The Date: 10th November 1978
The Place: England
It was a foggy day in November, the red Ford Escort cut through the heart of Essex in search of a
red-bricked Georgian house. It wasn't easy but the driver wasn't going to give up now. He took
the corners with care, the car just cruising around in a gentle curve and then began to race down
the main street. He read the instructions once again but having come from a different direction
he had to rely on his instincts of where the building should be.
'Look for the New Inn.' The voice rang in his head. He glanced from left to right all the time.
Then it loomed at him from out of the fog. He was almost there. Suddenly, he found himself on
the road to Harlow, he had overshot his turn-off. Screeching to a halt, the Escort spun around
and started off in the direction from which he had just come from.
The turning shouldn't be far now and he took it with ease. The red-bricked house appeared on
his left and he jerked to a halt. Easing himself out of the car, taking the black attache case with
him, and walked up to the front door. The tell-tale tapping of a typewriter came from within the
house and the sound of the front door bell halted the activity. The door was opened by a man
who was aged on the right side of thirty, approximately six feet, not the 'garden gnome' he was
led to believe he would meet.
'Laurence?' the driver said.
'Mike?' The man said, allowing a ginger and white cat to creep across his shoulder. 'Where
have you parked the car?'
'Over there.' Mike said, pointing to the Escort in front of the house.
'Well, stick it down the drive and I'll meet you around the back.'
And so it was, the first meeting between Mike Stotter and Laurence James took place. Laurence
ushered me into his spacious home and with a welcomed cup of coffee in his hand he gave me a
lightning tour of his six bedroom house. Very impressive, I must say. Each of his three children
had their own room, the walls adorned with various posters and the regular children's items
scattered over the place. What could be called 'The Library' was a room all on its own. The
walls lined with packed shelves of books, both paperback and hardback, on almost every subject
under the sun. So, you don't need to worry where Laurence gets his research material from.
Back in his living room we began the interview that I had come along to conduct, and it went
something along the lines of:
MS: What was the first book you ever wrote?
LJ: The first of the Hell's Angels: 'Angels From Hell', for NEL. That was in early 1973 when I
was just leaving NEL.
MS: Whilst you were an editor at NEL did you ever think that you would become a full-time
LJ: No. It was people like Terry actually. It used to piss me off because we'd go to have lunch, a
bottle of wine, some port and we used to have a nice time and then it would be half past two,
three o'clock and Terry would say, well, better be going home now, don't want to be caught in
the rush hour. And I would look at my watch and think, Christ, I've got 3 hours to go. I thought,
if he can do it, I can do it.
MS: Looking for the easy life...
LJ: It was partly that, but I wrote myself a letter when I quit NEL giving the reasons why, so if I
ever found that writing wasn't going well I'd look at that letter and think, yeah, that's why I left.
But I've never had to because it's all gone so well. One of the reasons was the kids, being with
the family. Because I used to leave the house at 7:30 and I would get home about 8 o'clock in
the evening and I'd always have work with me. I got little kids then, very small, and I literally
never saw them in the week. I would see them on Saturdays, although I always had work then,
I'd take it home, manuscripts and proofs to read. I just got fed up with it. I was there for 3 years
and I would sit at the table and watch everybody get old. Faces lined and getting weary and I
thought: 'God, do I want 35 years of that?' No, I didn't want 35 more years of that so I jacked it
in. It wasn't really for the money. Money was purely incidental to it.
MS: Who got you the first job for the HELL'S ANGELS?
LJ: What I did, I sent it through a friend, under a different name. I sent it into one of the other
editors without telling anybody who it came from because it's a very difficult position at a
publishers, when you want to write. Because if you write for someone else then it doesn't make
you very popular and you get into trouble and equally, if you send a book into yourself then
there's no way of knowing why it's being published or why it's being rejected. I mean, it might
be rejected simply because you work there or might be bought because you work there and I
didn't want to do that at all. So I sent it into a friend and deliberately kept out of it. I didn't want
anything to do with it and just let it go through. There was a very tight buying system at NEL. A
book would come in and an editor would read it, and then it would have to go around to home
sales manager, export sales manager, sales director, production manager, and back to the editor
and then it would finally go to the finance director and managing director. So, it had to go
through 7 people before it was bought. So I figured if it went through 7 people and it all went
through okay and it seemed to work, then I'd feel that I didn't abuse my position at all. So, it did
do okay. And all the 'Angels' books sold well.
