Trying to pin Gary Dobbs down is not easy. The man admits to rarely sitting still, so I hope you enjoy the following interview. Gary, under the pseudonym Jack Martin, writes highly esteemed westerns including "The Tarnished Star" and "Arkansas Smith", which will be available shortly. You can find his Tainted Archive blog at http://http://tainted-archive.blogspot.com/ subtitled "spearheading the western revival" and follow him on Facebook.
AFT: You are an actor and comedian as well as a writer. How do you fit writing into your schedule and can you tell us about your writing methods? For example, do you make a meticulous plan or let your characters lead you where they want to go and how do you research your books?
GD: My schedule is hit the ground running - I never plan anything before hand but just fill the day the best I can and I can't sit still for more than a moment. My writing methods are simple really - every day I do something, even if it's only a blog entry. Sometimes when I'm blocked on a piece of fiction doing a post on The Tainted Archive can get things moving again. When I start a book I always have a pretty good idea of the end, though it can and often does change in the writing. And doing an outline would bore me as I like to be surprised in the writing much in the way the readers are, I hope.
AFT: What comes first with you – plot, characters or setting? Why?
GD: I've usually got a good idea of the driving event of a story, the catalyst so to speak but other than that I like to write blind and see where the story takes me. I always understand and know the main group of characters before I start as I find the characters the foundations from which you build the story. Without characters you have nothing and it is from them that everything else springs.
AFT: What are your needs as a writer? How do you fulfil them and what problems do you encounter?
GD: An idea, my pipe, a few ounces of good tobacco and my keyboard. Something that is essential to me is complete and utter silence and seclusion. I can't write unless I’m alone - often when I'm disturbed it can be quite painful to be yanked from the imaginary world. It often feels like a violent assault - I hope that makes sense because I find that when I'm disturbed mid flow I just can't get back into that special place. I've often read that writing is a lonely business but then I guess it has to be.
AFT: What is your favourite western movie and why?
GD: The Searchers - I think it's a wonderful story and so beautifully shot. The landscapes are breathtaking and of course the sweep of the narrative is truly epic. We spend years with these two main characters while they search for their kin stolen by a group of Indians. It may in some way be a throwback to the old Hollywood where the Indians were always the bad guys but the film doesn't show the Indians as two dimensional and really builds credible characters. It's a brilliant story and based on fact, you know.
AFT: You’ve also written a crime novel set in the South Wales of the early 20th century. Crime is a genre that shares much of the morality tale ethos with the western, but has to be more tightly planned. How did you approach it? Did you enjoy it and do you have any plans to write more crime?
GD: You are correct about the planning involved with the crime genre and I slipped up with this initially. I found that by working with too loose a structure I was wandering in the narrative and not really progressing with the story. I had to completely rethink things and virtually start all over again. But the novel, A Policeman's Lot which is being considered by my publisher at the moment, is not a typical whodunnit and I feel that it is an adventure as much as a crime thriller. There was a lot of research into the historical period and I must say I really enjoyed that. I spent many an afternoon in the library going through old newspapers and that's as addictive as any drug.
AFT: I’m interested to hear you say that. For me the plot, the puzzle, always came first because I’ve always written crime and it was only a few years ago that I realised the characters had to be just as strong. How do you think you would fare with a straight puzzle who-dunnit and do you fancy having a go at one?
GD: To be honest although I enjoy reading straight puzzle who-dunnit books I have no interest in writing one. I think it takes a different thought process than I possess. My favourite type of crime is the character led works of writers like Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham. In “A Policeman's Lot” the reader knows who the killer is from the start but not the why. I do greatly admire writers who can produce work that becomes a sort of puzzle for the reader to solve because I think that's beyond me.
AFT: Some say that westerns have been superseded by space adventures. How would you comment on this?
GD: I think there is some truth in that. Star Wars is after all western set in space; it owes much to the Magnificent Seven. And a lot of alien landscapes are basically the landscape of the mythical West. Of course the joining of the western and sci-fi will become complete when Stephen Speilberg gets around to filming his long gestating project, Cowboys and Aliens.
AFT: What do you read for relaxation?
GD: I go through phases with my reading - at the moment I'm heavily into Richard Stark but recently I've read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon an I've got some Agatha Christie in my TBR pile. But every now and then I'll dip into my comfort genre - The WESTERN. I love the genre with so much passion that I can never tire of it. George Gilman's Edge series are favourites as are Louis L’Amour, Elmer Kelton and Larry McMurtry. There's also some stunning current work going on in the genre - The Black Horse Westerns, for which I write myself, are pretty much guaranteed to supply good western adventure.