Meet Gillian F Taylor, author of titles such as The Sins of the Motherlode and Outlaw Express as she gives Black Horse Westerns an exclusive interview.
- Of all your books which did you enjoy writing the most?
I think it would have to be ‘Dynamite Express’. The idea for the explosive train crash at the end came from a real-life incident in a book of true crime stories I found while on holiday, and it seemed just right for the ‘Express’ series. The basic outline of the main part of the story was developed during a car journey on another holiday – I find long car trips quite a good time for planning writing. Everything just seemed to fit together so well as I was writing the book. Bits created spontaneously suddenly became useful parts of the puzzle. Minor characters came to life as I wrote them and the main characters talked and joked with one another with no effort on my part.
- What is the weirdest/most unexpected piece of research you had to carry out to write one of your novels?
I do a lot of research – everything from mining technology to popular theatre shows of the era. One of the most unusual would probably be the workings of typical American carnival acts of the 1870’s. I wanted to have a carnival visit town in ‘Darrow’s Badge’, and preferably to have the lawmen check it out for rigged games. As it happens, the National Fairground Archive is based in Sheffield University, very close to where I live. At the time, the curator was Professor Vanessa Toulmin, an acquaintance of mine from university days. Although the archive focusses on British fairground culture, Vanessa found me a pamphlet on American carnival sideshows, which included useful information on how they ran and how they could be rigged.
- Would you rather be the outlaw or the sheriff?
I think the sheriff. The outlaw’s careers tended to be short and the money sporadic.
- Over your writing career do you think role of women in western fiction has changed?
I think there are more female characters in leading and independent roles in western fiction. Women played an important role in the west, but generally not so much in the adventurous, active way that is the common storyline of a ‘rip-roaring’ story. Women faced the same hazards from the weather, harsh conditions, hostile natives and dangerous, often unfamiliar, wildlife as the men, and often while pregnant or coping with small children. Their experiences lend themselves more to a different kind of storytelling, which is not usually that of a traditional western. Of course, a female protagonist can pick up a weapon and get involved, as the women of Motherlode do in my books, but the majority of women in the west, while they had much more freedom than those back east, did not use guns or work as lawmen or cowboys. Writers and film makers had got more creative about finding ways to let women have a voice in westerns. Even if they don’t get involved in the action scenes, their side of the story is explored more, in different styles of westerns, and their choices can lead the actions, instead of being passive bystanders.
- You have mentioned that you like to ‘stretch’ the western genre. In what ways do you like to do this?
Some of my books, especially the earlier ones, are fairly traditional. When I wrote my fourth, Darrow’s Law, my publisher, Hale, complained about the deputy, who is rather weak-willed and cowardly. He wasn’t ‘heroic’ enough for a leading character, but the book was published anyway, with Hugh as he was. There were also some remarks about the humour in some of my books – I think they were regarded as being too light-hearted in places. However, if I felt the characters would tease one another and make jokes, they went right on doing it.
So mostly it’s been in my characters – making them diverse in background, opinions and personality.
- If you could go anywhere to gain inspiration for your next novel where would you go and why?
I’d love to go back to Colorado again, and travel on more of the historic steam railroads. Trains were vital to the development of the west, and it’s always nice to get up close to a steam locomotive, and perhaps learn a little more first hand about how they operate.
- Are there any similarities between Sheffield and the Wild West?
There was a great tradition of hospitality and community in the West. Sheffield folk are welcoming and friendly, and there’s a strong community feeling in the city. Sheffield has been described as the biggest village in England, and more students choose to stay on here after university than in any other city.
- What are you reading at the moment or are there any books coming out that you are particularly looking forwards to?
Recently I have been reading accounts of life in the US military during the Indian Wars of the Wild West era.
- What advice would you give to an aspiring western writer?
Read. Read westerns, both classic authors like Jack Schaefer and Louis L’Amour, and recent books, to see what’s being printed now. Read other books as well – crime, thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy – to get a feel for how to structure dialogue, plotting and description and to build characters. The same basic skills underpin good writing in all genres, and reading other genres can help prevent you from repeating the cliches of the one you want to write in.
Do research – your editors and readers will have read plenty of westerns and are likely to spot obvious faults, such as characters using a particular rifle before that model was actually released. Remember that your characters won’t always speak in formal English, but don’t overdo vernacular speech and slang. Find out what your intended publisher’s guidelines are and take them seriously.
Don’t be afraid to start writing. Get past ‘blank page’ syndrome and just start. Remember that you are writing a first draft, and it doesn’t have to be perfect first time. Re-read regularly and don’t be afraid to alter lines, change things about and even cut whole sections. The word processor is a great gift for writers!
For more information about Gillian check out her new website: http://www.gillian-f-taylor.com/ .