried. "You do this!"

He turned to see Choo How pointing at Walt with his bandaged hand. Behind the Chinaman, a crowd began to grow.

Part 19 - Richard Prosch

“You make this happen, Walt Arnside!” Again, Choo How drunkenly shook his injured hand, its dirty bandage all but unraveling. “You owe me something for it!” he slurred, tipping slightly toward the dusty street.

Walt grimaced at the memory of his visit to Choo How’s mortuary. He and the renegade sheriff Stryker had been looking for Bartlett’s map and Stryker broke the kid’s fingers. How long ago had it been? How many weeks? Walt carefully weighed the crowd, then shot a glance toward Gabe. The old prospector’s eyes sparkled in the sun, and Walt pinched the bridge of his nose, smiling at the little undertaker’s daring. That injured hand, plenty healed up by now, had earned Choo How many a sympathetic drink.

Walt stepped forward quickly then, telegraphed a wide right and swung in with a left. In the space of a breath, the undertaker blocked the punch and sent a hard jab to Walt’s ribs –with the injured hand. The crowd gasped as the bandage fell away. Walt clutched his middle, but the spasms that wracked his shoulders were laughter as Choo gazed at his naked fingers, then slowly at the crowd, his deception revealed.

“Looks like the game is up, Choo How!” he said as Gabe helped him to his feet. “But I’ll make it up to you,” he turned to the prospector, “to both of you.”

Walt knocked the dust from his britches and pitched his offer. “Ride with me into the desert, and if what I suspect is true, we’ll all be rich men come Friday.”

“Why trust you, Arnside?” asked Choo, all signs of his previous anebriation gone. “Especially after you betray me again?”

“The Chinaman can’t go with you,” came a voice from the glowering crowd. “We’re gonna be busy stringin’ him up.”

“Show him how we treat con men ‘round these parts!”

“Yeah!” Shouts went up, the gang surged immediately forward, and then with a thundering pistol crash —came just as quickly to a silent stand still.

With an easy lope Vic Sawtell emerged from the shadow of an alley on his chestnut gelding, the pearl handled .45 still smoking in his slim, gloved hand. The blonde outlaw led three horses behind him. “We ain’t got time for this, boys.” He smiled down at Walt. “And they ain’t riding with you. You all are riding with me.”

Arnside grinned. “What’s the story Sawtell?”

“Story? The story has no name, Arnside. We’re just gettin’ on with life…and death.”

“It’s wages for a job,” said Choo.

“And maybe…revenge?” said Walt. “As I recall, Bartlett was killed before you were paid. That’s gotta make you mad. Especially since you don’t believe in the boat. Or the gold.”

Sawtell spit a stream of tobacco into the dirt. “Yeah, I been studyin’ on what Bartlett owed me. Back pay for, shoot I don’t know…three, four…” Choo held up his palm and Sawtell nodded. “Five jobs he owed me for.”

“He was in debt to me and Choo How too,” said Gabe. “We all got us a stake in that boat o’ gold.”

“Whatever it turns out to be,” said Sawtell, “part of it’s mine. You still got that map memorized, Choo How?”

“I do indeed, Victor. I do indeed.”

Walt noted the undertaker’s forced Asian accent had vanished. “Old Silas had more friends…or should I say employees, than I imagined,” he said.

“Let’s just say the man had a secret society of his own,” said Sawtell.

“I just hope there’s enough for all of us,” said Choo How as he swung into the saddle.

“I just hope we find it before the rapture,” said Gabe.

Twenty miles to the northwest, a brief windstorm blew itself out as Lola Metivier awoke for the final time atop the camel she’d come to think of as her last real connection to Walt Arnside and the life she’d led before all this began.

Zack Roden rode his mount beside her, bobbing along, apparently still asleep. Bourbon and his Apache thugs had been riding them in circles. Time no longer had any meaning. Nothing did. The blowing, stinging sand was the cloud stuff of bad dreams.

A towering structure of shimmering gold danced directly in front of them just out of reach.

Lola’s eyes shut tight, and she drifted through a red haze. When she again looked ahead the air had cleared and a monstrosity of burnt timber and jumbled iron rigging lunged from the desert floor to hover against the backdrop of a sea blue sky.

“Damn me to hell,” whispered Roden, “there really is a boat.”

Again Lola took in the broken keel and charred capstan. “That’s as may be, but there sure as hell aint any gold.”

