Friday 14 September 2012

#FridayFlash - The Bounty

As part of my two week celebration of The Guns of Retribution, I decided to dedicate the two Friday flashes that fell within that period to my bounty hunter, Grey O'Donnell. A lot of people asked how Grey got into the bounty hunting business, so here's that story. Enjoy...

My momma always told me that sometimes you just have to treat yourself to a little slice of luxury. I told myself that as I sat on the veranda of the general store, where a travelling barber lathered up my neck. I was never too keen on people being near my throat with a straight razor, but I can't say I was too fond of growing a beard, either.

Mahko lurked in the shadows inside the store, peering out of the window to see what the barber was doing. Most folk in those parts didn't take too kindly to having an Apache around, even if he was only fourteen, but the owner of the store let him earn a few cents by catching rats. I'd earned a few dollars helping to break in horses – it wasn't much but damn, what else could we do? All I knew was riding and shooting.

A commotion kicked off in the street and the barber stepped away to see what was happening. I sat up in the chair and looked past him. People were coming out of the businesses of Main Street to see a guy riding into town on an Indian pony. They gasped and pointed but what else was he gonna ride? Guy was clearly an Arapaho, and no one knew ponies like the Natives.

"Somebody! Help me!" He was shouting and hollering over the excited chatter of the townsfolk. He pointed to a bundle draped across his knees. An arm swung loose – dry red rivers ran along the tanned skin.

"Well would you look at that?" The barber turned to me and gestured over his shoulder. The Arapaho drew level with the general store, and I stood up behind the barber. He wiggled a way a little – I guess some men get threatened by six feet and two inches of armed stranger.

"Help me!" The Arapaho got agitated, and started wailing in his saddle. The wooden box opposite the general store was the sheriff's office, and it wasn't long before Sheriff Oates came out. He was a tall fella, and skinny, with a raggy grey moustache and skin that looked like candle wax. He leaned against the doorframe of his office and stared down at the Arapaho.

“What’s all this yellin’ for?”

“My daughter…she has been murdered!”

The Arapaho threw back the patchy blanket covering the body over his knees. A deep gash to the throat explained all of the bloodstains. Her unseeing eyes stared at me, her head upside down against her papa’s thigh.

“Why you tellin’ me ‘bout it? You got law up on that reservation, ain’t yer?” Sheriff Oates spread his hands wide and looked at the assembled townsfolk. They nodded and chattered amongst themselves. Reminded me of the folk in Retribution – didn’t want Natives messing up their town. Damn idiots.

“It was not a reservation killing. It was a gang from this town.”

The Arapaho glared at Sheriff Oates. Couldn’t help glaring along with him. I didn’t need to turn around to know Mahko was glaring too. He wasn’t a fan of the Arapaho but he sure as hell didn’t like reservations.

“Which gang?”

“The Stanton boys. They took my daughter while she gathered wood.”

That set the crowd murmuring again, only the excitement sounded more like worry. Sheriff Oates frowned and I guessed he was worried too. Those Stanton boys probably did that kind of thing all too often.

“Ain’t my problem, friend.”

“It is your problem, and if you will not help, then you are not my friend. These men are from your town. They must be punished.” The Arapaho punctuated every sentence with a jab of his finger.

“I’m real sorry but you won’t find any justice here.”

Sheriff Oates turned and walked back into his office. The Arapaho looked around at the crowd. He held out his hands, like he was begging them for help. I guess in a way he was.

“Won’t someone help me?”

“Go back to your rez, and leave us white folks in peace.”

I growled and the barber moved further down the veranda. Mahko climbed out of the open window and stood behind me, peering around my arm. I could feel anger coming off him like heat from a white hot coal. My own anger sent my hand to my gun. Murder is murder, no matter what colour you are.

“Won’t anyone help me? I will pay!”

That swung it. Hell, I’d have done it for free if I could, but this guy needed justice, and Mahko and me needed to eat.

“I’ll help. How many of these Stanton boys are there?” I moved right up to the rail so the townsfolk could see me, and shouted down to the Arapaho. He broke into a wide grin, relief burning in his eyes. The other folk just stared.

“Three. I cannot leave my family for long to fetch them myself,” he replied.

"You go on home and leave this with me. Hey, Oates!”

