Wednesday 31 August 2011

Happy Birthday to me!

Today my 22nd Black Horse Western The Prairie Man is published and I've only just realized that this marks ten years to the day since August 31, 2001 when my first BHW The Outlawed Deputy was published.

So, as this blog is my only presence on the Net and, as there has to be a small chance that one day someone, somewhere will tap the title of one of my books into a search engine, I've decided to be self-absorbed and post some information about my past titles. From next month, I'll start posting a monthly article on my titles, starting with the first one and carrying on until I get to the most recent. I'll look at what I was trying to do with the story, whether I was happy with the result, and what I think about the story now.

If I manage to keep this up and find something new to say about each story, I should get up to date around about 2014!

Monday 22 August 2011

Dead by Sundown to be published on Kindle

Following on from the news I announced in June, I'm now pleased to announce that Hale will publish my 2006 title Dead by Sundown in Febuary 2012 as an e-book. It will be available on all the usual formats and will retail at £3.99. This will be my second Kindle title after The Gallows Gang, which will be published in December 2011.

Dead by Sundown was my 11th Black Horse Western and I always quote it as having my favourite title and my favourite cover. Below is the blurb:

When Galen Benitez killed Mike Donohue's wife, Mike vowed to get his revenge that very day. But it took five long years before he tracked the outlaw down to the inhospitable region known as the Cauldron.

Here, Mike meets the beguiling Lucy Reynolds who is searching for the legendary lost city of Entoro, a place rumoured to have its streets paved with gold. As Mike suspects that Galen might also be searching for the treasure, he decides to help her.

With Galen still at large, and now Lucy's jealous admirer determined to kill him, Mike will need his trusty six-shooter to ensure that he isn't the one who is dead by sundown.

Friday 19 August 2011

A review of The Prairie Man

A very welcome review of my 22nd Black Horse Western, which is published later this month, is available at Western Fiction Review.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Big Brother got back to us, after all.

A year after Channel 4 buried the reality show Big Brother for ever with the mixed signals of a funeral and the words 'Big Brother will get back to you', the hoped for resurrection on the other side has materialized. To the disdain of the chattering classes, who all claim they've never watched the show, this Thursday it claws its way back on to our screens on everybody's least favourite main station Channel 5. Whether it finds an audience there is a good question that only the next 17 weeks can answer.

The initial signs are good. Channel 5 is owned by Richard Desmond, a media tycoon who inhabits the murky parts of the media that are too disreputable for even the Murdoch family to delve into. I gather Desmond made his fortune publishing magazines such as the pottery periodical Big Jugs monthly and the premier magazine for cat-lovers Asian Pussies. After that he developed several magazines devoted to celebrities nobody has ever heard of. Then he took over two newspapers, which give new meaning to the word in that they are printed on paper but they don't actually contain news. Whenever I've seen one of the headlines on his tabloid I've never been able to work out what it actually means as it usually says something like: 'Loos looz Roos booz.' Presumably some people know what this means as it sells well. The only news item in his other paper is about the twists and turns in the Lady Di conspiracy story, an editorial policy that at first sights is a bizarre one as there hasn't been any new developments in this non-story for a decade, except strangely it's popular too.

Recently he branched out into television ownership. He took over the most downmarket and loss-making station in the country and promised to turn it around by taking it even more downmarket. A year on, the station makes money and so now he hopes Big Brother will aid his ascent. Based on his past triumphs, the expectation is that he'll fill Big Brother with screeching glamour models whose only interests in life are fake tan and hair straighteners, and brain-dead hunks whose only interest in life is getting into celebrity magazines by pretending to have a romance with a glamour model who likes fake tan and hair straighteners. Accordingly, reports from the auditions suggest that rejections were handed out to anyone who had more than one brain cell or who could do simple tasks like moving unaided or finding England on a map of England. This all promises that Desmond's version of Big Brother won't be the place to go to hear interesting debates on such matters as the Eurozone crisis. Or in other words, he won’t change a thing.

My prediction, for what it's worth, is that the show will succeed. The one thing that was obvious throughout the ten year run on Channel 4 is that the station hated the show and they did everything in their power to kill it off. Many anecdotes have been told over the years of the Nathan Barley types who run the station and their disgust at having their media chums associate them with the most brain-numbingly inane show in British tv history. Sadly they'd prefer to be known as the station that transmits such glitteringly intellectual shows as, er, It's me or the Dog celebrity special, Come Dine with me celebrity special, and My two-headed transplant celebrity special. Of course, as anyone who actually likes Big Brother knows, the show was never brain-numbing or inane. In a world where reality shows avoid reality in favour of scripted talent shows for viewers with low expectations and even lower attention spans, one show bucked the trend and was about something, namely people. Desmond is astute enough to know that and, unlike the Channel 4 bosses, he needs the show to be a success.