MS: How do you write your books. Do you sit down at 9 and work your way through a set
LJ: No. It's a set number of pages. What I do is, I know my delivery date. In the case of this
book (Herne 11) it's November 28th and so all my books are 200 quarto pages, double-spaced.
They're always 199 to 201. I always hit it so, I figure it out by November 28th I've got to do 200
pages then I'd look at how many working days I've got for that time and how many days I might
take off - like if it's the kids half-term and we take them up to town for the pictures, so that's a
dead day. Or if I've got engagements like you coming round, it only counts as half a day. And
then I simply divide it up and it generally comes out as 14 or 15 pages a day, something like that.
So I'd work it back to the first day, I'd do 14 pages, the second day 28 then right up to 200. It
takes about three weeks to write a book. The women's series I'm doing for Sphere is twice as
MS: How do you create your characters such as Herne and Crow? Do you visualize them on any
actor, as Herne is something like Clint Eastwood?
LJ: Herne did start out something like him. It's quite often that you think of actors like Jack
Palance or Lee Van Cleef or Clint Eastwood, people like that, and you tend to model the hero on
them a little bit. What you really want is what Hitchcock called the 'McGuffin'; you look for a
gimmick for them. There's got to be something different for them. It's no good just having a
hero who rides across the West killing people. You can't have a whole variety of gimmicks
otherwise you'll turn up with a four foot, 28 stone dwarf with a wooden leg. In Herne, for
instance, the gimmick was that he was old. 'Cos I wrote this with John Harvey. What we do is
simply sit down together, like we're sitting here, and we start from absolutely nothing and say
right, 'What's he going to be like, how is he going to look, how is he going to dress, what sort of
weapons is he going to use?' We also wanted to try the idea of having him drag a young girl
around with him and in the end we decided that she was becoming superfluous and it wasn't
working out the way we thought so we sent her off to Europe and then finally brought her back
and she dies.
MS: Yeah, that's another question: Why did you kill her off in HERNE 7?
LJ: Well, she was becoming a bit of a pain in the ass really. She wasn't doing an awful lot.
We'd done the things with her that we wanted to do, because when you start a series, you never
know how long it is going to run and we figured with Herne that it'd run until the revenge bit
was over. That was for 3 books, and that would leave Herne and the girl completely on their
own. I thought that it would be nice having them together, something like 'Paper Moon'. It
never kind of really worked - whether to sleep with her or not, I mean. It was quite strongly
referred through her dying; she says she wishes that he had. But in the end we thought that we
might as well kill her off. It was a smashing weepy scene. I loved that. It was like when Louise
MS: Would you describe your characters as heroes or anti-heroes?
LJ: Oh, they're heroes.
MS: Well-defined heroes - do they always win in the end?
LJ: Well, Dylan said that there's no success like failure and failure's no success at all. I mean
that's what the heroes are like. All my heroes are flawed. They are all losers in a way as they
never actually get anything positive. None of them actually becomes rich, none of them becomes
happy. They are something like a blunt instrument moving through the West. What is it that
they say in 'The Magnificent Seven'? At the end, the old man says something like: 'You're like
the wind that moves through and cleans the land.' That's what the heroes are really like, they
move through and they never get involved. Like at the end of 'The Searchers' where John
Wayne comes up to the door and they take the girl inside and everybody's happy and he's ruined
his life searching for this girl. And in the end he just turns around and walks away again because
a Western hero cannot get involved. There's no such thing as a happy, rich Western hero.
Never. They can't be. They get to be men alone. Like Edge. Like Herne, they've got to keep
moving on. Generally as they leave things better than they found them, they've got to be heroes.
MS: Would you ever consider, under the name of John J. McLaglen, in doing a book featuring
Whitey Coburn set before when he and Herne were in their heydays?
LJ: Number 9 is the flashback one, isn't it?
MS: Yeah, that's 'Massacre!'.
LJ: We might flashback, because we've dropped hints here and there of things that Herne did
when he rode with Cody on the Pony Express. This one here's a reference of him when he knew
Jesse James. There are various things we might go back again and do another flashback one. At
the moment we are thinking of selling 2 more to Corgi and probably one of those might be a
flashback one with Billy the Kid, because it seemed to work well, quite nice in fact. I like
MS: Yeah, he's a brilliant character. Did you base him on anyone?
LJ: Several of my books have had an albino in them. I truly don't know why - I like the idea of
paleness and white hair. Dramatic.
MS: I think the good thing about Herne is that he is an aging gunfighter who is past his heyday
and he's got a good code of honor.
