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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Delta Rose and the beach-head landings

Where do you get your ideas from?

That question is asked of all writers at one time or another, and the answer is never really simple. Ideas come from anywhere and at any time, but with my July hardback, The Ballad of Delta Rose I can trace the genesis of the idea back more than thirty years. I'm not saying I've carried the idea around with me all this time (thought it could have been stewing at the back of my mind, alongside my desires for Angelina Jolie, all that time. Who can say?) but the thing that influenced the most important aspect of the novel was a story in a comic book I used to read as a kid. That story was called D-Day Dawson and it told of a character called Steve Dawson who was injured on the 6th June 1944 during the Normandy Beach Landings. Dawson survived the injury but was left with a bullet lodged too close to his heart to be removed and, knowing that one day the bullet will kill him, he vows to keep his injury secret and fight on.

And fight on he did, taking more and more outlandish risks to keep the men who fought alongside him safe. Dawson was forever getting dizzy turns or temporary paralysis as the bullet inside him shifted yet closer to the heart, but he always managed to pull himself together in order to save the day. In one story from October 1975 Dawson thinks, "I've had another warning today that I'm not coming out of this war alive." In another story Dawson, convinced that he only has moments to lives, storms a German machine gun nest single handily. He did however live to fight on for another few dozen or so issues.

There was something heroic about  this man who had nothing to lose that appealed to us schoolkids. He was the ultimate soldier since he didn't fear death and was in many ways already dead.

The story was a favourite of mine and it ran originally between March 1975 and May 1976 and then returned for a final series between August 1976 and January 1977. Dawson did eventually die but not from the actual bullet but by an extreme act of self sacrifice that saved his comrades. It was a bleak, downbeat ending to a reader favourite but then Battle Picture Weekly was always unpredicatable.

"He had to die,' said Eric Hebden, the writer who eventually killed Dawson. "It was a chronological story, we couldn't prolong it any further. Once he reached Berlin it had to end."

I remember being upset at the time, as were other Battle readers. In fact one reader,  Derek O'Byrne of Dublin even wrote a poem and had it printed in the Comic's 5th November 1977 issue. And if by some chance a grown up Derek does read this article, there is a scan of your tribute illustrating this article.

At the time schoolkids all across Britain went into mourning, for just as grown men where shocked into mourning when Sherlock Holmes supposedly died after his battle with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, we too were deeply affected by the loss of our hero.

Now I've a collection of Battle comics that I'd kept since I was a kid and a couple of years back when rereading some of these old issues, I suddenly thought the idea of a man doomed by a bullet lodged close to his heart had some mileage. And thus the idea for my third Black Horse Western, The Ballad of Delta Rose was born.

Like Dawson, Delta Rose has a bullet lodged inside him, one that can't be removed and will eventually kill him, but it is there that all similarity and debt to D Day Dawson ends. I approached fellow western writer, Dr Keith Souter and asked him about the effects a bullet lodged inside a human body, checking if it was feasible and indeed possible. I was told it was and was also give some documented evidence of this actually happening. And the novel grew from there. What's more I think it's the best thing I've ever written - the style is much more hardboiled than anything I've ever done and perhaps because I always had this beloved comic strip at the back of my mind, I managed to create something much larger than life, but at the same time keep it credible and grounded in a kind of fictional reality.

Delta Rose will be published on the 29th of June 2011 by Robert Hale LTD on its Black Horse Western imprint. The Black Horse Titles are primarily intended for the library trade and as such have limited print runs. My past titles have sold out quickly and Delta Rose is currently topping the pre-order western charts at Amazon and also at no 2 in the western charts proper. Pre-ordering means you are guaranteed a copy and no money will be taken from accounts until the book is ready to be shipped in July. Order it HERE

Below find an exclusive extract from The Ballad of Delta Rose

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd (29 July 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0709091885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0709091882

It had been quite an evening, Delta thought as he stumbled towards the barn. Stumbled because he had maybe drunk too much, which wasn’t really saying anything. These days he wasn’t a regular drinker and the three glasses of beer he’d consumed during dinner had just about finished him off. He felt light headed but comfortable with it. It had been some time since he’d felt this good.
            In the distance an owl called out and Delta paused for a moment to look at the milky night sky, thin wispy clouds, illuminated by the moon, drifted across the vast expanse. Standing here, looking at all this, one could truly believe that God was in his heavens.
Delta took in a deep breath of the mountain air, hoping it would clear his head somewhat, and then continued towards the barn. It was a warm night, sultry, and he was suddenly very tired.
The thought of bunking down in the barn, while Etta was back in the ranch house didn’t bother him none. He was, after all, at this precise time closer to her than he had been for many a year. And that in itself was more than he felt he deserved.
            Delta went into the barn and threw the blankets onto a pile of straw to the left of the doorway. He guessed he would be out of any drafts and although he felt perfectly safe here, old habits died hard. If someone came in during the night, hoping to catch him unaware he’d spring up behind them. Not that he expected anything of  
the kind but the years of living by his wits had made him maybe a little over-cautious. He guessed he wouldn’t even curl up next to his own mother without a six-shooter beneath his pillow.
            Delta had expected an intimate dinner, just himself and Etta, but the ranch foreman, Steve had also been present. He’d sat there, giving Delta ill concealed looks of contempt. Apparently Steve had been working for Etta for over ten years, had spent more of his life with her than Delta ever had, and although Delta didn’t think there was anything other than business in their relationship, it was obvious they were friendly enough and also that Steve would have liked to have taken that friendship further. Delta showing up like this sure didn’t meet with the ranch foreman’s approval.
            And who was to blame him? Etta was still a good-looking woman and the fact that she owned so much land would make her more attractive still. She would offer not only the companionship of a good woman but also wealth and standing in the community. Land was highly sought after these days and its call could be as alluring as that of any woman.
            Delta mulled it all over as he set out his bed, making a pillow of one blanket and placing the other so he’d be able to wrap it around him. He removed his hat, boots and gun belt but placed both guns beneath the makeshift pillow. He lay down then and closed his eyes, knowing that as soon as he found sleep he would start to dream about the man who had killed him.


ChuckTyrell said...

Gary, the Dawson story is exactly like a western written by Clair Huffaker. Can't remember the title. Same premise. Guy gets hit with an arrow but it's too close to his heart to remove. He figure he's a dead man. Of course, in the end, he gains redemption and the arrowhead works its way out of his chest. The book might have been Badge for a Gunman, but don't take my word on it. Someone will know.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Chuck - will try and search that one out. I suppose there are many variations on this kind of thing. Though it's always D Day Dawson that stuck in my mind. I suppose in a sense the John Wayne film, The Shootist has the same theme but the bullet is replaced by a tumour.

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoyed this. I laways like to hear about the genesis of various ideas that writers have