So hopefully he won't kill off the things I liked about the show in his quest to rebrand the format, and at first glance the initial celebrity version sounds promising. For a start I've not heard of most of the leaked names, which is comforting, and even after I'd read up the explanation of who they are, I still can’t see why they might be deemed celebrities. The only one I do know about is Sally Bercow, a politician who makes Sarah Palin seem normal. There's something called Jedward (this week's pop sensation amongst the under 12s apparently) and there's several people who have slept with people who would like to be famous. And there's the mum of someone who is famous for being famous. Also, Charlie Sheen and Mike Tyson probably won’t appear. As I said earlier, it looks as if Desmond hasn't changed a thing.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

A Very Peculiar Practice

This month sees the long-awaited release on dvd of the 1980s drama A Very Peculiar Practice. Like most of the BBC's finest dramas, this series appears to have been forgotten about. To my knowledge it was never repeated and a dvd of the complete series has been an age coming. Series 1 was released about 7 years ago, but series 2 just never appeared.

The show is an unusual one that isn't like anything else, being an occasionally surreal political, black comedy-drama. Unlike most shows that were made in the 1980s and which were about life in the 1980s, it hasn't dated as it concentrates on its memorable characters rather than making political points. The story of its creation is a good one and I hope it's true. The writer Andrew Davies opened his post one morning and found he owed the BBC £17,000. Apparently he'd been paid an advance to write a TV adaptation, but the show had been cancelled and they wanted their money back.

Unfortunately he'd spent the money. So his only hope was to pitch them another idea and, seeking inspiration, he used the writer's traditional method of looking out the window. As he was a lecturer in a depressing inner-city university, all he could see was life coming and going in a depressing inner-city university and so he pitched that idea and, surprisingly, it was commissioned.

The end result was what sounds like a very unpromising format for riveting drama of: life in a doctors' surgery as a metaphor for the state of Britain. Thankfully, it's more entertaining than that sounds. The hero is Doctor Daker, a new recruit to the university's medical staff. He's a painfully shy, naïve idealist who's out of touch with real life because he has this strange notion that doctors are supposed to make sick people better. He arrives without any ambition other than to do a good job, to care for his patients, and to get through the day without embarrassing himself too often. I don't think Peter Davison has ever been better and, to this day, I reckon he's the only actor I've ever seen who has the ability to go bright red with embarrassment.

The show relates how his idealist ways are tested by his fellow doctors, who all have no interest in wasting their time with sick people. The boss of the surgery is the decrepit Old Jock, played gloriously by Graham Crowden. I enjoy watching this actor in anything and so I was saddened when I just checked up and found out that he died only recently, although that was at the ripe old age of 87. As Jock spends the whole show seemingly at death's door, this is a testament to his acting. As a doctor, these days he'd be a walking lawsuit. He's the sort of doctor who'd recommend taking a lie down to a patient who's just died and most episodes feature him missing obvious ailments like broken legs and appendicitis. Instead, Jock spends his time plotting against the vice-chancellor Ernest Hemingway, who he's convinced is plotting against him, although in reality the vice-chancellor is a corrupt money-grabber who is more interested in fleecing foreign students. And when he's not ignoring patients and drinking himself to death, he dictates his magnum opus, the sick university, a rambling and incoherent treatise on everything that's wrong in society.

What he should be spending his time on is stopping his subordinates stabbing him in the back. The first of which is Doctor Rose Marie, played by Barbara Flynn. She's a familiar actress on British TV and again I reckon this is her best role. Rose Marie is a radical feminist lesbian who has no interest in doctoring, but who has worked out what's wrong with the world, and that's men. No matter what illness her female patients have, it's the fault of men, and her vulnerable patients are ripe for being converted to her world view.

She's a saint when compared to the final, and best, character in the show, the force of nature that is Bob Buzzard. Played by David Troughton, Bob is a man without a single redeeming factor. He became a doctor for the money and the social standing, and he'd never soil his hands by actually looking at a patient. His consultations last about 10 seconds and go like this: 'Got yourself a dose of the old clap there, matey. Must have stuck your John Thomas where you shouldn't, you randy sod. Well, take these two times daily and it won’t drop off. Any questions? No. Next!'

Instead of helping patients, Bob spends his time wrestling with his rinky-dinky computer, playing golf, glad-handing pharmaceutical reps and taking backhanders. He's a character whose every line is crass, arrogant and ridiculous and he's one of my favourite characters in anything.

There are several other running joke characters, including a fourth wall breaking writer who wakes up one morning to find he owes the BBC £17,000 and who can predict every twist in the story as he's writing a drama series about life in a university surgery. And there's two nuns who are always rooting around in bins, joy-riding and getting drunk. The only weak elements are that the show apparently gave Hugh Grant his first acting role, and Daker's girlfriend, who is supposed to be arch and witty, but who comes over as annoying, but then again when the actress played a pathologist in Inspector Morse she annoyed me too. Thankfully she gets replaced in series 2 by a Polish girlfriend, although as I haven't seen series 2 for over 20 years, I'll reserve judgement on whether she's annoying. The only thing I remember about series 2 is that it was more surreal and funnier than series 1, and so I'm looking forward to seeing these episodes again.

