Richard Foreman on Dick Turpin

Laura Bloomfield

The author of the Turpin series discusses the highwayman and historical fiction.
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Richard, congratulations with Turpin’s Prize. Why did you choose Dick Turpin as your protagonist? What was your inspiration?

I enjoy creating anti-heroes, as well as heroes. Turpin fits that bill. I did flirt at one point with writing a series about Robin Hood, but a few authors have already successfully given Robin Hood a new lease of life.

I also wanted to take a break from writing about Ancient Rome and Medieval Europe. 18th Century England provides fertile ground for wit, history and crime (true or otherwise).

Although we know a fair bit about Turpin’s life (and death) there are also enough gaps to create something new – and hopefully engaging. Turpin was put on the map again, a century after his passing, by William Harrison Ainsworth through the hugely successful novel Rookwood. My aim is to put him on the map once more.

In your series, Dick Turpin is portrayed as an anti-hero. He has immoral qualities but also has charisma and charm. How did you decide how to portray Turpin?

We are often interested in criminals. We admire and/or are appalled by them. There are plenty of sociopaths (criminals/tech billionaires) today who may be considered both charming and immoral. Turpin reflects this schism. I never like creating wholly virtuous heroes. They bore me – and I worry that they will bore the reader. Like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe, Turpin is a bit of a bastard. Far more than his creator, I would hope.

If I can create a protagonist that some people on twitter would like to cancel or be offended by, then I will sleep easier at night.

What part of the Dick Turpin story intrigues you the most?

The story of his capture and death, which I haven’t got to yet, is one worth telling. I have also been mindful to insert some of Turpin’s more bloody crimes into the narrative (he tortured and murdered people), as well as paint him as a Byronic figure.

For all of his crimes and adventures though, I wanted to portray Turpin as a friend and husband – to make him human and ordinary, as well as extraordinary. The Turpin series may be full of assassins, murders, intrigue and robberies – but it also the story of a marriage.

Rather that the Rock of Light, Turpin’s prize is his wife, Elizabeth.

As you are writing historical fiction, how do you find the balance between historical accuracy and fiction?

It’s a balance, or recipe, which can change slightly from book to book. I try to pick stories where the real history behind things is already gripping (I challenge anyone to make the story of Julius Caesar or the First Crusade dull). I just add some additional colour, humour and drama.

It’s also a matter of trying to gauge how much fiction and non-fiction the reader is after. The basic brief as a novelist is always to entertain before informing, which is not to say that I do not like educating the reader every now and then.

William Hogarth may have never crossed paths with Dick Turpin, but if a few readers go and look up Hogarth after reading Turpin’s Prize then I have done my job.

Do you plan each chapter before you start writing or do you write spontaneously?

Again, it’s a mixture. I have a plan in my head and will often write notes for each chapter – but there is plenty of scope to be spontaneous too. I often research as I go along as well, to provide additional material to complement any initial plan.

Where do you see the Dick Turpin series, and your writing in general, heading in the future?

The plan is to write another two Turpin novels. I may also write a collection a short stories about the character (the first story, Turpin’s Dagger,  can be found in the recently published collection The Die is Cast).

At present, however, I am taking a break from historical fiction. My current project is a spy thriller. Suffice to say the protagonist, like his creator, will be a bit of a bastard.

Richard Foreman is the author of Turpin’s Prizeout now and published by Sharpe Books.