BLOOD BATTLE (Click to read), is my latest short story published here. The American Civil War and the aftermath of the Battle of Amelia Springs, Virginia in 1865 is the setting for a game of cat and mouse between a Union soldier and a Confederate soldier as they fight for their principles in a battle for survival and death. I would consider it possibly my darkest piece to date in that it highlights the horrors of war and especially that of a Civil War. In fact, it could be adapted for a civil war in any country. I have used the American Civil War as the basis because of my long love of the America of the 1800’s, the wild west, the frontiers and all the Western films I loved growing up and still love with a passion. Growing up, watching Westerns was a simple innocent pleasure. We’d watch them, then we’d go out and play Cowboys and Indians (Native Americans) on make believe horses with toy guns, or make-believe sticks or hurleys. A bit like after watching a great hurling match and then playing the All-Ireland in the garden or field. It is only as time moved on, I noticed the sad undertones of racism, violence including sexual and lawlessness that these films contained. However, at the end of the day they were primarily about good versus evil where more often than not the good guy won and there was rarely ambiguity about the ending. The high moral ground was generally successful and life’s lessons were always positive. Most Westerns were set against the fabulous background of the wild west with beautiful mountains, rivers, hills and forests underneath wonderful blue skies or battling the strength of storms that mother nature can throw. All showcased the best and most powerful that nature has to offer. For the reasons of morals and nature, I do not apologise for my passion and love of the Western.
My writing has regularly used the Western theme for these reasons. THE MAJORS WIFE set during the Arizona Indian wars of 1869/70, started life as a one-act play before I turned it into a short story. (Both are available on the site). A relationship triangle based in a real historical setting tells the story in a simple way even if relationships are never simple. My first real full-length play was HUNTERS FOR REVENGE and it is set in a saloon in Texas, 1885. We all love heroes, enough said. THE BALLAD OF SAM STONE is a short story set in the famous Arizona town of Tombstone in 1881. It started life as an epic poem about a gunslinger before merging into the short story. Westerns are not about gadgetry, but they are about people and emotions and their story. This is what make the stories simple while also giving huge curiosity. My first novel which I started writing (and never finished) at the age of 10, “The United Family” was also a Western, loosely based on the John Wayne film, “The Sons Of Katie Elder”. It started in the West and there will be more.
Arizona is a location that you will notice that I often use. I was there at the Grand Canyon in 1985 on my tour of America with my friend Dick Walsh. It is without doubt the most awesome natural site I have ever seen. No picture or video can do the depth and colours justice. So, for my holidays this year I wanted the “Cowboy” experience, (I know, I am a cowboy!). Therefore, Sheila and myself headed to Arizona and the Mohave Desert. We started in Las Vegas (Worth a day/night at best, but very plastic). Then we headed to the Grand Canyon. Wow! As awesome as ever. Then we stayed in a lovely quaint town called Williams on Route 66. The next day we made our way to Utah and the absolutely brilliant picturesque Navajo property of Monument Valley. The red rock formation many will see on your standard Microsoft wallpaper is here. For me it was more than that. This was the location for the classic John Ford directed, John Wayne starred Western, “The Searchers” as well as their other collaborations, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” and “Fort Apache”. This was Western heaven. I cannot express the wonder I had on the 17-mile sand covered loop drive through the valley. It was almost as if civilisation had never arrived, its beauty was so raw. This epitomised the setting for so many Westerns. It made us think about the pioneers in their covered wagons as they headed across the vast wilderness with no sign of civilisation, little water and definitely no GPS. They were tough people!
The final stage was back to Arizona and Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch via a small quaint mining town called Oatman also on Route 66, a village in the Black Mountains. We drove up a very narrow mountain pass to get there although there was an easier way which we found out after arriving. Oatman is named after Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl who had been taken captive by Indians during her pioneer family’s journey westward in 1851 and forced into slavery. She was later traded to Mohave Indians, who adopted her as a daughter and tattooed her face in the custom of the tribe. She was released in 1856 at Fort Yuma, Arizona. Many donkeys roam the streets and they are the descendants of burros brought there by the miners in the late 1800s; when the miners no longer needed them, they were turned loose. Each morning they come into town looking for food. They wander the streets and greet the tourists. Shortly before sunset they wander back to the hills for the night.
Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch is a ranch in Yucca in the Mohave Desert. It is an 18-mile sandtrail from the main road and an hour from the nearest shop. It is an oasis in the wilderness of the desert. The Proprietors were wonderful people (of Irish descent) and made you feel part of their family on the ranch. The food was glorious and what a super feeling sitting outside around the camp fire under the moonlit and star lit sky as coyotes howled in the background. Miles from anywhere but yet somewhere so magnificent and special. Nature is its foundation and its roof. The highlight for me was riding the trail on the painted horse, Amigo (pictured) or Piebald as he’d be called in Ireland. We were great together. Particularly just after sunrise as the temperature was very comfortable and there was hardly a breeze. We headed out into the desert strewn with the Joshua Tree on sandy, stony trails. The silhouetted shadow of myself on Amigo looked so tall as I gazed down to my left. For those moments I was the great Western characters played by Audie Murphy, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, James Stewart and Gary Cooper. I was in those films I deem iconic. Those already mentioned plus “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”, “High Noon”, “Cat Ballou”, “Maverick”, “The Quick Gun”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “A Few Dollars More”, “The Quick And The Dead”, “Pale Rider”, “Unforgiven”, “High Plains Drifter”, “Apache Rifles”. “How The West Was Won”, “Dances With Wolves”, “The Fastest Gun Alive”, “The Quick And The Dead”. The list is almost endless. This was living the dreams of my childhood. I was the cowboy!
Admittedly, with two artificial hips, it wasn’t easy to get on or off the American saddle horse, but once I was up, my world and my imagination merged as I rode off into the brilliant sunsets where the sky seemed to turn into an inferno. The Wild West is a passion. It is one of my passions. Las Vegas could not compete because it is man made and nothing man has created can compete with what God gave us in the first place. If you love the Wild West and/or Westerns, these places are a must for any bucket list. Ireland and Kilkenny are beautiful too and also a massive love for me. It is a different type of beauty, but there is nothing to say you can have only one passion when it comes to the world and nature. It is not unfaithful, just spreading the love and passion for our beautiful world.
Enjoy BLOOD BATTLE or reading some of my other Western material. Share with your friends who might be of a certain vintage. Let me know what you think of the stories. Publishers always welcome!