Navajo Rock

Drawing of Barbed Wire

Buck Heely and Scott Beaumont have grown up together in the small town of Navajo Rock, Arizona. John Clayton envies their long friendship, but his attempts to humiliate Buck backfire. Resentful and jealous, John plots a public retaliation. Unfortunately, his actions lead to a terrible accident, and Buck and Scott are forced to flee from their homes and families.
Peter Clayton swears revenge on them and vows to hunts them down. Buck and Scott are on their own and their friendship is tested to extremes as they fight to survive in the dry Navajo country.
Will they find justice in the face of hatred ?

My Long and Winding Road

I first wrote Navajo Rock in 1996. I had an idea about someone who couldn't stand to be confined indoors. Buck would do anything to avoid being captured and sent to prison. At the end of the story, Buck and Scott are chased by a posse and get trapped in a wire sheep corral. In desperation, Buck jumps his gallant horse over the wire fence. The horse falls on landing and Buck is killed. His soul is free; he will never experience the misery of being confined.
My lovingly-crafted novel about a complex and tragic character was rejected. It didn't have enough plot. Fair enough, I suppose. Black Horse Westerns are about action and excitement. I did have fights and chases in the first version of Navajo Rock, but the book overall didn't fit within the brand style. I was disappointed though, after success with Rocking W and The Paducah War. I'd spent months working on Navajo Rock, and I felt there was something really good in the characters. After sulking for a while (publishers don't know class when they see it. mutter, mutter), I decided to get on and write something else. What's more, I didn't want to spend so long on writing a book that might get rejected. I decided to sit down and try writing a western in two months. The result was The Horseshoe Feud.
I wrote another five novels but the old manuscript of Navajo Rock was still sitting in the drawer. I liked the characters: I knew I had somthing fundamentally good there. I wanted to be people to be able to read about Scott and Buck. I wanted their story to be known. So I got the old manuscript out, re-read it and tackled their story again, with the experience I'd gained in the last few years. I got it right this time.

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Family, especially brothers, seems to be a recurring theme in my writing. Paul and Josh, from the Rocking W books, consider themselves to be brothers. I wrote a fantasy novel featuring the brothers, Esai and Felipe, who had first been created for a role-playing game. Hugh Keating's older brother, the one who will be a lord, comes to Govan in my next western, Darrow's Badge. Buck Heeley and Scott Beaumont follow this trend. Buck doesn't have a brother, so his best friend becomes a substitute. Scott has a younger brother, but they have different temperments and the younger boy wouldn't have been able to keep up with the older ones.
Beautiful Valley The close friendship between Scott and Buck, which I had portrayed in the first version, allowed me to develop the book more when I re-wrote it. In the first version, John Clayton annoys Buck simply because he's unkind, and mildly prejudiced towards Buck because he's part-Navajo. This leads to a series of squabbles until Scott kills John and the friends flee. In the revised version, John's reasons for disliking Buck are more deep-seated. He arrived in Navajo Rock as a child, when Buck and Scott were aleady friends, and tried to split them up, wanting Scott's friendship for himself. Even when they've all grown up, John still resents their friendship. He takes every opportunity to show them that he has friends of his own, and doesn't need them. Jealousy is a dangerous emotion.
Scott has become part of Buck's family partly through estangement from his own. His repressive father has driuen him away to spend time with a family who welcomes him. The difficult relationship bewteen Scott and his father, the town preacher, gave him an emotional problem to solve, as well of the practical one of not getting killed. Scott must make the decision to stand up to his father. I love the scene where he denounces his father in church. I was visualizing the wooden church in High Noon, where Gary Cooper asks for help, when I wrote about the church in Navajo Rock. I'd love to see my scene in a film too. Scott has entered the church in the middle of the service and asked his father for forgiveness for Buck, who is injured. His father's answer is clear.