Sadly, the show's perfection was tarnished by a weak spin-off film set in Poland and featuring Daker's continued adventures riding the European gravy train, but that aside, the 14 episodes of Peculiar Practice are a quirky and original tv series. And for good measure it had a superb original theme song sung by Elkie Brooks. Here's the trailer for series 2, as shown on the BBC a long, long time ago. You can tell it was made a long time ago as there aren’t about five cuts a second!

Monday 1 August 2011

It's Poddamaquassy, no, Paquamasoddy, no, no, Passamamassy?

The following article appears at The Tainted Archive's Wild West e-Monday.

'Get out, you quack, and don't bring those phoney remedies here again!'

Two months ago Fergal O'Brien returned for his sixth western adventure The Miracle of Santa Maria. As with the previous books, I was asked several times about the inspiration behind the stories and luckily I had a ready answer. But recently I became aware of another source of inspiration, and it's an embarrassing one. Today, I reckon the time is right to share my embarrassment.

Fergal O'Brien is a snake-oil seller. He sells a tonic, which he claims will cure all ills. Not surprisingly, its only effect is to make the victim run to the toilet, although in one book he did make a pig happy. His partner Randolph McDougal helps him convince sceptical customers to part with their money by drinking the tonic and then being 'cured' of various fictitious ailments. Over the years he's been cured of lameness, a wooden leg, an extra leg and, if the publisher likes the seventh book, a severe attack of death. In short, Fergal is a devious, double-crossing snake and I love writing about him.

''I've been bringing cures from Pilgrim Heights to Province Town. Treated rabid fever down on Queen Anne Road. Gout or gastritis, mumps or bronchitis, bites and burns and blue abrasions, got a pill for all occasions!'

Fergal first came to mind when I mused about whether the popular 1980s BBC sitcom Blackadder would ever return for a fifth series. In the four series the devious, double-crossing snake Blackadder and his dangerously stupid sidekick Baldric had lived through Medieval times, Elizabethan times, Georgian times, and finally the First World War. I wondered what would happen if Blackadder and Baldric ended up in the Wild West...

Baldric: 'Ooh, Mr B, that nasty gunslinger says he'll be waiting for us outside the saloon at high noon.'

Blackadder: 'Right, Baldric, that means one of us will have to strap on a six-shooter, go out on to that windswept street and get filled with more lead than a particularly thick pencil. And let's face it, Balders, that man's you.'

Baldric: 'Wait, I have a cunning plan!'

Blackadder: 'Baldric, your last cunning plan was to sell toys to Billy the Kid, which was the worst cunning plan since Wyatt Earp thought the O.K. Corral sounded like a particularly quiet place for a vacation…'

I amused myself with this nonsense until the thought came that I might be on to something. Two idiots who arrive in the Wild West and try to make their way sounded like a story I'd like to write and for some reason I thought about a medicine showman.

'I wiped out impetigo on the banks of Buttermilk. Flu is under firm control in Powderhole!'

I had a clear vision of this man, his clothes, his stature, his features, the way he walked, the way he talked. I assumed I must have seen him in a film or a tv series, but I didn't know where. As I'd already decided Fergal was Irish, I was free to ignore that vision, but enough of it remained to give me a start and so Fergal, the devious snake-oil seller, was born.

Over the next ten years I wrote a Fergal adventure every other year and each time, as I got into a Fergalesque frame of mind, I'd ponder on the question of who was that medicine showman. As the snake-oil seller is a stock, colourful western character I hoped he'd appeared in a good film, perhaps a less familiar John Ford western, and that a great character actor had played him. But I felt doomed to never resolve the mystery until, that is, I did, and then I wished I hadn't.

'My specialities are Audiology, Mycology, Sarology, Teritology, Embryology, psychology, zoology! And every other 'ology you can think of!'

I won't detail the process as it involved dead ends, Internet detective work, and much wailing when I finally found my man on youtube. It turned out that the actor I'd envisaged was the legendary western star Jim Dale, who had first come to the attention of western fans with his well-crafted performance as Marshal P. Knutt in the existentialist western Carry on Cowboy.

Ten years later, he returned to the western genre to play Doc Terminus, a snake-oil seller who with his sidekick Hoagy, played by Red Buttons, plies his trade in Passamaquoddy. I can't say any more as I can't remember seeing the movie, but I guess I must have caught a scene. I hadn't remembered Terminus's beard, Fergal favours green, and Randolph McDougal isn't Red Buttons, but the Fergal O'Brien in my mind is Jim Dale.

'It's Poddamaquassy, no, Paquamasoddy, no, no, Passamamassy, uh, Quoddamapoddy, p...p...Passamadaddy, q...q...q... Quoddamapassy..., Quoddamaddy, Dappadaddy, Dappamossy, Quoddapossy, Quassapossa, Passaquossa.'

And the embarrassing thing that made me bang my head on the desk and cry, 'Why oh why did it have to be him?' Well, the classic western movie that gave me the inspiration for a character I've spent more time writing about than anyone else was… Pete's Dragon, a Disney musical about an annoying freckle-faced orphan and his cute pet dragon.

Passamaquoddy, my arse.