And before she could see any more, rough Apache hands drug her to the ground.

Part 20 - Evan Lewis

Lola lay on the ground, wrists straining against a strip of rawhide. Beside her, likewise bound, were her erstwhile lover Zack Roden and the camel driver Hassan.

Scowling down at them were six fierce-eyed Apaches armed with spears and buffalo rifles.

“Where,” Lola said, her tongue caked with sand, “where is your master?”

One of the warriors spoke a few guttural words. The others laughed.

“I demand,” she said, striving for a ring of command, “that we see Mr. Bourbon at once!”

An Apache grasped her leg, ran a hand up to her thigh as if judging horseflesh. He spoke, and the others nodded agreement.

“You demand it, do you?” The voice, accented with hints of both French and Spanish, came from outside the ring of Indians. Two warriors stood aside, allowing Esteban Escobar Bourbon to enter. His black hair and beard were flecked with sand, and the feather protruding from his broad-brimmed hat was wilted.

Lola felt the heat of Bourbon’s dark, glittering eyes upon her. So, she thought, he was a man like any other. “A gentleman should always cater to a lady’s demands.”

Bourbon bent, wrapped strong fingers about her arm and pulled her to her feet. “I have a fascinating tale to tell. Perhaps you would care to hear it.”

Through the swirling sands, Lola again saw the huge, charred skeleton of the ship rising up out of the desert.

“My grandfather,” Bourbon said, “was a famous man. Doubtless you have heard of him. His name was Jean Lafitte.”

“I have heard,” Lola said, “that he was also quite handsome.”

Bourbon smiled. “My grandfather captured many prizes, but richest of all was the Spanish galleon Contessa, captured with great damage to his own ship off the coast of Venezuela. He assigned one of his most trusted lieutenants, a man named Eastman, to captain a prize crew and follow him Cartagena, where he then had his headquarters. Instead, the rogue fled with the treasure south along the coast of South America. Lafitte’s ship was too damaged for immediate pursuit, but he was a man who never let betrayal go unavenged. He charged one of his own sons with punishing Eastman and reclaiming the treasure.”

Lola listened with interest. But as they neared the remains of the ship, she noticed piles of something white and gleaming at the base of each of the frame’s great ribs. It looked like ivory. Was this the treasure?

“The man Lafitte sent,” Bourbon said, “was my father. He followed Eastman clear around the tip of South America, and up the other side. The voyage took many years, and along the way the crew took wives and had children - such as myself” He thumped his chest. “But eventually they ran Eastman to earth, here, in this very desert.”

“But how did this ship come to be here, in the desert?”

“That is a tale for another time. Suffice it to say that Eastman and his followers paid dearly for their perfidy.”

“And you recovered the treasure. The ivory.”

Bourbon eyed her strangely. “The treasure, I am sad to say, has so far eluded us. But one day we shall find it. In the meantime, we have made certain no one beats us to it.”

Grunts and curses announced the approach of men from behind. Lola stared as Roden and Hassan were dragged past and thrown to the earth at the foot of two of the remaining ribs. Their bonds were cut and quickly retied, so that each was bound with his back to the blackened timber.

Bourbon led Lola steadily closer, until the mystery of the “ivory” was revealed. This was no treasure at all, but lengths of bone and skulls bleached white by the sun.

“Many have sought the treasure,” Bourbon said, “but none have returned.”

Lola pressed her body against Bourbon. “You would not do the same to me.”

“Not just yet,” Bourbon said, leering down at her.

The six Apaches, finished with Roden and Hassan, now formed a ring around them.

Lola felt faint. Then Bourbon’s broad-brimmed hat leapt from his head, and she heard the bark of a rifle shot.

Over a rise of sand came four figures on charging camels. Two of them she knew, and one brought a glad cry to her lips.


Part 21 - Jack Martin

'They're scattering,' Arnside yelled, whooping and hollering. It wasn't like Apaches but they had turned tail and were running.

'Guess they know what's good for them,' Sawtell screamed with joy and let of a shot towards the retreating Indians. One of them threw his arms up and with a scream pitched forward into sand.

'I'm enjoying this,' Gabe yelled, holding onto his camel for grim death. He was jostled about on the beast and several times he always lost his grip but each time he managed to keep his balance.

'There's Lola.' Arnside yelled.

'We separate,' Choo How yelled. ' Sawtell and me we chase off the Indians. Don't need to kill them just make sure they run far enough away.'

