After a trip to the South Island a while back I caught a shuttle home from the airport. The only passenger, I sat up front with the driver. Around my age (mid fifties), she was super friendly and we chatted the whole ride, which, traffic dependent, usually takes about an hour.
I’d been in Christchurch for the Ngaio Marsh Awards – for New Zealand crime, mystery and thriller writers – so we started talking books. I told her I’d written a Western.
She said as a child she used to pilfer her brother’s Westerns then hide under her bedclothes with a torch to read them. I loved horses so perhaps this was the initial draw to Westerns for me, but we were of an age that grew up with The Lone Ranger, Bonanza and The High Chaparral, and the classic Western movies, the-shoot-em-ups; perception of the Wild West influenced by TV programmes and movies where often what was portrayed leaned more towards fiction than fact.
The amazing book THE OUTLAW TRAIL, by Robert Redford, opened my eyes. In the ’70s he and several others, including a photographer, rode what was left of the trail in the U.S. that had been an escape route for scoundrels running from the law. Along the trail those fleeing exchanged exhausted mounts for a fresh horse, picked up supplies from people sympathetic to their cause, and sheltered at Browns Park or Hole-in-the-Wall with other outlaws. There is even a photo in the book of Robert Redford having a chat with Butch Cassidy’s sister.
I knew someone once who had worked on the trains with a guy who read Mills and Boon all day. When finished he stored them in his garage. Then, horror of horrors, the garage caught fire. All his books were burned. As soon as the insurance money came through he went straight to his favourite book store, handed over the entire amount so he was in credit to the tune of several thousand dollars, and kept reading. You truly can’t judge a person’s book preference by their cover.
At times I feel I should read the latest release everyone is raving over but have found that can lead to disappointment. (That said, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is, in my opinion, a shining example of living up to the hype and then some). Read what you love whether you are a middle-aged Kiwi woman with a penchant for Louis L’Amour, or a burly train driver addicted to Romance. Just go for it.