Saturday, November 26, 2011

In The Spotlight: Terry Harknett aka George G. Gilman. The Man Behind Edge.

EDGE
Hi Terry and welcome.  First, I would like to thank you very much for agreeing to this interview.

Hello to you. Being interviewed has never been one of my favorite ways to fill time but how can I turn down a request from such a charming feller as you?

Seriously, please feel free to ask any appropriate questions you want to and I'll do my best to answer them fully and frankly. But be warned, I only ever speak the truth so some of my responses might not go down too well with the traditional readers of traditional Westerns.

I'm sure over the years you have been asked many times about the name George G. Gilman.  Now, for those new fans of your books, can you tell us how you came up with the name?

For instance this is a case in point. In earlier interviews down the years I never made it a secret that I was not a fan of the Western genre when I was initially commissioned to write two of them by a publisher who had first asked me to adapt a trio of original Western screenplays into novels. So, eager to make a little more money from writing than I was earning trying to emulate Raymond Chandler in the field of the private eye novel, I produced books for two different publishers that were based upon the movies 'A Town Called Bastard', 'Red Sun' and 'A Fistful of Dollars' using three different names. The publishers of two of these were happier than I was with my work and commissioned me to write a couple of original Westerns. Which they liked as well as my adaptions from the movies. These turned out to be 'Edge: The Loner' and 'Edge: Ten Grand'.

Again the publisher liked these better than I did, but they agreed with me that the name of Terry Harknett did not have a ring of the Wild West about it and asked me to come up with a more suitable pen name. Still having doubts about my ability to write Westerns and so not thinking any more than two Edge books would ever see the light of print I came up with the joke of G.G Gilman.

Gee Gee of course being a young child's name for a horse. And I thought of Gilman because the alliteration appealed to me. But the publisher quite rightly thought the Gee-Gee thing was too far out for the kind of hard boiled stories I had written so we compromised on George G...

And as they say … the rest is history!
 
With plans underway to release the first series of "EDGE" as eBooks, with the first two "The Loner" and "Ten Grand" aka ”Ten Thousand Dollars, American" already available for sale on Amazon, this  must be a very exciting time for you ... a dream come true, especially knowing your loyal fans and also a new generation of fans who up until recently had never heard of "EDGE" or George G. Gilman, are now buying your books.   How does that make you feel?

I am, of course, extremely pleased that a series of my ancient novels will be made available as e-books for what I hope will be a whole new audience and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you publicly, Malcolm for making this possible.

Believe me, Terry, it is an honor and a privilege to be a part of the re-launch of Edge, who I consider being my all time favorite unconventional hero. Now, I've heard rumors that in later years you expressed some misgivings about the level and depiction of violence in your books. Why was this?

I am a peace loving individual who abhors violence in real life but when I was commissioned to write an ultra-violent Western series in the style of The Man With No Name movies I grabbed the concept with both eager hands. For my earlier attempts a gentle private eye fiction had flopped.

So, taking a leaf out of the books of Mickey Spillane, rather than Raymond Chandler who I had attempted to emulate with singular lack of success. I did my best to come up with the kind of violent characters and scenes my book editor required.

And after supplying the first two books in the Edge series which I had written tongue in cheek with as much blood and gore as I could envisage I was amazed to be told they were terrific and could I provide more of the same but with the violence stepped up!

So I wrote #3 'Apache Death' which I have been told more than once is the most violent book in the Edge series and there were no objections from the publishers.


Thus, as a professional writer with a mortgage to pay and household bills to finance I set aside my finer feelings and became the hack writer I have never denied being as I continued to supply the kind of books  that my publishers knew my readers wanted to read.

But I discovered for me violence is in the same category as pornography in that after awhile it becomes very boring. So I toned down the killing and the means of killing and discovered with  an immense sense of relief that my fans were willing to accept that an aging, less bloodthirsty Edge was still acceptable as the NEW KIND OF WESTERN HERO he had been billed as from the outset.

At the height of the Piccadilly Cowboy period, you turned out books at a phenomenal rate. There must have been days when you really didn't fancy sitting down at the typewriter. Did you ever get stuck for ideas or suffer periods of writer's block? And what about your contemporaries, Laurence James, Angus Wells, Ken Bulmer, John Harvey?

