Keith Souter is a part time doctor, medical journalist, non-fiction writer and novelist. He's the current vice President of Western Fictioneers and is a member of Western Writers of America as well as several other writers’ organizations. He also writes in four genres – westerns as Clay More, crime as Keith Moray and historicals and YA as Keith Souter. He's won prizes for his short stories, including a Fish Award in 2006 for his short historical fiction. He lives with his wife in England, "within arrow-shot of the ruins of a medieval castle."
When did you decide to write Westerns, Keith?
A few years ago I received an invitation to join a fledgling organisation called Western Fictioneers. This was based in the USA and included many prominent authors in the Western genre. The membership requirement was to have been paid for writing Western fiction, but not merely be self-published. By that time I had published five Western novels with Robert Hale, a London based publisher of Westerns, so I joined. I must confess that I did so with some trepidation, as I was unsure whether I could actually cut it as a Western writer in the USA.
Almost immediately I heard that the Western Fictioneers were putting together an anthology of short stories by its members and everyone was invited to submit a tale. So I threw caution to the wind and wrote a story, entitled Boot Hill Neighbors, which appeared in the anthology The Traditional West. That gave me a buzz to have a story in there with so many prize-winning authors in the genre.
Is the western written from England any different from those written in the USA? That is a difficult one to answer. When you watch a movie and you hear an actor trying to do an American accent, it may jar. But does the same thing happen with a writing style? Again, I am not sure that it does.
Of course, people may spot an inaccuracy about horses, gun lore, ranching practices and feel that it spoils the book. Yet those errors can occur just as easily in homegrown books. It all comes down to research, in my opinion. If the research is done adequately, then those jarring moments should not occur.
My own approach when writing a Western is to steep myself in research into all aspects of a locality. I study the flora, the fauna, the geography, geology and the history of the area. Then I set it against the history of the time and then I begin to build my story. And nowadays with the Internet you can research anywhere anytime. You can find newspapers of the epoch you are writing about and you can get instant pictures of the terrain. I have to say that I love this aspect of my work as a writer. I write medical and all manner of non-fiction books and I am a medical journalist, so I have a good nose for research. In medicine you have to get things right and I try to do that with everything that I write about.
I use the old writing adage – write about what you know. I think it is a piece of advice that is often misunderstood. It doesn’t just mean that you should only write about the places you are familiar with, or about the background that you come from. What it means to me, is use the things you know about and let that give your writing authenticity. I am a doctor and I use my expertise in medicine and in surgery to good effect in my stories. Virtually all of my novels have a doctor in the story somewhere and I can make things seem real. I can make wounds and operations seem plausible.
I think that I have always had a love of the old west. I was brought up with all the old Western TV shows. You may have guessed that my choice of pen-name is a homage to Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger. I loved those shows, along with Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, the Virginian and The High Chaparral. My father was a western aficionado and we had loads of books by Zane Grey, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour. I read voraciously, so they were all a great influence on me. Yet I would have to single out the works of Elmore Leonard. Goodness, what a superb writer he was.
I have a couple of on-going writing projects at the moment. Firstly, I write the character of Doctor Logan Munro in the Wolf Creek series of novels for Western Fictioneers Library. These are collaborative novels featuring five or six authors at a time. Each author writes one or two chapters from the viewpoint of his or her character. Logan Munro is a Scottish doctor, as am I, so I can get authenticity in my stories from both the medical viewpoint and with my voice as a Scotsman. We have published ten of these so far, with the eleventh due out next month.
|Adventures from the case book of Dr. Marcus Quigley|
The other project is a series of short stories about Doctor Marcus Quigley, a qualified dentist, gambler and bounty hunter, who is on a long-time quest to find the man who murdered a friend some years ago. Here I use my knowledge of dental history, my knowledge of dice and gambling and I structure it as I do a crime novel. In fact, all of my Westerns are really mysteries. There is no ‘shoot ‘em up’ allowed in my tales. The protagonists have to solve the mystery and extricate themselves from danger using their brains rather than their brawn or their speed with a gun. And there is usually some love-interest along the way.
My latest book is due out in mid-April from high Noon Press. It is the collection of my short stories, Adventures from the Case Book of Doctor Marcus Quigley. Each story is self-contained, but linked into a greater quest.
You can learn more about Keith Souter at his website: http://www.keithsouter.co.uk
as well as at hisWestern blog – More on the Range: http://moreontherange.blogspot.co.uk