Friday, 10 August 2018

HAVE PEN WILL SCRIBBLE


I’m of that generation where Westerns were everywhere: films, TV, books. I just about remember watching Richard Boone as Paladin (now where’ve I heard that name before?) in Have Gun, Will Travel, along with Sugarfoot, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and in later years Alias Smith & Jones and The High Chaparral.
But I did lose interest in the movies sometime in the mid-1960s. Back then the BBC would show a Saturday Western every week and, to be honest, most were poor quality, assembly-line films lacking in originality, budget, or decent actors. I reached a point where I just couldn’t bring myself to watch another Western movie. That is, until I was at polytechnic.

I was far too young to see A Fistful of Dollars when it first came out; though I do remember the fuss caused by its amorality and perceived sadism. Several years later, though, I was a student at Lanchester Polytechnic. On Wednesday afternoons a film club ran in a lecture theatre; one film I watched was For a Few Dollars More. It was like a slap around the face. That same year High Plains Drifter was released and I watched it at a Coventry flea-pit on a double bill with Two Mules for Sister Sara. In no time I was a fan of both Clint Eastwood and Italian Westerns.
I never read many Western novels – although paperbacks by British authors such as Terry Harknett (under a variety of pseudonyms) and JT Edson were everywhere throughout the 1970s. I did peruse the odd novelisation (such as the first two “Dollar” films and A Fistful of Dynamite) and Glendon Swarthout’s The Shootist (the film adaptation of which is still my favourite John Wayne film). I was – and still am – mainly into Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and writing same.

Then, towards the end of the 70s, I hit a period of enforced idleness. I don’t know how many of you remember the smallpox outbreak at Birmingham University’s Medical School, but my department was caught up in the tragedy. We were sent home for an open-ended period while part of the building was decontaminated. I grew bored rapidly and, for reasons I no longer remember, started writing a Western. It was pretty bad: the central character, Quarrel, was an obvious Man With No Name knock-off, everyone else an assembly of clichĂ©s. I abandoned it when I returned to work.
But the odd thing was, I’d enjoyed it – purple prose and stupid plot notwithstanding. And it had swiftly become clear that, unless you were writing a strictly historical one, Westerns were as much Fantasy as anything from the pen of Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber or Robert E Howard (who did write Westerns, of course). And Quarrel never went away: lurking in the depths of my head, biding his time. Eventually, his time came.

A couple of years back, Pro Se Publications accepted a Damian Paladin book, Walkers in Shadow,  for publication, and I found myself wondering if there was something else I could try out on them. A Western? I thought. Pro Se is a New Pulp publisher, and Westerns are one of the oldest forms of pulp fiction.

With a new look and a first name – Arieh – Quarrel came a-knockin’. Shamelessly borrowing the plot of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (well, adapting Samurai movies hadn’t done Sergio Leone or John Sturges any harm) and going for a slightly more Italian Western vibe, I pitched the idea at Tommy Hancock at Pro Se. “Write it,” he said. And thus was Revenge is a Cold Pistol born. I am now a published Western author – words I never thought I’d write.
Will Arieh Quarrel return? Well, I’m working on a storyline at the moment, and I’ll pitch it once it’s complete. Then we’ll see.

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