Thanks for passing by. I thought I’d tell you a little about my current writing projects, focusing chiefly on the series which has taken over my life – The Pinkerton Detective Simms and his escapades along the Colorado/Utah border of the late 1850s.
I’ve always wanted to write a Western. The genre spoke to me like no other. The first book I ever read, from cover to cover, was a Western. ‘Gun Trail to Sedalia’ by Ross Woods. I don’t know who Ross Woods is, or even if he is still writing (nothing else for him appears on Amazon), but I remember that book with great fondness. Such a sense of achievement gripped me when I completed reading it and, from that point on, I read everything I could get my hands on.
I suppose, thinking about it, I learned how to write by watching films, most notably Westerns. Stephen King says much the same thing (although I’m not sure if he watched a lot of Westerns, perhaps he did. Wouldn’t that be weird if he did!). So, in the summer of 2015, I decided to write one. I’d had a story swirling around inside my head for ages, but wasn’;t sure what to do with it, how to develop it, make it somewhat different. And I wasn’t even sure if the genre would prove successful. I mean, do people still read Westerns?
Reading and researching various aspects of the Old West seemed to take me to a particularly interesting bunch of characters, many of whom I’d always imagined as wearing Derby hats and brown tweed suits. But no. The more I read, the more I came to understand just who the Pinkerton Detectives were, and so the character of Simms was born.
I wanted to make Simms slightly different to the usual Western anti-hero. I loved the Dollar films, grew up on John Wayne, but I wanted my story to be realistic, gritty, and ... deep. Simms fought in the Mexican War of 1847, a War which changed him. He witnessed things there which would turn any person into someone hard, distant, untrusting. He watched women and children being mercilessly butchered, burnt homes, pegged out Mexicans in the dirt to burn to death in the sun. Simms is not a nice man when the chips are down, but he has another side. Contemplative, intelligent, and a man of means, skilful in the use of firearms.
This last part gave me some thought. If he’d fought in the Mexican War, and if he worked for the Pinkertons, then the time-frame had to be realistic. I didn’t want my hero to be a doddering old man. The Pinkertons were established in the 1850s, but if Simms was to go out West there had to be a reason. The Pinkertons didn’t operate as far as Colorado until the 1860s, so I fitted in the idea of an old general’s daughter being kidnapped, a general under whom Simms had served. Simms knew the territory, knew the general. It fell so neatly into place, so I packed Simms off to the unchartered Territories, to battle not only against the heat, but the ruthless men who had kidnapped the girl. And, oh yes, there were Indians. Utes, Bannock People, Shoshone, even a sprinkling of Kiowa. It was all tremendous fun.
I had no idea how it would be received, but fairly soon it became clear the ‘Unflinching’ was the most commercially successful novel I’ve ever had published. At one point, for one whole week, it was a best-seller on Amazon! I knew I was onto something. People still read Westerns. People like series. So ... the obvious conclusion was and is – Simms was to appear in a series of stories set in the late 1850s and early 60s, stories which would pitch him against outlaws, gunfighters, thieves, robbers, Indians, you name it, he’d be there. And as the story develops, so we learn more about this man, his past, what drives him. In the second book ‘In the Blood’, Simms is sent off to guard a fledging railroad and uncover just who is organising a series of train robberies. In this story we find him settling down with a girl, building a ranch, starting a family. In the third book ‘Death in Glory’, he is pitched against a bunch of violent thieves out to steal gold from unsuspecting prospectors. As far as I can tell, Simms is going to be with us for quite some time.
Of course, researching these books is a thrill of its own. The guns used are particularly interesting. These stories are set before Colt produces its famous Peacemaker, and Simms packs a Dragoon and a Navy, both of which are percussion cap firing revolvers, which essentially means you can’t just drop in six extra cartridges. The guns have to be loaded with powder and ball and that takes time. He’s often faced with the worry of running out of bullets.
The more I read the more I understand just how amazing the people were who crossed the endless prairies in order to begin a new life. It was a hard, unforgiving and lawless world, with the spectre of death, from starvation, disease and violence never far away. Virtually everyone Simms meets has been visited by death in one form or another. Scarlet fever, tuberculosis, these were the killers back then, and childbirth was still the most dangerous thing a woman could do. Dirt and squalor, hunger, all of these things combined to make each day a struggle. But people survived and, by so doing, forged the great country of America that we know today.
And then came the Civil War.
That’s a few books away yet. Simms has still to protect Lincoln from an assassination attempt, the so-called Baltimore Plot of 1861. The Pinkertons were instrumental in thwarting it, so why not have Simms there in the thick of it? Well, we’ll see. I have a lot of ground to cover before I reach that point. The third book is set in the winter and spring of 1858, and if he lives through that story then he is one helluva guy!