Angus Wells : 1943 – 2006

My friend and fellow writer, Angus Wells, died sixteen years ago on the 11th April. He would have been 79. 

I first met Angus through Laurence James, with whom I’d shared a student house in New Cross, S .E. London when we were students at Goldsmiths College. While I went into teaching, Laurence began a career that revolved around books and writing: initially a book seller, he moved into publishing, becoming a commissioning editor at New English Library, where he built up a notable list of science fiction and fantasy titles, before opiting to stay home and write – a highly successful decision, with more than a hundred and fifty mostly paperback titles to his credit before ill health forced him to retire.

It was Laurence who, aware that I was becoming restless with my role as teacher, talked me into trying my hand as a paperback writer, and who, several years later, persuaded Angus to follow the same course – although not, thankfully, before he had commissioned me to write for Sphere Books the first of four crime novels featuring Scott Mitchell – the toughest private eye – and the best. Simpler times.

It was clear from my first meetings with Angus that we shared a number of things in common – the most prominent being a love of western movies, ranging from early John Ford to Sam Peckinpah, as well as the European ‘classics;, and of music with an American country feel by the likes of Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and John Stewart. We worked together on several series of paperback westerns – two of which, Peacemaker and Gringos, are now in the process of being reissued as e-books by Piccadilly Publishing.

When we were both living in London, Angus and I frequented the original Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, seeing, amongst others, Van Morrison, Maria Muldaur, John Hiatt and the aforementioned Jerry Jeff; a habit that, after we found ourselves in Nottingham, would continue at the sadly departed Old Vic – on one memorable occasion finding ourselves just about the only two males in the packed audience for visiting Americans Tret Fure and Chris Williamson, who were clearly bemused but not unpleased to hear us singing along heartedly to the chorus of Tret’s “Tight Black Jeans”.

When the market for westerns faded, Angus had considerable success in the worlds of epic fantasy – notably the Raven series, which he co-wrote with Rob Holdstock and his own Books of the Kingdoms. When this market, too, began to fade, his writing lost direction and, accordingly, he lost confidence, and, although we would meet for the occasional meal or to see a movie at the Broadway Cinema, he become something of a recluse. On the occasion of his death I was pleased to dedicate a seat to him in the cinema’s main auditorium – adjacent to that of a certain Charlie Resnick. There they are – Screen One, C5 & C6.

In a Mellotone Rides Again!

I was delighted to be asked by Alf Mayer, editor of Germany’s top online crime magazine, CrimeMag, if I would become one of their regular monthly columnists. Under the general title, In a Mellotone (that’s one that goes back more than a few years), much of the material for the column (which will be in the original English, with an introduction in German) will be culled from this blog and its predecessor, Mellotone70Up, though the first entry is an article about writing western fiction that I wrote for Piccadilly Publishing, who are currently bringing out many of those early westerns as eBooks.

Along with LitMag and MusicMag, CrimeMag is published on line as part of the all-encompassing CulturMag.

Here’s In a Mellotone 1
http://culturmag.de/crimemag/kolumne-john-harvey-some-days-you-do-1/88795

And thinking of westerns, Piccadilly are about to publish California Bloodlines, number 9 in the 10 volume Hart the Regulator series, and originally published by Pan in 1981. The title is a reference, of course, to the late John Stewart.

This is how it begins …

The coffee was grey and lukewarm, tasted of beans that had been used too many times. Hart swished it around the inside of his mouth, trying to clear the stale taste of sleep and last night’s whisky. He threw what remained in the cup wide to his right, stood up and lifted the enamel pot from the side of the fire. When the grounds sprayed across it, the fire sizzled up in abrupt yellow and purple flames. Hart shook the pot a few more times before pushing it down into one of the saddle bags that lay on the ground.

The grey mare stood patiently as he slipped on the bride, patting her warm, broad nose. When he dropped the planet onto her back, she turned her head and nudged him playfully and he raised his hand, pretending anger – a game they played often. Finally, as he tightened the cinch beneath the saddle flap, she snickered nervously and he patted her again and said softly: ‘I know. I know. I seen ’em.’

The two riders made their way slowly along the southern side of the ridge, zigzagging through the cottonwoods. They rode without bothering to disguise their approach, single file, no more than ten yards between them. Hart recognised the leader from the previous night, a five-handed poker game with low stakes and little enough urgency. The man’s name was Cantrell and he owned a small spread in the Rio Lobo valley some fifteen miles to the west. There had been some desultory talk of offering Hart a job of work, but the rancher hadn’t been sure if her was serious or not and Hart hadn’t really wanted to to back to herding cattle and breaking broncs so it had petered out to nothing.

It had been one of those evenings.

Not too bad, actually, and surprisingly so. The stuff with the horse in the second paragraph just about gets by, which is okay for someone who’s only ever been on horseback the once, and never saddled a horse in his life. The third paragraph I quite like, it’s where the story gets going and has quite a nice rhythm to it – I can picture the scene clearly enough and its like something from an Anthony Mann movie.

That first paragraph, though … Sub-sub-Hemingway in the style of the Nick Adams stories, but not Hemingway enough. Rewriting it now, I’d take it down some …

The coffee was grey and lukewarm, tasting of beans that had been used too many times. Hart swished it around his mouth, clearing the stale taste of sleep and last night’s whisky. When he threw the grounds on the fire it sizzled up in purple and yellow flame.

That’s enough.

hart9web

 

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