Meet the author: Derek Rutherford
Meet Derek Rutherford: author of the Dead Man trilogy, Easy Money and now back with a new novel, The Last One Standing.
- Of all your books which did you enjoy writing the most?
The Last One Standing was a joy to write. I tried a few different techniques in this book and it turned out to be great fun and I’m really pleased with the results. It’s hopefully the first one in a new series and if the rest are as enjoyable (so far, the second one certainly is) then I’ll be delighted.
- 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 small research to help build the verisimilitude of the stories. Things such as the popular songs of the day, famous racehorses, who’s who in politics, which years had great blizzards or droughts, what was happening overseas (China played a great part in background of The Last One Standing), how and when specific railways were built, the ins and outs of storing dynamite, what the Pinkertons really did, guns of course… all that sort of thing. But one of the most interesting areas I researched in depth was the Texas convict leasing system. I went down a rabbit hole in my research on that subject and in doing so one book became a whole trilogy.
- Would you rather be the outlaw or the sheriff?
The sheriff, I think. Although most of the fictional law men I’m drawn to tend to have a little of the outlaw in them, anyway.
- Do you have any habits or superstitions when it comes to writing?
No superstitions, and probably lots of bad habits. My main philosophy is simply to get the words down. I’m not one of those writers who reach the end of draft # 1 with something that is ready to submit. I do a lot of rewriting. A lot of reading aloud to uncover those duplicate words and awkward phrases. I try to make the reading experience as smooth as possible and keep myself as far out of the story as I can. Hopefully I’m invisible.
- What role do the reader’s expectations of westerns have in writing?
A huge role. It’s vitally important to consider and address those expectations. With Black Horse Westerns, we have short, action-orientated, tales, and of course, we’re writing about the mythology of the west rather than the reality. It’s the writers job to close the gap between that myth and reality. I try and root my stories in a solid foundation of truth – towns need to have a reason for being there, sources of food and water are important, people need to make living. They need clothes and sanitation. Towns need to have a semblance of organisation. All of that seemingly uninteresting stuff. If I can create a strong foundation of reality, then, on top, I get to tell the real story, the gunfights and stampedes, the fights and the hangings, the set-pieces and the big finales that make Black Horse Westerns the thrilling reads that they are.
- If you could go anywhere to gain inspiration for your next novel where would you go and why?
Assuming I can’t go back in time (which might change my answer considerably), I fancy Montana. I have several ideas for a series based there and although Google Maps – and especially Street View – is brilliant, it’s an area where I really would like to walk the trails myself. Maybe get in a little fishing, too.
- Are there any similarities between Gloucestershire and the Wild West?
Well, Gloucestershire is the wild west of England, and we border the badlands of Wales (hence all those castles).
- Were there any scenes that were difficult to write? For example, emotionally or stylistically- taking many drafts to write.
Not so much individual scenes, although some of the set-pieces take a lot of work and rework to get just right. But I think the most difficult thing so far was in the Dead Man trilogy when each book needed to stand alone, whilst also simultaneously progressing the greater story. I needed to give enough background to the reader who picked up Dead Man Walking or Dead Man’s Return (books two and three, respectively) without boring the reader who has been there from the start. Also, an integral part of any good story is the character arc – essentially how the main character(s) change during the story. Trying to incorporate such character change in each book in the trilogy was a tough one. These are issues common to anyone writing a series and they are challenges that if addressed well, are invisible and go unnoticed.
- Do you write with the final chapter in mind or do you start writing and the final chapter takes shape?
At the outset, I’m generally aware of the overall story arc, and I know I need to start with a bang and end with a bigger bang. I like to link the beginning and end, too. I feel that makes for a satisfactory experience – maybe starting and ending in the same place (as in the abandoned mine in Dead Man’s Eyes) or with the same theme (Easy Money started with a violent strike-breaking scene at a blocked railway junction and ended with a shoot-out in a frozen railroad yard). But in general the details will be uncovered as I write – the first draft is really where I find out what’s happening. Subsequent drafts are where the hard work is done to make it all hang together.
- Are there any personality traits that you enjoy writing into your characters?
My heroes are often outsiders, and the rest of the townsfolk usually have a low opinion of them. They might be perceived as cowards, drunkards, or has-beens. One was a bone-picker who made a living selling items he’d stripped off the dead. They’ve usually been through some rough times and have settled into an isolated way of life, trying to avoid trouble, just get by day-to-day, and keep their head down. Of course, this doesn’t happen…
Also, the era I’m writing about, the geography, and the age of the characters, means that a lot of them will have been involved in the American Civil War at a formative age. Such character history can’t be ignored. It will have affected them greatly and of course it informs their present.
Lastly, I always try and incorporate a love story, too, because I’m an old romantic at heart.
- What are you reading at the moment or are there any books coming out that you are particularly looking forwards to?
I normally have several books on the go at any one time. Currently I’m working through a crime thriller by Donald Westlake, a book on the craft of writing by Lawrence Block, and a history of Wells Fargo entitled Stagecoach. On my commute I’m also listening to a series of audio lectures called The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy, which is wonderful. There are 24 lectures and each one suggests to me numerous ideas for western novels.
Regarding new books – there are still many books from the 1930s that I’ve yet to read, so I’m about 70 years behind as far as new releases are concerned.
Find Derek Rutherford’s books here
Read Ian Parnham’s interview here