STORYTELLERS-7: ANDREW MC BRIDE AND “THE PEACEMAKER”

….He’d lost track of time somewhat, but guessed it was about the first of August, this year of 1871, which put him some five weeks past his eighteenth birthday. 

His name was Calvin Taylor, although everyone called him Choctaw. 

You might think his nick-name reflected Indian blood. He was dark haired and dark-complexioned, his skin further darkened by months under this sun. But his hair was tousled, not the straight blue-black of Indian hair, and his eyes were a startling Nordic blue. A good-looking boy, with trail stubble around his mouth and chin that hadn’t taken root yet as a man’s moustache and beard. 

–From the opening chapter of The Peacemaker by Andrew McBride

THE PEACEMAKER

The Peacemaker is Andrew McBride’s sixth Western. All of them feature Calvin Taylor—Choctaw—in the role of the main character. 

In addition to his latest novel, he has written Death Song, The Arizona Kid, Shadow Man, Canyon of the Death, and Death Wears a Star.  

Andrew, who lives in Brighton, England, says watching a particular television in his pre-teens triggered his desire to start writing. He wrote a few adventure stories before immersing himself in novels by various authors to study how others approached the craft.

Each of Andrew’s novels has earned a broad range of acclaim. One reader describes The Peacemaker as “gritty, utterly authentic, and…gripping in emotion and atmosphere.”

After reading The Arizona Kid, one reader remarked, “If McBride’s stories can’t bring the western back to life then someone better call an undertaker.”

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1. Tell us a bit about your latest novel, The Peacemaker, and how you came to write it.

Andrew McBride

It’s set in Arizona in 1871. The hero is an 18-year-old, Calvin Taylor, who is nicknamed ‘Choctaw;’ he’s not an Indian but was born on the Choctaw Reservation in Oklahoma where his dad was an army contractor.

Choctaw bumps into two government representatives–Sean Brennan and his adopted Apache daughter, Nahlin. They’re on a mission to talk peace to the Apaches, then at war with the white man.

Choctaw is persuaded to guide this duo to the stronghold of the great chief Cochise, and along the way falls in love with Nahlin.

Aficionados of the TV series The High Chaparral will recognize that the story so far is loosely based on an episode of the HC, but the second half of the novel goes somewhere else entirely. I felt the original episode was a springboard for what could be a tremendous adventure story.

2. Calvin Taylor, the main character, appears in all six of your westerns. And he is a young protagonist. What drew you to create him?

I had the idea of a character who serves as a scout against the Apaches, then goes on to use the same skills – e.g. how to track, fight, hunt men down – as a Range Detective, lawman, Wells Fargo agent, etc.

I suppose the historical model is Tom Horn. Then having created a character who I could use in lots of ways, I couldn’t see the point in having a variation on him in different westerns, so he became the central character in all of them.

A key fact about him is he’s a misfit – his sympathy with Native Americans makes him an outsider in his society; they use him when they need him, but they don’t accept him.

In that regard, he’s a bit like the Tom Jeffords character in Elliot Arnold’s great novel BLOOD BROTHER, or John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS. I read somewhere that it’s a good writing tack to have your hero/heroine as ‘someone stuck up a tree while people throw stones at them.’

In other words having a central character who is also an underdog helps the audience empathize with them. And he is a young man who has seen probably too much, regarding violence, etc., for his age.

Indeed in THE PEACEMAKER, which is the first of my six westerns in chronological order, he’s only 18. He does a lot of growing up in that novel!

3. Why was it important for you to write westerns? What drives that ambition?

Andrew McBride

To most people under, say 45, westerns are mostly irrelevant (I know that’s a sweeping generalization) but when I was a kid in England in the 60s and 70s, they were a huge part of the cultural landscape.

I got my first taste of westerns via the movies (particularly those starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford.) and TV westerns. For me westerns ticked every box – they told tales that had strong dramatic tension because they’re essentially morality plays about the conflict between right and wrong.