'Sounds good to me,' Sawtell said and set off another shot but hit nothing. 'Just as long as I get my share of what's coming.'

'That's a certainty.' Arnside said and sped his own camel forward as the two men set off in pursuit of the fleeing Indians.

Below standing before the ship Lola felt Bourbon's grip loosen and then she was thrown to the ground, face down so that she didn't see which way Bourbon had run and when she managed to turn around she saw that he had vanished. She lay there, eyes directed at the magnificent wreck that was the ship. She was still staring when she felt an arm lifting her to her feet.

'Lola,' Arnside said and looked at her, his eyes never once leaving her face.

'The ship.' Lola said, dreamily as if her words had been uttered deep within a trance. 'There's the ship, Walt. It's real.'

Arnside nodded and only now did he look at the wreck before them. It sat there, as if it had been deposited in the desert. Its timbers were impossibly aged and most of its rigging had snapped so that planks of splintered wood, like dead fingers, reached for the sky. There was a gaping hole in the hull, looking almost like a rictus mouth, and through which could be seen the darkness within the nautical tomb.

'I say we go take us a look see.' Gabe had joined them and he stood looking at the ancient wreck.

'Shall we untie them?' Arnside asked, pointed back to Rodan and Hassen. Both men were rolling about in the sand, their hands still bound behind their backs and their feet tied together.

'Yes.' Lola said but she seemed to be answering some inner thoughts rather than Arnside's question. She walked towards the ship as if led by some ethereal force. Gabe followed just behind her and seemed to be in a somnolent state himself.

'Sorry fellas.' Arnside said and set off after them. Together the three of them entered the fractured hull of the ship.

Part 22 - Jim Griffin

“Hold up a bit, you three,” Vic Sawtell called before the trio could enter the bowels of the ruined ship. He and Choo How had chased Bourbon and the Apaches only a short distance, before they disappeared into a maze of dunes. “You’ll have plenty of time to explore that wreck. Right now, we’ve got other worries.”

“Like what?” Lola demanded.

“Bourbon and his Indians, for one. They’re not gonna go far from this ship, knowin’ we’re still here. They’ll be back, and we’d better be ready for them,” Sawtell warned.

“Victor’s telling it straight,” Choo How agreed.

“Sawtell’s right,” Arnside concurred. “This ship ain’t goin’ anywhere. What’s your thoughts, Vic?”

“First, this.”

Sawtell raised his Winchester and sent several shots just over the camels’ heads. The ungainly animals ran squalling into the desert.

“What’d you do that for?” Roden cried, still bound hand and foot.

“I’d rather walk forty miles than get on the back of one of those stinkin’ beasts again,” Sawtell replied. “Besides, if things go our way, Bourbon will provide us horses. And I’ve still got mine.”

Sawtell whistled, and his chestnut appeared from behind a dune. The gelding trotted up to Sawtell and nuzzled his hand.

“I’ll get you some water in a minute, Rojo,” Sawtell told the horse.

“You mind untying me and Hassan first?” Roden pleaded.


Sawtell and Arnside cut the two men’s bonds, then gave them short drinks from their canteens. The entire group huddled in the scant shade of the ship’s skeleton.

Arnside dug in his pocket and removed the Ranger badge he’d picked up before leaving Bartlett’s corpse.

“What’s that?” Choo How asked.

“A Texas Ranger badge that was stuck in my chest. Can’t figure it. I’’ve never been a Ranger, and neither was Silas, Roden, or anyone else tied in with this,” Arnside replied.

“I’ll take that,” Sawtell said. The blonde outlaw plucked the badge from Arnside’s hand and pinned it to his shirt.

“What’s the meanin’ of that?” Roden demanded.

“My kid brother Joe was a Ranger. This was his badge. Joe was workin’ undercover, investigatin’ a smugglin’ ring led by Bourbon down in Galveston. Somehow they figured out who he was. Joe was strung up by his wrists, slit open from crotch to breastbone, and he was left hangin’ there with his belly ripped open and his guts pulled out and danglin’ like sausages hangin’ at a butcher’s. He must’ve hung there sufferin’ for hours before he died. I vowed to track down Bourbon for that. The badge stuck in your chest was a message to me, not you, Walt. Sorry I left it there when I cut you loose, but I couldn’t pull it out without givin’ myself away. I knew once you found Deuce’s horse you’d catch up to me.”