I bawled across the street. The sheriff reappeared in the doorway and I just knew the bastard had been listening.

“This ain’t your concern,” he said, his eyes flicking between Mahko and my Colt. If he guessed which of them was most deadly, I figured he'd guess wrong.

“Seeing as how you’re too scared to go get these boys, if I bring them into town, will you do what’s right?”

“I ain’t scared –”

“Will you do your job if I do mine?”

The sheriff worked his mouth open and shut like he wanted to say something, but just didn’t have the guts. Eventually he lost all his bluster and nodded. I looked down at the Arapaho and smiled.

“Looks like you got yourself a deal.”

He nodded to me, wheeled his horse around, and rode back along the main street, scattering townsfolk as he went. I turned to Mahko, and he grinned.

“Well, Mahko. Looks like we’re goin’ into the bounty huntin’ business!”

* * *

If you enjoyed that, you can buy The Guns of Retribution for the Kindle US or Kindle UK. My three-part Old West story, Dead Man's Hand, is also FREE until Saturday, and features the first chapter of Guns as a sample.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

[Interview] Tony Bengtsson

As part of my two week celebration of all things Old West, I thought I'd change the focus of my blog for a day, swinging the focus away from writing and onto music. I first encountered singer-songwriter Tony Bengtsson at a Wild West revue held at Bar Loco in Newcastle upon Tyne, and I've been a fan ever since. As his brand of Country really appeals to me, I asked if I could interview him here at the Blunt Pencil and he very graciously said yes! So pull up a pew and find out what makes this talented artist tick...

Sounds a bit of an obvious question, but what made you choose country as a genre, as opposed to more obviously 'English' genres?
Well to be honest I think it was more that Country, or at least Americana, that chose me. My dad used to listen to a lot of music and I just grew up listening to what he listened to. A lot of what he liked was 60’s poppy rock and roll but it was always artists like Kenny Rodgers and Creedence Clearwater Revival that stuck out for me. Real songs about real problems!

Also, Films and TV had a big influence. The film Convoy, and shows like The Dukes of Hazzard with WC McCall and Waylon Jennings singing the respective theme tunes, just did it for me! That and the whole load of cars and trucks chasing each other!

Nowadays it seems like a lot of the British music scene is more about fashion and what you look like, rather than having anything real to say. And that’s what I love about Country. It’s still real.

Do you think country as a genre has changed too much from its early days and is now just a form of pop music, or do you think there is enough wiggle room for artists to pursue a more traditional sound?
You’ll always have a pop version of any music genre. It’s all about making money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. That’s not to say all popular music is bad, but I do believe there is good and bad music. You could say that in the day, Johnny Cash was popular music. He made the charts, was a big name etc, but he stayed true to his roots as an artist, even releasing an album of hymns he learned from his mother!
Eventually genres cross and a lot of modern Country like Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift is all very polished and hyper-produced, and can all be classed as pop. I don’t think this is a good or bad thing, it’s just what happens when technology improves and listeners are listening to more music than ever these days. Record companies have to compete in an ever growing marketplace so it’s inevitable I think.
On the other hand, you have modern bands like the Steeldrivers who are a wonderful example of original yet traditional bluegrass. So to answer your question, there’s always room to wiggle!

Is the reality TV format killing music, or will fans always go looking for the music that they like, regardless of what Simon Cowell tells them to buy?
I never know how to answer this question. I’m in two minds, but am a little more worried than I would have been say 20 years ago or more.

Firstly, TV ‘talent shows’ are in no way a new thing, we’ve had Opportunity Knocks and New Faces for years in this country, and they’ve spawned some good acts. However, we also had a thriving pub and social club network where bands and comedians could work their apprenticeship. If people wanted to be entertained they only had to go down the street and there’d be some form of live act on at their local. The difference these days is the lack of opportunity for young artists due to a few modern day circumstances like all night TV, cheap supermarket alcohol and economic recession which brings extra problems, like the closing of key entertainment venues and live music pubs.

All of this makes Saturday night Cowell fests all the more important to some people and as a result we’re slowly creating a culture of spoon fed perfectly recorded music to the masses and an increasing impatience of live music and what live music actually sounds like.

