Wednesday, 11 July 2018


Martin Marais (writing as Martyn) is like me a Brit writing westerns. He tells me a favourite of his own books is his first, THE BOUNTY HUNTERS.

Michael ‘Tidy’ Callaghan isn’t your average bounty hunter. On arriving at Wellhead, Tidy’s well-trained nose picks up that there might be some trouble brewing in this one-horse town. His cousin-cum-ex-partner Scully arrives on the scene, disguised as a priest and clearly up to no good.

Then Tidy encounters Brett Maverick, casing the bank and alarms bells start ringing. 

With the clock ticking, Tidy only has a small window to discover what Scully’s up to and investigate the true identity of Maverick and what he’s planning before all hell breaks loose. Can Scully and Tidy forget their troubled past and join forces, or is Scully mixed up in the same business as Maverick?

Historical evidence for western bounty hunters is slight, (I’ve blogged before about prototype bounty hunters like TOM HORN and CHARLES SIRINGO) but they’re certainly popular in western fiction!
Naturally the plot, a few bounty hunters turning up in the same remote community, clearly in competition with each other, made me think of Sergio Leone’s ‘dollar’ trilogy, particularly FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in ‘For a Few Dollars More

That one of the bounty hunters is tracking down seven men brought to mind 7 MEN FROM NOW.

Lee Marvin and Randolph Scott in ‘Seven Men from Now

Brett Maverick, of course, was the character played by JAMES GARNER in the TV Western series ‘Maverick,’ (19557 – 1962) - when his name was spelled Bret – and its spin off ‘Bret Maverick’ (1981-82.) The show was atypical of TV Westerns of the time in being often comedic and tongue-in-cheek. Its varying leads were a collection of brothers and cousins who made a living as Old West gamblers, and, whilst likable, were not notably heroic. James Garner’s Bret Maverick has sometimes been described as the first TV anti-hero.

In 1994 these shows spawned a movie ‘Maverick’ where MEL GIBSON played the lead.


‘Martin Marais has such an easy and fluid writing style… captivating and entertaining story.’

‘Interesting characters and an ingenious plot keep you reading…a fresh take on the story of the bounty hunter.’

Wednesday, 20 June 2018


Acclaimed novelist Dave Hardy  (writing as DAVID HARDY) has written across genres from horror/fantasy to the western. He’s one of many authors who tells me his favourite of his books is his first, CRAZY GRETA.

The setting is 16th Century Europe, a continent wracked by religious wars, violent acts of intolerance such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and portents of impending doom. Greta is a tavern keeper in Holland, pushing 40, hard-drinking, bad tempered and sharp-tongued, who just wants to be left alone. But then her world is threatened by forces from (literally) beyond the grave when the dead rise and set out on a campaign of terror, slaughtering everything in their path.

Cast down into Hell still alive, with unlikely allies such as CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE and the ARCHANGEL MICHAEL, armed with a sword and her trusty skillet, Greta does battle with hordes of walking skeletons, demons, imps, and ultimately Satan himself. No one but Greta would be crazy enough to try to conquer Hell!

A 16th Century painting of the Devil

This historical horror/fantasy novel is partly inspired by the paintings of HIERONYMUS BOSCH and PIETER BRUEGEL THE ELDER.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre  in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations and a wave of Catholic mob violence directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) during the French Wars of Religion. The massacre began on the night of 23rd August (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle.) The slaughter spread from Paris across France, lasting several weeks. Estimates for the number of dead vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

An artist’s impression of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre 

CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE - also known as KIT - (1564 – 1593) was an English playwright, poet and translator.  Marlowe’s shadowy life – which includes controversial elements to his work, rumours about his associations with spying and heresy and a mysterious, violent death – makes him an irresistible subject for speculation and fictionalising. He’s a fascinating ‘what if’ historical figure. Marlowe was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day.  One can ask: ‘What if he’d lived past his early death at the age of 29? Would he have eclipsed another playwright born in the same year – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE?’

Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe’s plays include DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE, TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT (Parts 1 and 2) THE JEW OF MALTA, EDWARD THE SECOND, THE MASSACRE AT PARIS (portraying the events of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre) and DOCTOR FAUSTUS, the first dramatised version of the FAUST legend of a scholar selling his soul to the devil. Marlowe's plays are known for the use of blank verse and their overreaching protagonists.
Although little is known about Marlowe speculative writers and commentators have described him as a spy, a brawler, a heretic, a magician, duellist, tobacco-user and libertine, ‘blasphemous, disorderly… treasonous… irreligious.’
In 1592 Marlowe was arrested in Holland for his alleged involvement in the counterfeiting of coins, presumably related to the activities of seditious Catholics.
In London a warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy. A manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain "vile heretical conceipts". Ten days later, he was stabbed to death. Whether or not the stabbing was connected to his arrest remains unknown.
There are various accounts of Marlowe's death. In one account he was "stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love." Others state that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight.
Scholar Leslie Hotson claimed Marlowe and a man called Ingram Frazier argued over payment of a mysterious bill (now famously known as ‘The Reckoning') exchanging "divers malicious words" which ended in a knife fight. Marlowe snatched Frizer's dagger and wounded him in the head. In the ensuing struggle, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye and killed instantly. A jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence, and he was pardoned.
Others have come up with a variety of murder theories including one that Sir Walter Raleigh arranged the murder, fearing that under torture Marlowe might incriminate him in a religious plot;

Sir Walter Raleigh
or that Queen Elizabeth the First herself ordered his assassination because of Marlowe’s subversive views and conduct.

Queen Elizabeth the first

Naturally there’s also an Elvis-like theory that Marlowe's death was faked and he went on to write for Shakespeare, including writing ‘Hamlet!’
Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Marlowe in his work, as can be seen in the re-using of Marlovian themes in ‘Antony and Cleopatra ‘The Merchant of Venice ‘Richard II’ and ‘Macbeth (DidoJew of MaltaEdward II and Doctor Faustus, respectively.)

William Shakespeare

Reviews of CRAZY GRETA:

‘Witty, tightly written, and bursting with action… great depth and texture.’

‘Brilliant, original and thrilling read! A break-neck thrill ride from start to finish.’

‘If you’re in the mood to be frightened I highly recommend… this book.’

Wednesday, 13 June 2018


Tell Cotten tells me his favourite of his novels is LEE, number #6 in the Landon saga.

Tell is indirectly related to Texas legend Charlie Goodnight. He has won numerous awards, including Best New Western in the Laramie Awards, Gold and Silver in the Readers' Favourite awards, and bronze in the Global ebook awards for CONFESSIONS OF A GUNFIGHTER.

LEE tells of outlaw Lee Mattingly who decides to give up the outlaw trail for the life of a gambler, runs into John Wesley Hardin and finds himself in Huntsville Prison.

Gamblers out west deserve a blog all of their own. I thought I’d take a quick look at the career of JOHN WESLEY HARDIN.

Hardin was one of the breed of loners described in Time Life’s Old West volume The Gunfighters as: ‘emotionally maimed and socially alienated killers who, for the most part, took up the gun in their teens, murdered men with profligate ease…’

He was born in Bonham, Texas in 1853. In adulthood Hardin was described as 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair. But this slight, pleasant-faced young man became one of the worst ‘man-killers’ on the frontier. At age 15 he killed his first man, and spent the next 9 years as a fugitive, drifting between Texas and Kansas. In that time he killed between 27 and 44 men. As a large number of his victims were either black or Mexican, there can be little doubt many of his killings were racially motivated.

Hardin made a living as a gambler and once – briefly – a school teacher.

He kept his guns in an unusual place. He had holsters sewn into his vest (waistcoat for British readers) so that the butts of his pistols pointed inward across his chest. He crossed his arms to draw. Hardin claimed this was the fastest way to draw, and he practiced every day.

