December 2007-
February 2008

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

Robert Hale Limited
Black Horse Express
Adam Wright
Ben Bridges
Mike Linaker
Piccadilly Cowboys
Gillian F. Taylor
B. J. Holmes

To the Heart of Peace   Hoofprints
 English Town's Role in Westerns
 Horse Sense and Nonsense   New Black Horse Westerns

More websites, more blogs. . . . New forums have emerged lately willing to host a diversity of views on western fiction. Sadly, the same diversity  is not so easily found in the book-publishing world. A respected Spur Awards winner confesses he no longer enjoys reading "cookiecutter" traditional westerns while publishers' new releases consist in large part of reprints of books from earlier decades.  The "same old, same old" continues to give critics of westerns the excuse to ridicule them.

Meanwhile, the Black Horse Western series, published in London by Robert Hale Ltd since 1986, has been praised for a willingness to incorporate a  wide range of material. BHWs have to date not shied away from presenting the work of the author who has a fresh angle on the expected staples; is ready to stand out from the crowd with a little daring -- though never so much as in Deadwood -- and is keen to satisfy the tastes of changing times.

In this edition of the Extra, two BHW writers who have coincidentally spent large parts of their working lives as journalists talk about their methods and inspirations. Brian Parvin's first book for the line appeared in 1992; Keith Chapman's, in 1993. Brian has three pen-names; Keith, one. Brian has written continuously and has completed 48 westerns; Keith's total is less than half that number. Other differences are almost as easy to spot.

Keith's article, about the writing of a new Chap O'Keefe book, Peace at Any Price, speaks about the creation of characters who can be seen other than as "black" and "white" absolutes, and who undergo life-changing experiences which he hopes will surprise and sometimes shock. Not for him (or his readers) the comfortable predictabilities of the old-time, Saturday matinée cowboy film.

The interview with Brian explains how he picks up on the mannerisms of  the people he meets in real life and uses them to help inspire his fictional characters. But he also says his readers want a black and white story. "The villain is very black. The hero is very white."
 And the outcome of his story is assured from the start. The getting there is the major issue -- "the beauty of it".

Keith placed some emphasis on historical setting and research when writing his latest novel. Brian's readers don't want history, though he knows he must be careful with the details of weaponry and clothing.

These writers each had two BHWs released this year that were quickly declared out of stock ("no search results") at Hale's official website. Keith's Misfit Lil Fights Back was history only seventeen days after its publication date! Brian's Bluegrass Bounty disappeared almost as quickly. Clearly, they are keeping the customers happy. So it isn't a case of one has the wrong approach and the other the right . . .  just a couple of interesting case studies that prove a genre-fiction line doesn't have to turn a writer into a hack working in the strait jacket of a single, well-worn formula.

Also in this issue, we are joined by loyal BH Extra contributor Greg Mitchell with another of his valuable backgrounders. This time it's not on a gun, but on horses, ranches and cattle. And as always, the Hoofprints section puts us on the track of those snippets of western news and information that might otherwise be missed. Everyone's help is appreciated. Please join in and send your views and news to


Chap O'Keefe maps a BHW's trail


Jim Hunter and Matt Harrison’s Double H ranch thrived . . . till their crew marched away to war’s glory, and they were ruined by outlaws who burned them out and murdered the last man on the payroll, harmless oldster Walt Burridge.
    When the war ended, the two H’s started over. But for Jim war and the Reconstruction had wrought changes beyond endurance. His former sweetheart, pretty Alice Cornhill, had been claimed by another. So Jim rode out and into the arms of his wartime love, the gun-running adventuress Lena-Marie Baptiste.
    There, he was quickly trapped by his vow to avenge Old Walt. How would he choose between enmity and love, life and death?

Back cover
Peace at Any Price

THE die-hard followers of the western have had renewed cause lately to shake their heads in bemusement. Once more the genre has come under the scrutiny of the Hollywood herd. In particular, director James Mangold's successful remake of the 1957 feature 3:10 to Yuma had the movie pundits wondering whether the old shoot-'em-up still had some life in it.

Could it really be the western hadn't been buried on Boot Hill years ago?

For the greyer and more cynical, the debate had all the familiarity of swirling gunsmoke in the last reel. The '80s and the '90s had Tinsel-town western revivals, too. What the film-makers have tended to forget time and again is that the traditional western staples are, by themselves, not enough. Any successful movie has to come with a well-constructed, compelling storyline, characters whose fates are involving, and a dash of originality.

One of the more perceptive commentators and reviewers it was a pleasure to read was Bruce Westbrook. In the Houston Chronicle -- after making the usual observation that Yuma was based on an Elmore Leonard story -- he stated that the '57 screen version starring Glenn Ford drew "clear inspiration from the lonely heroics of High Noon earlier in that decade.

"What made that film a classic wasn't its violent confrontations but its depth of character, and this new Yuma can make the same claim," Westbrook said.

