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Tuesday, 9 April 2019

The Genre that's too tough to die

"One of the most vapid and infantile forms of art ever conceived by the brain of a Hollywood film producer." ...Dwight Macdonald, The Miscellany 1929

"The western remains, I suppose, America's distinctive contribution to the film."...Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Show April 1963



Geographically and historically the concept of "The West" is very loosely defined, when associated with the literary and film genre of the western. With the possible exception of the Eastern Seaboard almost every part of the USA had been called "The West" at some stage in the country's history.

The federal government defines "The West" as including the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada,New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But from the movies and books both Kansas and Nebraska can be added. And maybe Hawaii and Washington should be removed. The West of popular imagination usually contains those areas associated with the final frontiers of American settlement - anything West of the Mississippi River. An area associated with cowboys, Indians, outlaws and lone lawmen.

Amongst the earliest western literature with artistic merit were the works of James Fennimore Cooper, his most famous works being 1826's Last of the Mohicans - though by the true definition of the genre none of the author's works are strictly westerns. The books were set in colonial America and featured the British rule but true westerns are set in independent America.

EZC Judson, writing under the pen name Ned Buntline was an early writer of traditional westerns. He earned himself the nickname of, 'Father of the Dime Novel' and turned Buffalo Bill into a figure of mythic proportions. However the first western with the classic ingredients was Owen Wister's The Virginian in 1902, which largely invented the guidelines that western writers still follow today.



The names Louis L'amour and Zane Grey have dominated the genre for many years and still do to some extent. But an early European champion of the genre was Karl May with his popular Shatterhand books. He wrote over 60 books but Shatterhand remains his most famous character. Indeed Shatterhand was revived by B.J. Holmes in a series of books for the successful UK western house, Black Horse Westerns.

The cinema has always had a love affair with the western and during the silent era there were many hundreds of westerns made. Most of these have been lost but there are still some prime examples of early westerns to be sought out by fans.

Some of the most important silent westerns that still exist and can be found on DVD or in many cases for free download from archive.org include:

The Iron Horse (1924) directed by John Ford
The Covered Wagon (1923) directed by James Cruze
Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1914) directed by D W Griffith

In cinematic terms there is little doubt that the Golden Age of the western took place between the years 1940 - 1970. There were many classics before and since but during these years there was never a time when most major studios didn't have at least one western in production.

During the Fifties and Sixties in particular the western also dominated the small screen with many western TV series being aired. Among the most well known are:
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
The Big Country
The Virginian
The Rifleman
Have Gun will Travel
Wyatt Earp
Wanted Dead or Alive

The modern era has also seen many classics of the genre, both on the screen and between the covers - Lonesome Dove, Sons of Texas, Blood Meridian, Tombstone, The Unforgiven to name but a few. And of course in recent years we've seen the Coen's re-make of True Grit, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Those though are just the tip of the hay bale - for instance check out the excellent Netflix westerns series, Godless.

The Western truly is THE GENRE TOO TOUGH TO DIE. Kevin Costner is working on a new western and there is a remake of Butch and Sundance in the works. American greats like Dusty Richards and  Larry McMurtry continue to write quality western works. And British western house, Black Horse Westerns are continuing to bring out new western fiction written by writers from all over the world. Among these you will find such loved writers as B. J. Holmes, Ben Bridges, Jack Giles,Nik Morton,  Ian Parnham, Mathew P. Mayo, Chap O'Keefe, Jim Lawless and myself, Jack Martin. And this is just a small selection of the writers producing all new traditional westerns under The Black Horse banner. And of course there is the story of John Locke who became the worlds' first self published writer to sell a million eBooks on Amazon, and several of his titles are westerns. Mind you Locke was recently discredited when it emerged that he had paid for many positive reviews which helped sell his books.




Westerns have also made the transition to eBooks and the excellent publishing house, Piccadilly Publishing is reissuing western classics in the new electronic format, and of course the popular Edge series is also available in eBook. The Edge books, for instance, are a particular favorite of mine and I am proud to say that I was instrumental in initially bring the series to eBooks, but the reissue program is now in the industrious hands of Malcolm Davy.

So if you've never tried  a western then maybe now is the time to do - they've never been so easily available and online giant Amazon has many titles at good prices.

Come on saddle up and let's ride.

Take a look at my Jack Martin page at Amazon - click HERE


 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The award winning Tainted Archive

This blog has been honoured by being listed among the top twenty western fiction blogs on the wild west web - HERE

Gunsmoke.

I've just started watching Gunsmoke from the very first episode - twenty seasons in all, 635 episodes , so I guess I'll be watching awhile.

Episodes in the first season are 30 minutes long, but later in the run they were increased to fifty minutes and I must be honest I'm more familiar with the radio show than the TV series. I've got many of the radio episodes in MP3 format and regularly listen to an episode or two on my commute to and from work. So although I've always been aware of the TV version I can't say that I've ever really watched it.


The series was shown over here in the UK, originally retitled, Gun law and it was a big hit over here. The national newspaper, The Daily Express even ran a cartoon strip called, Gun Law which remained in the newspaper from 1957 - 1958.

Alas, I was too young to catch the series on TV and although I've always loved westerns the only TV oaters that I remember from those dim distant days of childhood are Bonanza, Rawhide, Maverick and High Chaparral. 

Daily Express - Gun Law
'Get the hell out of Dodge.'