LJ: Yes, this is the fact in the book I am writing now, number 11. He has this sort of
confrontation with this kid who thinks he is out to kill him and he is constantly coming up
against the punks who have heard about Herne the Hunter who is coming out of retirement and
they go after him. This kid is absolutely really nothing. We never even know what his name is
and Herne doesn't care anything about him. Has nothing really but contempt and he knows he
has to set out to kill him and they are facing each other and the sheriff tries to interfere and the
kid says, 'You keep out of this, you don't know what's going on between the old man and me.'
It is at the moment that Herne, for the only time, has a bit of respect for the kid because there is
this kind of code between them and the sheriff (the outsider) doesn't understand and it is just
between the two of them. When the kid dies and is buried, on the grave marker it just has the day
and the month and the year and it says: 'He was a kid of 18 and not as fast as he thought he was',
and that's all it says.
MS: Is there one book you would like to write regardless of being commissioned, just the one
thing every author is looking for in life - the multi-million pound best-seller, or are you content
on just writing series?
LJ: It's a difficult question, but I've got a lot of ideas. Ideas for very uncommercial books that
sometime I might write just because I want to write them. It depends on the time. I'm like Terry,
we are very similar in some ways to our attitude in writing. We regard it as a professional job. If
I've got the time and feel that I can do it I will write anything for anybody and I would like to
write for film or T.V. If I could have the time and the money was worth it, but it's very difficult
to set out to write blockbusting best-sellers. If you can be done, you can manufacture one. I
believe 'Jaws' was partly a manufactured book, but I think that when editors said that they didn't
like it and they wanted a sub-plot put in about the sheriff's wife having adultery with the marine
biologist and that was put in, I think it is the worst thing in the book. I mean it sticks out. It's
obvious to me, as a writer, you know what's happened is that someone said 'Jesus, we need a
sub-plot' and the author has said 'Okay, I'll put in a sub-plot'. Just like that and you can see that.
You can see plotting in other people's books and on T.V. You can see other people's research.
It really stands out where people have found a lot of information about a certain thing and they
feel they have got to use it and when it comes on T.V. you think, ahh! Research and you can see
MS: When you write a Western and you have just been reading a SF book, does it influence you
at all, like Angus says he is very influenced by what he has read beforehand?
LJ: No. I am influenced by what I am reading at the time and writing for pleasure can be
influenced. That is why, whatever I am writing, I make sure that if I'm doing an ordinary reading
for pleasure I won't read anything that is at all concerned with it. What is disastrous in some
ways and good in others, is to watch a Western film when you are writing a Western. Because
you tend to find that you get some very good lines that you can work in. That's true of music.
You know that all of us, particularly Angus and I and I think John, use lines from songs and work
in song references. In fact, when I read a book a year later I can always tell what I've been
playing on the jukebox or record player because the lines come into it, you can't keep it away.
MS: How do you relax when you're not writing? Do you garden?
LJ: No. Well, I mow the lawn. Liz is really in charge of the garden. We've got a big lawn,
about an acre, and it takes time in the summer. And I'm quite involved in the local boys football
team - the Roydon Rangers. David plays for the under 11s and Matthew is going to play for the
under 10s, though he is only 6. And Cathy's a sixer in the Brownies. I'm very much a family
man, not very interesting. Before we got married, 15 years ago, we used to go to the pictures an
awful lot. We used to go 2 or 3 times a week to the National Film Theatre but when the kids
came it was very difficult. We virtually stopped going to the pictures for 9 years, but we have
just discovered the Harlow Playhouse which is a regional film theatre. It's very convenient for us
and it's okay to get a babysitter and we've started going to the pictures alot again because they
show films like 'Midnight Cowboy', 'Easy Rider', 'Woodstock', 'Network'. The kind of films
you really want to see but we missed because we were not going then.
MS: You've visited the States twice. Do you feel that you can now write about the West with
LJ: Yes. It's a very difficult thing to define because it's not a very specific thing. What you can
do is actually feel it better. I've been on the Custer Battlefield at Little Big Horn for instance,
and that gives you something that no book or film could ever give. It gives you the feeling of
what it was like. You can stand there, halfway up the hill and look down on the river, look
across the Reno-Benteen site on your left and behind you is where they nearly made it. And you
can see these white markers dotting the hills because it's almost exactly as it was. You think,
'Christ, you can see why they didn't make it.' And it's there. It's the same down in the
southwest with the heat. All these corny things like what the rocks really look like, what hot
earth feels like in your hands, when it's 100 in the shade and that kind of thing.