In 1871 Hardin arrived in Abilene, Kansas where he managed to not get into a confrontation with the town marshal JAMES (known as ‘WILD BILL’) HICKOK. Young Hardin seems to have hero-worshipped this legendary gun man.

A few of Hardin’s killings might have been justified, but most seem to be plain murder. A killing he committed in Abilene shocked even the hardened citizens of that ‘wild and woolly’ cow town. Sleeping in his hotel room, Hardin was awakened in the night by loud snoring coming from the room next door. Hardin shouted several times for the snoring man to "roll over" and then, irritated by the lack of response, fired several bullets through the wall between them. The luckless snorer was hit in the head and killed. Hardin exited through a second-story window onto the roof of the hotel and fled Abilene. The incident earned Hardin a reputation as a man "so mean, he once shot a man for snoring.” Years later Hardin reportedly said, "They tell lots of lies about me. They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain't true. I only killed one man for snoring.”

After killing Deputy Sheriff Charlie Webb in Comanche, Texas in 1874, Hardin fled his home state with a $4,000 reward on his head. The Texas Rangers pursued and 3 years later found him on a railroad car in the unlikely location (for a western gun man) of Pensacola, Florida. When the rangers approached he attempted to draw a .44 Colt pistol but it got caught up in his suspenders. The officers knocked Hardin unconscious and hauled him back to Texas.
After serving 17 years (1877-1894) in Huntsville Prison Hardin obtained a lawyer’s license and opened a practice in El Paso. In 1895 he got into a dispute with two local lawmen after they arrested a prostitute Hardin was acquainted with. One of these men, Constable JOHN SELMAN SNR. approached Hardin in the Acme Saloon, where he was playing dice. Selman shot Hardin in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Ironically Hardin died as his hero, ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok had died.

Despite strong evidence that Hardin was a racist psychopath, Hollywood gave us a sympathetic Hardin (played by ROCK HUDSON) in ‘THE LAWLESS BREED’ in 1952.

Among many 5 star reviews for LEE:

‘A tense narrative filled with action and fascinating characters… a master of writing terse dialogue… If you enjoy westerns with a hardboiled quality, Tell Cotten is one writer you need to check out.’

‘A wonderful story.’

‘Another exciting and refreshing story recounted by his easy flowing style.’

Wednesday, 6 June 2018


Lucia Robson has written acclaimed novels about feisty women of the Old West, (including Native American women) winning both the Owen Wister & Spur awards. In 2011 True West Magazine named her the ‘Best Living Fiction Writer.’ But she tells me her favourite of her own novels is definitely an eastern! She found THE TOKAIDO ROAD, set in Japan in 1702, the most fun to research.

After the execution of her father, the young and beautiful Lady Asano is in grave danger from the powerful Lord Kira. In order to save herself Asano must find Oishi, the leader of the fighting men of her clan. Disguising herself as a traveling priest, and calling herself Cat, she sets off along the fabled Tokaido Road. Her only tools are her quick wits, her samurai training, and her deadly, six foot-long naginata. And she will need them all, for a ronin has been hired to pursue her . . .

A samurai woman

Briefly (and I'm taking most of my information from Wikipedia) the SAMURAI were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early modern Japan. A translation of samurai is 'those who serve in close attendance to the nobility.' An early reference to the word samurai appears in an anthology of poems completed in the first part of the 10th century.

The samurai were usually associated with a clan and their lord, and were trained as officers in military tactics and grand strategy. They dominated the Japanese military from the late 12th Century until 1873. In that year Emperor Meiji abolished their right to be the only armed force in Japan, in favour of a more modern, western-style, conscripted army. In the late 19th century the samurai class was abolished. The last samurai conflict was arguably in 1877, during the Satsuma Rebellion in the Battle of Shiroyama.
Maintaining the household was the main duty of women of the samurai class. This was especially crucial during early feudal Japan, when warrior husbands were often traveling abroad or engaged in clan battles. The wife, or okugatasama (‘one who remains in the home’), was left to manage all household affairs, care for the children, and perhaps even defend the home forcibly. For this reason, many women of the samurai class were trained in the use of a weapon called a NAGINATA
naginata is a wooden or metal pole with a curved single-edged blade on the end, similar to the glaive of medieval Europe. The 30 cm to 60 cm long blade is forged in the same manner as traditional Japanese swords. When not in use the blade would be covered with a wooden sheath.

