June - August 2009


March 2009
Blast to Oblivion
Tyler Hatch and Twins
Night Herding
Walt Masterson

December 2008
All Guns Blazing
Jim Bowden & Co.
Revolver Conversions

September 2008
Western Noir
Power of the Premise
West on Wheels

June 2008
Plot or Not Debate
Jack Giles
Whitney Revolver

March 2008
Walt Masterson
Plotters and Pantsers
More Horse Talk

December 2007
Peace at Any Price
Dan Claymaker
Horse Sense

September 2007
Artist Michael Thomas
Judging by Covers
The Schofield Revolver

June 2007
David Whitehead
Realistic Ballistics
Plot Twists

March 2007
Crime/western fiction
The Walker Colt
Sydney J. Bounds

December 2006
Lauran Paine
Jake Douglas & Co.

September 2006
Misfit Lil
Greg Mitchell

June 2006
Marshall Grover
Facts for Fiction
March 2006
Jeff Sadler
Mike Stotter
Writers and Money


The Phenomenon from Pontypridd   Hoofprints
Heroes Too Good to Kill off
Riding the Range   New Black Horse Westerns

The advent of author Jack Martin this year has been an astonishing episode in the history of the Black Horse Western line if not all genre fiction. Jack's real name is Gary Dobbs and The Tarnished Star is his first novel accepted for publication, which is set down by Robert Hale Ltd for June 30.

Many months earlier than June, still unprinted and unseen by the public, the book was topping online book retailers' bestselling charts for the western genre!

More than one thousand copies of Gary's title were pre-ordered while five other BHWs scheduled for simultaneous June publication were virtually ignored. Not that their long-serving authors don't have a thousand-plus total between them, but it's a different one, being the sum of the separate, published western novels they have to their credit.

What is so special about The Tarnished Star ? The novel is at least the fifth western to carry the title. The best-known ones were penned by bestselling masters of the western Lewis B. Patten and George G. Gilman. Another, by M(ary). Duggan, is an earlier BHW still on library shelves. And Gary is the first to agree that his story's synopsis might sound familiar: "Well, of course it does -- it's a western and it must follow the tried and tested conventions of the genre."

An award-winning small publisher (not Hale) has said, "The quality of a work isn't necessarily the key -- books are successful based on the amount of marketing effort and spend by the publishers."

But Gary's success comes down to his own hard work. He survives on four hours' sleep a day, and has belief in himself, a successful blog, and a reputation in related fields
. Gary has had short stories published widely over the years -- recently at free, non-paying websites like Beat to a Pulp. He has had plays broadcast on Welsh regional radio and on the UK's nationwide cultural station. Also, being an actor, Gary enjoys a degree of celebrity. He has had roles in several top-rating television series, including Dr Who, and has appeared on the British stage in pantomime and stand-up comedy routines. On a local scale, Gary works shifts as a sociable South Wales taxi driver!

Most important of all these in terms of pre-selling his book was the blog, the Tainted Archive, which he subtitles "Spearheading the Western Revival" and where he runs constant, prominent announcements and links to online booksellers. Here, Gary has to date launched and organized two successful "Wild West Mondays" on which readers are urged to make known their requirement for western fiction at bookshops and libraries. Gary's publicity drive has been supported from the outset by established BHW writers, notably Chap O'Keefe and Jack Giles. O'Keefe made available his scarce, 1994 BHW The Sheriff and the Widow for online serialization at the Archive -- at the time giving the blog its largest one-day total of visits -- and provided the book prizes for a Misfit Lil contest.

Gary is also present on most of the Web's social networking sites, like Facebook. Signing up as a "follower" or "friend" in these circles apparently can be a precursor to giving and receiving support in the real, commercial world.

The waves made by Gary have led to conventional newspaper interviews and to a surprising change of heart by John Hale, BHWs' venerable publisher. No doubt impressed by what Gary had been able to achieve beyond the efforts of a succession of in-house publicity staff, Mr Hale relaxed a working lifetime's rule to give an interview. The Extra's overtures were rejected by Mr Hale's spokesperson in October 2006 in these words:

"I have finally managed to discuss with Mr Hale your suggestion of interviewing him with the aim of running a website article. Unfortunately he has always declined any such publicity on a personal level, and will thus have to decline your kind offer."

But now the interview has been granted -- to newcomer Gary and his Tainted Archive, where it appeared on 5 May.

The consolation prize is that we are pleased to offer here "The Phenomenon from Pontypridd", a backgrounder on the amazing Jack Martin, which may help both potential and time-wearied authors to a better understanding of what really catches the imaginations of today's book-buying public and their publishers.

We hope readers might also enjoy the Hoofprints newsbriefs, a three-author debate about writing series, and the latest article from the ever-informative and reliable Greg Mitchell, who tells us about the Old West cowboy's skill with horses.

Your comments and western news are always welcome at feedback@blackhorsewesterns.com    

FREE excerpt here

A new BHW entrant takes centre stage


All Sheriff Cole Masters wants is to raise a family with the woman he loves. However, upholding the law in an era when gunfire speaks louder than words can be a risky business.
   Cole makes an arrest for the brutal murder of a saloon girl but the killer is the son of a wealthy rancher and it is clear the old man will do anything to see his son set free. Soon the peace of the small town is shattered with deadly force and Cole finds himself a lawman on the run for murder.
   The rancher wants Masters dead and the two deadly gunmen on his tail are sure they can do it. Soon blood will run as Cole Masters attempts to reclaim his tarnished star.

Back cover
The Tarnished Star

"I’M always chasing rainbows," says Gary Dobbs who as Jack Martin sees his debut novel, The Tarnished Star, published this June. "I guess I still am. I’ve never really been conventional and the thought of being so scares me. I was in a punk rock band, Vibrating Flesh, and I guess part of me will always be that anti-establishment, anti-norm, kid."

Born into a Welsh working-class family and raised in a community where every male over the age of sixteen seemed to be a coal miner, Gary found himself looking at his grey surroundings and dreaming of somewhere different.

"It must have been a hard life for my parents but as kids we were shielded from the hardship. My father worked and my mum kept house – it was as simple as that in those days. And although we were never financially comfortable, I look back at my early years with great affection. We didn’t have computers, video games and DVDs to keep us occupied and we’d spend most of our free time playing down the local woodland – building swings, constructing dams across the river, collecting conkers. Just the usual stuff that everyone used to do."