"Great western drama doesn't erupt from the barrel of a gun so much as burn from the depths of a human heart."

David Whitehead

This is a message that the true aficionados have been trying to explain to the critics and the genre's detractors for years. Here, at Black Horse Extra, it has been stated by the writers, too -- in particular, by David Whitehead.

David has said, "The single biggest development has been the awareness of just how important character is in a story. In the early days, characters were clear-cut -- with one or two exceptions -- and cardboard in the extreme. But in the early 1950s a new breed of western writer came along, and decided to mix a little of the good and the bad into their characters."

The novel Peace at Any Price, which I wrote in  mid 2006, gave me a special chance to explain what we meant, not by a further declaration of the theory but by demonstration. As soon as the germ of the plot had suggested itself, and a cast of principal characters was assembled, I knew Peace was going to be a book which afforded a better than average shot at crafting a story which might help support the argument. I hope I haven't squandered the chance and that the characters capture the interest and sympathy of today's audience.

The beginnings were not auspicious. When the synopsis was submitted as a proposal, publisher John Hale had only two comments, and the first was reserved for the story's setting: "I would prefer the story to be set entirely after the conclusion of the [Civil] War but perhaps this is what you already intended."

Well, perhaps I didn't, but no writer of  Black Horse Westerns lightly ignores the preferences of a publisher who has been producing and selling his line for more than twenty years. For most writers, the synopsis he or she draws up in advance is seldom an exact outline of the finished work, and I took heart from Mr Hale's closing remark which was, "Otherwise I am sure the novel will be your usual splendidly professional and exciting work."


When I'd written the book, I was able to tell Mr Hale that the War Between the States features only briefly as a background for Chapter 2, The Breakup -- less than a fifteenth of the  finished work -- and as the background for a brief, four-page flashback in Chapter 7, Betrayal Under the Stars. But the war's impact is everywhere, and especially in the raw emotional torment it brings to the characters' private lives.

Like Mr Hale, and possibly the library buyers on whose opinions he bases his requirements, I prefer westerns not to have all-out battle scenes of a strictly military nature. But I can recall, too, satisfactory westerns where at least the first 20 pages (or reel) are quite thoroughly accounts of war -- roar of cannon, men wounded and dying, others with swords, bayonets and guns clashing on bloody fields.

The first chapter of Peace, Black Night on the Double H, though set at the time of the war, is very traditionally "western". It describes the destruction of Jim Hunter's and Matt Harrison's Texas cattle ranch by rustling and arson, but it has no war action, just marginal mentions of the historical facts. These establish the reasons the ranch is short-handed and provide the first hints of the all-important catalyst for Jim's and Matt's split, which is central to the plot.


For five years, Jim had given the Double H some dash in its dealings with the world. He’d choose the precarious trail over the safer if it promised more profit or the spice of excitement. He was happy to leave it to his long-time friend Matt to supply the partnership venture with stability and security. Truth to tell, he was drawn by the Confederate cause.

To have set the story entirely after the war would have meant beginning at Chapter 3, Return to Trinity Creek, and forgoing the chance of a hard-action opening. This starting-point also would have entailed more than a few explanatory flashbacks at some stage. In a book of BHW length, too much backtracking is undesirable and likely confusing. Possibly it can involve breaking the cardinal "show don't tell" rule as well. For me, a lengthy report of key incidents delivered in the pluperfect tense as a kind of synopsis within the body of the main narrative is never an appealing option.

Another solution to time-line problems, and one favoured from time to time by Hale western writers, is the separate Prologue, but as a reader I find this trick an uninviting way to open a short book. I want to be caught up in the main story immediately.

Taken from the dates standpoint alone, the difference in where to begin Peace was small. Was the start to be during the war, in late 1863, or after it in April 1865? A choice was made for the former and accepted.

Mr Hale's second comment was to me the more important, since its subject was the characters whose hearts and loyalties were going to be tested and thrown into turmoil by the war.

He said, "It is not particularly clear at the outset who is intended to be the hero and, of course, an identifiable hero throughout is essential . . . . Jim does not emerge as the classic hero. Perhaps this is something you could bear in mind when writing the novel."

I believe I have, though Jim Hunter, like most heroes in O'Keefe books, is not without flaws. In that sense he still isn't the classic hero. Jim is "grey" not only in the Civil War context but in terms of a believable spread of traits, good and bad. As noted previously, successful western movie-makers and novelists, from Max Brand onward, have eschewed the old, B-movie "black" and "white" stereotypes.

A novel today demands strong and interesting characters. Once they're on the scene, it's strange if a plot doesn't grow naturally out of conflicting personalities. In Peace, Jim, Matt and Alice Cornhill and their powerful feelings form a tragic triangle. They came alive of their own accord and it would have been hard to avoid the passion and the drama springing from their situation.


