Saturday 30 April 2011

Review of The Secret of Devil's Canyon

I.J. Parnham presents the reader with a book that starts off like a straight-forward storyline but with the introduction of more and more characters, such as the bone-hunter Jim Dragon and his enemy Pierre Dulaine, and Emily Chambers who is searching for her missing father, all of whom seem to be involved in different threads to the story, it isn’t long before the plot throws up twist after twist that makes this book impossible to put down until the reader discovers how everything is resolved.

Read more at Western Fiction Review.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Review of The Secret of Devil's Canyon

I love the cover to this book as it reminds me of the old pulps and Jeff Arnold and The Riders Of The Range Annuals. The Secret Of Devil's Canyon has Nathaniel McBain and Shackleton Frost escorting convicted killer Cooper Metcalf to the Bear Creek pen. Of course, the prisoner protests that he is innocent - and maybe he is but Mayor Maxwell is dead and his daughter, Narcissa, is missing believed killed...

Read more at Broken Trails.

Thanks, Ray.

And, in other news, I learnt today that Sheriff without a Star will be published in December.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

A Fistful of Interviews

An informative three part interview with many of the contributors to the anthology A Fistful of Legends is available at Booklifenow.

Why do I like Westerns so much? Why do Western stories — the characters, the settings, the situations, the writing styles, the tropes - resonate so profoundly with me? Anthologies like Express Westerns’ A Fistful of Legends edited by Nik Morton and Charles T. Whipple always get me thinking about the power of Western fiction. Legends came out in 2009 and contains 21 original Western stories.

Read more: Part #1 / Part #2 / Part #3.

The anthology itself can be bought here.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Dear John - John Sullivan's finest sitcom

By a horrible co-incidence I wrote the post below this morning aiming to come back to check for spelling later, by which time it'd been announced that the writer John Sullivan had died...

I've just watched the tv series Dear John for the first time in over 20 years and I was pleased that I enjoyed it as much as I remembered I had. I should say first that I'm talking about the UK series and not the US remake.

It was strange to see how the memory works in that I could remember very little of the specifics of the show and yet the moment an episode started I could remember the whole storyline and all the jokes. The two main things I knew in advance is that the sitcom is one of those very nearly great series. Only 14 episodes were made even though the format was good enough to run for a decade, but the tragic early death of the lead actor brought the series to a premature end. The other thing I knew is that it's strangely neglected. The writer John Sullivan's fame largely stems from his sitcom Only Fools and Horses, which is always voted as Britain's favourite sitcom while Dear John never gets a mention. Odd that.

Watching it again made me realize a few others things. I'm willing to lay a bet that the writers of Father Ted were Dear John fans. The character of John has a Ted quality (the only sane man in a world of idiots and whose only fault is not to know he's an idiot too) and there are other similarities in large and small ways. Humour often springs from John telling a small lie, and then when that's found out, he has to tell bigger and bigger lies to more and more people, which is something that Ted did a lot. Then there's the joke of the terrible disco with only one record that got re-used in Ted and Mrs Arnott, a character that get laughs because she never says anything feels like a trial run for Father Jack.

As for the characters, the down-at-heel and put-upon John is more interesting than I remembered. There's a darkness to his character after his divorce, perhaps helped by the fact Ralph Bates was such an odd choice to play a sitcom lead after starring in all those lurid Hammer horrors. It's good that everyone he rubs up against are unremittingly awful with a selfish ex-wife, and unpleasant friends who are worse than enemies. With such a terrible life, he seeks out solace in the 1-2-1 club where other sad divorcees join up to discuss their failings and annoy each other. First time round I was rooting for John to get together with Kate, but this time I found Belinda Lang's character to be horrible and there didn't seem to be any tension between them at all. She doesn't get any sympathetic lines and she disappears from the show before the end. Also Ralph, the sad loner whose only friend is his terrapin (which strangely hasn’t grown large like terrapins do), was also not as entertainingly dull as I remembered him to be. But then again there's a lot of competition in sitcoms for his type of character.

The undoubted star is Kirk St Moritz, a character who, if the series had gone on for longer, would have become a comedy great. He's a man without a single redeeming quality, being an arrogant, stupid, egotistical fantasist whose every line is crass and insulting. But what makes him so brilliant is that it's all an act and he's really a sad loner who lives at home with his mum (who for no good reason is Irish and sounds like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted) and who is essentially Ralph without the charisma. The fact that John knows this but can’t tell anyone is a comic set-up that could have been used dozens of time.

The other undoubted star is Louise, the leader of the group with her legendary catchphrase of 'were there any sexual problems?'. The glee on her face as she encourages people to bear their soul to ridicule is endlessly fascinating. Sadly though the series ended before it could get started, but 14 great episodes is better than most sitcoms manage in longer runs.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Woolly Maggots

One of the difficulties of living so far away from the place you write about is getting in the Wild West mood.