Imagination was always important to Gary.

"My mum taught me to read – she was horrified to discover that I couldn’t read properly when I left junior school.  She decided to put her foot down and it became a battle of wills between the two of us – she kept me in for weeks until finally I gave in and concentrated. When I went to the comprehensive school after that summer holiday I was literally the top reader in the class. Teaching me to read was the best thing anyone ever did for me. It opened doors to a colourful, imaginary world that has helped me through life's knocks and blows."


The town of Squaw was named after an old Indian legend in which the arid land was made fertile by the tears of a squaw weeping for her lover slain in glorious battle. Once the area had been desert but the discovery, and eventual re-excavation by an aging cattleman named Sam James, of a prehistoric canal system built by a long forgotten Indian tribe had created a fertile wonder in the middle of a once barren landscape.  The water originated from deep within the bowels of the Squaw Caves and seemed never ending. Some said the squaw was still there, far beneath the ground, weeping for all eternity.

Jack Martin
From then on, Gary couldn’t get enough reading material and he started exercising his imagination by writing his own stories, in longhand in old school exercise books.

"I’d read every comic I could get my hands on, often swapping with friends, and I progressed to the dog-eared paperbacks I’d scrounge from friends or buy in jumble sales. I discovered Ian Fleming and read every Bond novel several times and writers like Dennis Wheatley, George G. Gilman, Guy N. Smith, James Herbert would fuel my young imagination. I remember writing a novel when I was about thirteen. The Ultimate Spy was a cross between The Six Million Dollar Man and a character from 2000AD comic called Mach 1. It filled two school exercise books and I wish I still had that. That was my first writing. And then one year I had a W. H. Smith typewriter for Christmas and there was no holding me back."

Gary’s maternal grandfather, Jack Martin, was a tall, no-nonsense type, who could have stepped out of the pages of one of the lurid paperbacks Gary used to devour. He was a retired coal miner with chest problems due to exposure to the thick, lung-clogging coal dust, but to Gary he seemed ten feet tall and strong as an ox.

"If anyone gave me my love of the Wild West then it was this guy. I’d spend hours and hours with him, walking the dog, doing the garden and watching each and every western that played on the television. He was also a voracious reader of western novels from writers like Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Max Brand and too many others to remember. And he’d pass his old books down to me.

"He’d also tell me stories of his own time in the West. In truth, the furthest west he’d ever been was Tonypandy. It didn’t matter though, and as a kid I believed every word of those wild stories. The tales would often see him teamed up with John Wayne, Audie Murphy or Gregory Peck. An aunt recently told me he had told her he was a one-legged fighter pilot during the War. Of course, the fact that he had two legs seemed to pass us by as children!

"So when I started writing western fiction it was an honour to adopt the Jack Martin name as my byline. When The Tarnished Star comes out this June, you'll see it's  dedicated to my grandfather and I like to think that he’s looking down smiling from that big ranch in the sky."

Sheriff Cole Masters sat there in silence, the only sound being the gentle parting of his lips as he puffed on his pipe. He took his time with the smoke, savouring the earthy taste of the burly tobacco; doubly sweet because in all likelihood it could prove to be his last.

Daleks in Manhattan


As well as writing, Gary ekes out a living as a bit-part actor and he considers acting and writing as two sides of the same coin.

"It’s all-creative – when you’re playing a character you’ve invented facets of that person in your subconscious and it’s the same with writing. And although I primarily consider myself a writer, I do love acting and like to think I’ve learned some thing of the ancient art from the years I’ve spent cropping up in one TV show or another, usually as a piece of the background but sometimes playing fully fleshed characters.

"To date my biggest role was in the movie The Risen, from Burnhand Films, which is still to be released. But I had a decent bit in the two-part Dr Who adventure Daleks in Manhattan playing a prisoner of the Daleks and I can currently be seen as one of the village residents in the new BBC series of Larkrise to Candleford. I recently met a technician on an episode of Larkrise who had worked with John Wayne on the movie Brannigan. That was a thrill – kinda’ like meeting John Wayne by association. And we spent hours chatting about The Duke."

Actor, writer, owner of the successful Tainted Archive blog, Gary certainly keeps busy.

Larkrise to Candleford

"Ain’t nobody in town wants to be deputised." Cole said. "The judge is on the way and I guess the state marshal thinks I can handle the matter until he arrives."

Rachel Trezise
"I also drive taxi cabs to make ends meet. And that can be a laugh … all walks of human life have staggered into the cab at one time or another. I once had an argument with literary writer Rachel Trezise over the merits of genre fiction while taking her home one night.  I pointed out that Oscar Wilde wrote genre fiction, Conan Doyle wrote genre fiction, even Shakespeare wrote genre fiction. I shouldn’t have really, but I remember stating, in my best working-class accent, that literary fiction was written by writers too lazy to follow structure. Whoops!

"Acting and writing are hardly the most lucrative professions – that is unless you are lucky enough to become the next Stephen King or Tom Hanks. But that doesn’t matter to me.

"I’ve always written and over the years have published stories on Radio 4 and Radio Wales, as well as having work in countless magazines. I also wrote the successful computer adventure game Operation Thunderbowel for Sacred Scroll Software for the ZX Spectrum many years ago. In fact that game is now available from World of Spectrum.org as a free download.

"But it wasn’t until I turned 40 that I managed to sell my first novel. I’d written several others and did come close a few years ago with a comic thriller, Smith’s Way, but The Tarnished Star is the real deal. A full-fledged novel, professionally published by a respected publisher. And Hale have purchased a second western from me, Arkansas Smith, which should see light of day early in 2010."

"Don’t know anyone else who’d take pleasure is cutting up a defenceless woman."
That seemed to anger Clem. "Woman," he roared. "It weren’t no woman. This was a whore. Just because God gave her titties don’t make her no woman."

So what does Gary feel his Jack Martin persona can offer western readers?

"Thrills, spills and enjoyment – hopefully. It’s very much in the classic western mould with the lone lawman up against massive odds. It’s a story of courage and good and bad are very clearly defined. Though I suppose there are some shades of grey in the Cole Masters character and I hope that all the characters ring true. I’ve tried to give them very clear motivations and make even the smallest of them three-dimensional.