“You didn’t actually join the Rangers?” Arnside questioned.

“I wear the badge, and I draw pay from Austin every month,” Sawtell shrugged.

“What about the treasure?” Gabe asked.

“What treasure? I’ll believe that when I see it,” Sawtell retorted. He spat in the dust. “I’m not interested in gold in any event. I just want to see Bourbon dead, and with this badge I can do it legally. None of you will believe this, but I actually like workin’ on the side of the law. I’m figurin’ on makin’ the Rangers my new career.”

Lola snuggled against Sawtell’s side. She slipped her hand inside his jeans, to begin massaging his crotch.

“Vic, what about me and you?”

Sawtell pushed her away.

“Lola, you’ve had me and every other man here, plus some that aren’t, and you still haven’t decided which one you want. Take your pick, darlin’, but whoever you choose, it ain’t gonna be me.”

“Mebbe it’ll be him she’ll want.”

Zack Roden pointed to where Emilio Escobar Bourbon had reappeared on the horizon.

Part 23 - Paul Dellinger

Bourbon was again mounted on his magnificent Andalusian stallion, and he seemed to be alone as he rode toward the small group in the shadow of the ship’s wreckage.

“I ought to pop that son off his horse just for the hell of it,” Sawtell murmured, fingering the pearl handles of his holstered pistol.

“Let’s see what he wants,” Walt said. “There are still all those Apaches out there.”

Walt wondered how Bourbon managed to control the Apaches who had been with him. The Yavapai, or Apache Mohave, were known to be hostile and warlike. It seemed unlikely that they would follow a white man’s commands. It might be worth finding out how Bourbon managed that.

Something else occurred to Walt. “Why’d you think Bourbon might give the rest of us horses?”

Sawtell’s angel face broke into a beautific smile. “Wait and see.”

Bourbon had replaced the hat which had been shot off his head.. Its feather was no longer wilted, but stood as erect as an aroused peacock. He stepped down off his horse, shaking his head.

“Foolish, very foolish,” he said, looking around at the rag-tag group. “You must know you cannot hold out against all my Apaches.”

“Maybe not,” said Vic Sawtell, still fingering his holstered pistol. “But what’s to stop us from finishing you off right now?”

Bourbon spread his arms. “Finish me? That would be your finish as well, mon ami. My Apaches would attack in force, and wipe you out. That is why I came here alone, first, to give you a chance to surrender your arms.”

“Why would we do a fool thing like that?” Zack Roden demanded.

“As I said, overwhelming force. All I must do is raise one arm, and this desert will be swarming with my fighters. If you surrender now, I will consider leniency...”

“Go ahead,” Walt said. “Raise it.”

“Walt...” Lola began to protest.

“Are you mad? It will mean certain death for all of you.”

“I’m not so sure,” Walt said. “I don’t think you have any massive force of Apaches. I think you have maybe six, at best. Or just five, since one of them got dropped when we chased you off.”

Bourbon glared at him. “You are taking an awful chance, monsieur...”

“I don’t think he is,” Sawtell cut in. “Arnside’s right. An Apache doesn’t run off unless there’s no choice. Hell, we probably outnumber you now. You might have the goodies to hire yourself half-a-dozen Apaches, but you sure ain’t no tribal war chief.”

“Which puts you in rather a ticklish spot, mon ami,” Walt said, imitating Bourbon’s French. “You wouldn’t have ridden down here to try and bluff us unless there was no other way. My guess is your other five Apaches have left you.”

Beads of perspiration were forming on Bourbon’s forehead, even more than could be accounted for by the desert heat.

“I assure you...”

“Bourbon, do you know who I am?” Sawtell said quietly.

“I do not know any of you,” Bourbon protested. “I am trying to give you a way to escape with your lives...”

“You left me a message,” Sawtell told him. “Pinned to his bare chest,” he added, jerking a thumb toward Walt.

Bourbon’s eyes went to the little badge on Sawtell’s shirt for the first time. “Vic Sawtell,” he gasped.

Before he could draw, Sawtell’s silvery pistol was cocked under his nose. “That’s right,” Sawtell said in a whispery tone. “Sawtell. Brother to that ranger you gutted and tortured. Remember him?”

Bourbon waved his hands as though trying to ward off a bullet. “But no, you do not understand. I would not do such a thing...”