She could see full well why Jim was quitting the pain of shared life with his friends on the Double H; to stay and possibly succumb to temptation would have been treachery. And she understood all of this so well because her own heart ached. The sun was rising but Alice felt like it was going down on her world.

Candice Proctor
A few months ago, at Candy's Blog, writer Candice Proctor (aka C. S. Harris) wrote about the dread with which many authors view the preparation of a synopsis.  Candy's advice was: "Lie." She told her readers,  "Well, maybe not lie, exactly. Just sort of bend and twist things so that they fit into an exciting storyline that’s easy to follow despite the fact you’ve left out suspects, characters, huge chunks of motivation, clues, etc, etc. . . . Maybe some writers are such gifted synopses-crafters that they don’t need to fudge a few details. But the fact is, if you’re writing a proposal for a book that isn’t written yet, the finished product is probably going to differ in significant ways from your outline anyway.

"So you’re not exactly being dishonest just because you don’t slavishly follow an outline your editor is never going to see anyway. I’m not talking about making major changes here. I’m talking about combining two minor characters into one, or shifting sequences, or simplifying explanations – no more than it takes to keep from tying yourself into knots and getting bogged down in details. And who knows? In the process of telling your story in synopsis form, you may actually find ways to improve your novel."

To this I responded, "A good synopsis on synopses! I say don't dread them, use them. We had a similar debate here [Candy's excellent blog] when you raised the question of the Plotter v. the Seat-of-Pantser [the writer who embarks on a novel without pre-planning].

"Like yourself, I invariably depart from my synopsis in significant ways, combining minor characters and shifting sequences. For example, in Peace at Any Price, I decided the heroine's mother was best dead before the story started, and that her space was better occupied by a woman friend for the villain.

"And because the book is largely set in a small town on the Gulf coast, a climax involving a fairly conventional gun duel was given a whole new look by staging it amidst a hurricane. At the time I prepared the synopsis, I hadn't even thought about Galveston 1900, so I can't say I deliberately left that out, but it does illustrate how, with the basics safely taken care of in the synopsis, you can concentrate on the improvements."


A bad night was had. Not until early next morning did the fury of wind and water abate, though the sea’s swells continued and the skies stayed cloudy. Fully two-thirds of the town was gone. Corpses were washed up everywhere. . . .

Although the famous Galveston hurricane came 35 years after the time of my story, research produced contemporary acounts that gave me a good picture of the effects such a catastrophic event would have had on a coastal settlement of the period.

By the book's end, I think I could fairly say the surviving characters had undergone life-changing experiences. Much of vital importance had been at stake for them, and I'd done my best to satisfy the follower of their trials and shifting fortunes with a fitting outcome.

-- Keith Chapman, aka Chap O'Keefe. For a review of
 Peace at Any Price, see Saddlebums, October 5.



Seeing stars.
A new set of western tracks


Ray Foster (aka Jack Giles) agrees with our panel (see September edition) that books come with good covers and bad covers. "My weakness for covers has more to do with the film images of James Coburn, Clint Eastwood et al -- like Michael Thomas's cover for Ride the Wild Country which has Burt Lancaster in the closing scenes of the film Lawman, done in reverse and without the wagon behind him.  Or a book called High Plains Vendetta [by Dale Graham, 1994] which has a High Plains Drifter-style Clint Eastwood. Those covers interest me. . . . I have seen only one cover for a Hale western that struck me as John Turner-esque and that's Leatherface [by Jack Giles].  As I like Turner's paintings (which John Ruskin referred to), I liked that cover. One that left me stunned was the cover to Poseidon Smith: Vengeance Is Mine [also by Jack Giles].  I don't know the artist but I'm sure he never met my father, and that is who is on that cover -- and he read more westerns than I could count. We were always exchanging books." Ray says that after the cover, he looks at the blurb: "I don't need too much information. So, having dispensed with covers and blurbs, the books that I buy or borrow have to have grabbed me from the first page. It's the writing that matters. If I judged a book by its cover I would never have read Wilbur Smith's first novel; if I judged a book by its blurb then I wouldn't have read many authors at all."

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan continues to manage her family’s 900-acre farm and Angus cattle operation. She has also helped modernize and strengthen Missouri’s public libraries through grants to improve access to information using technology. A page at her SOS website is headed "Western Fiction in a Series". It begins, "If you have ever read a novel that you did not want to end, and you are a fan of westerns, then this is the bibliography for you!"  Nineteen authors are listed, ranging from Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour to Richard S. Wheeler and Elizabeth Fackler. Being an American library list, no BHW series are included, alas. Interestingly, a sentence that appears no less than eight times is, "Some strong language, violence, and explicit descriptions of sex." Seems like the fanatically puritan have failed to impose their repressive will on the libraries of Missouri!