"Currently, I’m working on yet another Wild West Monday and  the Tainted Archive can be very time-consuming but rewarding all the same. I think of it as an online magazine rather than a blog and I’ve picked up a fair amount of regular readers. Some of these may buy my book so I think of the Archive as an extension of my professional writing."

So hopefully the future will be bright for both Jack Martin and Gary Dobbs.

"Well, the future’s unwritten but I’ve always been optimistic. I’m 40 years young at the moment, still a kid in the grand scheme of things, and who knows? Maybe tomorrow I’ll attend the audition that changes my life, or pen the prose that makes my name. It doesn’t matter one way or the other because I enjoy what I do; in many ways I need to do it.  I’m attempting a historical crime novel that I’ve been planning for a couple of years.  It’s set in 1904 South Wales and contains a Wild West style shootout involving Buffalo Bill that takes place in Pontypridd. And then there's the remotest of possibilities that I could be the next James Bond!

"I guess I’ll always be out there chasing rainbows. One of these days I’ll catch one."



A long, long ride.
Impressions of a diverting kind


Keith Hetherington turned to writing westerns full-time in 1957. Today, packages of author copies arrive monthly at his Queensland home as souvenirs of his labours under four names. The latest, Bad Day in Babylon, was published in May. "Those books . . . I never know what to do with them!" Keith says. "Yes, I've hundreds, in cartons and trunks and ports up in the shed, on the back porch and, until recently, taking up floor and wall space in my office. I give a few away to my brother-in-law (mostly large-print as he doesn't see too well), to the odd friend who shows some interest, to a bloke I've known for years who for some reason has an interest in Mexicans and who -- whenever I see him; he's a volunteer library worker now -- asks if I'm 'still killing 'em off!' If I have a story with Mexicans in it, I usually give him a copy. There's a book exchange guy I've known some twenty years, but a bit of a rogue. I know I could sell copies to him for a couple of bucks, but that seems like betrayal in a way. Probably not, but I've never taken him up on the offers that come from time to time.... Mate, summing-up, the freebies are a damn problem! I keep a couple of copies, of course, but still run out of room. Even after a massive, recent re-organization, my shelves are crowded with BHWs!"

Chap O'Keefe voiced fears in our last edition that his new BHW, Blast to Oblivion, partly inspired by classic detective novel The Valley of Fear, might not please the huge, world-wide Sherlock Holmes community. They proved groundless. The book quickly went out of stock at the publishers, and the Sherlockians were delighted. In its newsletter, the aptly named District Messenger, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London said, "Mr O’Keefe has reworked the plot of a Sherlock Holmes story as an exploit of his ex-Pinkerton protagonist Joshua Dillard. The result is clever, atmospheric and exciting." Peter E. Blau, a trustee and secretary of the society's famed New York counterpart, the Baker Street Irregulars, similarly circulated his members with the advice that Chap's book "opens with an epigraph from The Valley of Fear, and with good reason: the book is a western, with plenty of colour and atmosphere and violence, and a mystery that will not be a surprise to those who have read and remember Conan Doyle's story." Blast to Oblivion was also favourably reviewed or mentioned at the blogs Mystery File, the Tainted Archive, and of crime fiction author Rafe McGregor. Fellow BHW author David Whitehead wrote, "I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and have long admired The Valley of Fear, so of course I eagerly await the opportunity to read Blast to Oblivion (neat title, by the way). The BH Extra article really whetted my appetite. Now I see that the game truly is afoot!"

District Messenger.

A hit by any name.
Clint Eastwood, one-time spaghetti western star -- and "artist's model" for countless BHW covers! -- was interviewed in the 20th Anniversary  edition of Empire magazine. Eastwood told how he met director Sergio Leone in the early sixties, when Sergio was prepping a script called Il Magnifico Straniero (The Magnificent Stranger) based on a Japanese classic, Yojimbo. "Sergio had only done one movie, but everybody said he was well thought of in Rome as a guy with a great sense of humour. I said, 'I can tell he has a great sense of humour by his writing.' And I thought it was a good opportunity, too. I was doing a TV series, Rawhide, for quite a few seasons, so I was kinda bored with it. I didn't necessarily want to do a western . . . but it seemed like a nice thing. Especially because Yojimbo, when I first saw it back in the fifties, I thought of as a great western screenplay. I thought nobody would have the nerve to do it that way. But, fortunately, Sergio did." Leone settled for the 34-year-old Eastwood for the title role: "because I was cheap." After production wrapped, The Magnificent Stranger disappeared. "Then I started reading in Variety about this picture that was causing quite a stir in Rome and Naples. It was called Per un Pugno di Dollari (For a Fistful of Dollars) and it didn't seem at all familiar. I just kept reading about how well this picture was doing. And finally, I guess after a couple of weeks of reading about this film, I noticed they said, 'A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood...' I thought, 'Oh my God, it's that picture!' It didn't even have Sergio Leone's name on it, because he'd changed his credit to Bob Robertson, to have an English or American-sounding name. So I didn't get the association until they called me up and asked me to do a second picture."

Two main characters quoting poetry to each other? Is this a first in a BHW? What have Walt Whitman and Christina Rossetti got to do with anything, especially the Civil War? These are only a few of the questions raised by Nik aka Ross Morton in The $300 Man, published in May. From his home in Spain, Nik tells Hoofprints, "I had thought of using Emily Dickinson but her work was published after the events described in the narrative." The story's central character is one-handed, half-Mexican Corbin Molina who always carries $300 -- what he was paid as a substitute soldier for the Union. "His past emerges to confront him during a tense showdown that threatens not only him but a new-found love." Meanwhile, another writer tells us he has incorporated a quotation from the Bible in every one of the many BHWs he has  written -- and no one has commented!

Nik the poetry man.

Farewells to Walt.
Tributes to the late Christopher Kenworthy, aka Walt Masterson, author of nine fine BHWs, continued to arrive at the BH Extra office. Nik Morton wrote, "I, too, was saddened by the death of Walt Masterson; I’d only finished his Showdown at Painted Rock a few days before learning about Chris’s demise. I thought that you gave a moving eulogy to him in your last edition." David Whitehead wrote, "The tribute to Chris Kenworthy was extremely moving, at least to sentimental old me." Meanwhile, reader Dominic Fox, reviewing the last Walt Masterson book, Left-Hand Gun, at his recently launched blog, said, "I have always liked this writer's style. It's like listening to him telling the tale that is so vivid that it can be seen like a movie. Looking at his website I see that he had some great contacts with writers like C. S. Forester and had dinner bought for him by Louis L'Amour."