"You are a murderer: a lawbreaker. You have wandered astray and sold your souls to the Devil ! You shall thirst and hunger as you wander through the desert..."
"Father !" Scott interrupted his father for the first time in his life. He took a deep breath, then continued. "Buck needs help: he needs you to be the Good Samaritan."
"You are sinnners and you shall suffer for your crimes in the sight of God."
"Peter Clayton's bounty hunter shot him !"
There was a murmur among the congregation.
Scott ignored them. "Father, I beg you."
"You are not my son !" Preacher George threw his hands out as if to cast away his child.
"God is my father !" Scott yelled back. "Show us the forgiveness the Bible tells us about. Help those in trouble and need. In the name of God, help Buck !"
The preacher's face flushed even darker. His fingers gripped the leather-bound Bible in front of him as if he wanted to pick it up and throw it. "Do not use the Lord's name, O sinner," he breathed. "To come into this sacred place and abuse His name so foully is a crime unto Heaven. You shall burn in Hellfire for all eternity."
"And so shall you !" Scott pointed at his father. The faint whispers amongst the congragation died out completely. "You have no gentleness, no mercy, no kindness. You beat your own children, even your daughters. You gave us the rod instead of love. You denied us all comforts and pleasures and claimed it was for the honour of God. You are unfit to preach the word of God !"
A weight seemed to lift from his shoulders as he flung out the accusations he had harboured for so long. Scott swallowed, staring unwaveringly at the preacher. For a moment, there was a sensation of victory, but it faded. Suddenly full of revulsion, Scott turned and strode back through the church

I think that scene would work well on film. And the screenplay rights would look very nice in my bank account (I can hope).

Action Girl and Butch Cassidy

Christmas 1975. An eight-year-old girl who loves horses, and watches 'Alias Smith and Jones', 'Bonanza' and 'High Chaparral' is in Norwich's biggest toyshop with her parents, to choose her presents. Displayed in a cabinet at the end of one aisle are three toy horses, posed rearing, and their riders. The Lone Ranger on Silver, Tonto on Scout, and Butch Cavendish (I knew they meant Cassidy really) on Bandit. These weren't little farmyard animals, these were BIG ! Slightly smaller than a Barbie horse, but I'd never seen anything like them before and I knew what I wanted for Christmas. Which one did I want ?
"That one"
I pointed straight at Butch and his black horse. Butch, being the bad guy, is possibly the ugliest doll ever produced. He's got warts, scars and bad teeth- the Lemmy of the Wild West. His horse is the wildest of the three; Bandit's plastic mane and tail were rough, unlike Silver's. His ears were turned back, his teeth were bared and the whites of his eyes showed. Did I want the nice Lone Ranger and his white horse ? Of course not: I wanted the outlaw and his black mustang.
picture of my toy horses I got Butch and Bandit for Christmas. My best friend, Lisa, got Happitime and her rider, Anne. These were jointed horses, and could be made to rear, trot or kneel. Over the next few years, Lisa and I collected quite a herd of horse, plus some very assorted riders. My herd consisted of Bandit, Scout and Silver, Rowan (Sindy's horse, an old model with solid plastic mane and tail), Blitz (Action Girl's horse - the same as Action Man's, but with different accessories), Rowan (Happitime, given a sensible name), Sundancer (palomino, same range as Happitime) and Archie (Daisy's horse - came with circus gear as well as regular tack) I've since acquired another Silver and a grey Sindy horse, Ash, in the same style as Rowan but with nylon mane and tail. The riders are Karen (Action Girl), Ballerina Sindy (a big girly that I never took to), Butch Cassidy, Peter (Sundancer's rider - a big girl's blouse that I never cared for much - he got the dirty jobs), the Lone Ranger and Kid Cortez. Kid Cortez (who has a disturbingly limp-wristed knife-throwing action) was a replacement for Pegleg, who was carting down the road in a rollerskate when some obnoxious kid ran over him with their bicycle and broke him. (How come I can't remember who did such a dirty deed ?). I also had an Action Man jeep and an inflatable landing boat.
Lisa and I roamed gardens, woods, the playing field and the countryside with our horses and their riders. Rowan's tack got lost at the little running stream because it started to rain, so we packed up quickly to cycle home. I thought she'd got the tack and she thought I'd got it. Rowan got home-made tack, just as they all had home-made blankets and halters. I did have a Sindy wardrobe and armchair, bought early on by parents who assumed I might play with Sindy like the little girls in the adverts. They should have known better. The best accessory my dolls had was the rope ladder I made for them. They could climb trees and bookshelves with it, making camps safe from outlaws.

