Meet author Chris Adam Smith aka Harry Jay Thorn
ALL THE BLACK HORSES
Chris Adam Smith aka Harry Jay Thorn looks back to the origins of his love of the old west and his first Black Horse Western novel…
I do not rightly recall where it all began, my love of the western, but at the beginning I guess. I have a photograph of me when I was around five years old, taken by my father on an old box Brownie camera whilst I was standing on a garden chair wearing a cowboy hat, a neckerchief and holding a Gene Autry cap gun in my fist. I lived in a western fantasy world, cantering around the old abandoned brickfield near my home in Sussex smacking my backside as if I were part of a horse rather than on one.
I was a backward reader at primary school and my mother despaired of my ever being able to read but, as luck would have it, it so happened that she did housework for a lady who was a head mistress of the local preparatory school, a charming woman who offered to give up her time and help me to read. At first it was a hopeless task as I had little interest in the material offered – Treasure Island just wasn’t my thing. She set the reading aside and, I expect with great patience, asked me what I liked to do best in my spare time. I told her it was playing cowboys and Indians (the term ‘Indians’ was quite acceptable back then to our shame) and going to Saturday morning picture shows, up there on the big screen riding the range with my heroes Hoppy, Gene, Roy, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, The Cisco Kid and Ken Maynard. Being a bright lady she obtained a couple of cowboy books, Roy Rogers and Kit Carson picture annuals as I recall, and I learned to read the caption bubbles very quickly. She intuitively knew I would learn to read if the reading material was of any real interest to me. Later I delved deeply into John Hunter’s Lucky Lannagan series, little story paperbacks that were published each month by the Amalgamated Press under the heading of The Western Library at 8p a pop. I still have a couple, Lannagan Loads His Guns and Look Behind You Lannagan. These thin, small-print tomes were much read and are now browned with age and a mite tatty but still keepers. The little books were, in all likelihood, forerunners of the Black Horse Western series. From Lucky Lannagan, it was only a small step to ‘grown-up’ westerns by Luke Short, Ernest Haycox, Will Cook, Frank C. Robertson and Oliver Strange. I am eternally grateful to that lovely headmistress. The love of reading that she inspired in me has had a profound impact on my life. I’m sure she would have been surprised to know the red-haired kid that struggled so with reading went on to become an actual western writer.
I made a career as a movie magazine editor and publisher, a prolific writer of articles, including many western film reviews, and occasional short stories for various magazines. But until 1995, it hadn’t occurred to me to actually write a western novel. That all changed when on a bleak-weathered, family summer holiday in France I bashed out a story on my very first lap top and the novel was titled A Hard Ride to Primrose. I sent it to Robert Hale, who at that time was the publisher of the Black Horse series. He liked it and it was the first of fourteen, some penned under the name of Harry Jay Thorn, and twenty or so mostly humorous short stories, some of which I hope you will enjoy on this website.
The first ‘grown-up’ western movie that I saw was Red River – which is still one of my favourites. It certainly has the best line in any western movie. John Ireland saying to Montgomery Clift, while examining the latter’s Colt, “There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun, a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good Swiss watch?” This was raunchy stuff back in the day! In one of the final scenes of the film we see John Ireland propped up in the dusty Main Street having been downed by Duke Wayne. During my journalist days, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask Ireland if he was dead or alive in that scene – old school curiosity. He said that he had been asked that question many times and, yes, he did survive although the last scene of the movie with him Duke and Clift in a saloon ended like so many others, on the cutting room floor.
To some extent I lived the dream. I went to Texas, I learned to ride western style in Epping Forest – took a bad fall and gave that up – and in later years was the proud owner of a Colt .45 among other western firearms. I spent many a happy Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning blazing away a goodly amount of the housekeeping money at paper targets on a North London shooting range. Sadly the firearms have all gone now, handed in and most likely destroyed. The end of an era maybe, but not the end of the western novel. Although through television and movies the ‘modern western’ is quite rightly enjoying its moment, Black Horses will long ride the trails wherever an armchair cowboy is to be found.