New BHW arrival Joanne Walpole, author of the May title Long Shadows under the pen-name Terry James, says, "For me, the two most important factors in any novel are character and story, with each element driving the other. With that in mind, I try to make my characters as believable as possible by throwing them into extreme situations that will test their resolve and reveal their true colours – good or bad – through their actions and reactions. Hopefully, this makes for a story that keeps the reader eager to turn the next page and culminates a satisfying conclusion." In Long Shadows,  the characters include: Jake Rudd, a hero saved from a brutal beating; Ros West, the attractive redhead who saves him but, although an old flame, can't remember him and has no reason to trust him; family and friends threatened by a power-hungry businessman. The blurb asks, "When the smoke clears, will old scores be settled or will the truth prove more dangerous than a smoking gun?"  Joanne has a blog, where she also publishes her short fiction, and is a keen member of  an exclusive Yahoo! group open to readers and some writers for the BHW line. Asked for a photograph, Joanne told Hoofprints, "I'm a bit shy."

Face in the shadows.

Punchy blog content.
Ever thought how convenient it might be to go online and find a complete Black Horse Western ready to read, free? Livewire Gary Dobbs (aka Jack Martin) decided to do something about it. In late February, he heard that rights in a 1994 BHW, The Sheriff and the Widow, had reverted to the author after it had sold out its library print-run and the publisher had been unable to commit to a reprint. Amazon sellers were today offering used copies of the rare book for prices in the region of £90! Gary -- self-described "Welsh arm of the Chap O'Keefe fan club" -- said why not serialize the book at his blog in four parts on consecutive Mondays in March? Author Chap replied, "Go for it! I think it's a tremendous idea and surely another first -- a blogger running a fiction serial! I reckon it will be well received by your friends and fellow bloggers. For example, I think James Reasoner and his Rough Edges readers will go for the Gold Medal-ish Sheriff and the Widow big-time. Originally it had a tagline the library publisher didn't, of course, use: Gunplay and seduction . . . the makings of a lawman's acid test!" James said, "Great news ... I just put up a post about it ... If reprinting Keith's book goes over well (and I can't see how it wouldn't!), maybe you can do some more classic BHWs in the future. Oh, and I entered your Misfit Lil contest, too." Gary's pageloads soared. When the serial finished, one reader with withdrawal symptoms commented that Mondays wouldn't be the same. Those who missed the free read can still catch up on all four parts at their own pace. It's at the Tainted Archive. Follow the links in the right-hand column.

BHW writers live around the world: the UK (England, Scotland and Wales), the US (from Maine to California), Spain, Australia, New Zealand. Sometimes you hear of them globetrotting, too. The crime writer who writes BHWs as Eugene Clifton and lives near Peterborough, England, recently flew to the South Island of New Zealand. "I made the most of the opportunity to look up a cousin who lives in Nelson, giving him a copy of my latest BHW, Long Road to Revenge, for which he expressed his gratitude. (Sorry, Ken, if you'd have preferred something  from the duty-free shop!)  A couple of days later  when I stopped at an internet café to pick up  my emails, I found he'd been making enquiries about my previous works, and discovered that three of my early titles were available at the local library. BHWs certainly travel!"


Author! Author!
Hoofprints located California author Paul J. Lederer (aka Logan Winters and Owen G. Irons) by using conventional mail after being told "he doesn't have email". Paul responded, by email, "Sorry you had to go to the extreme of actually going postal to find me. I didn't know anyone but me still knew how to lick a stamp. I recently changed computers and servers at once. . . . No matter! It's interesting that someone would think the Black Horse Western books I now have out might be reprints. I read something like that on the web the other night as I was -- being between projects -- just sitting around having a beer. Made me feel more than old! I checked my pulse, then decided I was still alive and kicking. As far as contributing to your website, I'd be happy to, but that will take some thought. . . . My life has been a little strange, they tell me. Anyway, I will remain in touch and do my best to feed you some information. However! Tell everyone I'm still kicking and the books are not reprints." Paul is another BHW writer with a long-earned reputation and literally hundreds of books behind him. Western fans have fond memories from the 1980s of his novel Tecumseh and the seven-book Indian Heritage series, beginning with Manitou's Daughters, which Publishers Weekly called "strong" and "winning". The Logan Winters pen-name was first used on the distinctive, four-book Spectros occult western series. A good magician and his companions chase an evil sorcerer across the Old West. Monsters and gunplay! Owen G. Irons books -- very traditional -- have appeared from the mid-1970s.

BHW authors Jack Martin (Gary Dobbs), Jack Giles (Ray Foster) and Ross (Nik) Morton have contributed short stories in several genres to David Cranmer's new, must-read Beat to a Pulp website. And the ubiquitous Chap O'Keefe came up with a multi-crossover offering. Announcing it, editor Elaine Ash said: "The Unreal Jesse James is set to blow writers and readers away with its genre-busting mix of western, sci-fi, historical-romance and humour. It takes great skill to toss so many elements into one story and make anything more than a mess – but Chap O’Keefe does it with style and wit. David and I are thrilled to debut The Unreal Jesse James on BTAP. . . I’ve begged Chap to consider writing a novel based on the story but he explains that he’s very busy writing his series novels for Black Horse Westerns." Later, Elaine added, "It will likely be my favourite story of the year." The yarn tells how its strange, time- and space-travelling Jesse James is foiled by a sassy American frontier lady called Verity: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mister James!"

A match for Jesse.

