Friday, February 26, 2010

Great Westerns #1

For the past three years I've secretly been working on a new series: The Western Mysteries.

One of the best things about it has been re-watching some of my old fave Western films and TV shows. In the next day or two I'll post my top ten westerns of the many I've watched over the past couple of year. In the meantime, here are a dozen of my older favorites:

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 1966
When I revisited this classic spaghetti western three years ago, I couldn't believe how good and funny it was. There are at least three classic scenes, some wonderful lines and an iconic soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. My favourite character is Tuco - 'the Ugly' - magnifiently played by Eli Wallach, who will be 94 later this year.
quote: 'Don't die, I'll get you water. Stay there. Don't move, I'll get you water. Don't die until later.' (Tuco)

2. "Deadwood" 2004
This amazing HBO TV series rekindled my passion for The Western. Like all good historical fiction, it made me think: 'That's exactly how it would have been.' Kids DO NOT watch this at home.
quote: 'Avoid looking left as you exit, if idolatry offends you.' (E.B.Farnum)

3. Little Big Man 1970
Dustin Hoffman plays a 111-year-old man in this moving western which always makes me laugh and also cry. Chief Dan George is in it.
quote: 'Every time I believe you are dead and the buzzards have eaten your body, you come back!' (Younger Bear)

4. The Outlaw Josie Wales 1976
Clint chews tobacco and spits! Chief Dan George is in this one, too!
quote: 'I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender. They have him pulling a wagon up in Kansas I bet.' (Chief Dan George)

5. The Searchers 1956
The classic John Ford/John Wayne film which influenced many, many directors and films. Filmed in Monument Valley, Utah.
quote: 'That'll be the day!' (Ethan)

6. Once Upon a Time in the West 1968
The western to end all westerns. Sergio Leone's masterpiece. Another brilliant soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and the longest buggy ride in film history. Claudia Cardinale starts out in Spain and ends up in Monument Valley, Utah. Henry Fonda is brilliantly cast against type as a cold-blooded, child-killing baddie, Charles Bronson is Harmonica and Jason Robards is everyone's favourite: Cheyenne. Get the new DVD; it has one of the best commentaries I have come across so far.
quote: 'Looks like we're shy one horse.' (Snaky) 'No, you brought two too many.' (Harmonica)

7. Two Mules for Sister Sarah 1970
Another great Eastwood role. Shirley Maclaine as the 'nun' is brilliant. The animal that inspired part of the Morricone soundtrack is her mule.
quote: 'All the women I've ever known were natural-born liars but I never knew about nuns until now.' (Hogan)

8. The Magnificent Seven 1960
Based on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, this film is a classic. Many filmmakers have stolen from it. I will, too.
quote: 'Yes. The final supreme idiocy. Coming here to hide. The deserter hiding out in the middle of a battlefield.' (Lee)

9. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid 1969
Another anti-western. 'Who ARE those guys?' They are Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
quote: 'Think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?' (Sundance)

10. Dances With Wolves 1990
Kevin Costner has starred in two great films in his career. This is one of them. The buffalo hunt was done before the days of CGI and Kevin really rode in it. The new DVD has some great supplementary material.
quote: 'My name is Dunbar, not Dumb Bear.' (John Dunbar)

11. Cat Ballou 1965
A musical comedy version of the Western, with Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda.
quote: 'You won't make me cry. You'll never make me cry! .' (Cat Balloo)

12. Eagle's Wing 1979
Last but not least. This underrated western with a young Martin Sheen as a runaway bluecoat and Sam Waterstone as a boozy Comanche has almost no dialogue. A brilliant example of 'show don't tell'. Filmed entirely on location in Mexico, the scenery is stupendous. Some very clever scenes, too.
quote: 'Any man alive would give his vitals for that horse.' (Pike)

Going to post my more recent discoveries soon!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pulchra in Camulodunum

by Caroline Lawrence 
Back in 2007, when they were holding auditions for the Roman Mysteries TV series, lots of fans emailed me to ask how they could get a part. For the lucky ones who got chosen, it was two summers of fun, excitement and yes, some homesickness... but never to be forgotten. I went out to watch them filming the first season in Tunisia in 2007. That was when I first met the lovely Millie Binks.