Sawtell took Bourbon’s pistol with his left hand, and stuck it in his belt. “Come on,” he said. “You and I are going for a little ride.”

“Want company?” asked Walt.

Sawtell hesitated. “Could be risky,” he said. “Don’t know how many men he has. And some of those Apaches could still be around. Why do you want to step in?”

“I owe you. Remember?”

After a brief stare, Sawtell nodded. “Okay. I could use some competent backup, at that.”

Walt turned to the others. “Any of the rest of you want to join this party?”

Zack Roden chuckled. “I don’t know what you owe him, but I don’t owe him anything.”
Hassan spat in the sand. “Or I. He run off my camels!”

Choo How simply shook his head. “I ain’t that anxious to see the rapture,” old Gabe added.

Lola said nothing, but stared wide-eyed at Walt.

“Okay,” Walt said. “Bourbon’s place shouldn’t be too far off. If we’re not back in a couple hours, you’re all on your own.”

He climbed onto Bourbon’s stallion as Sawtell mounted his own horse. “What of me?” demanded Bourbon.

“You can walk,” Sawtell said. “It can’t be that far to your ranch, or whatever headquarters you and your smugglers have.”

“You wish me to take you there?”

“That is exactly what I wish,” Sawtell said.

Walt caught the change of expression on Bourbon’s face, from terror back to confidence. There were probably a number of fast guns among his smugglers. But Walt had seen something else that Bourbon had not seen.

He had seen how fast Sawtell could draw.

The Story with No Name... slight delay

I was a bit tied up for the last few days, but the exciting (hopefully) conclusion to the epic nameless tale will be out by the weekend... It may even get a title!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Review of A Fistful of Legends

Laurie Powers has reviewed the book on her blog.

The offer to buy a discounted copy has now closed. Publication is set for Jan 31. Details at:

Friday 8 January 2010

Last few days of A Fistful of Legends' Free Postage offer

On Jan 31, 2010 Express Westerns will publish a second anthology of western short stories A Fistful of Legends, but order before Monday, Jan 11 and you can buy with FREE POSTAGE. Even better, the book will be shipped as soon as you've paid.

The offer is $15.95 for US readers. UK readers can buy at $15.95 if you know how to pay in dollars, otherwise you'll have to pay £10.50. We can't offer free postage to anyone outside the US and UK, but a discount will be applied (so the total cost for most of mainland Europe will be $18, Japan will be $20).

In addition, if you haven't got a copy of Express Westerns' first anthology Where Legends Ride, you can buy both books with free postage. That's 35 action-packed western stories! Where Legends Ride retails at $13.95, so you can get both for $29.90 or £19.50. Contact me at with AFOL in the subject line and we'll arrange for you to pay to my paypal account. Davy Crockett's Almanack is also running this promotion.

So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Sunday 3 January 2010

One celebrity show down, ten million to go

Tonight the 7th and final series of UK's Celebrity Big Brother starts. As this is the only reality tv show or program that has celebrity in the title that I watch, its demise saddens me, although on the plus side it shouldn't be hard for me to find better uses for my time.

As usual the celebrities who'll walk into the house will make you wonder what the term celebrity means if it now applies to someone who stood in a lift next to the brother of someone who once bought something on Lundy Island's third biggest daytime shopping channel. But all of them will be united by the fact that nobody watching has the slightest idea who they are, by the desperate flop sweat on their brows as they try to rekindle their careers, and by the terrible truth that appearing on this show marks the final nail in the coffin of their careers and they will never be heard of again.

Rumours suggest there'll be a Hell theme this year and they've gone for loud and annoying people. So no change there. The best guess about the cast list is that it includes someone who slept with a glamour model, someone who slept with an actor I once saw on Friends, someone who slept with an ex-member of the Rolling Stones, someone who slept with a footballer, someone who once slept with his football, someone who slept with the same glamour model mentioned above, a brothel owner, someone who slept with a Billionaire, someone with Tourettes who makes films of himself sleeping with other people, and someone who slept with a holodeck character in episode 12 of season 6 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sadly this stellar list of Britain's finest talent doesn't include Boy George, who won't be appearing as the parole board wouldn't let him in, and someone called Kerry Katona (no idea) as she failed the psychological test, which is worrying as this is a show that let Sree in last year.