Scene of change.
Comings and goings picked up apace at Clerkenwell House, London home of Robert Hale Publishing and BHWs. Helen Ogden, who became publicity and marketing assistant last September, told us in February, "I have been given the opportunity to teach in an orphanage in southern India for four months, something I have always wanted to do and I think I would always regret turning down. Although it has been brief, I have really enjoyed my time at Hale and working with so many kind and helpful authors, so thank you. My replacement, Nikki Edwards, is very nice and I am sure will do a great job." From California, BHW contributor Steve Hayes, one-time Hollywood actor and a writer since 1957, said of Helen's swift departure, "Fulfilling her lifelong dream, she wrote me -- teaching orphans in New Delhi. Makes me feel like a pretty worthless human being." We also learned that long-serving Shirley Day, of the production department, was retiring. Looking back to the early '90s, another BHW writer said, "Many names have come and gone since then, especially in the publicity area, but Shirley Day retiring does seem to mark the end of an era, though I can remember when production was  in charge of director Eric Restall." It was understood that Gemma Williams was taking over Shirley's duties. We also heard that Julia Hardy, who worked on Hale covers, had also left and Catherine Williams was her replacement. In early April, Nick Chaytor took over as subsidiary rights manager from Elizabeth Robson, who had held the  role since October 2006 when she replaced Florence Pinard.


Jake Douglas

Ben Bridges

Chap O'Keefe

A BHW panel discusses series characters

. . .The story was The Hound of the Baskervilles and, to the great delight of Conan Doyle's readers, Sherlock Holmes was its protagonist. Nothing unusual in that, perhaps, but for the fact that his creator had apparently killed Holmes years before. In 1896 he wrote of his detective: "I have had such an overdose of him that I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day."
   Readers notoriously find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that their favourite authors can grow tired of a series character. For their part, they never tire and suppose that the writer is as spellbound by the hero he has created as they are. Conan Doyle was persuaded of this and at last he restored his detective to the public in fiction form. The first episode of the story or novella which he published in 1901 appeared in August. Queues formed outside the Strand magazine's offices and at bookstalls. . . .
   His author brought him back for the collection called The Return of Sherlock Holmes and, later, for His Last Bow. . .  A remarkable aspect of these stories is that, though some are superior to others, none is very inferior and, above all, there is no noticeable decline in their quality as their author grew tired of his creation.
Ruth Rendell
The Guardian, September 13, 2008

"A NUMBER of authors seem to abandon their series characters once they begin to tire of them -- which I can certainly relate to -- starting with Doyle and Holmes," says Steve Lewis in a post at his wide-ranging Mystery File blog.

Steve admitted it was no more than "a premise", and counter-examples would strike him as soon as he had hit the submit button to circulate his view.

He went on, "But also sometimes (not always) their non-series books lack something their series characters provided . . . their previously established personalities that the books they’re in can rely on for easy reader recognition and (even better) a solid foundation from the very start."

The BH Extra put Steve's contention to a panel of BHW writers: Keith Hetherington (aka Jake Douglas, Tyler Hatch, Hank J. Kirby and Rick Dalmas), David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges, Matt Logan and Glenn Lockwood), and Keith Chapman (aka Chap O'Keefe).

BHE: Thank you, as always, for agreeing to share your reflections with us. All three of you have written BHWs that stand alone and others that feature a recurring character or characters. Where does it begin? When do you make the choice?

Jake: My first encounter with series writing came, believe it or not, with the publication of my first western short story -- carrying the very original title of The Texan. The publishers used it as the cover for their magazine but changed the title to The Texan Rides On.... My father said, "I reckon they're telling you they wouldn't mind another story about this Jim Tyler lawman, mate..."

So, flushed with the thrill of seeing something I'd written in print (I was a WRITER!), I did. It was the late 1940s and I was influenced by my heroes of the time -- Jim Hatfield, Texas Ranger, written by Jackson Cole, and his clone, Walt Slade, written by Bradford Scott. Both these bylines were "house" names owned by a publisher and had several authors. Anyway, I wrote two more Jim Tyler stories, but that was it. I wanted to explore other western characters in print -- outlaws, gunfighters, regular cowboys, prospectors, and so on.

Even now, nearly six decades on, I'm not sure whether I prefer series or one-off stories. I enjoy both. My Bronco Madigan series for BHW gave me a lot of pleasure -- a hard-nosed US marshal dispensing justice as he saw it, even if it meant breaking the law on occasions.

Ruth Rendell


BHE: Ben, your first western, The Silver Trail (1986) featured Carter O'Brien, who also became a series character and last appeared in Draw Down the Lightning (2007), his fourteenth adventure. Does  your experience tally with Jake's?

Ben: I've always been attracted to series books, though I have no clear idea why. I suppose the uniform appearance, an eye-catching logo, a run of great artwork featuring the same character in different poses and situations, or perhaps simply the numbered format, appeals to the collector in me. For whatever reason, I always preferred series westerns to standalones, and always aspired to be a writer of series fiction as against a string of one-offs.
When written properly, series fiction offers tremendous possibilities for character development. An example which springs immediately to mind is David Thompson's Wilderness series, which begins with the central character as a nineteen year-old greenhorn. Through a series of events he is taken from the civilized surroundings of New York and thrust into the untamed wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, circa 1840. As the series progresses, the reader is able to follow the hero as he meets the woman who goes on to become his wife, as she gives birth to his son, then his daughter, as the children grow to adulthood and then themselves get married. Of course, every step of the way the characters gets into one scrape or another -- and with such a large cast of characters the possibilities are almost endless. But the main thing is that the changes are constantly being rung. Series like Longarm, The Gunsmith, Slocum and others allow for very little but more of the same.
BHE: And what about you, Chap?

Chap: I came into the business of western writing already well-versed in series fiction. My earliest working experience, as a junior editorial assistant, was on the venerable Sexton Blake detective series in London, one of the longest running series of all time to which more than two hundred authors contributed over the years. Later, I wrote a quantity of scripts for comic books. The characters featured were often the properties of the various publishers or other authors. They included all sorts: the Saint, Blackbow the Cheyenne, Dr Graves, Rubberman, Kelpie the Boy Wizard, Jeff Curtiss, the Iron Man, the Legend Testers . . . these come to mind.

My first BHW, Gunsmoke Night, was a standalone, but my second, Shootout at Hellyer's Creek, introduced ex-Pinkerton detective Joshua Dillard, who is still going strong. Misfit Lil didn't turn up till 2006, but certainly took off quickly with the readers. I am currently enjoying writing her seventh story, but having to second-guess what will be acceptable to the publisher's cautious editors is inhibiting. A satisfied reader from Ormskirk said at the GGG forum of the last book out, Misfit Lil Cleans Up, "I was actually surprised by the level of, er, friskiness. Sounds like the good times may have stopped rolling. To be honest, the marketing strategy of the hardbacks-for-libraries-only publishers is a bit beyond me."