All my horses and riders, and their myriad, mostly homemade accessories, live with me here in Sheffield. They are packed away, all apart from Bandit. He sits on a chest of drawers in my bedroom, his expression as magnificently wild as ever, in spite of the fact he has lost all four hooves and his tail has been replaced with a woollen one. Dear Bandit, along with Little Ted, the most loved of all my toys. Little Ted provided security (he sits on the other chest of drawers), Bandit and the others were the source of innumerable adventures and stories. I built my imagination with toys like Bandit. As a writer, I owe him a lot.
Sooner or later, a character like Bandit would appear in one of my Westerns. When I came to revise Navajo Rock, I realised I had the chance. In the first version, Buck rides a black mare. No reason really why he couldn't ride a black stallion instead. I managed to make Bandit part of the storyline. He's one of the reasons why John Clayton is jealous of Buck. When Buck beats John in the race, his horse becomes a way of getting at him, and is identified with him. John's father, Peter, wants Bandit not only because he is a fine horse, but because Buck had refused to sell him the horse earlier. Stallions tend to be more excitable and aggressive than geldings, especially towards strangers, so I used Bandit to get the heroes out of trouble a couple of times. He's as important to the story as Buck is but without ever turning into 'Champion - The Wonder Horse' I hereby dedicate Navajo Rock to Bandit.

Beautiful Boy

I have a handsome friend known as Boy(Racer). The general opinion of Boy is that he likes everything to be fast, especially cars and women. I wouldn't dispute the cars, but for all his flirtatiousness, he takes his relationships with women more seriously than many think. He openly admires a nice pair of boobs or legs and can appear quite crude, but his sense of honour is impeccable. If a woman's not interested, he'll leave her alone. He despises men who abuse women in any way. I've known him openly admire a cleavage at the next table, just before telling me how he dislikes one of the characters in a film, because the character beat up his wife. Boy likes women, they fascinate him, he can look at them for hours. He also treats them as intelligent individuals and doesn't take himself too seriously. I've never met anyone else who can combine vanity, honour, lust self-deprecation and honesty in the way Boy can.
Boy wanted to be in one of my books, and someone like him is too good to waste. As I was redeveloping Navajo Rock, I decided to bring in a bounty hunter, and used Boy as the starting point for the character. Jonah John had Boy's characteristics of sharp dressing, self-mocking vanity, and his way of combining lechery with honour. On reading through the almost complete novel, I realized that I had too many Johns - John Clayton, John Heeley, a cowhand called Johnson and Jonah John. The cowhand got a name change, and John Heeley became Tom (thank God for Search and Replace). What about Jonah John ? I liked Jonah too much to change that. I could have used Boy's surname, but Jonah George didn't work as well. I decided that Boy would have to be immortalised through character, not name, and found Durrell by looking through a reference book of authors. Jonah Durrell: that sounded good.
Durrell was as much fun to write as I'd hoped. I decided that I couldn't possibly kill him off at the end. As he was a practical man, and didn't have any particular grudge against our heroes, I felt he would do the sensible thing and surrender. Ladies, do not fear ! Jonah will return.

What Happened When Lou Diamond Philips Pulled Down His Bandanna - And Why

I was nearly 12 when I had my first crush, on Paul Darrow, as Avon, in Blakes 7. The same Darrow as in Darrow's Law and Darrow's Word. Avon has gorgeous dark brown eyes and dark brown hair. I've had a thing about men with dark eyes and hair ever since.
At roughly the same time I was falling in love with Avon, (not a healthy thing to do; if you've seen the series, you'll know why), I bought what I thought was a pony book from a stall on Norwich Market: White Stallion, Red Mare,, by J T Edson. It turned out to be a western, featuring the character, The Ysabel Kid. The Kid is part-Comanche, wild, dangerous and has black hair and red-hazel eyes. I enjoyed the book, and read more by J T Edson. Lots more: he's an incredibly prolific author. Of his many, sometimes stereotyped, sometimes complex and moving, characters, my favourite remains The Ysabel Kid.
One night in 1989, I sat down in the University cinema to watch Young Guns. As the opening credits rolled, six figures stood, sepia-toned, on a ridge. Each in turn pulled down his bandanna to stare into the camera lens as his name appeared on the screen. There, black hair rippling in the wind, dark, intense eyes in a young face, was the nearest thing I'd ever seen in life to the Ysabel Kid. Did I develop a crush on Lou Diamond Philips ?
Lou Diamond Philips in 'Young Guns 2' Darn right I did. I came over all unnecessary, as Les Dawson used to say. Some years later, Lou Diamond Philips appeared as Navajo Police Officer, Jim Chee, in the film The Dark Wind, adapted from Tony Hillerman's book. I started to read the books and was introduced to the fantastic landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico, and the people who live there. Tony Hillerman's books are rich in the cultures of the Native tribes of the area. Their beliefs and motivations underpin the plots and the way characters think and act. It's a fascinating, multicultural world, where the White don't understand the Navajo's puns, and the Navajos don't understand the Hopi's beliefs.
I wanted to capture something of this vast, empty land and its rich spirituality in my own writing. Buck is part-Navajo. I drew extensively on Tony Hillerman's books in building his backgound and shaping his character. In the first version, Buck refuses to visit his mother's grave, and refuses to leave Dinetah, the Navajo's name for their land. I built on this in the second version. It was very useful from a plot point of view: if our heroes have been falsely accused of murder, why don't they ride away and start a new life elsewhere ? It was easy enough to do in the West. Luckily Buck's attachment to his ancsetral homeland, and his knowledge of how to survive in the desert, let me keep my heroes around to have a good fight with the bad guys. Just as Paul had to make the emotional journey to reject his father, Buck has to overcome his fear of ghosts in order to take shelter in a hogan that, according to Navajo belief, is haunted. His love for his devoutly Christian mother, which caused him to react sharply to John Clayton's taunting, now gives him the strength to overcome his fear.