In The Roman Mysteries, Millie plays Pulchra, the beautiful, snooty, upper-class daughter of a powerful patron who lives in Surrentum, Pollius Felix. (Of course in Roman times all girls had feminine versions of their father's name, so Pulchra's real name is Pollia Felicia. But her sisters are called that, too. That's why Romans often gave their daughters nicknames.) When I saw her in the The Pirates of Pompeii in the first TV series, I thought she was one of the best things in it, and I was thrilled when I found out she was going to be in The Trials of Flavia in the second series, too, (even though she doesn't appear in the book it's based on.) She was back by popular demand!

Millie Binks joined me on Friday 19 February 2010 for a charity event to save Colchester's Roman Circus.

The event was hosted by volunteers from the appeal and by the Colchester Arts Centre (thanks, guys!) who gave their time and theatre and staff for free, all to raise money to save the eight starting gates of Colchester's Hippodrome.

I began by telling kids and their parents how I got interested in the Romans and how much fun it is to do research, especially for Roma Mystery 12, The Charioteer of Delphi. That's when I realised that of all the experiences ancient Rome had to offer, this one was the only one we really cannot reproduce today. A day in the arena? Yes. A day at the Roman baths? Yes. Roman food? Yes. Boys the age of 16 riding baskets on wheels behind four ungelded stallions around a race course longer than the Grand National? No. Health and Safety would not allow it! I shared my revelations about a Day at the Circus Maximus and what it would really have been like. I talked about the size, speed, danger and popularity of chariot races. The audience and I even tried out the three different types of Roman applause: Bees, Bricks and Roof-tiles! It was fun.

Then I showed a clip from The Pirates of Pompeii. It is the scene where Pollius Felix drives Flavia, Nubia, Jonathan and Lupus to Surrentum in his chariot. You can see that they look genuinely scared and excited. The scene ends when the chariot drives into the courtyard of the Villa Limona and Pulchra runs to greet her beloved 'pater'. She is quite beastly to the four grubby friends. She ignores Nubia and claims Jonathan for her own.

After the clip, Millie Binks came on stage so that I could interview her about being in the series. Millie was born in London but has lived in Colchester all her life, so the plight of the Roman Circus was dear to her heart. She has just turned 16 and took time out from half-term revision to join us.

I began by asking Millie how she got into acting. She told us that she auditioned for the pantomime at the other theatre in Colchester and got the part. She fell in love with acting and has never looked back. She even had an agent by the time she was 10 years old.

Millie told us that after she heard about the auditions for the Roman Mysteries TV series, she read all the Roman Mysteries so far published and listened to the talking books. Millie is not just beautiful, she's very intelligent. She's studied Latin and Classical Civilization and her favourite subjects are English and Art. Yes, she's talented, too. She didn't get the part she auditioned for - Flavia - but because the producers were so impressed with her beauty and dedication, they contacted her a few months later to tell her she'd won the part of Pulchra.

Millie confessed that she doesn't like animals, which is why she didn't have a go riding in the chariot. She didn't even like picking up the dog in her scene. And when she and Flavia have a girlfight, they filmed it in a part of Tunisia called 'Snake Town'. Millie and Fran had to roll around on the ground at one point and Fran got bitten! It might not have been a snake but it left an ugly red mark on her waist for days.

Some fans from the Roman Mysteries Facebook Fan Club had submitted questions for me to ask. One of them was: What was the scariest thing you had to do? Millie says in the scene where the pirates were taking them to the Green Grotto they were walking along a real cliff. At one point she really slipped and was only saved from certain death by one of the 'pirates', who grabbed her. After the scene ended, the director said: 'That was great! Can you do that again? With the same scream?'