Steve M, at Western Fiction review, said, "Misfit Lil makes for an engaging lead character. O’Keefe also includes brief mention of her past adventures that makes me want to find those books and discover just how she and the other characters, already known to her, came to like or dislike each other. It is also unusual to find the main character in a Black Horse Western being female and, for me, this made a pleasant change."

I'd like to pick up on a point Ben makes, if I may.

BHE: Of course, Chap.

Chap: I don't think a series has to show change in the character of its central figure to be properly written. Sexton Blake, whom I've mentioned, developed much over the seventy years his stories regularly appeared. But the evolution in his saga had more to do with reaction to changing times, the successive writers' updated narrative styles, and the kind of books an audience would be prepared to buy and support in later decades. The character's bedrock values and background were surprisingly constant.

I think if I were to write about Misfit Lil growing older, marrying perhaps, having children, changing with her maturity, I wouldn't really have a series character but linked episodes in an ongoing, single story. I might also lose the readers who like the idea of a lively young woman testing the boundaries and defying the conventions of the Victorian-age West. That's part of the books' appeal for me, too, and it isn't flagging yet. I always have some other major characters in every book who are changed by the story's events, but their participation begins and ends in their one entry in the series.

BHE: Over to you, Ben! Is familiarity, as described by Chap, part of the series package?

Ben: We shouldn't forget this "familiarity" is precisely what some readers want. It's like going into the candy store and buying your favourite box of chocolates, because you know when you open it you're going to get everything you expect and no nasty surprises.
But this can also be a double-edged sword, and familiarity can all too quickly breed contempt. I have tremendous respect for Ben Haas. He was, I think, a near-brilliant writer of popular western fiction. But as good as his Fargo and Sundance westerns are, he always insisted on adding almost word-for-word descriptions of Fargo's or Sundance's respective arsenals to every book. Even a die-hard admirer like myself finds this tiresome after the first ten or twelve times.

BHE: Ed Gorman, who writes mysteries as well as westerns, has said, "The problem with mystery series, at least for me, is that too many of them go on past their prime. Part of this is because readers don't seem to notice the fall-off that begins with adventure number thirty-one and continues all the way through adventure number seventy-eight. The writer is on auto pilot and so is the reader. The whole thing becomes a ritual, like mass." I take it you'd agree, Ben? 
Ben: By its very nature, there has to be familiarity in series fiction. But to truly succeed there also has to be change and evolution, something more that keeps your reader coming back for more. I've recently been editing an English-language version of a Morgan Kane western called $10,000 For Jesse Rawlins.

Kane was a lawman created by Louis Masterson, aka Kjell Hallbing, and he was and remains a staggeringly popular character in his native Norway. Why? Because the author went to great lengths to give him a complete history, and ensured that his experiences, as the series progressed, constantly shaped and changed him. As a reader, I find this particularly attractive -- that you can really follow Kane’s complex life.

BHE: Your view does tie in better with the many authors who have had an ambivalent approach, Ben. For instance, respected pulps writer Les Savage Jr, like Chap, had a female series character, Señorita Scorpion, but you couldn't say he was her biggest fan. Literary agent Jon Tuska has reported Savage wasn't as fond of the stories as was Malcolm Reiss at Fiction House. So his writing of them inclined to be sporadic. In the 1950s, Savage expanded several of his short novels for magazines into book-length novels, but he never went back to do so with any of the Señorita Scorpion yarns, nor did he try to bring them together into collections. Jake -- as a western writer whose long and impressive career began in those days -- how do you feel about the familiarity aspect in series books?

Jake: I enjoy seeing my character develop as the series progresses. He begins to feel his age, old wounds slow him down, perhaps make him more cautious -- and that could be fatal. . . . But he must develop with passing years, otherwise you have Peter Pan with a tied-down holster and not a spot of acne or a hint of stubble in sight.

Chap: Oh dear! Looks like I'm out on my own here. Joshua Dillard is a troubleshooting gun-for-hire. The notion of a slowed-down Joshua doesn't appeal any more than an age-sobered Misfit Lil. Maybe I'll have to take the Conan Doyle trail and try killing off Joshua instead! After all, he has already taken one leaf out of Sherlock Holmes' book for Blast to Oblivion. But at the moment he has an eighth  adventure -- Faith and a Fast Gun -- out next year, and a ninth is simmering quietly in my imagination.

BHE: Perhaps Jake could tell us more about some of the series characters he has written about.

Jake: For the Australian Cleveland Publishing Co. I wrote the Clay Nash series, about a Wells Fargo detective working mostly undercover -- plenty of scope for different adventures and locales. Also while working for Cleveland, [publisher] Les Atkins, top writer Anthony Scott-Veitch and I worked on The Enforcer series, which starred Yancey Bannerman, troubleshooter for the Governor of Texas. We thought about giving him an older sidekick to help keep his youthful enthusiasm in control, but Tony Veitch said why not turn it around? Make the older sidekick the hellraiser, and Yancey, besides running down the Governor's enemies, has the added responsibility of keeping sidekick Johnny Cato in line. It worked and the series ran for many issues over a few years. It was immensely popular in Germany where they called it "Johnny Colt".

The thing is with a series hero, you must make sure the attributes you give him are there in place every time. Don't give him a Smith & Wesson after a couple of stories using a Colt -- at least, not without some explanation. I worked in television during the '70's for Crawford Productions, writing dozens of episodes for Homicide, Matlock Police, Division 4, Young Ramsay, Solo One, Cop Shop and even a couple for a soapie, The Box. The characters for these shows were well-established and you could not deviate from the person the viewers had grown used to. If you did, even in a minor way, Crawfords were inundated with protests the very day after the episode had gone to air.

BHE: That would have kept a writer on his toes!

Jake: It's a kind of compliment in a way. You've made a memorable character -- at least to some people -- and they want to make sure you keep him in the mould.
Hornblower is a prime example of a well-developed character, ranging from a seasick midshipman to a cranky old Lord-Admiral, and still with his protesting tummy after all those years! To make it more notable, the books were not written chronologically. The first, The Happy Return, was actually book five in the series. Mr Midshipman Hornblower, where it all began, did not appear till years later. A very disciplined writer, C. S. Forester....

A series does take discipline; more so than one-off yarns. In my case, I like it.

BHE: Other advice for beginning writers, anyone?

