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.
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 given 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 all new extract from The Ballad of Delta Rose
‘Then I’m asking,’ the sheriff’s jaw took on a hard line and his eyes blazed. For all his advanced years he certainly didn’t seem the sort of man to take too much nonsense.’
‘You from down South?’
Delta’s eyes narrowed. ‘I was,’ he said.
‘Well, Mr Delta do you want to tell me your business in Hayes?’
‘I’ve got no business here. I was just passing through on my way someplace else. It’s been a long ride and I needed to get out of the sun.’
The sheriff nodded. ‘Then you’ll be moving on?’
Delta didn’t much like the sheriff’s tone but he decided it wasn’t worth kicking up a fuss. He had hoped on maybe taking a bed in town for the night, before moving off in the morning, but all of a sudden that didn’t seem such a good idea. He didn’t have too far to go now, maybe another ten miles or so, and riding out immediately would sure avoid any potential trouble. There was also the possibility that someone in town, one of the old timers, someone who had been here when the town was nothing more than a saloon and a cathouse, would recognise him and that word would reach Etta that he was back.
‘Just as soon as I finish with you,’ Delta reached into his shirt and took out the makings. Without asking permission, he rolled a cigarette and stuck it between his lips.
The sheriff struck a match against his desk and held it out for Delta.
‘Well,’ the sheriff said, following a short silence while both men smoked. ‘I guess there’s no reason for me to detain you. I won’t pry any further.’
‘But I should warn you.’
The sheriff removed the pipe from his mouth and used it to illustrate his point, jabbing it in the air as he spoke. ‘You’re a stranger, you wear you guns tied down low like a gunslinger. I’ve got nothing at all against that but if you sling your guns around, I’d prefer you didn’t do it in Hayes.’
‘I’m not a gunfighter, ‘ Delta said, firmly. ‘And I don’t intend slinging my guns here or anyplace else.’
‘Good. Then you’re free to leave town, stranger.’
‘You running me out of town?’
‘Not unless I need to.’Delta stood up and looked down at the sheriff. The lawman seemed mighty sure of himself; at the moment he looked perfectly relaxed, but Delta had the feeling the lawman would be able to spring into action in an instant should the need arise. Here was a man he could respect and he certainly didn’t want any trouble with the law. Whilst it was true he hadn’t done anything, had as much right as the next man to go where he damn well pleased in this country, he figured he’d move on in any case.
- Hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd (29 July 2011)
- ISBN-10: 0709091885
- ISBN-13: 978-0709091882