Anyhow, I noticed that a program was on tv last night about the best moments in CBB history. I didn't see it but I assume the best bits involved that horse-racing bloke picking his nose, Jackie Stallone telling us her name, George Galloway being a cat, Pete Burns shouting abuse at Traci, Leo Sayer ranting about his undies, Chantelle flicking her hair and that small bloke getting drunk. None of those bits appealed to me much, so for no particular good reason, here's my most memorable CBB moments, none of which I'm sure appeared on that show :

5. The limerick

It's hard to say anything about Celebrity Big Brother's history without mentioning the row that marred CBB5 and which changed attitudes towards the show so much it was ultimately cancelled. The most memorable sequence from that year was never shown on tv for obvious reasons of damage limitation and only the transcript of what everyone said in the OFCOM report that nearly destroyed Channel 4 remains to sum up what really went on. The issue raised that year centred on why several ignorant people abused a cultured woman. Did they hate her because she was a different colour, or did they hate her and she just happened to be a different colour? It's hard to tell from the bits that were shown on tv and clearly the media made a mountain out of a molehill, but luckily the OFCOM transcript where several people spent a contented evening concoting a dodgy limerick about her did make it slightly clearer what the source of the tension was.

4. Claire Sweeney's dancing

Long before those dismal events that ensured that everyone appearing on the show could kiss goodbye to their career, housemates had a better chance of finding fame, and curiously the only year in which everybody prospered was the first one. Jack Dee's career flourished, Vanessa Feltz built a career on describing how she had a mental breakdown after 12 hours of suffering the indignity of being filmed, and the rest are as unknown as they ever were. But Claire Sweeney prospered the most. Before, she was a minor actress in a soap opera, but the chance to appear on tv, for charity, was a great opportunity not to be missed. Everywhere she went she danced, everytime she was asked a question she burst into song as she embarked on a week long audition to prove how multi-talented she was. It was very annoying, but it worked. Offers flooded in and I guess she's still presenting things on daytime tv. Curiously everyone who has subsequently tried that template for success has failed.

3. Maggot's double act with Traci

I only saw a bit of this on CBB4's live feed, but it was entertaining. Maggot was someone from a Welsh pop group I'd never heard of and Traci was the least well-known pneumatic doll from Baywatch. They were poles apart but clearly they got on well and bounced off each other with comic routines and sparkling chat. Sadly none of it made the highlights shows, as showing Traci as being witty and fun didn't fit in with the dumb role that had been set for her and because they wanted to spend more time showing the groomed winner for that year, some gormless and tedious blonde who really was dumb.

2. Ken Russell's masterclass

Also on the theme of stuff that never made the highlights show was Ken Russell and Donny Something talking about cinema in CBB5. Sadly it was too highbrow and didn't fit in with the dumbed down agenda. Legendary Ken was the most surprising housemate ever, Donny less so. Donny had been picked because they couldn't get any unknown pop stars that year and so instead they went for someone who was even less well-known than unknown. The crowd as one chanted 'who are you?' as he entered the house and Donny, who was blind drunk, screamed abuse back, staggered into the house, fell into the pool and passed out. Except he was more erudite and interesting than that entrance showed and when he found out that there was a genius in the house he was awe-struck. So he pumped Ken for information and Ken talked about his career, Oliver Reed, epic drinking sessions, his attitude to making films, how creativity worked for him.

It was everything CBB should be but rarely is: intelligent people talking about interesting things without editing. It was the next best thing to having Ken Russell to dinner and I could have listened to him forever, except the next day Jade's family entered the house, Ken and Donny walked out and it all went wrong.

1. Shilpa being funnier than Cleo Rocos

No other situation sums up the guilty appeal of CBB than this late moment in CBB5. Cleo was the perfect example of the desperate has-been trying one last throw of the dice to resurrect a dead career, and it almost worked. Cleo was the straight man who was the butt of the jokes in anarchic comedy god Kenny Everett's shows in the 1970s, except when Kenny's career surged out of control Cleo's did too, finally ending completely when Kenny died. But then there she was entering the CBB house, 25 years older and full of interesting stories about her close and odd relationship with Kenny, and it was nice to see a funny older woman on tv. It seemed that the exposure would help her, except unlike Claire Sweeney above who was in the house for only a week, Cleo was there for four weeks, and that was too long. She outstayed her welcome and gradually she started to annoy whenever she told yet another Kenny story along with the creeping feeling that she wasn't funny. Entertainment night proved it.