Ben: The series offers tremendous potential for a writer. But there’s a very fine line to walk. For a start, your hero, if he's to maintain his appeal over a number of books, must be appealing. I can think of two series characters whose adventures appear in the Black Horse Western series who are, quite frankly, reader-unfriendly, and having sampled them once I never went back for seconds. I mention no names, of course!


The challenge for the series writer is first and foremost to create a character "with legs", as they say -- a character with the potential to run and run. The author of series fiction also needs to remain sharp with his plotting, so that each book has a distinct identity all of its own and doesn’t just blur in the mind of the regular reader. He must avoid repetition, always aim to surprise his long-term reader with some new trick, and strive to impress the newcomer in order to make him seek out the other books in the sequence.


That's the fun part of writing series fiction -- rising to these various challenges. As a reader, I think the enjoyment comes from picking up each new book and seeing what our hero is going to go through this time, of seeing how this new book stacks up against its predecessors and then, if it ticks all the boxes, the anticipation of looking forward to the next book in the series.

Chap: I find both advantages and disadvantages to writing series. Yes, you have a ready-made character or characters when you begin a new book, but as Jake says you can't afford slip-ups. You have to get all the "continuity" issues right -- from what actions would or wouldn't be in character, as revealed in the previous stories, right down to the smallest physical details. That can be demanding.  New characters are usually more malleable, for want of a better word. You have to like -- really like -- your series character. Otherwise living with him or her can get to be a pain. In this way, fiction is obviously like life.

And when I want to write a novel in which all the principal characters are changed irreversibly by the story's tumultuous events, I do a standalone like Peace at Any Price, which has just been reissued in a Linford large-print paperback. In that novel, war, love, vengeance and natural catastrophe change lives in intensely dramatic ways for ever.

Series aren't always encouraged by lines like Black Horse Westerns. They aren't made apparent from the way the books are presented or from cover illustrations, which are largely chosen from stock art. This handicap applies more so when your character's name isn't included in the book's title. (It isn't for any of the Joshua Dillard books.)

Not least because of their haphazard distribution among the lending libraries, the requirement for each book to be self-contained is stronger than it has been at different times elsewhere. The old Piccadilly Cowboys paperback series, for example, could count on a previous book in a series being obtainable by the same reader who picked up a newer one. Numbers in the case of the Herne books were the biggest type element on the cover, so it was all very clear. In New Zealand, I know of a city where the first Misfit Lil book is held at one branch library, the next at another, and so on. The authority responsible has eight libraries and spreads the titles around north, south, east and west. The series aspect is not recognized or given any consideration.

Jake: If I can come up with a character and see ongoing adventures for him beyond the current story, I'm prepared to play around with the series idea. Harking back to Bronco Madigan -- I've never been too happy about the way I left him, with half a memory, about to be married, using another name and quitting the Marshal Service. Maybe if some old enemy recognizes him and decides some long-delayed vengeance is in order -- makes a target of Madigan's wife -- now that could be explosive, the kind of man Bronco is....

Hmmm . . . maybe I'll just finish up here and give the matter a little more thought -- between writing one-offs meantime. Yeah, it's nice to have the choice!

Horses and cowboys with Greg Mitchell


Joe Kelly bought a half share in Travis Neal's ranch in an area reputed to be Comanche territory. While searching for his missing partner, Kelly encountered a Comanche war party, three former Confederate soldiers fleeing a killing in Mexico, the Mayne family and a renegade gang. The arrival of a self-promoting US marshal added to his problems.
  Kelly and the Maynes had to face hostile Indians, white murderers and a fanatical lawman before they could claim their respective ranches. Then, when the troubles appeared to be behind them, another problem arose.
  Suddenly the danger was that friends would fall out. More lead would fly before the situation was resolved!

Back cover
Comanche Country

"COWBOYS know about cattle but they don't understand horses," said a prolific writer of westerns in 1990.

Is this really true? Twice, in different books, I have read this announcement by a writer considered by some to have been an expert on cowboy life. I would dispute his claim. To my way of thinking, it only advertised the fact that the writer concerned had few clues about the cowboy life that he professed to know so well.

It could be the case today because ranches are smaller, cattle are quieter and many cowboys have become jeep jockeys. But in the Old West, a high degree of proficiency with horses was considered essential.

The horse was the cowboy's tool of trade and the better he understood it, the easier his work was and the greater was his efficiency. People whose lives and livelihoods depend upon their horsemanship get to understand their horses pretty well. The high-priced, "horse-whispering" gurus who have come out of the woodwork in recent years, were few and far between in the Old West and those who were about mostly plied their trade in the cities. Cowboys had to train their own horses and they trained them on the job. Cattle ranches were busy places and ranch hands did not have the luxury of spending hours in a corral working on a single horse.

"A cowboy calculates that it takes four to six years before he has produced the crack horse he wants" -- European writer, 1995.

This statement presupposes that a cowboy stayed at the one place and rode the same horse for the required number of years. Cowboys were nomadic by nature and their work was seasonal. On big ranches they would ride many different horses in that period. The "cowboy" quoted above is training show horses, not working ranch mounts.

Horses were given a smattering of an education at the hands of professional bronc busters, but their real training was done in working situations by the cowboys. The bronc buster's job was just to get them to the stage where a good horseman could ride them and work around them without too many dramatic incidents. Modern writers have a wrong concept and one well-known equestrian author stated that bronc busters were "not much esteemed" because they were paid only $3 per horse while ranch hands were getting $30 per month. He was thinking in terms of European horse-breaking where the job is long and costly and can take several weeks or even months for a single horse.

It is wrong to compare European situations with the Old West. By having several horses at different stages of training, a professional bronc buster could easily turn out six horses in a week. The horse was considered broken when it could be handed over to a good rider, but its training had barely started. Many bronc busters were rough to the point of being brutal and rushed the horses to start as many as they could as quickly as possible. Some of the horses they turned out would buck on and off for the rest of their lives but a good cowboy could still get work out of them.

Not all horse breakers were brutal and some could get quick results by more gentle means. The brutal ones usually did not stay long in the breaking game if they had another job to go to. Luck usually runs out for those who have too many violent confrontations with animals as powerful as horses. Cruel breakers are either young and ignorant or are starting to lose their nerve. It is indisputable that many rough breakers existed in the Old West but you can bet your boots that there were also skilled operators who turned out good horses by being as gentle as they could. Unbroken horses that have been running wild for years are frightened and dangerous. They play rough, and even the gentlest of breakers has to take strong measures at times. There were good and bad bronc busters as there are good and bad in every trade.