Yeah, because back then many British paperback publishers were always on the brink of bankruptcy and did not advance very much a writer had to write a lot of books to pay the mortgage and those household bills I mentioned earlier. In one year I actually wrote a dozen books - although a couple of these were movie adaptions!

There were days I will admit that did not feel up to  putting words on that pristine sheet of paper wrapped around the roller in my typewriter (this was back in the  pre-word processor days, of course!). But on the rainy Mondays whenever this happened I was able by sheer willpower to practice what I preached to the many wannabe writers who asked for my advice on how to become a writer. So I applied the seat of my my pants to the seat of my chair and I damn well wrote!

As far as writer's block is concerned I never came up against this until fairly recently when I attempted to wrap up the Edge series with a final book.
 

The bloody block has been immovable for several years! Which rather blows out of the water my theory that, contrary to what some of my fellow Piccadilly Cowboys used to propound on bad days for them, that the phenomenon was just an excuse for not knuckling down to the job in hand! As I recall Angus Wells was the writer most prone to this!

I have to say, Terry, I so admire your tenacity.
What was the secret of the success of that Piccadilly Cowboys era … do you miss it, and do you think it could ever come again?


The secret of the Piccadilly Cowboys success was I think due to how the spaghetti western dragged the movie genre out from the traditional Hopalong Cassidy and his ilk era - which, was all well and good for the time - and dropped it into something like the real world of the 'wild west' and we humble hacks rode along in the dust kicked up by the film makers.

Not that I think we created a West that was any more like the reality of how life was back then as our forerunners did. Doubtless that world we came up with was less authentic since few of the PCs had been out west and based the backdrops and characters we created on what we had seen on cinema and television screens.

No at my age I do not miss the hard slog if albeit exciting times in which I worked back then. And I do not believe such a time will ever come again to the genre. For it seems to me that there are no new trails for the Western to blaze.

If I’m not mistaken, I believe it was one of your colleagues that came up with the name, ‘Edge’. When it was first thrown at you so-to-speak, what went through your mind?  

Yes it was indeed the late great Laurence James who conjured up the name Edge for my most infamous character. I had never read a Western until I wrote one and came up with the something or other kid in the synopses of the first two stories I submitted. And no straight razor featured in them. So this weapon and the appropriate name came out of Mr James' fertile creative brain.

But I’m pleased to say I was able to repay him by being largely responsible for starting him out on a fiction writing career.

Forgive me if this question has ever been asked or answered and I have missed it, but for my curiosity alone, I've often wanted to ask but never got around to it. In all of your books which I have read, either the first or first two words are all capped. Can you enlighten me as to why you did this?

On the subject of me using capital letters as the start of each chapter in my typescripts, this goes back to my days of working on a trade magazine where the house style was to start each article in this fashion.

You will often see this in newspapers, magazines and books. Or sometimes the entire first line of an item. Then again some publishers use what is termed the 'drop cap' which means the first letter of the first word is in bold type and extends down the first and second lines.

Out of all the books you've written, has there ever been a time when you've sat down and thought, I wished I'd written that book differently?

 
I have never re-read any of my books so I'm not in a position to say whether I would have written one or more of them differently.  Back in the day, I was working to such tight deadlines at such high speed there was no time to consider such an option even if I had been moved think I could have improved the story. But I doubt I could have done so for my previous work as a journalist had schooled me to do it fast and get it right first time!

Although I guess if I had the time and inclination to re-read my books nowadays hindsight would kick in and I could maybe see many instances where they could be improved.

What books do you like to read now that you are retired?


Nowadays I do not read fiction. And I do not read a great deal of non-fiction. My reading diet consists exclusively of books about Hollywood and the making of movies from the early 1900s to the present day, most of them written by directors, producers and screenwriters - and occasionally actors if these last do not fall into the 'celebrity' category.

I know some prolific writers will turn a book out in an extremely short time. Do you miss the pressures of writing? 

 
For a short while after I retired I missed the pressure of having to meet those deadlines I mentioned earlier. As you know I did write six more Edge books which were never published except on a website message board until they began to appear as e-books.

