Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meet I. J. Parnham

This is for all of you who lament the demise of the classic Western. No need to lament any longer; those stirring tales are alive and well, thanks in large part to today’s featured author.

Ian Parnham, known by the pen name of I.J. Parnham, is a writer from Nottingham, England, known for his literary works in the Western world of gunslingers and cowboys. He has written five novels for the Avalon Western series and a total of 18 novels for the Black Horse Western series. The cowboys in his works are known to consume lots of porridge, be adept at caber-tossing, a traditional Scottish athletic event that involves the tossing of large wooden poles, and frequently shout out the word "Freedom". In other words, they are rugged individuals, true heroes of the Old West.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I can remember my English teacher at school reading one of my stories out loud. The whole class thought it was the funniest story they'd ever heard, which was exciting, even though I hadn't meant it to be funny.
The subject matter was to complete a story after being given an opening paragraph. That paragraph involved a sailor, who is planning to go yachting, hearing that gales are forecast that day. Apparently it was expected that the story would involve the sailor ignoring the forecast and going sailing anyhow, but it never occurred to me that I was supposed to write that and so my sailor decided to do something else instead. And the something else was to get on a bus, which unfortunately had been booby-trapped by a madman so that if its speed drops below 30mph, it'll blow up. My teacher thought this was the most inane drivel ever written and gave it 0%, although my best mate Keanu liked it.

I know you write westerns. Do you write other types of fiction also? Non-fiction?
I have plenty of unpublished, and unpublishable, stories in several genres that have been banished to the attic for crimes against literature, but I prefer the western for its versatility. Murder mystery, adventure, comedy, romance all work just as well within a western as they do in their own separate genres.
As well as Avalon, I write for the Black Horse Western series in Britain. My 22nd The Prairie Man is out in August. My tales are usually no nonsense, fast-paced adventures with a few colourful characters and hopefully some surprises along the way.
You can learn more about Black Horse Westerns from the blog I maintain The Black Horse Express at

I’m curious as to why someone living in Scotland would choose to write American westerns.
The American Wild West? Visit Glasgow on a Saturday night after an Old Firm derby and you'll see the real Wild West!

Do you do a lot of research? Any special research methods?
I hate the word research. It conjures up an image of bored people stuck in dusty libraries working hard to uncover previously unknown facts. I prefer the word reading.
I read about things that interest me and so those are the things that I write about. My most recent Black Horse Western The Secret of Devil's Canyon features a bit part role for a palaeontologist. Tales of the hardships suffered in finding dinosaur bones and then getting them to museums has always fascinated me, so I could either say I'd spent decades researching that part of the story or I did none at all, depending on how you look at it. Either way, I never data dump information into my stories.

Tell us about your Avalon books.
My Avalon books are light-hearted adventures featuring two travelling snake-oil sellers Fergal O'Brien and Randolph McDougal. They sell a tonic, which they optimistically claim is a universal remedy to cure all ills, but which fails to do anything other than give their customers bellyache. Fergal is a devious, double-crossing, yellow-bellied scoundrel whose only skill is running fast when his nefarious schemes collapse. His partner Randolph tries to be honest and steer Fergal in the right direction, but as a last resort he's usually called upon to shoot them out of trouble.
At the time, the first book was meant to be a standalone novel, but as I enjoyed writing about them I carried on and so far I've written five more adventures. As the stories have progressed, they've built up a travelling show including a display of authentic historical memorabilia, all of which they've made themselves, badly. Included are intriguing exhibits such as Santa Anna's wooden leg, both a left one and a right one, and Custer's last hat stand. They've also acquired the prize exhibit of the treasure of Saint Woody, which is a mysterious casket that nobody can open but which is rumoured to contain the keys to heaven itself.

And your latest Avalon release.
In The Miracle of Santa Maria (out last month) Fergal finally does a decent thing when the plight of a young nun touches him. She's the sole survivor after bandits raided a mission, but she's in a coma. When his tonic, not surprisingly, fails to cure her he vows to help her and so, for perfectly logical reasons, he stages a cowboy version of Romeo and Juliet, sells tickets to a solar eclipse, and when things go horribly wrong, hopes for a miracle. The tale also concludes a story arc that started in The Flying Wagon about the mysterious Saint Woody and his even more mysterious box in a way that I hope will please anyone who has followed the whole saga. I'm also proud to say it features the worst joke I've ever written.

What other projects are in the works?
I hate talking about on-going projects as that usually makes me think about the fundamental flaws in the story and brings home the fact that I'm frittering away my life on utter nonsense. But I will admit I've just posted off what I hope will be Fergal's 7th adventure.

What other authors do you especially admire? How much do they influence your work?
Mervyn Peake, JG Ballard, Alfred Bester would be three I admire, but none of them could possibly influence my writing as I'm not that talented. I guess the nearest to an influence would be someone like EC Tubb, not in writing style but in the feeling I get from his stories that he never worried about anything other than just telling an entertaining story. And that's what I try to do. I have no pretensions about what I do other than I just try to provide a few hours of entertainment.

Do you have a schedule for writing or do you squeeze it in when you can?
When I write, I write and when I don’t write I think about writing.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Currently I'm digging a hole. I'm planning to build an extension and so I have to dig a seven foot hole to prove that any additional water will soak away, even though the extension has no water pipes. So I'm doing my Laurel and Hardy act of throwing sand out my hole and then looking up at the precise moment the sand slaps down in my face. But I have been thinking about writing while digging. The hero of my next novel will be called Sandy Bumcrack.
Thank you for the questions, and thank you for reading. You can meet me on my blog The Culbin Trail at


Carolyn Brown said...

Mr. Parnham: I love your sense of humor. Can't wait to see the new book about Sandy! LOL

Gina/Katherine said...

I agree with your view on research. The best way to do it is to read the stuff that fascinates *you*, then incorporate what you've learned into your story. Your series sounds like a lot of fun!

Beate Boeker said...

Ian, I couldn't stop laughing when I read the story of the sailor who gets on the bus instead of facing the gale. It's wonderful - can't you post it somewhere??
I don't usually read westerns, but I really like your sense of humor, so maybe I should finally start now!

Vickie Britton said...

Very lively and entertaining interview with this Scottish author who writes westerns.

Leigh Verrill-Rhys said...

Hello, Ian. I've been to Glasgow - I know what you mean! I live in Carmarthen - the wildest western town in Wales. Try us for a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night outing.

Oscar said...

Great answers with a great sense of humor to fine questions.