I've watched the first five episodes last night and enjoyed them all - John Wayne introduced the first episode with the following words -

'Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight: a Western—a new television show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it's the best thing of its kind that's come along, and I hope you'll agree with me; it's honest, it's adult, it's realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: James Arness. He's a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you, but I've worked with him and I predict he'll be a big star, so you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me! And now I'm proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.'




Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Book Review: King Arthur - Dragon Child by M K Hume



 "Perhaps my love for the legends was because my husband shares a name with the venerable hero. Perhaps, I was just so upset because the story had become so bastardised over the years that I decided to put my own mark on it. And perhaps I wanted to honour human courage rather than magic. Whatever the reason, I am certain that there are so many stories in the great sweep of history that are so vivid, compelling and riveting that I will never lack for subject matter." M K Hume, talking of the Arthurian legends.

I came across this book by happy accident - it was mistakenly placed among a pile of old western paperbacks that I picked up from a musty old secondhand book shop - as well all know musty old shops are the best kind of secondhand book shops. I started reading the book and before I knew it I was fifty or so pages in and hooked - the book tell of Arthur's (Artor as he's called in the book) early life and of his rise to the position of King of the Britons. The Arthur legends are of course just that - legends and no-one knows if he really existed at all.He first  appeared in print in the writings of Welsh historian, Nennius who gave a list of 12 battled in which the fabled king fought. In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the first life story of Arthur and it is here that Caliburn, the magical sword commonly called Excalibur first appears. So did Arthur exist? Who knows but someone certainly kept the invading Saxons at bay for a great many years. In fact all that can be said with even  the least degree of certainty is that sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries, someone called Arthur or Arturus led a band of warriors who fought a resistance against the invading Saxons,Jutes and others from the north of Europe.


M K Hume

M. K. Hume's epic tale uses the voice of historical fiction rather than fantasy, and the Celtic world is vividly brought to believable life - magic doesn't play a part in this story and indeed the wizard, Merlin is here a master strategist, which makes the book all the more believable and fits in with the convincing historical context. As does the author's take on the sword in the stone legend, and immediately upon finishing this book I  took a trip up the Amazon and downloaded, Warrior of the West, which is the second book in the Arthur trilogy. I'm currently reading that book on my all new Kindle Paperwhite (expect a review of the newest Paperwhite soon) and this book is even better than the first so there'll be a review of the second part, and no doubt the third, appearing on these tainted pages very soon.



Quite excellent storytelling.


Was King Arthur a real person? Find an interesting article by John Mathews HERE




Monday, 14 January 2019

Granny Smith: Double the Trouble - The world unfolds before your ears

The Granny Smith series has proven very popular, especially on the Kindle with sales of the back-list remaining strong. There are three full length novels, and one short story in the series and later this year Granny will return in an all new adventure.

Amazon bill the books as cozy crimes, and to some extent they are just this but they are a lot more earthy than the standard cozy crime - the language is often far more fruity than is the norm for the genre, and the situations the senior detective finds herself in would shock anyone expecting nice polite murders in the library, a highly polished dagger between the shoulder blades, the newly created corpse shedding little blood and falling in an orderly position onto the plushly carpeted floor. Nope, that's not really Granny Smith - as the tagline states, It's Miss Marple on steroids.

Last month a new audio-book that collects together the short story, The Welsh Connection and the novel, Murder Plot was published by those nice people at Audible under the title, Double the Trouble. The book is performed by Fiona Thraille, the same voice who has brought the other Granny Smith titles to life with her wonderful interpretation of Granny's world.  Fionna really brings the stories to life and listening to her performance is always a joy.


I knew from the first few minutes that I was going to enjoy this audiobook and I was right. The dry (yet sassy) humour was spot on and the narration was perfectly matched to the tone of the story. Highly recommended! *****

The narrator really brought the characters to life. Great performance, fun and engaging murder mystery. *****

If I won the lottery I would attempt to hire Fiona Thraille to read books to me on a regular basis! I love the non stereotypical characters in this amusing adventure, but Fiona's range of voices and accents brings each character to life, making this audiobook a real pleasure. If I didn't know better I'd believe Ms Thraille grew up in the Welsh valleys! I will definitely be looking out for more books narrated by this talented actor. *****



Audible members can buy the audio now, as well as the other titles in the series. If you're not a member of Audible then you can get any of the Granny Smith titles for free when you sign up for their NO RISK trial. The audio-books can be listened to on computers, tablets, MP3 players, smart phones or on those personal assistant thingies such as Alexa, Google Home and other smart speakers.

How to describe the world of Granny Smith?

Well, imagine Agatha Christie liked to hang out at dogging sites and nine months after a particularly inventive orgy involving Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett and an industrial strength tube of Vaseline, a love child was born - that love child would be Granny Smith.

The words above are not mine - they come from a review and made me chuckle. And I'm sure you'll enjoy Granny's adventures too - so why not go get the new Audio-book, Granny Smith: Double the Trouble - not only will you be entertained but you'll also discover the answers to many profound questions. Such as:


Do all dicks tastes like Chicken?
Who was the better lover - Keef Richards or Shakin Stevens?


Discover the answers to these questions and many more in Granny Smith: Double the Trouble - available now at Audible, Apple Books, Amazon and anywhere else that audio-books are sold.

All titles are also available as eBooks and paperbacks.