SOS endorsement.
Publishing legend.
Publisher Erastus Beadle (1821-1894) launched his Dime Novel series in June 1860. During the Civil War, he sent his books to the front in bushels, alongside food rations, introducing thousands of young men to the pleasure of reading them. Like today's BHWs they were standardized products, distinctively packaged and issued to a regular schedule. Dime novels transformed the publishing industry. The Beadle company, though much imitated, had published more than 7,000 of them by 1897. Total sales in the first five years, to 1865, were nearly five million copies. Dime westerns were also responsible for introducing what in more modern times has been known as the "docudrama" -- mixing fact with fiction and sensationalizing, for instance, episodes in the life of William Cody, who was made famous as Buffalo Bill. Novels about the escapades of Jesse and Frank James were eventually banned from distribution by the Postmaster-General of the United States. The argument was that they turned outlaws -- still living at the time and still dangerous -- into heroes.

Ready to take a joke? In a satirical article in the British Telegraph newspaper, Craig Brown listed "14 Things You Didn't Know about the Western". A couple of rib-tickling samples: "Between 1860 and 1890, baddies in the Wild West were legally required to wear black hats, so that they could be identified as they rode into town and shot on sight. Similarly, all ladies working in bordellos were required to undertake regular medical check-ups to ensure that they still had hearts of gold." And: "Russell Crowe's new 3:10 to Yuma is, in fact, a remake of 4.50 from Paddington. Crowe's role was taken in the original by the redoubtable Dame Margaret Rutherford." Elsewhere in the Telegraph, Sheila Johnston reported under the heading Letters from America: the Western Revival: "Today the western is back in town, all guns blazing. Last year's Brokeback Mountain, Tommy Lee Jones's Three Burials and Australia's The Proposition were just the opening shots. Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan saddled up last month for Seraphim Falls; currently 3:10 to Yuma tops the American box-office charts."

Pistol-packin' Margaret.

Bob . . . multi-tasker.
Blazing into the global town that's the Internet came Saddlebums Western Review, launched in late August by Gonzalo Baeza and Ben Boulden after discussion at another blog. Ben said, "Saddlebums is the place for news about the western genre." His premiere post attracted 35 welcoming comments, including several from the BHW community, though an attempt to unsaddle Saddlebums supporter Chap O'Keefe -- whom some  have felt compelled to regard as a bête noire -- saw the near-anonymous instigators fall on their faces. Ben concluded, "Chap is absolutely right when he said 'This forum is for open discussion. It is not a behind-closed-doors place. Nor, as far as I know, will anyone try to suppress you or your views here.' Everyone is welcome, as well as their views and ideas." Only private grievances were ruled out. To continuing acclaim, Ben and Gonzalo went on to review a fine range of books and to interview top writers. The lineup included Brian Garfield, Robert J. Randisi and Johnny D. Boggs. The versatile and prolific Bob Randisi told Saddlebums, "I have a TV in my office, so I usually watch while I’m working. Last week I watched all three Magnificent movies on tape while I worked on a western. Also some old Warner Bros. westerns like Cheyenne and Maverick. Then, while working on a mystery, I’ll watch some Sunset Strip or Hawaiian Eye tapes, maybe some British mysteries or movies, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, or American films like Harper or Chinatown."


Two mass-market Berkley paperbacks published by Penguin Group USA in 2001 and 2002 have been reissued as BHWs for the UK library market. They are Winter Kill and Dead Man's Journey by Frank Roderus. The author says he wrote his first story -- a western naturally! -- when he was five and has never had any ambition since but to write for a living. He has been producing fiction full-time since 1980 after a career in  newspaper reporting. As a journalist, he won the Colorado Press Association's top award, for Best News Story, in 1980. The Western Writers of America has twice named him a recipient of their prestigious Spur Award. In 1983 he won the Best Novel award with Leaving Kansas and in 1996 he won the Best Paperback Original award for Potter's Fields. Frank is a lifetime member of the American Quarter Horse Association. He now lives in Florida and, with his wife, Magdalena, plans to divide his time between Florida and Palawan Island in the Sulu Sea.

Spur winner reissued.
 All-rounder's work.
BHW author David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges and Matt Logan) was another pleased by the Extra's last edition. "I wasted little time in getting to the latest BHE. Yet another triumph! Absolutely packed with news and as usual quite beautifully presented. . . . The forum idea [on book covers] worked well, and I found the article on artist Michael Thomas of great interest. By coincidence, I'd just received a few copies of my large-print Janet Whitehead romance A Time to Run from Linford publishers F. A. Thorpe and was startled to find that he had painted the illustration for that, too. . . . Thank you yet again for your sterling efforts to promote our genre. It may be a cliché, but BHE really is going from strength to strength, and I feel that this may be the best issue yet."

