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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Riding in the Highlands with western writer Clay More

Keith Souter AKA Clay More, is not a man to let the grass grow beneath his feet. He studied medicince at Dundee University and still works part time as a GP as well as penning medical books and novels in three genres - western, crime and historicals.

It is with the westerns that The Tainted Archive is concerned and so we rounded up Keith in his Clay More persona for a campfire chat.

Keith wear several different writing hats and I wonder what is it about the western that attracts him?

"First of all, thank you for the invitation. And well done for producing this fine window on the world of the western.
The western genre appeals to me because it is a wide open frontier that always delivers on excitement. Whether it is a film or a novel, you can expect to be transported back to another place, another time, when we were not restricted by the multiplicity of rules and regulations that govern modern life.
When I was growing up everyone watched westerns. Eons before videos and DVDs there was a real sense of excitement as one waited for the next episode of 'The Lone Ranger', 'Waggon Train', 'Rawhide,' and my favourite, 'Have Gun, Will Travel'. Everyone seemed to have a holstered six-gun and a battered old hat in those halcyon days.
I like everything about those days of wireless telegraphy, when steam was the great power, and when the horse was man's best friend. Now, as a writer I like the low technology, which means that your characters have to solve problems with their own wits and extricate themselves from tricky situations without gadgetry. "

The western is in something of an upswing at the moment with new readers trying the genre for the first time. People who have been weaned on the cowboy movies and TV programmes are now looking for enjoyable escapist entertainment set in the old West. So how would Keith describe the Clay More books to newcomers?

"My westerns are essentially historical crime novels set in the southwest. I suppose that they are fairly traditional in a way, in that they are full of strong characters and usually there is some love interest. The first three novels are stand-alone stories, but the last two have been woven around one character, Jake Scudder. There is usually a central crime in each one, which has to be solved by the main character. Yet it is never a straight trail. There are a few convolutions on the way and things are never as simple as they may seem at the start. There is always at least one surprise twist before the end. The hero and heroine usually get embroiled in some sort of danger, from which they have to escape through their own endeavours, although that is unlikely to be by shooting their way out! "

The pen name Clay More - is there any significance to this?

I am glad you asked me that. It is a homage to Clayton Moore, the original TV Lone Ranger. As a Scotsman I thought it would be fun to abbreviate it to Clay More, since a claymore is a traditional Scottish sword."

What upcoming Keith Souter projects can we look forward to? Will there be any more westerns?

"Yes, I am busy on several at the moment. I am just finishing the first draft of a dark mystery novel for youngsters, set in Victorian London. In addition, I am on the third chapter of my fourth crime novel (I like to have two novels to work on at a time, so that I can move over if I am going through a stale patch with one).
My second historical crime novel, The Fool's Folly, set during the Wars of the Roses, comes out in July and I am researching the background of the third, which will be set during the English Civil War. Finally, I have completed the plotting for my next western, again featuring Jake Scudder."

What writers influence Keith in his work?

It is a big list, since I have eclectic tastes. But if we are specifically thinking of westerns, then the first name out of the hat is Oliver Strange. He wrote a series of novels about a cow-puncher called Jim Green, who was unjustly outlawed, and saddled with the name of 'Sudden.' They were wonderfully atmospheric stories, each one dealing with an adventure as he slowly hunted down the killers who had set him on this strange epic journey to clear himself. There are definite parallels with the later cult TV western series Alias Smith and Jones.
Then of course there was Max Brand, Louis L'Amour and JT Edson.
And finally and most recently, Tex Larrigan. I had already read a couple of Tex's novels when I read an article in a daily newspaper, which 'outed' Tex. It seemed that Tex was actually a grandmother, Irene Ord, who had been a successful romantic novelist before turning to the western. I was fascinated by this, so I ordered and read most of her books. She was actually the western writer who made me think that perhaps I could try my hand at a novel - a western. And that is how I started."

It is indeed an ec
lectic list but then that's to be expected from a man who can cope with the finer details of several genres. He's done crime, historicals and even children's fiction in his time. Does he find it a problem changing voices?

Quite easy. I have been writing a weekly newspaper column on health and medicine for over twenty-five years. I never miss! I don't allow myself to agonise about the next copy, I get an idea, work on it and produce an article. That has been of great value to me, because I try to mix them up. I write about the latest medical treatments, scientific trials, the history of medicine and spice them up with an anecdote or two. That trained me to move quickly from one subject to another. As I mentioned earlier, I usually write two novels in tandem. I seem to write them fifty-fifty for a while, until one really takes off then I focus on that until I finish it. But if I hit a rough patch (or have written myself into a corner) I switch to the other. That seems to work for me, since I have usually solved the problem when I return to the main project."

The Clay More westerns have all been well received and with Keith and folk like him penning new adventures set on the American frontier then it ain't going anywhere anytime soon. Where does Keith see the genre going in the future?

I think it is looking really good. Especially with ventures like this and Wild West Monday, for which you are to be congratulated. There certainly seems to have been a resurgence of interest in western movies and in western novels.
I was actually stopped by a patient in the supermarket the other day. She said that she had been reading an article about there being a move away from all of the 'misery literature of mainstream writing' (as she described it) back to the 'older type of comfort reading'. And the western was cited as an example of such 'comfort reading.' If a western gives someone comfort then I am happy to be a western writer.
We have to be thankful for Robert Hale and their Black Horse line, since they have kept the western alive in the UK. It would be great if we saw them doing larger print runs. And I guess that is where Wild West Monday comes in again."

Never missing a chance to push Wild West Monday - the Archive wonders what Keith will be doing to support the initiative?

I will be contacting our local library, who have a very good western section. I always donate a copy of each of my books as they come out. I have given a reading of my books there before, so will have a chat with the librarian ahead of the day and see what transpires. "

And finally The Archive goes into tabloid/best of mode and asks for Keith's fave western movie and novel.

"So many films. Stagecoach, True Grit, The Magnificent Seven, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Favourite western book - all of the Sudden books."

Nuff said - check out Keith's website which features links to all his books. Readers may want to check out the crime and historical novels as well as his trailblazing westerns.

Pictured below- Just one of Keith's crime novels written under the name Keith Moray.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

The presentation of this interview with the author's answers in blue text was Keith's own idea and I think it's easier for the reader to distonguish between author responses and the hacks questions.

What does everyone think?

David Cranmer said...

I agree with the color and I appreciate Mr. More's enthusiasm for the western. As always, good interview.

Steve M said...

Great interview Gary, good to see Oliver Strange getting a mention.

Using different colours for questions and replies works well - just check my blog out ;)

Always good to find out which BHW are part of a series - not easy a Hale don't put series titles on their books unless the author includes it in the title.

Looking forward to seeing who your next interview will be with.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like the "clay More." Cool. I picked up on that right away. Interesting interview. I thought about using a pseudonym for my fantasy writing but I like to see my real name in print, I'm afraid.