MS: That sort of thing gives you authenticity.
LJ: I think it's a help. It's not essential because Terry and I had both written a lot of Westerns
before either of us went over there. We had two 7 week holidays there and covered a lot of miles
and it was very nice.
MS: What is it like co-writing a series with John doing Herne? Do you read each others books?
LJ: Yes, the co-writing is quite easy providing it's someone you can rely on and trust their style
to be more or less like yours. I often wonder actually how much other people can tell that it's
co-written, whether the join shows. To us, it's obvious. I can tell my style against John's or
Angus's or Terry's, but I wonder how much other people can tell?
MS: I couldn't really tell the joint with the Cade series because Terry wrote one to three and then
Angus took over, they were so similar.
LJ: Angus is so good at adapting his style, very good indeed. But I think with Herne we had
slight problems around numbers 4 and 5. Things didn't work out well for a couple of books but
then we clicked and it got better and now it's all okay.
MS: You can actually tell when you're taking over a book because sex keeps creeping in.
LJ: No sex at all in my Westerns!
LJ: No sex at all. A little bit. I don't have great rape scenes like Terry does. He's the King of
Rape. If you ever get a blonde lady in one of Terry's books it's absolutely a million to one that
she's going to be raped before the book is out.
MS: Is he mad on blondes?
LJ: Well, you've met Jane...
MS: No, I haven't.
LJ: Haven't you? There's a moral there somewhere, but I don't know what it is.
MS: When readers pick up a Western do you think they go for it because of the storyline or for
its violent contents which you are well known for?
LJ: I really don't know? It's very difficult, say 50,000 people buy Herne, I met ever met 2 or 3 of
them. It's a fair bet that a lot of them will be fairly intelligent people like you.
MS: Do you think that the covers to your books play an important part in selling them?
LJ: Yeah, they must do. Bearing in mind that I'm an ex-paperback editor you get very cynical.
When you work for a paperback house you get to wonder if you're selling books or cans of baked
beans. It's just a question of if you put a really eye-catching label on the baked beans or not, if
the one brand will sell better than another or if it's better advertised.
MS: Now they're flooding the market with gold imprint, aren't they?
LJ: That's right. The gold and silver thing; one of the books that started that was Fred Nolan's
'Mittenwalk Syndicate'. I think they put a silver cover on it and it did pretty well. Paperback
publishing is very funny, everyone sits around, as an editor you're always looking around seeing
what everyone else is doing; art editors look at other art editors work - it's quite incestuous. Like
a village sort of activity. And if you see that Publisher 'A' is having a lot of success with a
particular category of books and the other publisher will say, 'We've got to get in there.' And if
one particular sort of cover sells well and the others will say, 'Let's try it.' That's what I think
has been happening with the gold and silver. I've been happy with most of the covers to my
MS: Do you have a favorite?
LJ: I like Dick Clifton-Dey's work. I mean it's invidious to mention him because most of the
others I've liked as well. Bruce Pennington on the science fiction works, he did some smashing
covers for me. I like Backhouse and Collingwood. The big thing about Dick's covers was that
they were really good. They were lively, lots of stuff going on and they were interesting covers;
you kind of worked out what the book was about just by looking at the cover. There's so much
thought in them. I think that nowadays, too many people think: 'Oh, it's another Edge.' I think
it's a shame. I work quite closely with the artist on a lot of them. With Chris Collingwood
particularly because he's doing the covers on Crow. He'll ring me up and say 'I've got to do two
more covers for Herne, when are they set, what time of year is it, is there anything in particular
you want in them?' There's been occasions when we've actually gone the other way around. As
with the Herne that was published with the table being knocked over during a fight - or is that the
next one, number 10? Must be, because on that one we only had a loose synopsis on it and Chris
Collingwood was saying what did I want in it and I'd said that we're quite free; is there anything
you'd like to put on it? You put it on the cover and we'll put it in the book. He said that he'd
always wanted to do a gunfight in a saloon with a table being knocked over, things like that, and
so he did it. And because it was sufficiently early, we were able to get a copy of it, in fact John
Harvey wrote it and John was able to put the scene into the book with the characters looking as
they actually do. It sometimes works that way. It worked on one of the SF covers. I was talking
to Bruce Pennington and sometimes, when I sell to publishers, I don't give them a synopsis at all.
I mean, once a series is there I might just say, 'Do you want to buy two more Hernes or
whatever,' but in this case for the SIMON RACK series, I've got no idea what it was going to be
about at all. So I said to Pennington, 'What would you like to do on a cover?' He said that he'd
always liked the idea of people floating in transparent globes. I said, 'Yeah. That ought to be
good, so all right. Do that on the cover and I'll fit it in.' It worked out okay.
