BLACK HORSE WESTERNS
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If you enjoy tales of the Old West - tales of human courage on the frontier, lawmen fighting against the odds to get their man, justice being dealt out with the pull of a trigger - you will at some point have come across the Black Horse Western series, published by Robert Hale in the UK and Ulverscroft in the US.
Black Horse Westerns first emerged in the late sixties and are still going strong today, Hale being one of the few publishers in the UK producing Westerns. The books are mainly sold to the library market (each title being borrowed an average of 5,000 to 6,000 times its first year on the shelves), although they can be ordered online (Amazon, WH Smith, etc) and are stocked at larger Waterstone's outlets.
So who writes these tales of action and gunsmoke in the Old West? The Black Horse authors can be divided into two camps; Western writers from the fifties whose work has been reprinted by Hale, and modern writers producing new books for the series. Of the former, most of these writers were Americans who wrote for pulp market in the States, whose works have been bought and repackaged to become Black Horse books. Take a look at the copyright page inside a Black Horse Western and you'll see an old copyright date if the work is a reprint.
Mainly, though, the books are written by modern authors. All 10 books pictured above are by contemporary writers. Many of the Black Horse writers are from the UK, although some are American (Lance Howard, Link Hullar, Clay Burnham and a few others). And not all the writers are men; Terry Murphy, Ty Kirwan and Gillian F Taylor are three of the women who write Westerns for the series and there are many more. Tex Larrigan, Curt Longbow, James O Lowes and Newton Ketton are all pen-names of the same female writer. What these writers - British or American, men or women - share is a love of a good story set in the mythical Old West.
The books are fast-moving, weighing in at 45,000 - 55,000 words, allowing the authors to spin a page-turner of a tale using an economical writing style. For tips on writing Black Horse Westerns, see the link below. Some of the series writers are known for penning their books quickly. B.J. Holmes, a long-time contributor to the series, and author of over 30 books, once wrote a book in three weeks. Two or three books a year is more usual, with authors taking 3 or 4 months to complete a project.
Once the books are published, the Large Print rights are usually sold to Ulverscroft for publication in the UK and USA (as the Linford Western Library series). What is great for the author (apart from the money for the sale) is that Ulverscroft usually issue the book with a new cover, so the writer ends up with two editions of the book, each with a different look.
As an example of this, below are the two covers of my first book, Ghost Dance.
The Black Horse cover features a scene from the story, in which the protagonist burns down his own house after the death of his wife and child.
The Linford cover shows the character in conflict with Indians - the main thrust of the book.
Some of the covers used in the Black Horse series could be said to be "stock Western" pictures, generic artwork that would fit any book of the genre. This is because many Westerns contain the same elements. So a picture of, say, a brawl in a saloon might fit any number of books because a similar scene would appear in all of them.
The covers do usually reflect the action within, however. My second book, Black River, is set in a snowy winter backdrop - certainly not standard Western fare. The Black Horse edition shows the opening scene...riders coming through the snow, the mountains behind them. Two of the characters who appear later in the story are a mother and her son, stranded when a snowstorm makes the trail to their home impassable. These two characters - and the buggy - appear in the background of the Linford edition of the book. (The same artist - Prieto Muriana - did both versions of the Black River covers)
Here are more examples of Black Horse Western covers:
And here are examples of Linford Western Library covers: