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.

2018 AND ALL THAT

As the year grinds inevitably towards its end we come, with equal inevitability, to the annual round-up and hopeful glances towards the ...