Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Appeal of the Western

Guest Post by Icy Sedgwick

Icy Sedgwick
When you think of the Western, you think of gunfights and horse chases, played out against a dramatic backdrop like Monument Valley or the plains of Kansas. By contrast, I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, a city that sprang from the Roman settlement of Pons Aelius, and expanded through the local industries of coal mining and ship building. It's a city with an industrial heritage - a far cry from the clapboard towns and settlements that litter the Old West. It's also the most northern city in England before you reach Scotland - in between the city and the borders lie rugged coastline, wide open moors, and small villages that centre around either farming or fishing. So what on earth made me write a Western?

Like most people with a TV, I grew up watching Westerns on TV. There were the movies, from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to Shanghai Noon, and TV shows like Little House on the Prairie. My grandfather used to read novels by Zane Grey. The Western always had a certain amount of popularity in the UK - and judging by the success of more recent films like 3:10 to Yuma, True Grit, and Cowboys and Aliens, it still does. I even studied the history of the American West for my GCSE in History, and I found the whole thing utterly fascinating. So when the opportunity arose to write a Western of my own, I jumped at the chance.

Of course, there was one thing wanting to write The Guns of Retribution, and another thing entirely actually doing it. I knew from the movies that I wanted the story to be set in Arizona, but I'll be honest, I've never been further west in the US than Florida. I did all of my visual research on Google Earth, mapping the terrain and finding locations for the fictional towns of Retribution and Sandwater. I read copious history books to get a real feel for the period, and tried to do as much research as I could to make the setting feel as authentic as I could, given I was writing it in a flat in London.

But why the appeal? I think partially, it has a lot to do with the fact that the settlement of the West is so unlike anything we have in British history. Yes, we had the expansion of the British Empire, but our history stretches back for centuries. The Romans invaded in AD 43 but we had an indigenous population before then - we've never really had to settle here. Our civil wars took place in the seventeenth century, and seem so much more removed than the nineteenth century American Civil War. We don't have the same variety of scenery, and the gold rushes seem so much more adventurous than the Industrial Revolution that transformed BritainBritain has always been dominated by its class hierachy - there's something 'epic' about the idea of settling a plot of land and setting up a homestead for yourself. Perhaps it's because I'm viewing it from such a dislocated time and place, but the Old West has a mythic feel, and an inherent sense of romance.

It's this sense of the Western as modern myth, with the notorious gunslingers and infamous law men standing in for the gods, that gives the genre an almost timeless appeal. 1950s science fiction may feel 'twee' or 'dated' by modern standards, and horror can rapidly descend into hackneyed cliche, but the Western stands apart as a genre populated by larger-than-life characters with as much relevance now as they had back in the day. Just as pirates, with their largely fictional 'Pirate Code', have seen a resurgence of interest in recent years, perhaps it's time for the denizens of the Old West to bring their Code of behaviour to a new audience?

Bio – Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Eighty-Nine. She teaches graphic design and spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies. Icy had her first book, a Western named The Guns of Retribution, published through Pulp Press in September 2011.

Find her on Twitter – @icypop
Buy The Guns of Retribution –


  1. You give a good explanation of the appeal and there seems to be growing evidence others share your interest in the genre. Good luck with your writing.

  2. I loved this post! I live in the panhandle of Texas (the very top) and grew up with all the Westerns. That is why I write books in this era. The paragraph you shared was intriguing.
    Elaine Littau, author

    1. I would love to be able to visit the States and see the locations for myself but for now I can only dream...I shall have to check out your books!