Luckily, I think musicians are a resilient breed and rather than caving in to these sorts of things will adapt and become more creative in their attempts to be heard, and as a result, fans will always go out of their way to look for the music that they like! I’m a fan at the end of the day and for me there’s nothing more exciting than discovering a new band and claiming them as your own!

Lots of artists make a name for themselves after their songs are featured in adverts. Would you ever sell one of your songs in that way, or would you prefer to be associated with movies/TV?
I’d love to hear one of my songs on an advert! As long as it’s not for McDonald’s or women’s products ha-ha! Seriously though I can’t afford to be too precious about my songs and if I thought somebody was interested in my music for an advert then I’d certainly consider it!

Obviously film and TV would be far greater kudos but we’ve all got to pay the rent right? What I will say however, is that I really don’t get how lame advert songs are at the minute! Far too light and fluffy for my liking!

Do you think digital formats and the Internet has made it easier for musicians to reach new fans as they no longer need to be signed to a huge label?
I think this goes hand in hand with the question about reality TV. The internet is a fantastic tool for unsigned artists as it’s a great way to have your music heard by far more people than playing your home town every week. It’s undoubtedly mad it far easier for musicians to reach new fans not only locally but worldwide!
If you’re savvy enough you can really make your music pay aswell. There are online distribution companies that will (for a small fee) distribute your music to places like Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and so on. Obviously people need to know you’ve done this – and this is where social networking sites come into their own. For next to nothing, bands can have a website, Facebook page, and a link to buy their album on Amazon and iTunes. That would have been unthinkable when I started playing in a band nearly 20 years ago!
Publicity and good friends are everything as an unsigned artist and your internet presence has to be big enough to stand out in this incredibly saturated independent music marketplace!

And finally, where do you get your inspiration from, and would you ever consider writing any songs about literary characters (hint hint!)?
Lyrically, my inspiration comes from everyday things that happen to me or people I know, (usually tied to romantic relationships!) or just general observations. That could be anything from a breakup to my dislike of the X Factor to the death of my dad as in The Fire. Anything I feel strongly enough about to write about I suppose! It’s hard for me to come up with lyrics to a song if I feel like I’m making stuff up. I just haven’t got the imagination!

Musically I write ALL the time. My phone has a recorder application and it’s absolutely full of music without lyrics! I’ll hear a chord change somewhere (could be and advert, TV show theme tune, anything!) and there’ll be something that I like in it and use it to come up with a sequence of chords. Then I come up with a melody – usually after a drink or two...

It always works that way round. Chords first, melody second, lyrics last! Obviously I have bands that I love and there’ll be certain songs that come out of other songs (shouldn’t say that really!) but every musician has musicians who influence them!

As for writing about literary characters, I think I might have to give that a go! I have thought about it but I imagine it’d be a lot harder than writing from experience! I feel a lot safer doing that!

You can find out more at - and check out The Fire on YouTube!

Monday 10 September 2012

The Guns of Retribution turns one!

It's truly hard to believe that it's been a whole year since my first published book, The Guns of Retribution, appeared for the Kindle. Published by Pulp Press, my pulp adventure set in the Old West tells the story of bounty hunter Grey O'Donnell, caught up in a blast from his past as he tries to bring a murderer to justice. I've had good reviews, and I wanted to take this opportunity to really celebrate its first anniversary - after all, it's not every day that you can celebrate a whole year of your first book.

I've lined up a series of guest posts at various blogs, starting with my post about The Guns of Retribution as primarily a pulp story over at the exceptionally talented Heath Lowrance's blog, Psycho Noir. Heath has been very supportive of Guns over the past year, and I've really appreciated his support. I even reviewed his own Western, Miles to Little Ridge, which you can read about here. I'll also be looking at my favourite aspects of the Old West over the next fortnight.

But wait! There's more!

I also edited my Dead Man's Hand trilogy which appeared on my blog as three successive Friday flashes, and I've put them into one collection, along with the first chapter of The Guns of Retribution as a sample to whet your appetite. The events of Part I of Dead Man's Hand kick off the events of The Guns of Retribution so it's a nice snippet of back story! You can currently download it in MOBI, EPUB or PDF format from my website.

If you decide you want to read more of The Guns of Retribution, you can buy the Kindle version here. I have a limited number of paperbacks, so email me at icy [at] icysedgwick [dot] come if you want to buy a signed copy!