This is the inaugural interview in my “Living Legends” series on writers.
David Whitehead was born in East London in 1958 and grew up loving westerns. He published his first book in 1986 and to date has published over 70 novels. He is best known as one of the Black Horse Western writers (Black Horse Westerns are an imprint of Robert Hale Publishers in London and the pre-eminent publisher of westerns worldwide) although David’s talent includes thrillers, romance and science fiction. I am pleased to present this exclusive interview with David Whitehead.
1: First, thanks for consenting to this interview! With 70 books to your credit I want to ask you up front what was your first book?
Many thanks for your interest, Tom -- I appreciate it. By the time I was sixteen I had already written a stack of books, albeit in longhand and really for my own amusement. Then, in 1974, I decided to write expressly for publication. I spent the entire summer holidays from school writing a book called Vampire Scourge. I sent it off to various publishers, all of whom said they liked it but that it wasn't for them. They really used to let you down gently in those days! Anyway, I went on to write a further eighteen books, collected whole scrapbooks of rejection slips and finally decided to give it up.
One day I was doing some work around the house and I injured my back. Whilst recovering I got so bored that I decided to dust off an old western called Shimmering Silver and rewrite it according to the suggestions of a writer called Peter Watts, who was better-known as 'Matt Chisholm' -- arguably the best western writer Britain has ever produced. I knew Peter and one day he told me to send him what I considered to be the best western I had written to that date. He then went through it and returned it with a list of everything I had been doing wrong. It was a revelation to me, and I still apply the lessons he taught me a quarter of a century or more later.
Anyway, Shimmering Silver became The Silver Trail, it was accepted for publication in 1984 and issued in 1986. After that I never looked back.
2: Tell me about the allure of the western? And why is it that westerns are more popular in the United Kingdom than they are in the United States?
We Brits can't always understand the American fascination for pomp, splendor, royalty and history, but I suppose it's because we have it and you guys don't. The reverse also applies. We have tremendous respect and love for the wide open spaces, the pioneer spirit, man's struggle against a hostile land and the adventure and danger of the opening of the west. Thanks to my dad, who was a big western fan himself, I was brought up on a diet of western movies, TV shows and paperback books and comics. They fired my imagination more than almost anything else. Even today I feel that when I write a western, I'm representing the genre and want to do right by it.
3: You’ve written under multiple pseudonyms – Ben Bridges, Glen Lockwood, Matt Logan, Carter West and Doug Thorne to name a few. Tell me how these pseudonyms developed and do you consciously think a book fits a certain alias as you’re writing it?
Each pseudonym has his own 'voice', if you will. Some stories will lend themselves to, say, Glenn Lockwood, while others would be more suited to Matt Logan. I remember the first time I met Terry Harknett, who wrote the phenominally popular 'Edge' westerns of the 1970s. It was a revelation to discover that he was also Charles R Pike, Joseph Hedges, William M James and others. It was such a thrill to hunt down all these different books that I decided that I wanted to masquerade as several different people as well, and hopefully give my readers the same excitement when they found out that Ben Bridges was also Carter West, etc.,
4: You also write thrillers with our mutual friend Steve Hayes. Tell me how that came about.
I read Steve's western Gun for Revenge and was so impressed by it that I reviewed it very favourably. Steve later contacted me to say thank you. Then, some time later still he got back in touch and suggested we collaborate on a couple of projects. Of course I was thrilled to accept. So far those couple of projects have become ten ... and counting!
5: In addition to publishing with mainstream publishers you are among many successful writers who are creating their own brand using print-on-demand companies. Are you embracing E-books as well? What effect do you think this will have on westerns and other genres?
I believe that self-publication, be it through print-on-demand companies or ebook specialists like Kindle, has given us an opportunity to keep this wonderful genre alive and spread the word to a whole new audience of potential readers. The only thing that worries me is that right now, there is no form of quality control. If a potential reader buys and reads a western/thriller/horror/whatever and it's not really up to scratch, then we risk alienating him altogether. It's a great thing that anyone can have a go ... but please, let's never forget that we should be offering a quality product -- great stories, well-told, and presented in a professional format.
6: Do you feel as I do that there is a creative literary revival underway in both the U.S. and U.K. for pulp style adventure stories? Westerns, space opera, and far-flung adventure tales all seem to be chic right now.
I think that may well be the case. Publishing, frankly, has become rather overblown. There are no 'small' books any more, only big blockbusters. Not every story takes 500 pages to tell, and not everyone has the time or the inclination to wade through something of that length. I believe there is a new audience that wants to go back to the days of the short, punchy action-adventure novel -- I know I do!
7: Any chance we’ll see you write a swashbuckler?
It's entirely possible. But there's a practicality to writing in that you have to write what you know you can sell. Let's just say "never say never".
8: What writers have had the strongest influence on you?
A fabulous writer named Ben Haas. He wrote several long, serious novels and considered his westerns as little more than a means to keep food on the table. In fact, his westerns were tough and original, and he had an original, engaging style to his storytelling. I remember reading some of his books in the early days and feeling that this was how westerns should be written. And even now I will sometimes hear Ben's 'voice' in a certain turn of phrase. He and Peter Watts were both instrumental in setting me off on the right course. As time progressed I adapted all the lessons I learned to find my own style.
9: Finally, I want to talk about Robert Hale Publishers. It’s great to see their Black Horse Western brand get so much attention in recent years. They publish more westerns per year than any other company worldwide. Is it still exciting for you to see these new titles come out each month?
Very much so. And these westerns, with their sturdy format and colourful covers have become tremendously popular with collectors. Right now there are several BHWs coming out over the next few months that I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on!
You can visit David’s website HERE!