He was born in 1928 near the border of the County of Derbyshire, England, in a small mining village, Whitwell, where his relatives still live. He was obsessed with Westerns from an early age and often "rewrote" cowboy movies that he had seen at the cinema. One thing that always intrigued him was the minutiae...how did the baddie's gun jam? What were the mechanics of cheating at cards? How did Westerners really dress and speak? His writing was helped to develop by a schoolteacher who encouraged him. Now lives in Leicester, Leicestershire.
During his 20s and 30s, Edson served in His Majesty's Armed Forces for 12 years as a Dog Trainer. Cooped up in barracks for long periods, he devoured books by the great escapist writers (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert McCraig, Nelson C. Nye and Edgar Wallace). He also sat through hours of movies starring John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Errol Flynn and his all-time favourite, Audie Murphy. His first appearance in print was "Hints On Self-Preservation when attacked by a War Dog" in the Osnabrück camp magazine Shufti in 1947. Acquiring a typewriter in the early 1950s and putting it to good use while posted to Hong Kong, by the time of his discharge he had written 10 Westerns, an early version of Bunduki and the first of the short detective-type stories starring Waco.
Upon leaving HM forces, JT won second prize (with Trail Boss) in the Western division of a Literary Competition run by Brown & Watson Ltd, which led to the publication of 46 novels with them, becoming a major earner for the company. He had the need for supplementary income from time-to-time and also served as a postman, and the proprietor of a fish 'n' chip shop. Furthermore, he branched out as a writer and wrote five series of short stories (Dan Hollick, Dog Handler) for the Victor boys papers, and wrote the "box captions" for comic strips, which instilled discipline and the ability to convey maximum information with minimum words.
His writing career forged ahead when he joined Corgi Books in the late '60s, which gave JT exposure through a major publishing house, as well as the opportunity to branch out from the core Westerns into the Rockabye County and other series.
Edson openly claimed, though rather tongue-in-cheek, that he wrote for the money. In an article for Time magazine in February 1999, he declared that unlike such authors as Louis L'Amour, he had "no desire to have lived in the Wild West, and I've never even been on a horse. I've seen those things and they look highly dangerous at both ends and bloody uncomfortable in the middle."
Actually, this placed Edson in good company with the "first" of the "great" Western authors, Zane Grey, whose blood-and-thunder Westerns were hugely popular and gave no hint that their author was a middle-aged East Coast Dentist who was as far from a cowboy as you could get. Another example is Western author George G. Gilman, real name Terry Harknett, who was born and bred in Essex, England.
What set his books apart and took them to the next level was Edson's scrupulous attention to historical detail and accuracy, but which he rigorously didn't allow to drag the story down into a glorified geography or anthropology lecture. Not including his individual novels such as Slaughter's Way and Is-A-Man, J. T. Edson wrote 9 principal series, covering the following eras of American Western history:
J T Edson delighted in using real-life and fictional characters as crossover "guest stars" in his works and often used the relatives/descendants of his characters to create spin-off series. He backs the existence of these guest stars with frequent references to "fictionist-genealogist" Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton family.
His first hero, Ole Devil, is the maternal uncle of his Civil War & Floating Outfit hero, Dusty Fog. Fog in turn is the first cousin of gunfighter John Wesley Hardin...supposedly Ole Devil's paternal nephew. Lon Ysabel's cousin is "Bad Bill" Longley. Alvin Fog was Dusty's grandson; Rockabye County hero Bradford Counter was Mark Counter's great-grandson, and Bunduki was Bradford Counter's cousin and another great-grandson of Mark Counter, his mater Dawn Drummond-Clayton being the great-granddaughter of Tarzan through their son, Jack Clayton, aka Korak the Killer. Alvin Fog shares his series with Edgar Wallace characters J G Reeder and the Three Just Men. A variety of real (Wyatt Earp) and fictional (Matt Dillon) characters pop up in every series.
