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“Go West, Young Man”

October 12th, 2018

First, thanks to Lynn for last week’s blog. It’s always easy to imagine yourself as a professional writer, sitting at your desk with your ideas flowing through your fingertips. But you don’t always realise that if you want to earn your living from your writing you’ll have to do the boring admin as well as the creative bit. So, thanks for that timely reminder.

A few weeks ago, Colin Bulman wrote a piece which looked at how to write good openings for your stories, and one of the examples he used was True Grit by Charles Portis. That got me thinking.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read a Western and wasn’t even sure if it was still a genre that appeared on bookshelves.  So I started doing some research and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Robert Hale published their first Western in 1936, and have been publishing Western fiction continuously since then, firstly under their own imprint, and since the mid-1980s under their BLACK HORSE WESTERNS imprint. The genre is very much alive and kicking.

According to their website:

“Black Horse Westerns are typically around 35,000 to 45,000 words in length. Essentially they are tales about how the West was won, about the migration westwards, conflicts between ranchers and sodbusters, Indians and the European invaders, North and South, the attempts to establish law and order, etc.

“Obviously violence figures very largely in these conflicts, as does rape occasionally – or romance, but gratuitous violence or excessively detailed descriptions of sexual encounters are not considered to be appropriate or necessary. Sexual encounters should finish at the bedroom door!

“ We prefer not to include stereotypical Red Indians typecast as ‘baddies’, but as characters in their own right. It is acceptable to use the term ‘Redskin’ or similar in dialogue, but otherwise it is better to refer to the character by name or using his/her tribe name. Basically, we want a good yarn that will appeal to everyone.

“Many readers of Black Horse Westerns have a detailed knowledge of the history of the Wild West, so if actual historical events play a part in your narrative it is as well to check on the relevant dates and outcomes.

“If introducing real life historical characters make sure you are acquainted with the basic essentials of their life stories: dates of birth and death; dates, locations and outcomes of their most famous (or infamous) exploits. This applies particularly to events and battles during the Civil War, but also to famous heists, robberies and gun battles. Authors should have a basic knowledge (or at least know where to check the facts) of what railway lines connected where and when.

“It is as well to be aware of at least the basic mechanisms of the various types of firearm used in the C19th American West. And make sure that references to climate, and particularly extremes of weather conditions are meteorologically probable in the region in which the action is set, and avoid historical anachronisms when referring to recorded extreme weather events, e.g. droughts, floods, tornadoes, great freezes etc.”

So, if you’re a Western fan, and this has whetted your appetite, then get writing and then visit their website for details of how to send your submission.

My guest next week is Aileen Shirra, winner of our recent Limerick Competition who’ll be explaining how she has used her writing to help adults improve their literacy.

Author: Diana Nadin

 

 

 

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