Another fan asked if Millie liked wearing Roman clothes and make up. Strangely they didn't let her wear much make-up (even though Roman women loved to wear powder, kohl, stibium and rouge made of wine dregs) but she loved the clothes. She even showed us the beautiful pink silk stola she wore for the girlfight scene. She said they had four versions. One clean, one a little dirty, one quite dirty and one really dirty and torn!

Emma from the Roman Mysteries Facebook Fan Club asked:
If you could go to Ostia for one day - what would you do first?
'I'd go to the baths!' said Millie.

Another fan asked what aspect of Pulchra she enjoyed playing most. Millie said the bitchiness. It's always fun to be bad!
(In reality, Millie is the least bitchy person you can imagine.)

Millie was warm, enthusiatic and gracious and spend almost an hour signing copies of books for fans. She also posed for pictures with fans and sometimes with me and Roman re-enactor Gaius from the Leg II Aug. (right) Everyone was thoroughly charmed and now Millie has a whole new fan base in Colchester.

Millie's dream is to be an artist but also an actress, hopefully on stage as well as in film. With her beauty, talent, poise and drive, I know she can do it!

Find out more about Roman Chariot Racing HERE

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans, Greeks or Egyptians as a topic in Key Stages 2 and 3. Carrying on from the Roman Mysteries, the Roman Quests series set in Roman Britain launched in May 2016 with Escape from Rome.]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Golden Sponge-Stick Results!

some excerpts from this year's winning entries:

After a good feast of dates and honey the five children had a long, catch-up conversation about their time over the hot, sweaty summer. Axius had no parents, but was looked after by the group of actors that were well-known in Pompeii... Felix and Sophia had also been away, travelling to the islands of Sicily with their wealthy mother and father on their ship. Olivia had spent her summer in luxury at the local baths and her family had bought two new slaves, one of which could do elaborate hairstyling and make up. Lucius was the only one of the five friends that had stayed with Pompeii's normal activity over the summer. He had been winning all the street fights and scavenging money with his friends from the attendants at the local baths where his father worked.
from The Missed Cue by Florence Fowkes, 11
1st place in age 9-11

The play was now getting to the exciting bit, the death scene. Ilucas relaxed and watched as Julius ran off stage. There was a fracas in the wings. "This is where Julius will be replaced by a condemned man so we get a real murder on stage. This is one murder that will be no loss to the theatres of Rome," he mused. Suddenly the two actors rushed back on stage. "I'm not supposed to die!" one called, as the other stabbed him through the heart.
from The Theatre of Jupiter, by Stuart Quinnell, 12 (at time of writing)
3rd place in age 11-13

Demetrius raised his head, and squinted into the distance. He gasped as, brightened by the pale moonlight, a building rose up from the horizon. Its stone body loomed out of the darkness at an astonishing height, and, at its pinnacle burned a bright golden beacon. The light gave Demetrius new hope as it glared out from its point, and illuminated the stretch of sparking sea ahead. Despite his exhaustion from the arduous journey, Demetrius smiled and praised the gods. "The Pharos," breathed Lorendes.
from The Two Friends, by Josephine Thum, 14
2nd place in age 14+

A spark, a cat-like hiss then a sudden roar and a wave of heat as the fire caught and shot across the courtyard with a fury. The mob fled frantically as they realised the blaze was out of control. Thin beams of yellow and blue seeped through the cracks in the door, settling on their faces. Iacomus cried out as the heat in their small space intesified and quickly became unbearable.
from Trouble in Thysdrus, by Eilidh Avison, 14
1st place in age 14+

