This will be one of the last interviews I do this year so I hope you'll enjoy meeting, or reacquainting yourself with, long standing fellow BHW author and all round nice guy Nik Morton. He is a man with many strings to his bow, so enjoy.
Thank you for inviting me, Jo.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been writing for about 52 years. I wrote my first novel when I was 16, but it was rejected, not surprisingly. Since then I joined the Royal Navy (where I learned to touch-type, useful), took a correspondence course on writing (fiction, articles etc) and became so successful the organisers wanted me to be a tutor, but the naval commitment precluded doing that. I left the navy after 22 years (having travelled to many exotic and interesting places), took up IT and was made redundant twice so took the hint and became deputy editor of a local monthly magazine, Portsmouth Post. My wife Jen and I moved to Spain in 2003 and we’re still here. In that time I’ve published a sci-fi/horror/fantasy magazine Auguries, sold over 100 short stories and many articles, chaired writers’ circles, run writing workshops and given talks on writing, and for a couple of years I was editor in chief for Solstice Publishing in the US.
You’re a British writer, what attracted you to writing westerns?
As a youngster I was brought up on the many western TV shows, and several comics too – Pecos Bill, Lash Larue, Roy Rogers et al. I’ve always been interested in history, and the era of the American West holds a great fascination for me. However, for a long time I thought only Americans could write authentic westerns! Naturally, as my writing evolved I realised that this wasn’t the case. There were plenty of British (and non-US) writers of westerns out there. I wrote my first western Death at Bethesda Falls in 2007 and it was accepted by Robert Hale. As I’d been concentrating on other genre books for many years prior to this, I metaphorically kicked myself: I should have been writing westerns a lot sooner!
My Black Horse Westerns are written under the pen-name Ross Morton. At the time, I wanted to keep separate my crime, thriller and fantasy identities; that is no longer the case, since the revolution of the e-book: authors can write in several genres using one name if they wish, where before publishers would have baulked at this mixed branding. The last western I wrote was Coffin for Cash in the Beat to a Pulp series about Marshals Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles; that was published in May, written under my Nik Morton pen-name; my first earlier outing for these characters was Bullets for a Ballot, which has picked up 50 reviews.
How many books have you written?
I’ve written 24 books, and 23 of them have been published (though some are at present out of print): 8 westerns, 7 crime thrillers, 1 horror, 2 fantasy, 2 non-fiction, 1 anthology, and 2 paranormal spy thrillers. The 24th is a sci-fi time-travel adventure, still seeking a publisher. I’ve also written a film script for the horror book.
What motivates you to put pen to paper book after book?
I’ve got an active imagination. I have stories to tell. I have started five other books, but have yet to move forward on them.
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
Ideas come from reading – whether that’s non-fiction, articles, newspapers, and magazines, and just keeping one’s ears open. It can be the simplest germ of an idea or a full-blown item. While training in the RN, our group got together one evening to have a go at a Ouija session. Gibberish seemed to result. But I suggested that what if it wasn’t nonsense at all, but in code? Thus evolved the story ‘The Ouija Message’ that finally became The Prague Papers some years later!
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Nothing unusual. I do create a spreadsheet for any piece of reasonable length (that is, short story or novel), so I can monitor progress – very useful if there’s a word-count limit!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard about writing westerns?
Be true to the period and the people. Where that came from, I don’t know. Some people might misguidedly think that westerns, which are generally shorter than most genre fiction, are easier to write, and that the plots are simplistic. They’d be wrong on all counts, of course. Yes, there’s research to get historical aspects right – guns, horses, clothing – but we’re also dealing with the human condition, and that essentially hasn’t altered greatly through history. With a western, some characters will be shaped by the land they inhabit; then again, that’s not so different for a modern crime tale, where a deprived environment might create a monster.
What inspired you to write your excellent how to book – Write A Western In 30 Days? What kind of response have you had to it?
Thanks for the praise! As I mentioned, over the years I’d given a number of talks on writing, and for one writers’ circle session I used my book The $300 Man in my talk (the attendees having read it the previous week). Out of this session sprang the idea for a book on genre fiction writing. Originally, I thought of offering the full text of the book as part 1, with discussion and ‘how to’ as part 2. Hale wasn’t happy about that idea, but gave permission for me to use excerpts from the book. I used a western because it’s a shorter prose piece. Naturally, since the book I was using as an example was a western, it meant I should concentrate on ‘how to write a western’ rather than any genre fiction novel. This wasn’t difficult, as I’d plenty of research under my belt for my other BHW books. The response to the book has been very good indeed, and I’m grateful for all those positive reviews! The publisher asked me to write a similar ‘how to’ for science fiction, but I doubt if I can fit it into my schedule!
What does the well-known adage ‘write what you know’ mean to you?
We’ve experience of people in many walks of life, through work and leisure, and we’re observers, whether a writer or not. So, we know people, by and large. As for the other stuff, even if a writer knows about a certain discipline (the forces, IT), research is still necessary to check memory. It comes down to write what you know from research (without overdoing it)!
What do you read for pleasure and what are you reading now?
I’ve got over 4,000 books, many still unread after thirty years. I’m trying to catch up on that backlog in order to reduce the number. I’m currently reading Brian Stableford’s six-book sci-fi series about The Hooded Swan. I’ve been reading several books about Afghanistan, for research purposes.
Is there one book or author you’ve read that inspired you to write westerns and, if so, why?
I read Shane at school and I’m sure that influenced me at the time. I’ve read L’Amore and Brand and many others (see Appendix E of my book). I also read widely outside the genre, whether that’s classics, like Conrad or crime like John D. MacDonald. I reckon Edgar Rice Burroughs impelled me to write at that early age.
What’s your latest writing project?
I’m writing The Khyber Chronicle, the third in the psychic spy Tana Standish series. It’s set in Afghanistan in 1979 – the lead up to the Soviet invasion. The previous two are The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text, all published by Crooked Cat, who also publish my ‘Avenging Cat’ crime series – Catalyst, Catacomb and Cataclysm.
Which of your westerns would you recommend to a first time reader? Why have you chosen it?
I’m fond of them all, but of my six BHWs only three are available on Amazon at sensible prices. I’d recommend Blind Justice at Wedlock, as it’s a variation on a non-western theme. The aforementioned Coffin for Cash is I hope intriguing, as it’s a noir western with elements of Edgar Allan Poe…
If you could be anyone or anything, anywhere and at any time - past, present or future – who or what would that be, where and why?
I’m going to be boring and say that I’m happy with the life I’ve been given. Of course, as a writer, I can be anyone anywhere at any time in one of my novels!
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
It was a pleasure.
Nik's books are available from all the usual outlets (Amazon, Book Depository, etc.) and why not have a look at his blog Writealot.