A short while ago, I wrote my first blog post in months and, in it, alluded to the fact that I’d been busy working on novels his year. Having teased you with that, life got in the way over the intervening weeks and I’ve left it hanging. It’s time I put that right.
In case you didn’t read that post (and I suspect there are more that didn’t than did), the novels I’ve been drafting have come from an idea I had a couple of years ago – or possibly longer (Covid and lockdowns do seem to have distorted time). Strangely, the spark came from the decision to go and watch a tribute band.
Back in the 1980s, I went to a lot of gigs. I’ve written about some of them in this blog (check out The Gigging Years down on the right if you’re interested). It’s quite possible that nostalgia has affected my perspective, but the band that had the biggest impact on me when I saw them was Thin Lizzy. Of course, that was nearly 40 years ago. Going to see a tribute band was always going to be a let down by comparison, but I wanted to hear the songs played live again. And I did enjoy it.
What’s important here, though, is that I played a lot of Lizzy’s music in the run up to the gig, and afterwards. I immersed myself in it, savouring the memories of sweaty nights at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. As I did, I was again struck by how many of their songs are stories or, at the very least, scenarios. And they’re about cowboys and tough guys, villains and folk heroes. There’s violence and action and danger and the seamy side of life. In short, a lot of their output was pulp fiction set to music.
With this thought in my mind, ideas started to come at me. I’d never felt a desire to write a series before, but the thoughts running through my mind meant I needed a recurring character. I read a lot of Mickey Spillane when I was a teenager – what adolescent wouldn’t be attracted to The Erection Set as a title? – so a Mike Hammer type of character was appealing. Similarly, there was Leslie Charteris’s The Saint – the Simon Templar of the books had a harder edge than any of his on-screen counterparts. Not that I’d expect to copy these. For a start, anything I’d write would be more contemporary – in both setting and moral code.
And there’s a potential irony. A moral code in the kind of pulp fiction peddled by Phil Lynott and his boys? Where men are men and girls are chicks?
The songs and style inspired me, but they weren’t to be copied. Other elements began to form in my mind. My character would be sometimes be referred to as Cowboy, though definitely not the man in the white hat. Not a bad guy either. It’s been done before, but I came up with an angle that felt right for the times and explained why he’s neither a cop nor a private eye.
My novels to date have leant into fantasy and the dark side of life. This would be dark too, but mainly when it held up a mirror to society. I spoke to an agent about it last year and he liked how I referred to it: pulp fiction with a social conscience.
Since I started down this path, the Cowboy has been calling me, but so have the other characters (he has allies – I particularly like Fender). But I decided to write out drafts of the first three novels before I considered publication. It might seem a bit extreme, but I wanted to be sure I was going in the right direction with them. And I am. All three work, especially together. There were some inconsistencies, but I think I’ve ironed most of them out and now I’ve completed the fourth draft of the first novel – provisionally titled Borderline.
Before I send it to my editor, I will be looking for beta-readers. After all, I’ve tweaked it and played with it and enjoyed writing and reading it back, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s right yet. We’re some way off publication, but I’m feeling confident. It’ll be unlike either of my previous novels. There might be similarities to other crime you’ve read, but I think there’s enough difference to make it interesting.
Whatever the outcome, you heard it here first.
If you’d be interested in beta-reading this for me during the next couple of months, I’d be eternally grateful for feedback. If not, but you’d be interested in reading the finished item at some point, do let me know. One way or another, I hope you get to experience the Cowboy before too long.