That night, Caius caught a fish; and I cooked it and stripped it bone dry; but there our luck ended. "To the chewing of your tables"-yes, like Aeneas we would have slaughtered the pack-animals and chewed our very crockery, except we hadn't any to chew. Like greedy Erysichthon we would have gnawed our fingers and tried to eat ourselves; unlike him, we never would have finished.
from Fragments: a Roman Happening, by Kailas Menon, 16
best international entry

...Captain Proteus had the misfortune to captain a crew of the most wretched reprobates - pirates, criminals and monsters, the lot of them! His crew's reputation, however, was in no way wretched or unfortunate - his ship was after all the Myoparo Mortis - fittingly named "the galley of death", the most notorious pirate ship in the Mediterranean, where, so they say, even the galley-slaves' pockets brim with gold, and the captain feasts on roast meat and Falernian wine - every night.
from The Aesculapian Eye, by Diran Bodossian, 16
3rd place in age 14+

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In September of 2008 classics teacher Jeremy Pine set up a competition for children to write a Roman mystery short story in the tradition of Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, Simon Scarrow and others.

Jeremy was inspired by a talk I gave to girls at his former school - Royal High Senior School Bath - in 2008. I mentioned that a little girl in Year 3 thought my sponge-stick (Roman toilet paper) was an award for my books! I said perhaps a 'Golden Sponge Stick' could be an award for the best Roman Mystery. And ecce! the idea of the competition came to Jeremy, like Athena leaping fully-clothed from the head of Zeus!

You can read more about the Roman spongia HERE.

You can read Jeremy's account of the first year of the Golden Sponge Stick Competition HERE.

Now Jeremy teaches Latin at Burgess Hill School for Girls, but he decided to hold the competition for the second year running 2009.

According to the rules set by Jeremy, the story should
1. be set in Roman times.
2. be written by an individual child with no outside help.
3. not exceed 1500 words.
4. include some period detail about Roman life and/or the Latin language.
5. have a clear plot with a twist and striking ending.

There were four age categories: under 9, 9-11, 11-13, 14 and above.

The Golden Sponge Stick competition was open to children all over the world, and in any kind of education.

Entries had to be in by 11 December 2009.

(You can see the full rules HERE.)

This year, Jeremy had 276 entries. He spent the Christmas holidays judging the entries and at the beginning of February he chose the winners. A few weeks ago he sent me a letter telling me about the competition:

Again the calibre of writing has been excellent with the stories revealing a lucid, imaginative and humorous approach, allied to painstaking research and high emotion.

The variety of storytelling was rich with duplicity and murder at the theatre, double dealing in Alexandria, ‘oily’ revolution in Africa , exotic red sands and kidnapping of beautiful slave girls topping the bill this year!

The wealth of young storytelling talent is undeniable and many thanks to the bubbling enthusiasm of the students and their teachers alike. Pleasingly, in addition to the widespread receipt of entries from UK, there were some international stories received from USA, Australia and Hungary and this exciting dimension to the competition will hopefully expand later this year in the 2010 Burgess Hill School for Girls Golden Sponge-Stick Competition.

Today Jeremy sent me half a dozen examples of the winning entries and I have put excerpts from them at the top of this post.

Here is the official list of all the prize winners :

Under 9 age category
1 : Catrin Parry, Alderley Edge School for Girls
2 : Nico Ferrari, St Bernard’s Preparatory School, Slough

Age 9-11
1 : Florence Fowkes, St James Senior Girls’ School
2 : Sophie Wilkins, Fairfield School, Bristol
3 : Emma Russell, The Royal High Senior School, Bath (GDST)

Age 11-13
1 : Benjamin Thorne, Kings Monkton School, Cardiff
2 : Surina Fordington, Norwich High School for Girls (GDST)
3 : Stuart Quinnell, Berkhamsted School

14 and above
1 : Eilidh Avison, Harris Academy, Dundee
2 : Josephine Thum, Kendrick School, Reading
3 : Diran Bodossian, Hampton School

Best International entry :
Kailas Menon, Stanford University Online Education Program for Gifted Youth (USA)