They deal with a broad range of moral dilemmas that the settlement of the West threw up: How do you tame a wilderness without destroying it? How much violence is necessary (and how much is excessive) in creating a law-abiding society? How can diverse cultures (for example the white man and the Native Americans) co-exist?

All painted on a canvas of a large physical beauty and diversity. As I got into young manhood I became interested in the history of the real West, and also Native American culture. I started reading westerns – the likes of Matt Chisolm, Lewis B. Patten, Fred Grove, Gordon D. Shirreffs, Robert MacLeod, etc. – which I enjoyed for their entertainment value.

But a key western I read early on was ‘The Buffalo Soldiers.’ The author, John Prebble, audaciously tackled some of the most familiar aspects of the western – the U.S. cavalry versus the Indians, the Texas Rangers, etc. – but approached them with a fresh eye, dispensing with clichés and humanizing his characters.

So I became aware you could get into greater depth in the western. When I found out Prebble – and also Matt Chisolm – were English, that encouraged me to have the confidence to give it a go too!

4. What made you want to become a writer in the first place?

Andrew McBride

I think I always wanted to write. When I was only seven there was a TV show called ‘Sir Lancelot’ I used to watch avidly. Pretty soon I got hold of a notebook and started writing my own stories about Arthurian knights until I got that little bump of hard skin on your finger you get from holding a pen a lot. 

After that, I just wrote as a hobby all the time – adventure stories of various kinds. Then I started reading. For the authors I liked, I used to think: ‘I want to be like them.’ For those I didn’t I thought: ‘I can do better than that!’

When I realized no one was writing exactly the kind of books I wanted to read, I thought I might as well write them myself. I started reading out my stuff at writing groups. This was in England in the 1980s. At one of them, a guy called Philip Caveney suggested I seriously consider writing for a living.

That impressed me because he was the first person to take me seriously as a writer, and I valued his opinion because he was also the first published author I’d met – he’s been successful writing thrillers and now children’s fiction – so I reckoned he knew what he was talking about!

A bit later, in the early 90s, I had to choose between working full time or working more sporadically, which would give me less money, but more time to write. I chose the latter. I don’t regret it, although the finances have certainly been precarious at times. I guess I just love the writer’s life!

5. Tell us a little about your work habits. Do you have goals, such as a certain number of words a week, or do you just as write when inspiration strikes?

Andrew McBride

The writer who waits for inspiration will wait forever. As I say, Phil Caveney was the first published novelist I’d met, so I asked him what he was doing right that other writers weren’t doing.

He told me that he treated being a writer as a day job, and you had to work at it regularly, on a daily basis if possible. So I do my best to follow that.

If you’re planning to write a novel of, say 80,000 words, first you need to give yourself a DEADLINE. If you decide you’re going to write it in two years, that’s 110 words a day. The thing is to keep to that deadline and write those 110 words a day, or, if it’s easier, 770 words a week.

In my present circumstances, rather than writing daily, I can set aside two days a week for writing. The thing is to hit your word count and deadlines. If you let that slip, you’ll join the ranks of would-be authors who spend 7 or 10 years or more writing one novel, in a vain quest for perfection.

6. If you could have any writer – living or dead – stop by your home, who would it be and what would you ask him or her?

Andrew McBride

How about J.K. Rowling? I’d ask her: “How come you managed to make so much money?” Seriously, I couldn’t pick just one: there’s so many I’ve learned from, from Dickens to John Prebble to Chandler, Rosemary Sutcliff, Elmore Leonard… I’d ask them: “How do I get as good as you?”

7. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your leisure time?

Listening to music – I’ve got fairly broad tastes here. I like watching live music too, in small venues like pubs, watching movies (mostly on Youtube these days.)

I’m keen on good conversation. I love reading, but I’m struggling right now to find enough time for it. Country walking – I’m lucky enough to live in East Sussex, which is one of the most beautiful parts of England. It has a great coastline, with cliffs and everything, and rolling hills called the South Downs that I like to explore.

To learn more about Andrew McBride, visit:

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