The huge procession of characters from book to book ensured that the first few pages of an Edson book always ended up looking alike, with descriptions of a small, insignificant looking Dusty Fog, who suddenly appeared to become a giant when villains he faced down felt the full force of his personality, the tall and Greek-god handsome Mark Counter, the baby faced but highly dangerous, black dressed, rifle and bowie knife toting Ysabel Kid, and various other characters. His later novels moved all these descriptions, and their associated family histories, to lengthy appendices/footnotes at the back, to save regular readers from being bored by this repetition. Shrewdly, Edson also littered these appendices with the titles/references of other books dealing with that character, which enticed/encouraged the reader to go and buy those as well.
One of the features of JT Edson's writing is his willingness to write stories which conflict with previous books. Most of the "expansions" do not just add features to the original story but actually change the original story. Edson explains it thus. "When supplying us with the information from which we produce our books, one of the strictest rules imposed upon us by the present-day members of what we call the 'Hardin, Fog and Blaze' clan and the 'Counter' family is that we never under any circumstances disclose their true identities or their current whereabouts. Furthermore, we are instructed to always include sufficient inconsistencies to ensure that neither can happen inadvertently". JT would have us believe that people of the status of Ole Devil Hardin or Dusty Fog could have existed in the West without being recorded in formal history.
The most striking inconsistency surrounds Dusty Fog and Freddie Woods. Dusty and Freddie meet in The Trouble Busters (published 1965) when Dusty takes on as Town Marshal for a few weeks. They meet subsequently from time-to-time (e.g. Buffalo are Coming, The Fortune Hunters) when Dusty was in Kansas with trail herds etc and become increasingly close, culminating in Dusty pondering marriage in Guns in the Night (last book in Floating Outfit series) at the end of which he decides to settle down and "send for Freddie". Notwithstanding these previously published books, it turns out in Decision for Dusty Fog (published in 1986) that Dusty and Freddie were actually married in Mulrooney when Dusty was marshal, a few weeks after they first met.
JT notes also Dusty's romantic links with Belle Boyd, Candy Carde and Emma Nene in various Floating Outfit novels and apologises in The Code of Dusty Fog for 'creating the misconception'. His inconsistencies were a challenge for his dedicated fans.
After being enormously prolific through the 1970s, culminating in the publication of JT's Hundredth in 1979, his style began to gradually change. His plots became simpler (e.g., Beguinage / Beguinage is Dead) and his previously thorough approach to detail became even more so. In many cases, a fight scene that would have lasted 10 seconds ran over many pages!
JT's political beliefs became more and more prominent in his writings, to summarise a few:
The American Civil War was all about the right to secede and had little to do with slavery;
Cowboys (Texans in particular) were routinely victimised in Kansan trail end towns;
Anyone with "liberal" beliefs is likely to be intolerant of others, believe that they are superior beings, are usually idle and dirty, and (in his later books) are likely to be homosexual.
Homosexuality is sexual deviance;
Punitive jail terms and capital punishment are mandatory for a strong society
Incredible detail and expression of his political beliefs simplified and slowed down his plots. There is a huge difference between the pace and complexity of the plots of Trail Boss (1963) and Diamonds, Emeralds, Cards and Colts (1986). To illustrate the point, he began revising, changing and expanding previously published short stories and publishing them as full novels (sometimes 2 novels):
Dusty Fog the School Teacher from Hard Riders became Master of Triggernometry;
Sam Ysabel's Son from The Texan became Old Moccasins on the Trail;
Part 1 — The Setup from Sagebrush Sleuth became Waco's Badge;
Part 1 — The Futility of War from Fastest Gun in Texas became A Matter of Honour;
Part 1 — The Half-Breed from The Half-Breed became White Indians;
Part 2 — The Quartet from The Half-Breed became Texas Kidnappers;
Part 1 — Better than Calamity from The Wildcats expanded into 2 books — The Hide and Horn Saloon and Cut One, They All Bleed;
Part 1 — The Bounty on Belle Starr's Scalp from Troubled Range was expanded into Calamity, Mark and Belle.
Despite selling over 11 million books globally and producing over 100 books, his books fell out of favour with UK publishers and from the 1990s were only published in the USA.