The Frederic Remington drawing of the two bronc busters saddling a young horse is a classic portrayal of the old, rough breakers at work.

The rope around the neck with a half hitch around the nose is a very severe way to hold a horse. No effort has been made to win the animal's trust and the use of painful restraints is really counter-productive. The man pulling up the latigo is wisely keeping out of range of a cow kick

The cowboy who did not understand young horses would quickly ruin them. It was the rider who first put the horse into real training who had the most important effect on its future. Sometimes a good cowhand could undo the work of a bad breaker.

The rider on a bucking horse was a good subject for painters like Remington and Russell, but they were not always breaking in horses, as many observers think. Most range-raised horses would buck when they were fresh.

Remington’s painting of the rider on the chestnut horse could well be a cowboy dishing out a bit of retribution to a horse that had got into the habit of throwing riders. It is stupid and counter-productive to flog a young horse that could be bucking out of fear, but sometimes punishment will change the attitudes of rogues who think they can throw people.

Such strong measures don’t always work. Sometimes the horse will buck harder. It gets backs to the rider’s understanding of the individual animal and the reason for its misbehaviour.

In this painting, the clue is the bridle on the horse. Young horses were often started in hackamores which work on the nose. The presence of a bit indicates that the horse might have had a reasonable degree of experience and could be a broken-in rogue. These are usually worse than unbroken horses.


Once the young horse had been allocated to a rider, its training began in earnest. Most riding breeds take naturally to cattle work. It is not the sole domain of the quarter horse but there is much to learn.

The horse has to accept a rope being swished about it. It learns to run down cattle and to drive them. It must have the confidence to negotiate rough country at speed with a man on its back and starts to develop teamwork with its rider. The very best will develop into cutting horses, skilled at separating individual cattle from the herd.

Horses have a certain amount of natural herding skills but it takes a good rider to develop these. If the rider does not know how to train the horse, its “cow sense” never grows. Today, professionals train cutting and roping horses but once it was just another cowboy skill

I have seen it written that no great skill was required to ride along quietly with a herd of cattle, therefore the cowboy did not have to be much of a rider. Unfortunately, the author did not realize the amount of fast and dangerous work involved in putting a herd of wild cattle together.

Where the cattle went, the riders had to pursue, get around them and turn them in the correct direction. These days fencing, small pastures and regular handling have made cattle quiet, but on the big, unfenced ranches of the Old West, they were virtually wild animals that fled at the sight of a man. And they did not head into places where it was easy to follow them. To be successful, men and horses needed to work together and mutual trust was vital.

In my book, The Raiders (to be published September 30) I have described what it is like to ride in thick brush. In this case the hero, Hewitt, is chasing another rider, Bramley, but the same situation would apply if he was after cattle:

When the lawman reached the trees he could hear small branches breaking as the rider smashed his way through densely growing timber. In such terrain hitting trees was inevitable but a good horse in the brush chose the easiest path and did not duck under low branches that could sweep the rider from its back. A rider with confidence in his mount did only minimal steering leaving the selection of their path to the horse with its faster reflexes.

Bramley had never been much of a rider in the brush and avoided it wherever possible. Consequently, his horses were not familiar with the task that now confronted the grey. The horse and rider had different opinions about the safest route. The horse might select one side of a tree but Bramley, at the last moment, would decide that the other side looked better. The grey would try to answer the reins but sometimes had little room to move. More than once it bumped a tree and sometimes the rider’s knee or foot collided painfully with a tree trunk. Where it had a chance to avoid a collision, the horse momentarily stopped and lost ground on its pursuer every time it did so.

Riding and training were not the old cowboys’ only skills. Many could shoe their own horses and treat injuries and illnesses. Despite frequent mentions of “horse doctors” in western fiction, the veterinary profession was really just developing in the 19th century and again the money was to be made in the cities. Very few vets headed west. Most ranch men did their own vet work.

I cannot vouch for the modern cowboy, because situations have changed, but modern critics of the old cowboys are living in a very different world. Those who claim that the cattlemen of the Old West did not understand horses are kidding themselves. Certain things could have been done better but in most cases the old cowboys had more horse experience and knew more about them than their modern critics.

The old-timer might not have known how to braid a mane or apply cosmetics to a show horse or work a horse solely to gallop safely in a sand arena. His clothes, his hat, the style of his chaps and probably the colour of his saddle would outrage the western clothing industry, but you could put him on a horse just about anywhere in the world and he could get work out of it. The same cannot be said of many of those who “really understand” horses today.

-- Paddy Gallagher, who writes his BHWs as Greg Mitchell. His
 latest, published in April, is Comanche Country.






Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London
Time to Kill
Lee Lejeune  0 7090 8739 7
Long Shadows
Terry James
0 7090 8740 3
Land of the Lost
Dean Edwards
0 7090 8742 7
The $300 Man
Ross Morton
0 7090 8750 2
Return of the Gunfighter
Ethan Flagg
0 7090 8751 9
Bad Day in Babylon
Clayton Nash
0 7090 8757 1
The .45 Goodbye
Dempsey Clay
0 7090 8681 9
Lanigan and the She-Wolf
Ronald Martin Wade
0 7090 8709 0
The Outpost
Owen G. Irons
0 7090 8715 1
Showdown at Bonawa
Alan Irwin
0 7090 8747 2
Death Range
Elliot Long
0 7090 8758 8
The Tarnished Star
Jack Martin
0 7090 8761 8
Portrait of an Outlaw
J. D. Kincaid
0 7090 8760 1
The Death Shadow Riders
Elliot Conway
0 7090 8765 6
Rio Bonito
Caleb Rand
0 7090 8767 0
Riders of the Barren Plains
I. J. Parnham
0 7090 8768 7
Ready for Trouble
Corba Sunman
0 7090 8769 4
Gunman's Walk
Clint Ryker
0 7090 8770 0
The Short Creek Rustlers
J. D. Ryder
0 7090 8771 7


Black Horse Westerns can be requested at public libraries, ordered at bookstores, and bought online through the publisher's website, www.halebooks.com, or retailers including Amazon, Blackwells,
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