Riding the Wide Country …

All those Westerns, people sometimes comment, after browsing through my web site for the first time – the ones you wrote in the 70s & 80s – churning them out the way you must have done – what are they like? Which partly means, unsaid, are they any good?

I can’t – or won’t – answer the second, unasked, question – everyone to their own taste, after all – other than to say they had their readers at the time and, for a smaller, perhaps more selective number, thanks to Piccadilly Publishing, they still do.

But what are they like … ?

It’s easiest perhaps to answer that in relation to the 10 book Hart the Regulator series, the only one not co-written with either Laurence James or Angus Wells. Co-written in this context meaning that after fairly brief but enjoyable discussions, remembering old movies and listening to the likes of John Stewart and Guy Clark, we went off and wrote alternate books in whatever series we were currently working on. Generally, more than one series at a time.

The Hart books tend to begin with a detailed description of landscape, vast and wide, cinematic- an establishing shot – the camera, as it were, pulled back before focussing down, offering a sense of place into which the central character rides and, hopefully, the reader is drawn. This is the opening to the sixth novel, ‘Ride the Wide Country’.

The endings, the final page or pages, are most likely to move in close, the action bloody and abrupt, the mood closer to that of film noir – a kind of emptiness, a sickness almost, that the central character must carry with him from book to book, from one episode to another. These are the closing paragraphs of ‘Ride the Wide Country.’

The Hart the Regulator series is available in ebook format from Piccadilly Publishing along with the other western series in which I was involved.


Author: John Harvey


7 thoughts on “Riding the Wide Country …”

  1. Love the idea of listening to Stewart and Clark albums (‘Desperadoes Waiting for a Train’, ‘Last Gunfighter Ballad’, ‘Mother Country’?), watching, say, ‘Warlock’ and then going off to bash out a novel. J.T. Edson eat your heart out…

  2. When I worked in public libraries, we used to muse upon the age at which male readers (and they tended to be male) started reading Westerns. We were probably being far too sweeping in our assessment of that genre!

  3. It’s interesting the extent to which library take-up of the majority of my westerns has diminished; it used to provide a fair slice of my annual Public Lending Right money, now I doubt if it would pay for a week’s flat whites at Cinnamon Village.

    John Harvey 37 Oakford Road, London NW5 1AJ http://www.mellotone.co.uk Some Days You Do, My blog about writers & writing, movies, art, music et cetera is at http://www.straight75nochaser.wordpress.com


  4. Your point above is very true John, I sometimes think I would get less quizzical looks if I asked in a library where the porn section was. I had no idea you had a series of westerns under your belt, I’m almost through (yet another) a repeat read of Elmore Leonard’s “Last stand of Sabre River”, so your blog message was very opportune. Downloaded the first four this morning, won’t pay for your flat white I’m afraid but maybe puts something towards a McDonald’s coffee.

  5. I guess you know that Leonard said, more than once, the reason he started writing crime novels was that the market for westerns dried up. In some ways I’d like to be able to say the same, except that my journey towards crime was less straightforward; anticipating the downward slide in the demand for new westerns (from book buyers and therefore from publishers) I made a sideways (upwards?) step towards writing for television, dramatising two Arnold Bennett novels for the BBC (‘Anna of the Five Towns’ & ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’) in addition to a short-lived series for Central TV called ‘Hard Cases’, which was based on a group of probation officers and their clients and set – and filmed – in Nottingham. It was the experience of being involved in this which led me towards the first of the Resnick novels.

  6. I used to read your Westerns when I was (much) younger, John. Herne the Hunter was a particular favourite, a character who has always stuck in my mind. The Caleb Thorn books, I remember as well. I was an avid reader of JT Edson at one point. Morgan Kane, US Marshall, by the Norwegian author Kjell Hallbing (Louis Masterson) was another in this genre. Thinking about these books/authors now certainly brings me back down memory lane. Fond memories.

    I only realised a few years ago in browsing your website, after reading Charlie Resnick, Frank Elder for years, you were the author/co-author of so many of these books. I often wonder did something in the Charlies Resnick, Frank Elder writing resonate in my mind without realising it. Or maybe good writing is just good writing whatever the genre!

  7. It’s an interesting suggestion, that there might be some residual connection between Herne (and Hart) and Resnick, and though it has to be a possibility, I’d find it difficult to pin it down – other than there being, as I suggested in my blog piece, a connection between the noirish atmosphere of the Hart books and the tone of some of the Resnicks.

    Aside from the pleasure they gave me to write (and earn a decent living), i’ve always looked back on all those westerns for what they taught me about pacing and structure, how to move the narrative along so that the reader wants to follow, the ability of getting him or her to want to turn the page.

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Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

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