As the western shot its way back on to the big screen this year, director James Mangold told San Jose Mercury News correspondent Jeff Anderson how he couldn't sell the idea of a 3:10 to Yuma remake to any studio. "No one wants to make westerns. We got financed by a bank, and they sold it to Lionsgate while we were in production," he said in San Francisco. "I think the western has gotten really misunderstood lately. People view them as kind of a period picture, or a historical picture. I think they're a kind of a fever dream. They have as much in common with science fiction as they do with The Age of Innocence." With the Yuma remake a box-office hit, Mangold was confident the western could catch on again. "As long as people like Johnny Cash were embraced, a western can be. It's really about truth -- bare-bones truth." Mangold was accompanied to 'Frisco by Peter Fonda, who plays bounty hunter Byron McElroy in the movie about a rancher's attempt to bring an outlaw to justice. Fonda said the western was "a wonderful way to tell stories about today. You're tricked because you only see it afterwards. While you're watching, you're not thinking about Iraq. This is what elevates it beyond other kinds of movies."

Studios' cold shoulder.
Bid to be fresh.
Multiple Spur Award-winning author Richard S. Wheeler voiced disenchantment at the Saddlebums and Ed Gorman blogs. "I'm going to get myself into serious trouble with western readers and confess that traditional westerns have worn out their welcome in my reading pile," he said. "I love to write them because I can attempt something novel and fresh; I don't love to read them any more, and sometimes I simply hate the damned things." And: "I had occasion recently to read a classic gunfighter novel by a very successful western novelist. It carefully strung together every cliché of that sort of story ever invented. . .  I try not to write or read cookiecutter stories, so they mystify me, along with those who read them." Meanwhile, a list of westerns for October leaned heavily on reprints of classics by the likes of Bret Harte, Clarence E. Mulford and Zane Grey. Except for BHWs, the smattering of genuinely new entries consisted almost entirely of the latest titles in anonymously written, house-bylined series.

BHWs' print-runs are calculated primarily to fill the requirements of libraries in Britain and Commonwealth countries, many of which have standing orders for new releases. Consequently, titles that prove popular also present supply problems for the publisher and the distributors. Among the recent books that have fallen into this class are the Misfit Lil stories. The good news for readers who have enquired is that the first book in the series, Misfit Lil Rides In, originally published in July last year, is now available again everywhere -- US included -- in a large-print, trade-paperback edition from Dales Westerns (Ulverscroft). The new book has impressive cover art by Gordon Crabb. Gordon is one of the most highly respected cover artists active in the UK today and has also worked consistently for US publishers, including Bantam, Dell, Daw and Tor Books. Dales have also just reissued the out-of-print BHW The Lawman and the Songbird, featuring Joshua Dillard. Next year, among others, Dales has the latest Dillard book lined up; Sons and Gunslicks appeared as a BHW in March and was another title that quickly went out of print at the publisher's. And a diary note for those determined not to be disappointed is that the fourth Lil BHW, Misfit Lil Hides Out, will be published by Hale next March.

Second chance.

Brian Parvin's real-life sources for characters

Dawn came up that day in the town of Random on a bad note. They found a respected local man dead, hanged by the neck from the tree in the livery corral. And things were about to get worse with the discovery of the victims of murderous slaughter and rape at a nearby homestead.
    Were the two events linked? Was a bunch of crazed killers on the rampage; a lone gunman hell-bent on some personal retribution? The days that followed drifted from fear into nightmare as the town and its folk fell prey to the torment of Edrow Scoone and his ruthless sidekicks.     But then a stranger, scarred and silent, booked himself a room at the Golden Gaze saloon.
Back cover
Mist Rider

BLACK Horse Westerns are written by authors around the world, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand, but with the books published primarily for the UK library market, it's not surprising the largest contingent is based in Britain.

Brian Parvin, who writes his westerns as Dan Claymaker, Jack Reason and Luther Chance, hails from Shropshire, a county in the west of the English Midlands, bordering on Wales. It is fine pastoral country with hills and woodland, agriculture and dairying. Brian -- and Dan, Jack and Luther -- live in its beautiful, medieval market town, Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury was listed as Brian's home in the old Hale print catalogues which predated the helpful new company website. His first western, Rain Guns by Dan Claymaker, was published in 1992. Before that, he had written science fiction, fantasy and wildlife stories.

His 1986 novel The Singing Tree was a post-holocaust animal fable about a quest by a fox. It was described as  "a dramatic story of love and survival that celebrates the affinity between wildlife and humanity . . . and our future together". Other similar novels under his own name were The Golden Garden (about hedgehogs, 1987) and The Moon-Keepers (about badgers, 1988). All were published by Hale.



Brian's work has also included mystery fiction and the following titles: The Deadly Dyke (1979), Death in the Past (1980), Dead Wood (1980), Then There Was Murder (1981), Dawn Boys (1989) and Wreath for a Ragman (1999).