A woman wields a Naginata

Though many samurai women engaged in battle alongside the men, most female warriors (Onna-bugeisha) were not formal samurai. They usually were not allowed to wear two swords.

Ronin (meaning ‘drifter’ or ‘wanderer’) was a samurai without lord or master. He became masterless after the death of his master, or after the loss of his master's favour or privilege.
Historical dramas featuring samurai have long been a staple of Japanese films and television. Arguably the peak of this cycle is THE SEVEN SAMURAI, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece, one of my top 10 favourite films and arguably the greatest action movie ever made. It was remade into the western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Toshiro Mifune in ‘THE SEVEN SAMURAI’
Another Kurosawa samurai drama, YOJIMBO was transformed into A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. This was actually a circular process as Kurosawa was hugely influenced by the westerns of John Ford. When these two legendary film directors met, Ford allegedly told Kurosawa ‘You really like rain’ to which Kurosawa replied ‘You really like dust.’
Other cross-overs between samurai movies and westerns include RED SUN where a samurai warrior finds himself fighting Comanches and outlaws in the wilds of the west

Toshiro Mifune (again) in ‘RED SUN’
and THE LAST SAMURAI. Here Tom Cruise plays an 1870s U.S. Cavalry officer who goes from fighting Native Americans to aiding the samurai in Japan during the Satsuma Rebellion.

Tom Cruise in action in ‘THE LAST SAMURAI’
I know Lucia Robson will appreciate this: another of Kurosawa’s samurai films THE HIDDEN FORTRESS is held to be a direct influence on STAR WARS.


‘Best single fiction book I have read about feudal Japan’

‘Beautifully-written story’

‘A strong, realistic heroine’

‘A jewel of a book’

Wednesday, 30 May 2018


As someone who has made (modest) earnings and gained some acclaim through writing westerns – and who loves the genre – I was interested in a discussion I saw recently on Social Media about ‘what makes a western a western.’ Especially when I realised that the question, which might seem easy to answer, is actually anything but.

I’m sure an initial response would be that western exists in the familiar zone of cowboys manning ranches and driving cattle to market, Native Americans facing their final conquest by the U.S. army, and settlers populating even the most remote regions of the U.S.A.; of Colt pistols and Winchester rifles, law and order finally replacing outlawry and a fastness of nomadic tribes, buffalo and beaver replaced by towns, trails, railroads and farms. What tend to be male-centric, action-heavy adventure stories dependant on the struggle between good and evil, law and lawlessness and what could be loosely defined as ‘civilisation’ and ‘savagery.’

Key elements are that the western takes place on a ‘frontier’ - that ephemeral region where densely-settled and well-policed areas gave way to sparsely settled semi-wilderness and then true wilderness peopled only by indigenous peoples. Where the furthest reaches of modern industrial civilisation met – and sometimes clashed with - supposedly more primitive societies.

But just when it seems the genre can be easily defined, it becomes amoeba-like, stretching out in all directions, shape-shifting across history, geography and even beyond the Earth!

After all, the ‘frontier’ elements I’ve described as defining the western existed elsewhere in the world, most particularly in the 19th Century, as depicted in movies set on the South American frontier like ‘WAY OF THE GAUCHO.’

Rory Calhoun and Richard Boone in WAY OF THE GAUCHO

Could these be westerns in disguise?
Australian tales like ‘NED KELLY’ and ‘ROBBERY UNDER ARMS,’

NED KELLY (2003)

South African adventures like ‘UNTAMED’ or even ‘ZULU.’


