Meet Ian Parnham, a Black Horse Western author whose books include, Marshal of the Barren Plains, The Vengeful Deputy, and a new release this month, Hopeman’s Legacy.
Of all your books which did you enjoy writing the most?
That would be Devine’s Law (2004), the first of three stories featuring the brutal marshal Jake T. Devine. When I started writing I had no idea where the tale would go, but I just let Devine take control, which certainly made the writing easier. I had a flash of doubt when I finished and it had an ending I knew everybody would hate, but Devine refused to let me change it, so I didn’t.
Since then it’s just about the only book anyone ever writes to me about, and it’s usually to tell me how much they hated the ending. I tell them to take it up with Devine.
What is the weirdest/most unexpected piece of research you had to carry out to write one of your novels?
I’d always wanted to write a story entitled Clementine, in homage to the film My Darling Clementine. When I got round to doing it, it was as part of my series featuring the snake-oil seller Fergal O’Brien. The plot involved the sunken steamboat Clementine, the antics of the women of the Rivertown Decency League with their ‘Down with this sort of thing’ placards, and a mysterious minstrel who strummed ‘In a cavern, in a canyon…’ throughout the story, the song being a clue to the story’s central mystery.
Once I’d finished being pleased with myself that the plot actually worked I had a worrying thought. Sure enough, the song Oh My Darling, Clementine was written four years after the story was set. As the tale didn’t work without the song I couldn’t think of a way forward, but then I found out that the song was based on a much earlier ditty called Down by the River There Lived a Maiden.
I checked out the lyrics to this song and to my amazement they fitted the plot better than Oh My Darling, Clementine did. It even contained a few incidental details from the story, explained the sub-plots and resolved one issue that I wasn’t happy with. If only it always worked out like that.
Would you rather be the outlaw or the sheriff?
If I had to choose between being the good or the bad, I’d be the ugly.
Do you have any habits or superstitions when it comes to writing?
Like all western writers I always wear a Stetson, but, touch wood, I haven’t developed any superstitions yet.
What role do the reader’s expectations of westerns have in writing?
I like to think I sometimes confound expectations by having stuff happen that the reader won’t expect. My tales usually have a big plot twist around halfway through that I hope the reader didn’t see coming. Also, I try to include something in each tale that doesn’t often happen in westerns to surprise readers, so Hopeman’s Legacy has a playwright who has some very meta opinions about authors who ignore facts and just make stuff up. And, I like to have a theme for readers who look hard enough. So, for the record, Hopeman’s Legacy’s theme was how the mythology of the West was being written even as the events unfolded.
If you could go anywhere to gain inspiration for your next novel where would you go and why?
For me inspiration usually comes from stray musings about things I’ve done, seen, heard etc, when I’m doing something that’s completely unrelated to writing. I’ve never been able to force myself to be inspired, so I guess the answer is that cleaning the gunk out of my fishpond is just as likely to inspire a story idea as enjoying a sundown in Monument Valley.
Are there any similarities between Moray and the Wild West?
Cows, whisky, horses, silence, pesky wild critters, wide-open spaces, mozzies, few people, big skies, deer-hunters, incomprehensible dialects, showdowns at high noon… so maybe.
Were there any scenes that were difficult to write? For example, emotionally or stylistically- taking many drafts to write.
The biggest block I’ve ever had was for Bullet Catch Showdown (2014). It was another tale that started with the title and it was trundling along happily until at the halfway point the main character got killed. I had no idea what to do then and the story languished for several years and several false starts until I worked out what would happen next. Perhaps it might have been easier if I’d let the bullet miss.
Do you write with the final chapter in mind or do you start writing and the final chapter takes shape?
In the case of Hopeman’s Legacy I didn’t know what the solution to the central mystery would be until the killer revealed himself, much to my surprise, but I did have in mind that as the tale featured a play, the denouement would be a version of a certain incident in the Ford’s Theater in 1865.
Are there any personality traits that you enjoy writing into your characters?
I’m not so keen on westerns in which the hero is an indestructible, square-jawed superhero who can shoot seven men with his six-shooter while lighting his cheroot, so I usually tend towards everyman characters.
What are you reading at the moment or are there any books coming out that you are particularly looking forwards to?
Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow by Dee Brown is sitting by my bed at the moment. I wish I’d read this some ago as it’s got plenty of hints for great train-based tales. I’ve now officially given up on waiting for the Winds of Winter.