A MUCH OLDER EDGE


I wrote these primarily to fill time in retirement. Also both as a favor to Edge fans who were asking me for more books and to try to wrap up the series more tidily than I had done in, 'The Rifle'.
But I failed to do this to my satisfaction and thus I continue to play around with 'Detour To Destiny' which will definitely be Edge's swansong should I ever get around to finishing it!

When you sat at your typewriter to begin writing a new book, did you have it all figured out from beginning to end, or did you let the story unfold as you wrote it?   
 
In the days when I was writing for a living my London publishers (New English Library) and I worked very closely together from the very start. I would write four five or so page synopses of the books I proposed to deliver in the year ahead and they would commission them.

These synopses were fairly detailed but allowed scope for plot turns should I be 'inspired' to take the stories into different directions during the writing process.

So I guess the tale to be told was pretty well laid out at the start but with leeway to go off at the occasional tangent.

You say you came up against writer's block when attempting to write the final chapter in Edge's life, so, have you ever thought of a collaboration? I know a final book would be successful and the fans would go wild for it!
 
First off, although I have collaborated on a couple of series of books I never did on individual titles and have no intention of doing so on the final Edge.

I fear my use of the term writer's block was incorrect in this instance.  Rather the delay in finishing DETOUR TO DESTINY has been caused by a combination of sheer laziness in old age and a strange reluctance to get the book done because I know it will be the last one I ever write.

And without wishing to sound pretentious the prospect of not having a book to finish (even though I suspect I will never write another word of it) will open up a deep hole in whatever future I awaits me!

I hope this makes sense to you.

Yes, I guess it does make sense. I think it would be extremely difficult for anyone to find a fitting end for a character that has been with them for so long. So tell me, just as a matter of interest, have you got anything down on paper for the final book of Edge?
 
Yes, there is quite a chunk of the final book written so maybe one day…?

I’m sure over the years; you must have influenced many writers. What advice would you give to any new inspiring writers of the western genre?

You have to have a burning ambition to become a full-time writer if you are to succeed. And in the early stages of striving to reach your goal, virtually all your other interests must take a back seat.

Can you elaborate, Terry?

I am not suggesting you should starve in a monk-like cell come garret. Only that, for example, if you are torn between getting down on paper a maybe brilliant idea and going out for a beer, or to see a movie or a sporting event, or even on  a hot date! it should be a no-brainer.

You won't have a boss with his beady eye on you to ensure that you knuckle down to the job at hand. Just that not-to-be-denied burning ambition to become a published writer. And if you submit to fleetingly more attractive lures this could become the norm and you will discover you do not possess what it takes to make it as a member of one of the hardest and best professions there is.

To any aspiring writer who wishes to make money out of writing and because of the extremely hard work involved there is in my opinion only one other credible reason to take up the challenge, my advice would be to work in another genre. For it seems to me that although the Western will surely never die it will become increasingly difficult to breathe new life into its ailing body in this modern age.

That said, I can only repeat what I have said to Gilman fans who asked for my help in the past - if you really are determined to become a published writer all you have to do is apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and write. This may sound facetious but it is not intended to be so.

However, if I can offer more practical advice without sounding like a text book on the art of fiction writing, may I suggest you read books by the writers you admire and do your best to emulate, rather than copy them. But, of course, the more time you spend reading the less you have to devote to writing.

On a final note, Terry, have you anything you’d like to say to your die-hard loyal fans out there?

I can only say thank you so much to my lucky stars and to all my many readers for your loyalty down the years. For the Western was not my first choice of genre to work in but having been thrust into it I obviously did something right and managed to captured your imagination time and time again over many decades.

With that, I’d like to thank you once again, Terry for taking the time to talk with me, it really has been a pleasure and an honor. Thank you!

You’re welcome, Malcolm.

So folks, whether we’ve seen Edge ride into the sunset for the very last time, or if he’ll return for one final episode, will remain in the hands of his creator, only he knows! And, as Terry said, ‘Maybe one day…?  Maybe!

Thank you one and all for sharing with me this memorable occasion, and don’t forget, whether you are a writer or an ardent reader of the Western genre… Keep the faith and spread the word!

Until next time … Goodnight and take care.
 