Or ‘THE SEEKERS’ set in New Zealand where British settlers clash with the Maori?


Or even ‘THE SEVEN SAMURAI’ set in 16th Century Japan, which re-surfaced as ‘THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN’ of course.

And now I read Kirk Douglas (in his autobiography ‘The Ragman’s Son’) describing ‘THE VIKINGS,’ a Dark Age epic set in Northern Europe in the 9th Century, as ‘really a western!’

Kirk Douglas in THE VIKINGS

Not to mention ‘STAR WARS’…

I think this part of the discussion should come to a juddering halt. In my view, these films may have similarities to the western, but a western for me, has to be set in the geographical American West.

A landscape that stretched from the Mississippi to the Pacific. But even within that vast land mass the western is selectively located. The Pacific Northwest, Idaho and Utah rarely feature. (Even if Monument Valley, Utah is perhaps the most famous western location, most of the movies filmed there are set elsewhere – in ‘The Searchers,’ for example, Monument Valley stands in for the Texas plains.)

Monument Valley

The most favoured locations for westerns tend to be Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and the Great Plains states from Montana and North Dakota down to Texas.

Historically the bulk of westerns take place in a period of history that lasted barely two generations, from around 1860, as the American Civil War was about to begin, to 1890 when the Census Bureau announced the end of the frontier, meaning there was no longer a discernible frontier line in the west, nor any large tracts of land yet unbroken by settlement. The same year saw the last major clash between the Native Americans and their conquerors in the tragic encounter at Wounded Knee.

Inside these three turbulent decades the vast majority of westerns are set – from novels written by Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry, to movies directed by John Ford and/or starring John Wayne to TV westerns from ‘Gunsmoke’ to ‘Bonanza’ to ‘Deadwood’ to ‘The Virginian.’

But immediately we can see the western bulging out of that time frame. In its early seasons at least one of these keynote shows, ‘The Virginian’ was located after 1890 – the elegiac episode ‘West’ was set in 1897, whilst other episodes featured the Spanish-American War of 1898. The highly popular movie ‘BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID’ was set at the same time, when the Hole-in-the Wall gang plundered freely, taking the western into the early years of the 20th Century.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

‘RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY,’ often held to be one of the greatest westerns ever made, opens with shots of ‘horseless carriages’ on the streets of a western town. Sam Peckinpah’s violent masterpiece ‘THE WILD BUNCH’ is set even later, during the Mexican revolution of the 1910s, as is ‘THE PROFESSIONALS.’ Both are unmistakably what aficionados would regard as westerns. Clearly a western requires a lawless environment, where anarchy and outlawry is still prevalent, whatever the date on the calendar.

William Holden goes down fighting in THE WILD BUNCH

Quite where the mainstream western turns into a ‘modern western’ is a subject for debate. Perhaps a cut-off date might be 1920, separating films like ‘THE WILD BUNCH’ from movies set later, even up present day – movies like ‘BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK’, ‘LONELY ARE THE BRAVE’, ‘NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN’ and ‘WIND RIVER.’

The ‘modern western’ – WIND RIVER

What defines these movies is that they’re all set in the U.S. west of the Mississippi – but is that exclusive western territory? After all both ‘THE WILD BUNCH’ and ‘THE PROFESSIONALS’ take place largely in Mexico – and the roistering Rory Calhoun adventure ‘THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA’ is entirely set there, yet contains all the elements of a western.

And what about Canada? Movies set north of the 49 are just as obviously westerns – such as ‘PONY SOLDIER’ ‘O’ROURKE OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED’ and ‘THE CANADIANS’ – where Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd and Robert Ryan play Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen trying to prevent Indian wars breaking out in the 1870s.

Mountie Tyrone Power in PONY SOLDIER

Perhaps in defining the western we can allow for some overspill into adjacent regions where similar conditions to the American frontier prevailed.

