The Piccadilly Cowboys ride again
The western genre is not dead, Mike Stotter writes. Digital publishing is enabling a revival.By the end of 2012, Piccadilly Publishing will have issued 31 books, all but four of them westerns.
Not bad for a company that began life in May 2012, and came about thanks to a chance remark that I made to my friend and business partner, David Whitehead. "What do you think," I said, "about bringing all the old Piccadilly Cowboy westerns back as ebooks?"
The possibility that we could somehow bring all those hard-and-getting-harder-to-find books back into "e-print" seemed impossible to resist. It had all been so much fun first time around, when Dave and I, then in our late teens, took it upon ourselves to write to, then meet up with our idols. The possibility of being able to recreate that period all over again was immensely attractive.
The name of our company was never in doubt. Terry Harknett, Laurence James, Angus Wells, John Harvey, and latterly Ken Bulmer, Mike Linaker and Frederick Nolan, all became known as "Piccadilly Cowboys", because that was the farthest west they'd ever been. So Piccadilly Publishing it was.
Now, we needed to get our writers on board.
Terry Harknett's Edge and Steele books were already being reissued quite successfully by Malcolm Elliott-Davey, alias "Cody Wells" - who himself was to become an important part of our team as things progressed. But I was still in touch with John Harvey and Elizabeth James, widow of Laurence. And Mike Linaker was only too happy to let us give his Bodie the Stalker and Jason Brand books a new lease of life.
Inevitably we soon found ourselves widening the scope of our company. David had always enjoyed the above-average Madigan westerns by his friend Keith Hetherington, alias "Hank J Kirby", and so he was another writer we went after very early on. Before long we added the likes of Frederick Nolan, alias "Frederick H. Christian", and even took it upon ourselves to add some SF, and latterly, crime, to our monthly schedules.
But our first love was and remains the western, and though we plan to launch our Piccadilly Crime series in earnest next year, we still see ourselves very much as a publisher of westerns - specifically, series westerns.
In those early weeks and months, however, there was plenty of frustration and disappointment. Some writers or their representatives preferred to wait and see if we really were serious about what we planned to do. But that was fine. We expected to have to prove ourselves. And in May 2012 we did. That was the month we published our first book, Trackdown, by Neil Hunter.
Now, it's at this point that you expect me to add, " ...and the rest is history." It isn't, though. More accurately it's still history in the making.
Gradually we've added a number of books and authors to our line-up. There are the Iron Eyes and Bar 10 books of Michael D George, writing as Rory Black and Boyd Cassidy respectively. We have the Reaper and Shatterhand books of B J. Holmes. And sometimes it seems that we're adding new writers and series by the day.
The level of success our company has had has been both surprising and gratifying. Western readers have embraced "the brand", and many of them now rightly feel that they are just as much a part of Piccadilly Publishing as the writers themselves. I can't explain why this is, but my guess is that our readers know that we are every bit as much fans as they are, so maybe they identify with us and understand that we are genuine in our desire to bring the western back to its old prominence, and of course to keep it attractive and affordable in the process!
The distinctive look of our books is really down to the aforementioned Malcolm Elliott-Davey. They do say that water finds its own level, and Malcolm, David and I all found common ground in our love of, and enthusiasm for, the genre. This is a very good opportunity to thank Malcolm publicly for his incredible work, because he more than anyone has really stamped the distinctive "look" on the PP product.
Although we started out as a reprint publisher, we also inaugurated a series of stand-alone westerns under the general title Piccadilly Publishing Presents, and it was under this banner that we published, in September 2012, our first original book, Sheriff of Friendly by Paul Green. I'm proud to say that Paul again treated us to an original novel in The Revenge of Cato Street (to be published in November 2012). There are more original books to come throughout 2013, including the western The Unforgiven by Black Horse Western favourite DM Harrison, and another title from our rising star Paul Green, Trail of Blood. I was particularly pleased when we also added Thomas McNulty's fine western, Death Rides a Palomino, to our list.
More recently we've added some true heavyweights. In November 2012 we publish our first western by Tony Masero. Tony needs no introduction, of course, but I'll give him one anyway. He is an artist whose talent knows no bounds, and whose work established more than any other the distinctive look of the original Piccadilly westerns of the 1970s and 80s. He is also a prolific writer, and has written horror, science fiction and crime, in addition to a whole passel of fine westerns. Tony's first western for Piccadilly Publishing is Deadly Manhunt, which is a sequel of sorts to his earlier Black Horse Western, Johnny Dollar. It's a fabulous book, much darker and grittier than his earlier westerns, and I think readers will have a great time with it. Indeed, I look forward to seeing many more of Tony's all-new westerns appearing under our aegis.
As if that wasn't enough, we launch two more series in December 2012 that will be of enormous interest to western readers - Peter Brandvold's critically-acclaimed Lou Prophet yarns and the Storm Family saga by Matt Chisholm.
Colorado resident Peter Brandvold can now lay claim to more than 70 westerns, under his own name and the pen-name Frank Leslie. His series recount the adventures of such colourful characters as Sheriff Ben Stillman, Gideon Hawk (the Rogue Lawman), Cuno Massey, Yakima Henry and Tom Navarro. PP will issue the first six Lou Prophet westerns throughout 2013, with hopefully more Peter Brandvold titles to follow.
Matt Chisholm is another legendary writer. At his peak, Englishman Peter Watts (to give him his real name) was selling seven million westerns in the UK alone. A prolific writer whose work also appeared under the names Cy James and Luke Jones, he is now best-remembered for his long-running series featuring Rem McAllister, but in addition to these books Peter also chronicled the ongoing adventures of Joe Blade, Sam Spurr... and of course the Storm Family. Led by Will Storm, the family up-stakes and undertake a dangerous cattle-drive in Stampede, the first book of the series. Later stories tell of the trials and triumphs of Will and his kin.
For 2013 we are also immensely proud to welcome Terry Harknett to the fold with no less than three non-western series - Chester Fortune (the hard-boiled Los Angeles PI), Crown (Terry's taut series of police thrillers set in pre-1999 Hong Kong) and the Stephen Wayne mysteries, which include some of Terry's earliest work - and also some of his most difficult titles to find.
We do have many other plans for company, but at the moment these are classified at an "Above Top Secret" level. What I can promise is that we are all heading for a long-overdue renaissance in popular western and action-adventure fiction, and Piccadilly Publishing is proud to be part of the vanguard making it happen.
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