Malcolm


Don't forget to check out the Edge mini series and the original series for Kindle on Amazon.Com. 
Don't have a Kindle! Don't worry, you can download it here for your PC. It's free. Kindle for your PC

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for a informative and interesting article. I'm going to pass on the link to one of my writing groups.

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  2. Thank you, Debra, I really appreciate it.

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  3. That was a real treat to read words direct from the source of one of my greatest writing influences. Strangely enough, I'm not known for writing westerns, my books are usually labelled action thrillers, but I like to think of them as modern day westerns. I've said it before and I'll say it again: when people assume my Joe Hunter character was inspired by Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I actually disagree. My inspirations were Don Pendleton's 'Mack Bolan' and George G. Gilman's 'Edge'. I owe a lot to the Edge books in particular; one for my first attempts at writing a book was in emulation of the Edge series. In my first published book 'Dead Men's Dust' (it even sounds like the title of a western) I paid homage to GGG's style (I hope) and named the villain Tubal Cain after another character written by the PC's if I'm not mistaken - Jubal Kade. In another book, one of the bad guys - Quicksilver - carried a concealed straight razor in the style of Edge too.
    Thanks to Malcolm for a great interview with a true legend, and to author Mike Stotter for directing me to it here. My biggest thanks go to Terry for setting me off on my writing path - I guess there are many other current authors who must trace their roots back to reading your books.
    Very best wishes
    Matt Hilton

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  4. Thank you Matt, I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview. I really appreciate you taking the time to post a comment. hope to see you back here soon!

    CW

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  5. Thanks, I certainly will be.
    Regards
    Matt

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  6. Just bought Edge #1 for my Kindle...

    Excited to read it!

    First found about this series from a bunch of reviews on Bookgasm...

    http://www.bookgasm.com/features/bullets-broads-blackmail-bombs-spaghetti-westerns-pulp-style/

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  7. I have been looking for the Edge series of Western books since I read my first in 1980 when serving in the Army. Can you tell me where I can get the entire Edge series of Western

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  8. Hi,
    The original Edge series has now taken its place in the digital age and are available as e-books sold on Amazon & B&N. The first three are already available, The Loner, Ten Grand, and Apache Death. The fourth will be out this week, “Killer’s Breed’ and then #5 ‘Blood on Silver’ will soon follow.
    If you are looking to buy used paperbacks of the series, you will find 50 – 61 are the hardest to find, and when you do they can be very expensive.

    CW

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  9. Read my first Edge book at the ripe old age of sixteen. Left school in the summer of 76, went for a fortnights holiday to the East coast of Bonny Scotland (my homeland)and you guessed it, it rained for the first week. Sitting in a caravan bored i found a couple of books Edge 1 and 2 to say i was hooked would be an understatement i bought every book Gee Gee brought out:Edge, Adam Steel, The Undertaker and Cuchillo Oro my favorite after Edge. My Kindle will be red hot after finding Edge in the Kindle store. A BIG thanks to Gee Gee for some of the best books I've ever read

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  10. Hi Shug A,
    Yes it is an exciting time for all George G. Gilman fans and also for those reading his books for the first time. You’ll also be pleased to know, we have three of his books planned for this month on Amazon: Edge #7 California Killing – Edge #8 Seven Out of Hell and Steele #2 The Bounty Hunter.
    CW

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  11. I know its quite along time since the interview, but thanks to Terry Harknett, without whom I would never have picked up a book for pleasure. As a youth I would do anything to get out of reading and this was causing problems with my school work and my mental development. My grandfather asked me why I didn't`t like to read? I replied books they are boring, he knew I liked westerns the violent ones with Clint Eastwood & John Wayne etc. He handed me The loner (the first book I read cover to cover twice in less than a week). since then I have had at least one book on the go or another at any given time, it sparked something in my brain that has made me a better wiser person today (I Hope) My eternal thanks to Terry & my Grandfather for sparking a lifetime love of literature. I still read the Edge books & smile for the memories of my youth & my grandfather that these books still trigger. Some would question giving an Edge book to someone so young, but without it I would be a very different and poorer person today. Once again Thanks

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  12. Hello,

    I was wondering if you have a contact for Terry Harknett? We would love to discuss publishing his backlist as ebooks with him. My email is caoimhe@endeavourpress.com.

    Best wishes,
    Caoimhe O'Brien
    Endeavour Press

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