Wednesday, November 22, 2017



Following in the footsteps of Brit-West writers such as J. T. Edson, Matt Chisholm (pseudonym for the prolific Peter Watts), and the Piccadilly Cowboys, Ray Foster—behind his Jack Giles pseudonym—is another fine example of English wordslingers taking on the Western genre.

Ray’s story, however, is a bit different. In 1999, Ray suffered a stroke, which ended his career in the law. However, the stroke had even greater consequences: “This happened on the 9th August, 1999. When I woke up, I thought it was 1969. I had lost 30 years of memories. I didn’t know I had become a published writer. My wife told me while I was reading one of my own books. After reading a review of one of my books, I discovered the Black Horse Western site and linked up with many of the writers who encouraged me to write a short story for their first anthology. This was followed by a book Lawmen, which began with something I said to my wife while taking off a red plaid jacket.”

Ray’s wife and son participated in the following interview to help Ray answer the questions...
If it was tacked up in the Sheriff’s office, what information would be included on a Wild West wanted poster with your picture on it? 

I was born in North London at the end of the Second World War. Ten years later, we moved to Orpington, Kent. Workwise, I was a residential conveyance [solicitor/lawyer] until a stroke ended that career.

What was your introduction to Westerns—movies, TV, or books? 

None of those things—it was play. It was what we did as kids—pick up a stick and it became a pistol or a rifle. I didn’t see a cowboy film until I was about six years old and went to the Saturday morning pictures. Then Gene Autry and Tex Ritter came to the Haringey Arena—this was like the Wild West for real. The sight of a stagecoach chased by Indians for a kid like me was—wow! I got to meet Gene Autry. I was so gobsmacked I couldn’t say a thing.

What was the first Western you read? 

Horn Silver by Frank C Robertson

What was it about the genre you found compelling enough for you to want to write a Western? 

Now here’s a thing—I always wanted to write a western or, at least try my hand at one, but westerns were written by Americans, so I thought I had no chance. The only British western writer I knew of was Oliver Strange (and I only knew that because my granddad was a typesetter for Geo. Newnes [publisher]). Still, I wrote a couple and shoved them in a drawer—until I discovered that George G. Gilman was British.

With that in mind, I sent one story off to various paperback publishers and I had some very encouraging rejections. Anyway, I wrote to George G. Gilman for advice. Simply, I had arrived at the end of the era—but he did suggest I send my books to Robert Hale, where both were accepted and published. But to answer the original question—ever since I was a kid I’ve grown up with the western in all forms, so it was just natural to want to write westerns.

Had you written books before, or was your first Western your literary debut? 

Yes, I had started a novel, but life and bikes ended the process. Then I wrote another about 1964, set during  the Battle Of Brighton and the aftermath from a Rockers point of view. However, I was told it was obvious I had not done my research—hadn’t I read the newspapers? In actuality, I had been there at the time. I still have the manuscript.

Were you aware of the legacy of the Piccadilly Cowboys and their impact on the genre before you started writing Westerns? 

No, they were all Americans as far as I knew—that was until I read an article in Wild West magazine on George G Gilman. 

How do you see the current state of the Western genre? 

Apart from Black Horse Westerns and Piccadilly Publishing there is not much going for the western in the UK. I once took Penguin to task over the lack of westerns from their U.S. market, but they were dismissive—claiming they had to look after their authors interests. Surely, it is in the US authors interests to get worldwide sales. British kids today do not grow up knowing the western as we kids did. There is an exception to every rule though when, a few years back, my sixteen year old (as she was then) had her first western short story published in an anthology.

What was your journey to getting your first Western published?

Pretty smooth—only had to lose a fistful of words. My wife tells me, it was six months from beginning to end.

Have you been to the West, and if not, how do you do your research?

Sadly, I’ve never made it to the West. Therefore, it is imagination, looking at photos of landscape, reading reference books. As my wife says, if I couldn’t see it then it wouldn’t be written.

Is there any difference between Westerns written by British writer’s and Westerns written by homegrown American writers? 

If there is then I can’t see the join.

Do you currently read Westerns, and if so, who are your favorite Western authors?

I rather like Brent Towns books, including all his other names; I always go back to L’Amour and Robertson; Jory Sherman (I miss him because we conversed over the net about one of my favourite non-western writers, Jack Kerouac); and also James Reasoner.

Do you have a writing mentor? 

No—Writing is something I learned at school. It was just my imagination that got me into trouble.

When you start writing a new Western, do you pick a standard Western plot (I think there are about six) and look for a way to turn it on its head, or do you look to history or some other source for inspiration?

Never planned a book—I start at page one and write like I was reading a book. My son tells me a story of how he challenged me to write a story where the bad guy turns out to be the hero and the other the antagonist. Got the job done.

Where do you stand on indy versus small press versus traditional publishing?

I’ve read some good independently published books, but so many are badly written. I had a couple of old books picked up by a small publisher, but it wasn’t a great experience. Not enough to be dismissive though. So, I’m not so much sitting on the fence, but swinging on the gate with this one.

What is your latest Western and what are you currently writing?

Due to the stroke, writing is very hard. I hate not writing. I’ve done some short stories to help a friend and one to support the Felixstowe Scribblers. This is a marvelous group who encourage writers and writing, and certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I’m looking at some of my old stuff, and when I say old, I refer to something I wrote aged 17. If it was good back then, I kept and copied it onto old floppy discs. As for a western—I have no choice in the matter.
I very much appreciated Ray taking the time to work through challenges to answer my questions, so I was delighted to receive the following note from Ray shortly after he sent me the answers to the interview question: 

Quick update: Funny how things happen—like buses, you wait and wait for and then 3 come along at the same time. I’ve started 3 westerns—First, a sequel to my first published western, which is my morning job now. Afternoons, I am working on the first of two new westerns. First pages/chapters done.

This is terrific news and I can’t wait to read the finished stories...



1 comment:

  1. Ray's a lovely guy, very generous of his time and has been especially supportive of my writing since I started out. I'd recommend any of his books.


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