Friday, 29 January 2010

Keith Souter interview

NOte this interview is reposted from 2008 - at the end there is an update on the works of Keith Souter

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."

And finally we asked Keith to update us on events since this interview was originally conducted. Any future projects?

"Yes, I am busy on several projects at the moment. I have written a dark mystery novel for youngsters, set in Victorian London. This is in the hands of my wonderful agent, who has also arranged several other book deals for me in the last few months– one is a medical book on Coping with Rheumatism & Arthritis (due out in July 2010), one is a book in the nostalgia genre about Schoolboy Science (almost finished) and another is a non fiction book about dice and dice games (almost started!). My second historical crime novel, the Fool's Folly comes out in Large Print in April.

In addition, I am two thirds of the way through my fourth crime novel and am plotting a sixth western. 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."

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