Participating schools and colleges :
Alderley Edge School for Girls, Berkhamsted School, Birchwood Grove Primary School, Bristol Grammar School, Central Newcastle High School (GDST), Denny High School, Falkirk, Ellesmere College, Shropshire, Emmanuel College, Gateshead, European School, Culham, Exeter School, Fairfield School, Bristol, Feltonfleet School, Cobham, Haberdashers’Aske’s School for Girls, Hampton School, Harris Academy, Dundee, Henry Box School, Witney, Kendrick School, Reading, King Edward VII School, Kings Lynn, King Henry VIII School, Coventry, Kings Monkton School, Cardiff, King’s School, Worcester, Leweston School, Sherborne, Mills Hill School, Inverell, Dublin, Newcastle College, Norwich High School for Girls (GDST), North Devon College, Nottingham High School for Girls (GDST), Portsmouth Grammar School, Royal Grammar School, Guildford, Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, St Bernard’s Preparatory School, Slough, St Columba’s College, St Albans, St James Senior Girls’ School, St Joseph’s RC High School, Newport, St Mary’s School, Cambridge, St Paul’s Girls’ School, Stanford Education Program for Gifted Youth, (USA) , Sevenoaks School, Shrewsbury High School (GDST), The Junior King’s School, Canterbury, The Leys School, Cambridge, The Manchester Grammar School, The Meadows School, (USA) , The Red Maid’s School, Westbury-on -Trym, The Royal High School Bath (GDST), Windermere St Anne’s School, Cumbria, Wrekin College, Wellington, Telford.

In his letter to me, Jeremy thanked:
My family (Lisa, you would have enjoyed this!), Burgess Hill School for Girls, Association for Latin Teaching, Verity Barber, June Bent, Lynda Bevan, Classical Association, Friends of Classics, Dr Mark Golder, Will Griffiths and CSCP, Barbara Johns, JACT, Caroline Lawrence, Gwenda Manners, Andrew O’Donnell, Hanna Prynne, Lorna Robinson and iris Project, Cressida Ryan and Oxford University Classics Outreach, Adrian Wink and Armamentaria.

I would like to join Jeremy in congratulating everyone who won and also everyone who entered, as well as the teachers and parents who supported you. Just getting an entry in shows the self-discipline and drive required to be a successful author.


The Third Golden Sponge Stick Competition will run from September 2010.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Recipe for a Revolver

Any writer knows that you can read about something as much as you like, but it's not until you've actually tried it out that you really understand it.

In Virginia city last year I went on a stagecoach ride. Ten minutes was enough to show me how claustrophobic and uncomfortable and even scary it would have been.

I also visited the jail and a mine. Both of them made me feel clammy and prickly and trapped.

In Death Valley I went horse riding for an afternoon. OK, an afternoon on a plodding horse is not a cattle drive like in the old Westerns, but you get the feel (and smell) of being on horseback in the west.

Some things I don't want to experience: getting shot, going down a deep mine, drinking alkali water or 'tarantula juice' (homemade mezcal), being in a real shoot out, getting scalped.

One thing about the 1860's I must know first-hand is how to load and fire a cap and ball revolver.

Until the 1870's, the majority of handguns were cap and ball. This meant you had to put all the components of a bullet in the chambers of your cylinder. Like putting the ingredients of a little meal in a pan to cook them. (All except for the cap, which is the frosting on the cake)

Luckily the main character in my new series owns a Smith & Wesson Seven-shooter model 1. This was one of the earliest guns to have a metal cartridge with the cap and ball and powder all inside.

But in Virginia City in 1862, the time my book is set, very few people were lucky enough to own a gun which took cartridges. According to Mark Twain, who was there at the time, almost everybody in wore the 'universal Navy revolver'. This popular gun was 'cap and ball'. So were the many models of Colt's Pocket Pistol. So was the bigger Colt's Army Revolver. The only difference was the size of the bullet or 'ball'.