As the Hale company withdrew from some genres and expanded its BHW list, the author switched to westerns and has now written 48. Despite his crime fiction writings, Brian's westerns do not have any emphasis on mystery. His books for the genre cannot be categorized as "crossover" novels. In August he was interviewed by Tony Neal for his local newspaper, the Shropshire Star, whom we thank for some absorbing insights to the writer's career and modus operandi.

Brian believes, "The readers want a black and white story. The villain is very black. The hero is very white. And good will undoubtedly triumph. It has to. That’s the beauty of it as far as I’m concerned. It’s got a great moral message. They know who is going to die within about four pages. They know, probably within ten pages, who is going to do the killing. It’s the getting there that’s the major thing. That’s the beauty of it. How is the hero going to do it when the odds are stacked mercilessly against him?"

Brian, a retired journalist, follows the old advice of drawing his fictional characters from real life. He pays special attention to uncommon gestures and mannersisms. To folk in the very English county town of Shrewsbury it must have come as a surprise when the Star reported they could have fictional counterparts striding the old American West!


It is not that Brian bases his heroes and villains on the people he meets day to day, but like an old-time stamp collector perpetually adding new specimens to fill blanks in his album, he seeks out and takes note of the distinctive mannerisms, gestures and little traits that add up to make a memorable individual.

"I don’t think anyone would obviously recognize themselves. But there are certain characteristics. I don’t suppose they’re peculiar to Shrewsbury. You could not take a whole person. You would never be able to interpret that person because you would never get to their soul. What you can do is take a part, a portion -- a mannerism is the word."

Brian seizes on a main characteristic and it becomes the vivid touch for which he lets a principal in his story depend for realism. It's an old, old trick to fix the character in the reader's mind. Done judiciously, it works.
One of his westerns pulled from the shelf at random illustrates the technique. The Gun Master by Luther Chance is set in the small town of Peppersville -- a much-modified Shrewsbury? -- which is awaiting attack by the murderous Drayton Gang. The only top gun in town is a stranger called McCreedy. We learn little about him and even at the book's end, he remains largely a mystery without so much as a first name. This author, remember, isn't out to challenge our grey cells.

What we are given to enjoy is a gallery of  fearful townsfolk, each defined by a key mannerism. Undertaker Ephraim Judd is given to peering dolefully over his polished pince-nez. Storekeper Byron Byam grips the lapels of his tailored frock coat. Preacher Peabody clears his throat carefully but deliberately, or coughs, before speaking. And so on. Members of  the Drayton bunch, when they arrive, are given to spitting -- a lot. (Spitting is a common habit in the West of Brian's books but we're sure it's not on the streets of Shrewsbury!) Readers are reminded about these things from time to time, and it keeps them clear about who's who. They are not greatly distracted with characters' back stories, private agendas or deeper motivations. Chapters are swift bites, mostly of six or seven pages. 

But paradoxically, Brian’s favourite movie is Shane -- the classic, one-man-against-the-odds western in which characters are not of the black-and-white variety and the story is emotionally and morally complex.

The old western movies clearly have a nostalgic appeal. Brian told the Star, "When I first met my wife her passion was westerns. If we went to the flicks, as they were known in those days, she would choose a western. I thought, that’s something I have never done. Could I do it? Could I write a western? And I did."

Today, his wife continues to play a vital support role in the production of the Parvin westerns. He writes first drafts in longhand, and she types them up. "It’s a partnership, a team effort," he said.

Brian maintained that he takes on a different identity for writing under each of his pen-names.  "Dan [Claymaker] is the thoughtful one. Jack [Reason] is the man of action, for want of a cliché. Luther [Chance] has a slightly humorous side. He sees the funny side of things. As my wife says, she has been married to four men for a long time. She never knows quite who she is waking up with."


What is not in doubt is the four's mutual approach to the western. Readers and other authors have recently contended the western should be breaking out of its narrow, classic form. They point out that for variety you don’t need to go further than actual history and the numerous historical episodes and characters that haven’t been dealt with so far in the fiction of the West. But Brian had a warning about delving into parts of the West's rich history that haven't been tapped:

"As a writer of westerns you have to be very careful. If you try to write a history of the real West, then you are not appealing to your western reader. He knows a fair bit about these frontiers, Indian wars, wagon trains, and crossing the great plains, but he doesn’t really want to be told about that."

For readers of the genre, there were certain expectations and conventions, he said. It was a romanticized, fictionalized version of the American West.

While readers didn’t want history, Brian could not be careless with the details. "My readers will quickly pick up anything that’s loose in the form of weaponry, such as a Colt or a Winchester repeating rifle. All these things you have to be careful about. Similarly with clothing. Broad-brimmed hats. Never say trousers -- always pants. And so on."

Unlike many of his writing colleagues, he is qualified to speak about the use of guns in conflict, having served with the Gurkhas in Malaya. He has vivid memories of some hard-kicking military firearms. "I can tell you one thing -- recoil is phenomenal."


