(photographed - some of the BHW's in the author's own extensive collection. Click om image for larger)
In the UK the western book scene would be dead were it not for publisher, Robert Hale LTD, a London based company, who have for over forty years published westerns on a regular basis to great success. These days westerns come out under their, Black Horse Westerns imprint, ever since 1986 in fact when the range was streamlined, and their list of writers is truly international.
The books are all action traditional westerns and are printed in lush hardcover editions with some evocative pulp style cover illustrations. And although there is a formula for these books they are usually highly inventive and page turners in the truest sense of the word. Several time, I've found myself, cursing a writer for their devious plot twists. But cursing them in admiration for foxing me, the reader, and making my heart skip a beat.
There is something old fashioned in the books in that the violence can not be too graphic and virtually no sex is allowed. This however is not due to a prudish publisher but because the main market for these books is the library trade and it is all too easy for a child to pick up a book. This point can be argued since children can pick up adult themed books or magazines elsewhere, but the librarians insist on this. And upsetting library book selectors would greatly diminish the market for these books.
The rigid formula is not detrimental to the books and in many ways it enhances them. The posse of shrewd and talented writers know the boundaries they are operating in and within them they create thrilling western adventures that are usually good, often excellent and seldom bad. My own first western novel, The Tarnished Star is being published by the company. I apologise for blowing my own trumpet but given my opinions in this post it is important to know that I am one of the stable of authors. However there is no bias in this piece - I genuinely love these books. It would be impossible to write one myself were that not the case and I have over two hundred in my own collection.
On times the company will publish a long out of print classic but the majority of the books are new and original work.
Some shops stock the books and most can order them. They're always available on Amazon and of course, as stated, there is the library.
There is a thiriving online community for writers and readers of western fiction and and this is run by respected Black Horse author Howard Hopkins. Join this group - I, myself, am a member and can confirm it as one of the most knowledgeable and friendly groups on the interweb.
"Darn it, I wish I was still alive to check out the latest Black Horse Westerns. Confound that Pat Garrett!"