Former Heanor cowboy fiction author and crossword guru dies aged 80

Bryan 'BJ' Holmes, a longtime resident of Heanor and prolific author, died on June 10 at the age of 80.
Bryan 'BJ' Holmes, a longtime resident of Heanor and prolific author, died on June 10 at the age of 80.

An author who wrote dozens of western novels and other works while living in Heanor for more than 40 years has died at the age of 80.

Bryan Holmes, known to many as BJ, only began writing seriously after retiring from his career as an economics lecturer at 50 when he was struck down by chronic fatigue syndrome.

His son Jeremy, 53, who lives near Whitwell where Bryan spent his final years, said: “He wrote the first western without ever reading one, just to see if he could get it published. Then the company said they would take as many as he could produce.

“It never made him any money, but he liked to say it kept his smoking pipe full. His stories were read on Radio 4, and he tried to hit the big time by getting one turn into a film but it never happened.”

Across a career of more than 50 novels, Bryan also ventured into horror and science fiction—and his work was translated into numerous languages—but he always returned to the western.

He wrote under his own name and also five pen-names: J William Allen, Ethan Wall, Charles Langley Hayes, Sean Kennedy and Jack Darby.

Hits best loved works included the Shatterhand series and Gunsmoke in Vegas.

Jeremy said: “He never travelled to America, I think it came from growing up near a cinema in Walsall. He would go to watch lots of films on his own. That gave him a love of storytelling. I’ve been clearing his house and it was stuffed with film memorabilia.

“He was interested in the history too. He would find gaps in the lives of famous real cowboys, and then write them an adventure to fill the gap.”

His ability to join up the dots came in handy in his hobby of solving cryptic crosswords, which he would do between walking his dogs and drinks in the Market Hotel.

Jeremy said: “He started making notes on what different clues meant in case they came up again, and eventually he turned those notes into a series of crossword dictionaries published by Bloomsbury.”

As well as Jeremy, Bryan is survived by his younger son Mel and two grandchildren.