MS: What does your family think of your writing?
LJ: The kids are too young to read, my stuff anyway. They're 10, 8 and 6 at the moment.
They're very blase about it, actually. I'm a writer like anyone else say, is a bus conductor.
There's absolutely no difference to them. I mean it is just a job, that's all it is to me. Just a job.
MS: What about your wife, does she read all of them?
LJ: No, she reads some of the stuff. She's read the woman's series that I'm doing and quite alot
of the earlier books - she read the 'Journals Of'. But basically, she's not into Westerns really.
Which is fair enough; she likes Western movies. Again, as far as she is concerned, it's another
job. It pays the mortgage.
MS: Where do you get your ideas for your books? Do they just come up?
LJ: When people know that you're a writer, the one question you're always asked is: 'Where do
you get your ideas from?' I was talking to Fred Nolan about it and he said, 'Yes, Laurence.
When people do that, do what I do. Say there's this book published in 1938 by the University of
Pennsylvania Press. When you become a writer you're sworn to secrecy. You're not supposed
to tell anybody about this. It's like the Masonic secret. But there is this book published. It's
1,100 pages long and contains 6,350 plots for books and when you tell people this, they'll go -
'ah, that's how you do it!' Then they're much happier than when you say that you just make
them up, because they don't believe it.' I've done that and people do go, 'Ah, that's how you do
it!'. They just come, books to a certain extent write themselves. Because characters take over,
things never quite go the way you intend them to go. There's been characters in series (Whitey
Coburn for instance) like Sheriff Nolan who you suddenly get interested in and say, 'Hey, they're
good characters.' They're characters that you think are going to start off as being evil and, in
fact, become sympathic. Or the other way around, characters you think are going to be nice
people you suddenly think: 'Christ. They're pretty shitty really, aren't they?' So you write them
in and do it that way.
MS: With characters like Herne, do you keep an information sheet?
LJ: I've got a rough character sheet, yeah. In this respect the most difficult thing has been this
woman's series from that point-of-view. It's a kind of upmarket soap opera in a way. You don't
do any research on it beforehand, that way it's a reverse of the usual book. Like say, if I'm doing
a war series, I'll spend two or three days getting my research material together - the cockpit
layout of a Messerschmidt, the muzzle velocity of this and that. But with this particular series I
had to do it as I went along - keeping copious notes. Like how many sugars Mrs So and So takes,
because the next time she appears she has got to have the same amount of lumps. And where
they live, what color their bedroom carpet is, what school their second child goes to. I've done
three of those so far and something like 60 pages of notes, all cross-referenced. I've got 5 maps -
again important in that kind of series. You've got to know where everything is; I know that the
post office is directly across from the green grocers. That sort of information has to be right in
every book. It's quite difficult in that series.
MS: It's the same with the Western characters. They are bound to bump into one another sooner
LJ: That's already started. I don't know if it's Terry, but we've started putting in occasional
references. Caleb Thorn and Crow have cameo appearances in the Herne I'm writing at the
moment, not physically appearing but: 'It reminded him of something that he'd been told once,
what was it? Was it that calvary officer Caleb, Caleb Thorn? Or was it that busted man from the
Battle of the Little Big Horn, Crow?' That kind of thing. Or someone will be riding along and
say that there's been no Apache trouble since that Cuchillo Oro vanished. We do that kind of
thing a lot. What Terry and I would like to do at some point is to write a joint Edge-Herne book.
I said that I wouldn't do it until Herne had become really established and successful. Because I
wasn't prepared to ride on the back of Edge. But I mean, Herne seems to be doing quite well at
MS: What sort of sales figures has it?
LJ: They're doing 50s (50,000) upwards which is quite nice. They're buying more and getting a
good response from the people at Bookwise, the distributors. I think that maybe in a year or so
we'll think about it. If I can get Herne up to, say 15 or 18, then one can assume that it is
reasonably well established and I won't be riding on his back. But the problem will come with
the publishers. Seeing that they are different, who would publish it? Would they both do it? It
could be done.
MS: It'll be historical.
LJ: It would be. The way we thought of doing it would be that we would write alternate chapters.
Say a 10 chapter book, we'd have to plot it out carefully. With Terry's chapter it would have
Edge as the hero and Herne with him and in my chapter have Herne move to the center of the
MS: Mind you, they're both getting old now. Edge is what, fortyish?