Nor is there anything set in stone about 1860 as the beginning of the ‘classic western’ era. It’s just that not many western films and TV shows take place earlier. But the pre-1860 west has occasionally featured. The California Gold Rush was the backcloth to movies from ‘THE OUTLAWS OF POKER FLAT’ to the TV movie ‘The Desperate Mission’ about the legendary gold rush bandit Joaquin Murrieta.

Dale Robertson and Cameron Mitchell in THE OUTLAWS OF POKER FLAT

The wagon trains crossing the continent from the 1840s onwards were the backcloth to ‘MEEKS CUTOFF’ and ‘WESTWARD THE WOMEN.’

Wagons head west in MEEKS CUTOFF

The fur-trappers immortalised as ‘mountain men,’ whose heyday was 1810-1840, feature in ‘KIT CARSON’, ‘JEREMIAH JOHNSON’ and ‘ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI’ etc.

Robert Redford as JEREMIAH JOHNSON

And in 1835-1836 there was the short but bloody Texas War of Independence, where movie-makers have tended to focus on the dramatic stand at the Alamo in films like ‘THE ALAMO’ – 1960 and 2004 versions – THE LAST COMMAND and THE FIRST TEXAN.

Films like ‘THE ALAMO’ highlight that movies can, of course, be two things at once. They depict a battle between two modern armies, both using artillery, so can be described as ‘historical epics.’ But, as the two most prominent Alamo defenders were legendary western icons Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, how could these films not be westerns also? Crockett particularly is regarded as the epitome of a frontiersman… which raises another issue.

Davy Crockett (John Wayne) takes his last stand in THE ALAMO (1960)

Crockett was born and died on the frontier… but his birthplace was eastern Tennessee, which was as much a frontier at the time of his birth in 1786 as Texas was when he died there in 1836.

The real David (‘Davy’) Crockett in 1834

The point is the frontier kept moving, and it started on the very easternmost seaboard of the U.S.A.

In 1625 the frontier – the beginning of ‘the West’ – stood in Virginia and New England. By the mid 18th Century ‘the west’ had advanced to somewhere in the neighbourhood of western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley. Around 1780 it was Kentucky and Tennessee.

But the frontier could switch north and south as well as continuing west. When young Davy Crockett went off to fight the Seminoles in September 1814 he marched south-east from his Tennessee home to the newly-opened up frontier of Florida.

Similarly, settlement advancing west across the Great Plains leap-frogged Oklahoma and left it behind as the ‘Indian Territory.’ When first opened up for mass settlement in 1889 there was an explosion of lawlessness and violence in Oklahoma that ran through the 1890s – long after surrounding areas of Kansas and Texas, and states further west like Colorado, had become relatively ‘civilised,’ tamed by the advance of settlement speeded up by the railroads.

If the classic requirements of the western are American ‘frontier’ elements you can certainly argue that movies like ‘DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK,’ ‘LAST OF THE MOHICANS’ (both set in New York State in the late colonial period,) ‘SEMINOLE’ (located in the swamps of Florida in 1835) and the TV Series ‘Daniel Boone’, (set in Kentucky in the 1770s) are westerns, regardless of how far east they’re located on the map.

Fess Parker played ‘Daniel Boone’ on TV

On the other hand movies set in the ‘classic western’ time frame but far from the frontier can’t be called ‘westerns’ in my view. If every movie set in the U.S.A. between 1860 and 1890 counted as one, that would mean ‘GONE WITH THE WIND’ (set in Georgia in the 1860s) was a western! Not to mention ‘THE RAID’ (set in Vermont in 1864) ‘THE AGE OF INNOCENCE’ (New York 1870s) and others. Personally I don’t think Quentin Tarantino’s ‘DJANGO UNCHAINED’ can be called a western – despite its ‘spaghetti western’ trappings the movie’s set in Tennessee and Mississippi long after their frontier days.


I came to the conclusion that a better definition of a ‘western’ might be to term them ‘frontiers’ – but I can’t see that catching on!

I don’t know if I’ve cleared up any confusion with this discussion or just created more. But feel free to disagree!