At the Ham & Petersham Rifle & Pistol Club one Sunday, I saw why they call it a 'ball'. It really is a big metal ball.

A .22 caliber ball is tiny, about the size of a dried pea.
A .36 caliber ball is the size of a normal pea.
A .44 caliber ball is about the size of a chickpea. And it's heavy. You wouldn't want one of those to hit you.

I went with my 'research assistants' - my husband Richard and his friend Charles - on a cold February morning. The Gun Club is down a one lane dirt track by the River Thames. The parking lot is muddy. The architecture is shed-like. The interior decoration non-existent. My mother used to go to gun clubs with my grandfather in the 1930's and she says things were just the same then in California.

It is a guest day, so we pay our £10 entry and £5 for a few rounds of ammo.
They have to make us up some packs, so we sit watching Derek (top) as he assembles the components.
Big metal .44 balls. Check.
Little circular wads. Check.
Tiny round boxes of caps. Check
Where's the black powder?
'Out in the shooting range,' says Derek. 'We don't use black powder. We use something called Pyrodex. It's safer and more predictable.'
'Oh,' I say, crestfallen. 'I want the full black powder experience. The bang and the smoke.'
'You'll get the black powder experience,' says Derek. 'Don't worry.'

We collect our 'ear defenders' (no charge to borrow them) and follow Tony across the muddy parking lot to the 25 yard range where they fire cap & ball firearms. Derek and Tony and all the other helpers are members who cheerfully donate their time to help guests one Sunday a month. The gun club is a non-profit organization.

A long wooden shed - a bit like a horse's stable - has places for six shooters.
25 yards away are six targets. Behind the targets an earthen bank and a tall brick wall.
'If you aim too high', says Tony, 'You might hit a tourist in the grounds of Ham House.'
He is joking.
I think.

Richard and Charles and I are going to be using the club's guns, some replica Rogers&Spencer .44 revolvers, made in Italy.
Apparently, if you want a good working replica of a Wild West gun, that is where they make them. You can also get working replicas from places like the Dixie Gun Works.The original Rogers&Spencer revolver was manufactured in bulk for use in the Civil War, but by the time it came out the war was over. It's a few years after the date of my first book, but it will give me a good idea of how to load and fire a period firearm.

First Tony shows me how to load the Rogers&Spencer revolver.
You take a brass powder flask filled with black powder. There is a special way of filling the nozzle with exactly the right amount for a charge. You hold the flask in your right hand, with your forefinger over the open end of the nozzle and your thumb on a little lever. You push a little lever, hold the flask upside down, tap powder into the nozzle, let the lever go, turn the flask upright, remove your finger from the top of the nozzle and tip the measure of powder carefully into an empty chamber of your cylinder. Then you put down the flask. Take a disc of felt - the wad - and push it in on top of the powder. Then comes the lead ball. It is slightly too big for the chamber so you have to use the ramming rod to push it right in.

The ball needs to be big to grip the rifling in the barrels. Rifling is the term for the curved grooves that make the ball spin, for greater accuracy. So there's your lead ball, sticking out of the business-end of the chamber. Now you have to turn the cylinder and center the ball under the ramming rod (a metal rod attached to the underside of the barrel) and ram it in. This can be quite difficult to do. The ramming rod is stiff for a gal's fingers, and if you don't center it just right it doesn't work. But once you've rammed it right down, you are ready to repeat the process in the next chamber.

Once you have put a measure of powder a wad and a ball into each of the six chambers, you put the flask well out of the way.
'That powder flask is essentially a hand grenade,' says Tony cheerfully. 'One spark and it will blow up.'
I put it in a large tupperware box and press the lid down firmly.

Now for the caps. These are little copper cylinders smaller than a tic-tac. Your fingers feel big and clumsy as you try to fit six of them on the six nipples at the back of the cylinder. When the hammer of the gun strikes these copper caps, a spark ignites the power and the explosion pushes the lead ball out of the barrel at several hundred miles per hour. The wad is to stop the powder sparking and causing what is called a flashover.