LJ: Yeah, Herne is 41, I think. Which, in real terms, was quite an old man. Not many of them
made it very old.
MS: Do you have that series 'The Old West' from Time-Life?
LJ: I've got about four of them. I've got 'The Gunfighters', 'Indians', 'Soldiers' and
'Expressmen'. I don't collect all of them as a series as some of them are specialized.
MS: Do you use them a lot in your research?
LJ: I don't actually use them for research. The single book I use most in my research is
'Boothroyd's - The Handgun', which is a great fat hardback. It's out of print now, but it's a
superb book on handguns. It's got photographs, exploded drawings - a terrific amount of
information. And I use it a hell of a lot.
MS: Do you have a collection of replica guns?
LJ: I've got a Colt .45, a Mauser, the Winchester, the Luger - that's the Navy Parabellum. The
problem is that you can't play with them, 'cos they break.
MS: I don't know? I have a good time with mine.
LJ: The hammer on the Colt keeps breaking all the time. I've gone through 3 hammers. They're
not really intended to be played with and I tend to play with them quite a lot. Also, the Luger
MS: Do you find, say using the Colt - is it the Army or Navy one?
LJ: The Peacemaker.
MS: Well, do you use the information there, like in 'Gunslinger' - 'the triple click of the Colt...?'
LJ: Yes - I can't get away from that triple click actually. I use it quite a lot. Like Terry and the
word 'power'. They are useful then. I remember once when I was doing the Norman-Saxon
series, 'Wolfshead', I think, which I did with Ken Bulmer, and I got this scene where this
Norman sergeant was protecting this woman from behind, against this crowd of outlaws. He was
holding them off with his sword and she, in fact, was the Lady of the Manor. And when it
became obvious to him that they were going to beat him down and kill him, he decides that he
must save her from a fate worse than death. So he cuts her throat before they kill him. It was a
very difficult thing to do, physically. Normally, I use Liz for this sort of thing (use the wife as
props) and I had to do this myself. I've got several knives and things. I was standing in my
room, pulling my own head back and kept pulling it across my throat. Then I changed hands and
tried different angles trying to work it out. I suddenly looked up, the house was being decorated,
and the painter outside was staring through the window looking horrified at the sight of this man
apparently making several unsuccessful attempts to cut his own throat!
MS: Do you do that sort of thing often?
LJ: For action scenes, I do. I sort of get into it, it's quite useful. I don't use my wife for the
MS: Just rely on memory...
LJ: Long time ago...
MS: Have you got a least favorite novel you've written?
LJ: No. They're all brilliant. They're absolutely superb.
MS: Well, is there one that's not as outstanding as the rest?
LJ: It's funny when you write them. We all feel this as writers. When you're doing it, there are
times when you're not happy and think it wasn't as good as it might have been. Then you sub it
the next day, or whenever it might be. I generally sub the next day, most of us sub the previous
day's work - and there are times when you think 'Well, it's okay.' But when you read the proofs
(the next step), it gets that bit better and you think: 'Yeah, that's really okay.' And when you get
the finished book, you think: 'That's amazingly brilliant. God, that's terrific.' Because I've just
got the proofs to 'Arizona Bloodline' and that's really good. Got some good things in it. Lots of
nice little jokes and things, good action stuff as well.
MS: Who are your favorite authors? Apart from yourself.
LJ: That would be invidious. I'm forced to mention Terry, Angus, John Harvey and Fred Nolan -
whether they are or not.
MS: Do you read their books?
LJ: We dip into each others works. We have a lot of trouble with titles. I don't know if Terry
has mentioned this? Because we are writing a lot of westerns; with me and with John. John
writes on his own and with me and with Angus; I write on my own and with Angus and with
John. One of the most difficult things in writing a book is thinking up a name for your character,
which is incredibly difficult.
MS: I've noticed that they've become short and sharp: Edge, Crow, Steele...
LJ: Crow, in fact, came from Patrick Janson Smith. Editor at Corgi - he thought it up. It's a
good name. Pen-names are difficult to think up, as well. Suprisingly difficult. People who
aren't writers wouldn't think about it but it's very difficult to come up with a good pen-name.
MS: Names like 'L.J. Coburn' is Laurence James and add the Coburn.
LJ: Right. And John J. McLaglen is John Ford and Victor McLaglen - that's where that came
from. Klaus Netzen in the KILLERS series was simply because I wanted a German name.
MS: I think he appears in a Herne adventure.