A Change Of Scenery


Re-writing Navajo Rock was a real challenge. A hero should be active through the course of a book and the ending should come about as the result of his/her actions. I have enjoyed most of The Cat who... novels by Lilian Jackson Braun, but the last one I read, one of her most recent, was a disappointment. There are two villians in the story. The principal one leaves town, and is captured off-screen by the FBI. The hero is alerted to the identity of her dupe by a friend, and inadvertantly causes the dupe to kill himself. All in all, the hero solves nothing whatsoever, although he does piece together a few clues along the way. It was a very unsafisfactory story and I gave the book away.
In the first version of Navajo Rock, Buck and Scott return to be arrested and are sent to an Army prison. They escape and roam free until being chased down. Buck dies and Scott is captured. For the second version, I needed to personalise the hunters, so the readers know who the hereos are fighting. Buck and Scott had to make the decision to stop running and fight back. I rewrote almost all the second half of the novel. I brought John Clayton's father in as the adversary, rather than the Army. He tries to lynch Buck and Scott, which gives them a better motive for going on the run and a good, exciting escape scene for the readers.
The problem I had with Navajo Rock was that Buck and Scott spend most of their time running away. Buck doesn't want to fight with John Clayton, so how do I get fights into my story ? I had a scene where a fight between Buck and John had been prevented by the presence of Sukie, Scott's sister. It was revised so the fight does happen, John gets publicly humiliated and the mutual animosity increases. Although it occurs in the first third of the book, it is one of the last scenes written. Changing my mind, so that Buck does lose his temper and fight John, suddenly upped the tempo. Buck has become more assertive and John now has a more powerful reason for wishing to drag Buck into the street on the end of a rope. It's a tit-for-tat action that goes wrong and sends the heroes on the run.
Willingness to re-write, to take a look at your 'finished' novel, once you've written the last sentence, and then to have the courage to change your ideas and entire chapters, alter and introduce characters and to realise that a scene you really liked is no longer relevent and must go, is the mark of a serious author. Having a drawerful of first chapters and a couple of manuscripts that you got to the end of but couldn't either be bothered, or bring yourself to, change, means you will never succeed. Revise, be ruthless, make the effort, lecture over.

My own, actual, blurb on the back !

When I first saw the proposed blurb for the back cover of Hyde's Honour, I was appalled. Click on the link to read about the gruesome details. Now either I've got the hang of writing blurbs to Robert Hale's satisfaction, or else they didn't want to upset me again, because the blurb on Navajo Rock is word for word what I wrote. It's the only one of nine books published by them that hasn't had my blurb changed - whoo hooo !

cover of Navajo Rock

The front cover is amazing too. It's a really atmospheric painting in bold colours. The original, full-size work must look stunning. Of course, it doesn't particularly illustrate anything from my novel. A man on a horse on a mountain covers a lot of possibilities. All the same, it's a darned fine manonahorseonamountain painting.
Well, it took a few years, but Buck and Scott have finally made it into print. I still think the original version is a good book, just not a Robert Hale Western. And both versions are better than the mish-mash I got the first time I tried to rewrite it. Never give up ! Never say die ! Never Say Never Again ! Never return to a lighted firework. Never try to warm the bath with an electric fire.*

*My first attempt at typing 'fire' was a typo. The instruction originally read: 'Never try to warm the bath with an electric fart'. I am sooo glad I spotted that one....

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