What he has not done is visited the places that today occupy the mythical territory of his books.

"I have travelled in many countries throughout the world, but have never been to the American states. And sometimes I feel a little bit fearful about doing it. If I went out there, I would certainly want to go right into the Mid West, and I just wonder whether I would be a bit disillusioned. Would Utah seem quite as Utah seems to be in my books?"


Greg Mitchell rounds up broncs, ranches and cattle


The sheriff turned to the middle-aged man riding beside him."Harry don't seem to be too worried."
       Those were the last words that Henderson ever spoke.
       King  Leslie fired from concealment and put a rifle bullet between his eyes. The posse was now in a trap and the outlaws closed it. Rapid, close-range fire poured in from three sides. The surprise was complete and its effect devastating. Men were smashed from saddles, horses reared over and fell backwards or collapsed as though their legs had been swept from under them. A few fired back at the puffs of gunsmoke spouting from among the rocks but most wheeled their mounts and fled back the way they had come. The slaughter was unrelenting. Some threw up their arms and fell from their mounts, others slipped off quietly as though they had fallen asleep. Wounded men clung to saddle horns as they fled with all thoughts of fighting gone. Now only survival counted.

Killer's Kingdom
Greg Mitchell

THE other night I was reading the comment about black horses (the real ones) that headed the article "Judging Books by Their Covers" in the last Black Horse Extra. I found myself agreeing. I've ridden a lot of black horses at different times and have encountered some good ones but none that I would call outstanding. They have to be taken as you find them.

In my younger days, when I was employed on the massive, unfenced cattle properties of Australia's north, I always worked on the assumption that a good horse was never a bad colour, but was wary of piebalds and skewbalds (paints, pintos etc.) mainly because the two best riding breeds, the Arab and the Thoroughbred, do not have these colours.

Broken colours indicate inferior breeding, and breeding is important in terms of a horse's weight-carrying ability and endurance. A well-bred, medium-sized horse can carry weight better than a coarsely bred animal that may be half-draught. and a couple of hundred pounds heavier. Though it's not my favourite color, the really outstanding horses I've had have all been bays.

The wandering cowboy of fiction seems to be able to carry all he needs on his riding horse. In reality, not much can be packed on a saddle even with a pair of large saddlebags. A single blanket takes up a lot of room and the bedrolls carried by cowboys in cold country were far too large to carry on riding saddles. Coffee pots and frying pans are particularly awkward. The real howler, still appearing in books, is when the hero cooks himself bacon and eggs for breakfast. Eggs are not designed for carrying on horseback.

It would be possible to travel from town to town and stay overnight in hotels, but that would also be expensive. A man could spend a night out in the open with just what he could carry on his saddle though it would not be a comfortable night, especially in cold or wet weather. When travelling where towns were more than a day's ride apart, most westerners would use either a horse or a mule as a  pack animal. From an author's point of view the presence of  pack animals can hamper a character's movement so it makes sense to leave them out, but the real wandering cowboy would use them.



A lawman, a farmer, or someone based in town might ride the same horse all the time but cowhands on big ranches and trail drivers changed their mounts daily.

Mustangs were plentiful and cheap but many were too light for roping. Likewise, they were too light for cavalry use as the average cavalry load of 240 pounds was out of proportion to their bodyweight (700-900 pounds). Their light weight also worked against them when roping heavy cattle. Indians got good mileage from mustangs because they carried little on them and changed them often.

Quarter horses had the weight averaging around 1,175 pounds and had plenty of short-distance speed. On rough ground, where they could not use their long, low stride, other horses were just as fast and some had more endurance.

Draught horses were unsuitable mounts for big men. Draughts have too much of their own weight to carry, are rough to ride, can be clumsy and lack stamina at faster paces. With body weights from 1,600 pounds to more than 3,000 pounds, their different bone structure makes them unsuitable for riding.

Arab horses
were good but were not common in the Old West. Though usually bigger than mustangs, 15 hands is fairly big for an Arab horse. Weight can be 900-1,000 pounds.

Morgan horses weighed slightly over 1,000 pounds and were riding or light harness types. Despite what is often written, they were not used to pull heavy wagons. Some were used in light harness for buckboards or buggies but they lacked the size for heavy draught work.

Quarter horse

Draught horse

Thoroughbreds were the favoured mounts of many army officers and proved their ability on a great number of nineteenth-century battlefields. The breed should not be judged by the broken-down fugitives from race tracks that today give such an unfavourable impression of these horses. No other breed of horse can carry even the light racing weights at the same speed or over the same distances. With an average height of about 16 hands and mostly weighing between 1,050 and 1,200 pounds, they had the size to make them good weight carriers. Thoroughbreds of good conformation, properly acclimatized to the country, are very good workers indeed.