LJ: That's right, he does. Christ, they keep cropping up. It's amazing how many cross-indexed
and cross-references there are to friends, other people's names like this. Like Trooper Stotter and
Trooper Whitehead appear in Crow 1. Little cameo bits like that. Angus Wells appears as a
town in one occasion: 'They rode into Angus Wells...' He was a superb creation once, in one of
the Confessions books. He was a lady called Angustura Wells. I thought Angustura was terrific.
MS: You always turn up as a barkeep or similar.
LJ: Yeah, I always get crappy roles. A writer I know, Gordon Newman, who did that television
series 'Law And Order', I was in that actually by name. He also wanted me to play a part in it
because they were filming in Dublin and they wanted this guy who was to come in and bugger
this informer in a cell. I didn't fancy it really. But he's put me in some of his books and he
appears in some of mine. He gives me rotten parts. Once I appeared as homosexual twins
named Laurence and James. Which, I thought, was a bit mean.
MS: Angus is always getting his knees blown off or being splattered across the room.
LJ: It's the same with book dedications. We quite often find cross-dedications. One of the
Confessions books is dedicated: 'This is to Uncle Angus who rides tall in the saddle, but you'd
ride tall in the saddle if you had piles like Uncle Angus!' It's that kind of thing that makes it all
worth while - you can amuse yourself whilst doing it as well, you see.
MS: What are your opinions of STEELE EDGE?
LJ: I think it's very good. I'm genuinely impressed. When Terry started talking about it when it
first started, I was like him - apprehensive about it. On how it would be done and whether it
would work. I think that the only problem is, and one that Terry is aware of, is that it is quite
difficult to keep a mag going that is totally devoted to one man. There is a danger of it getting
repetitive. Terry, like me, stays at home and writes books and goes on holiday and that's it. Not
exciting. I mean, we never get to meet the Pope, or screw famous film stars or feature in the
News of the World or stuff like that. I think that's the only problem you've got of keeping
different material in and keeping it going.
MS: If someone wanted to start the Charles C. Garrett or the John J. McLaglen Appreciation
Society, what would your reaction be?
LJ: I think I would be apprehensive about it. In some respect I think the idea of a Western
gazette is a good one. It's something that you could probably build up by having several authors
involved in it and it should be moderately successful.
MS: When writing your Western series, do you find it difficult to think up new situations for
LJ: No, not yet. I generally don't see any problems at all in plotting or any danger of running out
MS: It seems that the series all start off with revenge.
LJ: Yes. You have your basic revenge motive which is a good one. There is a revenge motive in
Crow to start it off.
MS: Dishonor from the Calvary.
LJ: That's right. There is revenge in all of them because I think it is the single strongest motive.
I don't think you have basically got a guy who has become a bounty hunter because he wants to
become a bounty hunter, or a gunman simply because he enjoys it. There's always some sort of
terrible trauma in his past life that made him decide he would like to do it.
MS: Do you get much fan mail?
LJ: I did on the Confessions. Actually, I solicited it. I had literally hundreds of letters, amazing
letters, and photographs. Offers you wouldn't believe.
MS: You still got your drawer full of knickers?
LJ: Yes. I've got a huge carrier bag full. That was really quite amazing!
MS: Any mail for Westerns?
LJ: No, virtually none. I think people often write when they think they have caught you on a
mistake. So far I don't think we have any particular mistakes in Westerns.
MS: Do you see the Western market reaching saturation point now?
LJ: I don't know? We are doing our bit to flood it between us. I think that any publisher that
buys a Western that isn't written by Terry or Fred or John or Angus or me is taking a bit of a
chance. Most of our series have been pretty successful whereas I think some of the others
haven't done so well. Goodness knows how many Western series we are doing at the moment.
We must have 10 going altogether! It is amazing that they all sell. Between us we are writing 50
odd books a year of which, over half are Westerns.
MS: What advice would you give for would-be writers?
LJ: Just do it. There's absolutely no other advice to give. It's a question, as a writer, you get
asked quite often. The second is where you get your ideas from, and the third is: 'I've got an idea
for a book. I can't really write it myself but if I give you the idea, will you write it?' I always say
don't tell me the idea. I don't want to know because there is always the chance it's something
you're doing yourself anyway, and if you do it, then they think that you've ripped them off. So I
never ever take any ideas from anybody at all. The basic advice to all would-be authors is
simple: Only type it. Type on one side of the paper. Double-space it. Number every page.
