When — and why — did you first fall in love with Westerns?
As a kid growing up in England in the ’60s, I fell in love with Westerns watching movies and shows on TV. I was particularly taken by “The High Chaparral” TV series — its Arizona location photography and the background of the Apache Wars, which sparked a life-long interest in Native American history and culture. In the ’70s when I was entering adulthood, I had a pal who turned me on to reading Westerns, starting with the “McAllister” series by Matt Chisholm.
Who are your three favorite Western writers?
The first of several impossible questions you’re going to torture me with during this interview. I have to pick three out of the likes of Ralph Cotton, Fred Grove, Louis L’Amour, Glendon Swarthout, Robert MacLeod, A.B. Guthrie Jr., Lewis B. Patten, Jack Schaefer, Dorothy M. Johnson, Charles Neider, etc.? Three who I followed fairly slavishly when I was cutting my teeth on reading Westerns were Will Henry, Gordon Shirreffs and Matt Chisholm — I devoured Chisholm’s “McAllister” series, and then found out he was British, which inspired me — so let’s go with those three.
Which Western do you wish you’d written?
“Hondo” by Louis L’Amour. In some ways “Hondo” is the template Western hero, and I’m sure my main character in all my Westerns, Calvin Taylor, owes something to him. Once, to warm myself up for a writing project, I rewrote the first chapter of “Hondo” and then had to stop myself from rewriting the whole novel! I think that would be an interesting exercise for another Scott Harris-helmed “52 weeks” project — get us lesser mortals to follow in the footsteps of the greats and rewrite, in our own words, a chapter from a classic Western novel.
What is the most recent Western you’ve read?
I read a few recently that didn’t happen for me, so I’m not going to mention them. I also reread some old favorites. The most recent “new” western I read and liked was “Geronimo Must Die” by J.R. Lindermuth.
The “Desert Island” question. What are your three favorite Western books?
Impossible to say — but as you’ve cornered, me I’ll play along. “Little Big Man” by Thomas Berger, which deals with tragic events and yet manages to be extremely funny in places, and has subtleties the film lacks; “Blood Brother” by Elliott Arnold, which deals with the Apache chief Cochise and had a huge influence on my writing, particularly “The Peacemaker”; and “The Buffalo Soldiers” by John Prebble, which tackles numerous Western clichés in a startling and original way. I don’t think you’ll find a better written Western. And Prebble was also a Brit!
What are your three favorite Western movies?
Even more unanswerable than the “three books” question. But as John Wayne and John Ford were, IMHO, the two most important people in Western movie history, one would have to be a combination of their talents. Which boils down to a wrestling match between “Stagecoach” and “Fort Apache” — I think I’ll go for “Fort Apache.” “Ride the High Country” for its elegiac quality and the wonderful performances of Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. “Hombre,” which is based on a great Elmore Leonard novel that almost made it into my “best three books” list.
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite — and why?
“The Peacemaker.” I like all my first five published books, but they were of necessity short, which meant they had to be action-centric, dependent on a fast pace. With a longer book like “The Peacemaker,” I could slow down a bit, spend more time on character and atmosphere. I got to play around with a real historical person — in this case Cochise. I was able to write a proper love story. I could provide what John Ford called “grace notes” in his movies, quiet, reflective bits where not much happens but they give the story added texture and depth. I was very grateful to my publishers for letting me do that.
What is the most recent Western you’ve written?
The most recent Western item I’ve finished is my short story “Spectres at the Feast,” which you were kind enough to include in your excellent “The Shot Rang Out” anthology.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
I’m going through a slightly frustrating time at the moment. I have one project that won’t die! In other words, it’s proving difficult to finish it off. I’m stalled on several others, waiting for responses from publishers, etc. I did make a start on a new Western, which has an elegiac, end-of-the-West quality, and I’m keen to get stuck into it, but tidying up other projects keeps preventing me from having a clear run at it.
If you could go back in time, what would be the time and place in the Old West you’d like to have lived in for a year?
I’d only want to pop back for a few hours. I’m an Alamo buff, so I’d love to solve the eternal mystery of what happened there on the morning of March 6, 1836, particularly to Davy Crockett. However, if I did find myself in the middle of the final assault on the Alamo, I’d like to be both invisible and invulnerable, to avoid all the bullets, cannon balls and bayonets in the neighborhood!
Is there a question you wish I’d asked? The answer?
No. Answering questions two and five was traumatic enough!