The housemates were given the task of being entertaining for five minutes. Dirk Benedict put ten seconds' thought into being just plain cool. A lesser-known Jackson brother sang a song. Shilpa stuck a mop on her head and stuck two carrots up her nose. Even Jack, surely the most repulsive housemate that has ever appeared on any version of Big Brother and who is now facing spending most of his life behind bars, entertained by the simple act of sticking feathers to his genitals and waggling his todger at the camera.

Faced with such stiff competition Cleo had to fight to prove she was the most entertaining and so worthy of a career boost post-CBB. She spent all day on her act. She spent hours choosing the right costume, more hours getting into character, five hours in the toilet rehearsing her comic monologue in the mirror, two hours making fake dog poo for the punchline. Then she delivered her act to a sea of blank faces; five solid minutes of depressingly tragic failed attempts at wit that only went to prove that sadly the funny one died. You could see a career end live on screen with every joke that misfired. Sad really.

Anyhow, I doubt this year will scale those 'heights'. But I live in hope.

Saturday 2 January 2010


As I posted a Dr Who article yesterday before the final episode of the David Tennant era aired, I suppose I should finish the job by reviewing the ending. So here goes:

Time Lords: We are coming.
Doctor: The Time Lords are coming!
Master: The Time Lords are coming!
Time Lords: We're here.
Doctor: The Time Lords are here!
Master: The Time Lords are here!
Time Lords: We will destroy all of creation, just because we can.
Doctor: But I have a World War II army revolver.
Master: Make our day, punks.
Time Lords: Foiled again. Byeeeee.
Doctor: What happened to the Master? Anyhow, I reckon I'll go into that glass booth filled with deadly radiation.
Wilf: Don't go in there. You'll flood the whole compartment. Haven’t you seen the ending to Star Trek II?
Doctor: Wish I had now. I'm dying.

Five minutes later:
Doctor: I'm still dying.
My Dog: Wag, wag, woof, woof (Translates as I want out for a poo.)

After standing outside in the snow for five minutes:
Doctor: I'm dying... still. I can feel it, I can feel it. Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do.

After regenerating myself with a coffee:
Doctor: I'm really dying now. This is it... Sorry, false alarm.

After knitting a new jumper out of the accumulating belly-button fluff and failing to invent a Tardis so I could go back in time and tell my younger self not to watch this:
Doctor: Am I still dying? I've forgotten now. Oh, I am. Here I go. Urrgh.
New Doctor: Geronimo!

The trailer for the new season looks great though.

Friday 1 January 2010


Later today David Tennant will make his 75th appearance on tv during the Xmas period in which he'll shout Allons-y for the last time, run down his last corridor, then drop his sonic screwdriver and turn into Matt Smith. I have mixed feelings about this regeneration.
I'm a Dr Who fan without ever becoming a fully fledged Whovian. I'm old enough to remember watching the first ever episode in 1963 and since then I've watched every regeneration and I've enjoyed most of them. Like many, Tom Baker is my favourite Doctor and Colin Baker is the worst. For me the rebirth five years ago after a long break was welcome, but it has also been variable in quality.

The first of the new seasons featured probably the best actor to take on the lead role in Christopher Eccleston and his intensity and passion made that run of episodes the most solid and enjoyable I can remember. There wasn't a duff episode that year, the arc Bad Wolf storyline was well-developed, and there was a near perfect balance between being a kids' show while delighting the grumpy old gits like me who take it too seriously. Then David Tennant took over the lead role and it all went downhill.

It wasn't his fault. Tennant brought energy and charisma to the role, but he was hindered by poor scripts. The lead producer and writer Russell Davies is in equal measures maligned and lauded by fans and I firmly started in the applaud camp then gradually shifted to the cheesed off group. Season 2 was lacklustre and it attempted with diminishing returns to reproduce the Bad Wolf formula of plot development. Tennant and his companion Rose had no chemistry and worse the scripts kept telling us they had plenty of it. When Rose finally stomped off to the alternate beachy dimension from which she could never return, I hoped it'd improve, but Season 3 disappeared down a hole in the ground. I didn't like Rose, but her replacement of Martha was the worst companion I could remember, being drippy, wooden and annoying. I gave up a few episodes into the year and decided that sadly I was now too old to watch this any more. I might never have been tempted back if it hadn't have been for John Simm appearing as the Master. Sadly John couldn't save yet another weak episode that followed the Bad Wolf plot style, but it featured the good news that the show was getting rid of Martha. Her replacement was Donna.