Stallions are often selected as mounts for fictional heroes, but they are a bad choice to ride. They will fight other horses if there are mares about and if they are near a mare in season they are prone to forget what their riders want. A stallion hitched to a rail in a town would cause no end of trouble and would be most unlikely to wait patiently at the hitching rail while his master disposed of the villains. The army never used stallions except on breeding establishments.

Morgan horse

The outlaw King Lesley set up his kingdom in the San Christobal Mountains. From there, he plundered the countryside around Henly Springs for two years. Finally the townspeople pressured their local sheriff into leading a posse against the outlaws. But they were ambushed by Lesley's men and a massacre ensued. Was salvation at hand when Marshal Rod Delroy arrived in town with the mission of rescuing any survivors? The issue was complicated by the intervention of Mort Wolfe, a man driven by his desire for revenge against Lesley. Rod faced many dangers before the outlaw threat could be removed.
Back cover, Killer's Kingdom

Ranches and cattle

Large ranches would never have had an accurate count of the number of cattle they had on the open range. They were mixed in with other brands until roundups in spring and autumn, where calves were branded and stock selected for sale. Local ranches were all represented at roundups. There was little point in rustlers running off herds of branded stock. They would be hard to hide and difficult to sell unless brands were somehow altered. Cattle were earmarked as well, and an earmark was often harder to change than a brand. Most rustlers concentrated on stealing unbranded calves. In the years following the Civil War it might have been possible to sell stolen, branded cattle, but the ranchers soon devised means of dealing with the problem with properly registered brands and earmarks. Altered brands could be seen on the flesh side of the skin when the animal was killed.

Night watches were kept only on trail herds. Ranch cattle were not coralled every night, so when rustlers struck it was often difficult to know how many head were missing. Successful rustlers usually needed a few days' start if they hoped to escape with a large number of stolen cattle. Cattle tracks are almost impossible to hide and splattered manure as opposed to one neat pile advertises to all that animals are being driven.. The often-described trick of concealing tracks in streams would not work very well as it would be hard to hold a large number of cattle in a stream and they would make very slow progress. Vengeful ranchers would see where the herd went into the water and it would not be difficult to find where they came out again.

Most ranchers preferred the open-range system because they could run far more cattle than their relatively small ranches could carry. One cattle baron with hundreds of thousands of cattle actually owned only 18 acres of land. But when it suited their purposes, the ranchers would use barbed wire as readily as the small homesteaders. Not all of the latter were hard-working, god-fearing folks and some would often claim virtually worthless land at strategic places to gain control of vital water or to extract tolls from the big Texas herds moving north. This practice contributed greatly to the demise of the traditional cattle trails. Conversely, the big ranchers were too quick to brand honest homesteaders as rustlers. There were good and bad on both sides.

Despite the paranoia about sheep, and what is often claimed, sheep and cattle can graze on the same pastures. In many countries of the world, they do. Sheep, however, can eat lower than cattle and an area over-grazed by sheep can be badly damaged. The most important part is to avoid over-grazing by either species. Under the open range system, sheep were shepherded continuously while cattle were left to fend for themselves. If sheep ate all the feed in one area, it meant that the cattle had to travel further afield for grass and walked condition off themselves in the process. It also made them harder to find at roundup time. In the sheep or cattle controversy, neither side showed any great desire to compromise. The ranchers had the men and guns and it suited them to vilify sheepmen to force them off the range. The sheepmen, in turn, could destroy large areas of land if they held their flocks too long in the one place -- and they did have a tendency to do this.

-- Paddy Gallagher, aka Greg Mitchell, whose
next BHW will be Range Rustlers.




Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London
Peace at Any Price Chap O'Keefe  0 7090 8269 9
Running Crooked
Corba Sunman
0 7090 8415 0
Dead Man's Journey
Frank Roderus
0 7090 8431 0
Killer's Kingdom Greg Mitchell 0 7090 8459 4
Redemption in Inferno
H. H. Cody
0 7090 8488 4
The Bounty Killers
Owen G. Irons 0 7090 8489 1
Manhunt in Quemado
Daniel Rockfern
0 7090 7686 5
Desolation Pass
Lance Howard 0 7090 8328 3
Hammer of God
P. McCormac
0 7090 8490 7
The Bull Chop 
Abe Dancer
0 7090 8492 1
Wilde Country
Tyler Hatch
0 7090 8499 0
Judge Parker's Lawmen
Elliot Conway
0 7090 8500 3
Guns Along the Gila
Walt Masterson
0 7090 8478 5
Gold for Durango
Carlton Youngblood
0 7090 8501 0
Tough Justice
Skeeter Dodds
0 7090 8502 7
Dead Man Walking
Ethan Flag
0 7090 8509 6
Mistake in Claymore Ridge
Bill Williams
0 7090 8504 1
Last Stage to Lonesome
Scott Connor
0 7090 8510 2


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