Make sure your name's on it and your address. Make sure you've put a note somewhere of how
long the book is (a rough word count). It's that kind of thing that would guarantee that a
publisher would at least look at it. 'Cos if you send it in, generally speaking, and it's not
reasonably neatly presented and not fairly legable - people aren't going to bother. Because what
publishers want are authors that are fairly professional in their attitude. If you're sloppy and
careless the publisher just won't bother.
It is fairly difficult to give advice about writing, again, as a publisher it is something you get
cynical about. I was buying something like 150-200 books a year at NEL and out of about every
100 books I bought, I would have thought that probably 25 were commissioned originals, which
meant me going to a specific author, say Terry, and say would you do a book on whatever? I
would have thought that the other 70 odd, probably 65 would have come from publishers, about
5 would come from agents and one would be an unsolicited manuscript. There is an
astronomical amount of people who think that they can write and the trouble is that people are so
un-self critical and by the nature of life and social conventions, if they give their manuscript to a
friend or relative to read, it's a racing certainty that they say 'It's very good.' 'It's smashing.'
And unfortunately, in real terms, they're totally misinformed or they're told lies. Because if you
are good enough you will actually make it, you will sell successfully. People don't get the kind
of reaction from friends that they should get. Again, that is something that I would never do. I'd
never read a manuscript for anybody. One of the things I learnt in publishing is when someone
says 'Will you read this and I want your honest opinion', in fact what they want you to say is
'Tell me how good it is.' And unfortunately, it almost always isn't. That's why people complain
about publishers saying, 'Why don't they send proper rejection slips explaining what's wrong
with it.' The reason is with a proportion of people, maybe with ten percent of the rejection slips
if you wrote and told them what you thought of it, you would get involved with an amazing
stream of correspondence. They'll come to the office and they'll keep re-writing it and sending it
in again, and if you rejected it, they'd get annoyed saying: 'Well, I did what you said to do. I
changed all the dialogue...' And unfortunately, that's how it works.
MS: Finally, can you tell us something about the Herne book you're writing now?
LJ: It's a good plot, and it's going well. There's this town called Wild Rose City in the Dakota
territory in the Spring of 1885. Been a lot of silver robberies in various mines in the district but
the mine called Mount Morgoth Mine hasn't been hit yet. So Herne gets called in by the town
council to protect them from any possible robbery and the town council are almost all members
of the same family. Two elderly sisters, one tall, the other short and grossly fat and they run the
whole town with 2 sons and 3 nephews. They provide the Mayor, the sheriff and they run the
brothel and the saloon. The whole town is tight. The whole thing is nice, neatly trimmed
Disneyland type of town - a beautiful little town. But Herne begins to suspect that all is not what
it seems. And quite right too. He discovers that what's happening is that instead of stealing
bullion, they are stealing high grade ore - then they've got to process it somehow. So it has got
to be someone with a processing plant, which of course, this particular mine has. He gradually
suspects that the family is robbing it and he finds out that the mine is fading and doing badly
these days and so these two old ladies and their horrendous brood of middle-aged sons and
nephews are actually responsible for it all and he kills them all. That takes about six chapters to
kill them all. It's good because at first glance they appear gentle, discreet, quiet people. The old
ladies run the town and noone spits on the sidewalk and the opening chapter, which is quite a
long one, explains this small town where everyone goes to church and it's clean and there are no
drunks. It's got these two sisters walking up the hill, we don't know anything about them apart
from they run the town and they meet the vicar and they are talking about the robberies and
what's going on. They reproach the vicar for using the word 'God' n a cavalier manner and as he
walks off down the hill at the end of the chapter, they watch him go down and one says to the
other: 'You know that vicar, sister? He doesn't have the balls of a goddamn butterfly!' And so
the readers think: 'Christ, these ladies aren't quite what I thought.' They turn out to be very
wicked and evil. And Herne gets to kill them off.
MS: You got anything against old ladies?
LJ: I thought it would be nice to bump them off. It's a good title, from a song 'Silver Threads
Among The Gold, Darling I'm Growing Old'. Because of the silver robberies - it's all clever
Mike - Many thanks to Laurence for allowing me to interview him and also for the glasses of
wine, food and more wine and Southern Comfort and Christ knows what else. I think I got home
quicker than I got there. Or so it seemed. Anyway, thanks also to Liz (his wife) for the food. I
recently went to see Laurence again and he was pleased that I didn't carry a tape recorder. He
told me that he is starting a new Confession book and that Crow has been commissioned up to
number 4, at least for the time being.
reprinted from STEELE EDGE July 1979