I had never watched the actress who played Donna in her comedy series so without preconceptions I watched the first episode of season 4 and I was instantly re-hooked. After three seasons of petulant kids being the Doctor's companions he had a real woman to spark off. Donna was a revelation, being someone who could tell the Doctor he was wrong, usually very loudly. She could also cry better than any actress I've ever seen. None of that single tear rolling down a cheek without smudging the make-up nonsense, with Donna it was the full waterworks, snot and red eyes. Best of all she brought the best out of Tennant as they had genuine chemistry. Season 4 restored my faith in the show, well, for a while as it all went wrong again when for the fourth time Davies pulled the Bad Wolf trick to end the season on a low. The mobile pepperpots were once the most terrifying creatures in the universe, but seeing a Dalek kingdom defeated yet again with a magic word was too much. The Season 5 specials have all been awful too and not just because they lacked Donna.

We had some tosh in the snow, some tosh in the desert, some tosh on Mars. And the first part of the final bit of tosh on Xmas day was poor even by the low standards the specials have set themselves. It featured John Simm being resurrected with a magic spell and then after watching the Matrix he went whizzing around in the air and turned everyone into himself. The Doctor did precisely nothing. The plot, as usual, didn't develop, and only Bernard Cribbins becoming the new companion kept me awake. It all built up to the epic moment when an old regeneration of James Bond produced staggering amounts of spit that sprayed in all directions like that Roy Hattersley Spitting Image doll while he announced that the Time Lords were back. This should have been a supreme moment for Who fans, except for the fact Davies killed them off in the first place and we all know how his Bad Wolf reset button works.

So I'm expecting tonight's episode to feature the usual nonsense. Tennant will run around to hide the fact that there isn't a plot again, John Simm will enjoy himself playing everyone on the planet, and James Bond will slobber down his chin. Somehow Rose, who is in an alternate universe from which she can never, ever, ever, ever, most definitely not ever even if the universe were to implode, return will return yet again. Then someone will press a reset button to let the human race live leaving the Doctor to regenerate for a reason that'll make not even a single ounce of sense, no matter how much you try to justify it.

In the end I expect to breathe a sigh of relief. I have no idea who the actor Matt Smith is, but the great news is Steven Moffat takes over as producer and main writer from Davies and that promises a long-needed change of direction. Every Moffat script has been light-years better than the Davies ones. Unusually for a tv science fiction show Moffat understands science fiction, unlike Davies who hates it (collecting planets and then hiding them one second in the past, my arse). Better still Moffat creates clever stories that hang together and develop rather than Davies' style of reset and dismissing tricky plotting issues as down to convergence or coincidence. And in Riversong and Sally Sparrow Moffat created 'companions' who had more impact in a few minutes than real companions Rose and Martha managed in whole seasons. Davies does have huge strengths in creating grounded characters, introducing real life situations, and having wacky ideas, but I've seen his Who plot, numerous times. I enjoyed it the first time, but I'd like to move on now, please.

So, I'm looking forward to the new era of Moffat and Matt for season 6. But for now there's just the little matter of tonight's episode and getting past the current Doctor, James Bond, a gallon of spit, Rose, Rose's lips, John Barrowman! (shakes fist), Sigma Ood, Omega Ood, Alpha Ood, Obi Wan Ood, Donna, the Master, 6,435,823,766 versions of the Master, the Master's turkey butty, sundry Time Lords, sundry Time Ladies, the Time War, the loud background music that drowns out the dialogue, the Immortality Gate, some aliens with green skin and spiky bits that make them look like a dog's chew toy, June Whitfield, that bloke from the Wombles, that terrible actor with big ears who spoilt an episode of New Tricks as I kept wondering if he could play a Vulcan without makeup, Hannibal Lecter, that woman who I can't believe played the love interest in King Ralph and who won the Who Weakest Link special, Sarah Jane, the end of space, the end of time, the end of everything, the end of the Tardis, four knocks by someone we never expected, several kitchen sinks, a hundred trillion self-destructing pepperpots, a two hour special with Davies explaining why everyone he's ever met is a genius, a three hour special on Tennant's time as the Doctor, the commentary version explaining why the story made sense, honestly it did, and Tennant appearing on the few remaining tv shows he hasn't been on yet.

And then... The Doctor is dead, long live the Doctor!