One small thing that helps me is that the local farmer usually puts cows in the field next to my house. After watching them waft at flies, belch, fart, and squirt vast streams of manure over each other for a few minutes I'm usually in the right frame of mind to, well, write about absolutely anything but cows. In fact, I've never felt an urge to write a cow drive story or a range war over cows story, and I blame it all on the smelly things outside my house.

But despite this the coming of the cows always cheers me as it says that spring is here. Except this year the farmer hasn't brought back the cows. Instead we have sheep and so I'm writing this with the window open and listening to a cacophony of baa, mer, meer, baaa, meerrr, meeerrr.

It's been only a few days, but already I'm disappointed in them. They do all the things that cows do, but so far none of them have behaved like my favourite sheep: Aardman's Shaun the Sheep. They've shown no inclination to build a light aircraft or to stand on top of each other to climb a tree. They just stand there looking gormless, falling into the brook and worrying passing dogs. On the other hand they're quite good at escaping overnight so perhaps when everyone goes to bed they form a sheepy pyramid to get over the fence.

Anyhow, I'm not sure yet if this'll affect my writing and whether I'll find it harder to get in the Wild West mood. Perhaps it'll make me want to write about cows.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Beneath Dark Waters by Marcel Admiraal

I receive offers to review books on a fairly regular basis. Usually I quickly decline as my to be read pile has taken on a life of its own and currently looks like it might outlive me. But when Marcel Admiraal's collection of horror stories Beneath Dark Waters arrived in my in-box I realized I hadn't read any horror for years and I couldn’t resist having a look, and I was pleased I did as I read the tales in one sitting.

As the author is Dutch there are a few times when sentences lose something in the translation, but I enjoyed the tales enough for this not to matter. Marcel's stories have a gentle, old-fashioned structure that I like in horror in which real people are given time to find their voice before something nasty happens. And then the something nasty is revealed in creepy ways rather than as a gorefest of the kind that drove me away from reading horror in the first place. The tales have a sense of place, namely Holland, which is lovingly described and makes the situations all the more believable (I live in a flat, rural area so that added to the effect!).

Of the tales, Those Strange Beautiful Fishes is my favourite with its simple tale of a day spent fishing, except all is not as it seems...

You can read more about Marcel and his fiction at Floating Robes.

Friday 15 April 2011

Cryptic Friday #7

Last week's clue was: Saddle will take the horse around midnight. 5 Letters.

The answer was: Ridge (think about it!)

This week's clue is a bit dodgy to my mind but here goes:

Compelled to turn a nag wild on the prairie. 7 letters.

Sunday 10 April 2011

A more important matter than tea

Writing colleague Charles Whipple has put together a slim volume of short stories set in Japan. It's available on Smashwords for just 99 cents and all profits will go to help the victims of the recent quake. I've read the title story, which was the deserved winner of an international literature competition. In writing style and content it reminded me of something Guy Gavriel Kay could have written and I can't think of any higher praise. I urge you to check out the collection. Below is a few words from the author.

I have put together a slim volume of my stories set in Japan. One, A Matter of Tea, won the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition. Naturally, it headlines the book. This book is available on Smashwords and costs only US 99 cents. All the income from this book will go to help victims of the 3/11 quake. They lost homes, belongings, and even family members. This is my best shot at helping them. And I'll make sure your contributions go to help real people, not the bureaucracy of a charitable organization. Please help. Order

Friday 8 April 2011

I've got shelf buddies

As the two western lines I write for sell most of their books to the library trade along with selling through on-line retailers I'd largely given up on that dream all authors have of walking into a bookstore and seeing one of their books on the shelf - that being one that just happens to be there and didn't require a sneak raid in the middle of the night or holding the store manager hostage. That still hasn't happened, but as reported in Dark Bits and in Joanne Walpole the British bookstore Waterstone's have started their Yee haw! promotion in which they are selling Black Horse Westerns. And below is the picture to prove it.

Mine is the book on the bottom row, second to the left. Oh, the joy, oh the happiness. What makes it so special is that the store is in Nottingham where I was born, bred and left and unless the store has moved I used to go in there a lot. Actually, if I'm being truthful I went in there a lot and then always went down the road to this beardy, new-age, leftie bookshop to actually buy books, but still I was there and now I'm in there. Hopefully not for long as it'd be nice if someone bought the book!

Monday 4 April 2011

Interview at Booklife

To celebrate the publication of The Miracle of Santa Maria, which is sort of todayish, I have an interview at the excellent site.

There's many informative articles about writing and the writing life at Booklife and I'm sure you'll find plenty to interest you there.