A 'flashover' is where a spark from one chamber ignites the powder in all the other chambers and all six bullets go off at once. Either that, or the gun explodes.
Neither scenario is desirable.

When I had finally filled all the chambers with the required ingredients and fit the fiddly cap on the backs of each one I was FINALLY ready to try it out.
Get your stance right.
Breathe in.
Take aim.
Squeeze the trigger.
A satisfyingly loud report and a slight kick upwards and sparks fly out and there is a gratifying cloud of grey fog: gunsmoke!

You have five more bullets to fire.

It is over too quickly.

Now you have to load it all over again.

Imagine doing this under enemy fire. Or with a pack of redskins whooping down on you. That would take a cool head.

No wonder there was a waiting list for Smith & Wesson's model 2 .32 revolver, with its all-in-one metal cartridge.

Here are ten fascinating things I learned at the shooting range as I tried out cap and ball and powder:

1. The bang would have been even louder in the Old West when they used at least twice the amount of powder we were using.
2. If you accidentally load an extra ball you can't turn the chamber on.
3. If you don't put in the powder the cap will push the ball into the barrel but not out of it...
4. So when you fire your next shot the barrel can explode!
5. You get powder smears on the base knuckle of your index finger.
6. You can get speckly powder burns that are like a tatoo, an expert called Dave showed me his.
7. Sometimes a little spark follows the bullet out, that is the remains of the wad.
8. You can use axle grease or bear fat instead of the wad, anything that will form a seal against sparks.
9. In the heat of battle you can dispense with the wad, but then you risk flashover.
10. In a battle, the cloud of gunsmoke would soon obscure your vision.

The best part about our morning at the Ham & Petersham Rifle & Pistol Club was when I met an expert on firearms of the 1800s. Dave let me try out his replica Winchester 66 and he also had a sweet little .22 revolver. He promised to bring his own Smith & Wesson seven-shooters the next time we meet!

Watch this space...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

More about the Western Mysteries

Over the past few years I've been working on a exciting new series very close to my Californian heart.

The Western Mysteries will be set in wild and wooly Virginia City in the fall of 1862.

Why 1862?

Back east the American Civil War is in its second year.

Out West the Silver Boom is taking over from the Gold Rush.

And in the final days of September, a dusty prospector walks into the offices of the Territorial Enterprise Newspaper to take up a postition as a 'local' reporter. His name is Sam Clemens but within half a year he will begin writing under the name 'Mark Twain'. But Mark Twain isn't the only exciting thing about Virginia City in 1862. There are also gamblers, miners, con-artists, hurdy girls, prospectors & gunmen galore.

Here are some of the original ideas I had for The Western Mysteries.

1. The series will be for children aged 8 - 14+
2. The detective will be a loner: the western hero is always a loner.
3. The detective will be a kid.
4. The detective will own a Smith & Wesson seven-shooter.
5. Real historical figures will appear in the books.
6. The bad-guys will be gunfighters, tricksters & newspapermen.
7. The mysteries will be based around real historical events.
8. The books will be told in the first person.
9. My detective will love black coffee and layer cake.
10. I am going to have a lot of fun writing these books.

Here are some of the things which have made it into the first book:

1. A hero like nobody you've ever met before.
2. A terrifying, sadistic bad guy...
3. ...and his two side-kicks.
4. A terrible massacre, apparently by Indians.
5. An exciting stagecoach chase.
6. A beautiful hurdy girl, a Chinese boy & a handsome gambler.
7. Shootouts galore and some Bowie knife action, too.
8. A Pinkerton detective. Kind of.
9. A heart-stopping showdown in a deep mine shaft.
10. An ending that promises more.

Even if you don't like Westerns, I think you'll like these books. For more news, watch this space!