Towards the 1990s as his health began to fail, as well as the expansions, he primarily wrote "fill in the gaps" books or anthologies of short stories about characters. The last J T Edson book available in the UK, Mark Counter's Kin, was an anthology. However, he also wrote and published the first three in a quartet of new books designed to fill in what happened to Dusty Fog, Mark Counter and Lon Ysabel as they made their way home to the OD Connected after the events of the Floating Outfit title Return to Backsight (which Edson used as a springboard to launch his Waco series): Wedge Goes To Arizona, Arizona Range War and Arizona Gun Law are only available via American bookstores, as is his long-promised "Belle Boyd"-centric novel, Mississippi Raider (also a new work). The final book in the quartet, Arizona Takeover, was apparently not published. Whether it was completely unwritten or prepared in manuscript form is unknown.
He eventually decided to semi-retire but couldn't stop writing altogether; he lived near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and would often come up with plots at his local Public House.
His American publishers Dell and later Harper Collins began to periodically reissue his books, causing a surge of new interest, though their tendency to change the books' original titles causes problems for eager collectors who should ensure that they are getting one of the few new books and not a republished old one under a new name. Title changes were as follows:
.44 Calibre Man is now Forty-Four Caliber Man (1980);
Beguinage became The Texas Assassin (1986);
Master of Triggernometry became The Trigger Master (1986);
You're in Command Now, Mr Fog is now Rebel Vengeance (1987);
Diamonds, Emeralds, Cards & Colts became simply Cards and Colts (1988);
Back to the Bloody Border is now Renegade (1989);
Calamity, Mark and Belle became Texas Trio (1989);
Beguinage is Dead ! became The Lone Star Killers (1990) and Texas Killers (2004);
Set A-Foot is now The Nighthawk (1990);
You're a Texas Ranger, Alvin Fog is now Alvin Fog, Texas Ranger (1991);
Set Texas Back on her Feet is now Viridian's Trail (1992);
Get Urrea! is now Texas Fury (1993);
Is-A-Man became Texas Warrior (1997);
Wanted! Belle Starr became Oklahoma Outlaw (1997);
The Cow Thieves became Running Irons (2005);
Calamity Spells Trouble is now The Road To Ratchet Creek (2005);
White Stallion, Red Mare was republished as Ranch War (2006).
As well as Arizona Takeover, the purported 4th title in the quartet listed above, the most eagerly awaited of J T Edson's new works by his fans was Miz Freddie of Kansas, an anthology of anecdotes related by the octogenarian widow of Dusty Fog in which, so Edson promised, would be revealed details of how Dusty, Mark and Lon were killed together in Kenya, Africa in 1911.
J T Edson had had 136 books published and had sold over 27 million copies globally. Unfortunately, it is not known whether he has finished the above mentioned new books, or whether sufficient of these exists in manuscript form to be completed and/or published. J T Edson has at least one complete, unpublished novel, Amazons of Zillikian, which was #5 in the Bunduki series, but which remained unpublished due to his disillusion with the intransigence of the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, as mentioned by Laurence Dunn in his online article .
Western authoress and journalist Jean Henry-Mead did a brief online interview with J T Edson for her 2002 book Maverick Writers, which can be found at www.jeanhenrymead.com. A retrospective of J T Edson's literary career to date and his books can be found in the article, The Inkslinger, by Catherine Stewart on the Non-Fiction page of the website The Cat's Whiskers. 
For many years from the 1950s — 1970s J T Edson's books were hugely popular. However, in the 1980s he increasingly clashed with UK publishers over his books' treatment and portrayal of racial politics and issues in the post-Civil War SouthernStates. Perhaps because of his experiences in the British Army, Edson developed a deep disapproval of Liberal and Liberal-Radical politics and was avowedly Right of Centre in his political ideology.
J T Edson's treatment of racial politics and issues in the post-Civil War South dealt with potentially controversial issues. His novel, The Hooded Riders, portrayed a Ku Klux Klan like organization as a heroic resistance group. His heroes, Dusty Fog and Mark Counter, are responsible for founding this group. The same novel also portrays the outlaw and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin as a wrongly accused hero, and his killing of a black man is presented as self-defence. In other novels, Edson refers to black slaves in the South who came to the defense of their masters against Northerners.