Richard, can you first tell us about the genesis of Turpin’s Tales and why you decided to revisit the character?
I wanted Dick Turpin to ride again. Turpin’s Prize finished the series off nicely, but I had written a couple of Turpin short stories for other collections, so I decided to add a couple more and bring out a small book for the fans. Turpin’s Tales can also be read by those who are unfamiliar with the novels, though. I wanted to have fun, returning to the character and 18th century. England in the 18th century was ridden with booze, sex and crime. Our forebears put us to shame in some ways. There’s plenty of gentle satire in the stories, as well as twists in the tales, so I hope people have as much fun reading the collection as I did when putting the episodes together.
What initially drew you to the historical figure of Dick Turpin? And how do you decide when a character is one to stick with for a series versus a one-time appearance? Are there any of your characters that hold a special place in your heart?
I had been flirting with the idea of writing a series about Robin Hood, but it’s been done a few times. I thought how I could operate in a similar space in regard to Dick Turpin. Although we know a fair few facts about Turpin’s life, there was scope to play with the legend and create my own take on him. I wanted to produce an anti-hero, one who was both charming and violent. I wanted to paint a portrait of a marriage too, and let people see a domestic side to the romantic highwayman. Having written books about Ancient Rome and ones set in the medieval period, it was liberating to write about 18th century England – and being a Londoner I also enjoyed researching material on the capital.
Most of the projects I start now are based on the premise of writing a series. As much as the novels can be read as stand alones, there is also an over arching narrative about Turpin falling in love with his wife. There are running jokes and secondary characters who feature throughout the trilogy too, including historical figures such as Dr Johnson and Hogarth.
Turpin is duly dear to my heart. I tend to like and write characters who can be rogues, or downright bastards. I’ve created many soldier, in series such as Sword of Rome and Band of Brothers, who are cynical as well as courageous. Readers also enjoy rogues, like Rufus Varro in the Spies of Rome series and Raffles: The Gentleman Thief. Of course, I’m also particularly fond of those characters who have helped to sell a few books and kept me in non-house wine.
How much do you identify with Turpin? Is there a part of the character based on the author?
I only wish I was as licentious, charming, brave and violent as Turpin. He lives a colourful life of crime. I fear I’m more likely to send people to sleep than send them to the grave, fortunately or not. I suppose there is a streak of dislike and distrust in me for certain professions and personages which Turpin is wary off, such as journalists, politicians and agents of the government. Turpin and I also share a love of reading and booze, although I’m not one for drinking porter like him.
You have worked as a bookseller, publicist and publisher, as well as being an author. You have also served as a judge for the HWA Crowns. You are well placed to assess the state of historical fiction. Can you recommend any authors for our readers?
I will be reading the new Bernard Cornwell Sharpe novel this month. He is still the lodestar for myself, and others. It would be remiss of me not to mention some of my fellow Aspects of History authors. Readers should check out Mark Ellis and his Merlin series. Ben Kane has been writing bestselling novels, set during different periods, for over a decade now. Andrew Taylor is a deservedly acclaimed and successful historical crime novelist, whose latest series set in the 17th century is going from strength to strength. Readers will also enjoy his bestseller, The American Boy. As a publisher, I have had the privilege to work with a number of bestselling historical novelists, including John Pilkington, Steven Veerapen, Michael Jecks and Peter Tonkin. In short, historical fiction is still in good hands.
And finally, what are you working on at the moment? Will Turpin ride again?
I’m not sure if Turpin will ride again. But never say never. I have flirted with the idea of covering his capture, trial and death. But I’ve just started writing a spy novel. I’m also intending to write a series set around the Black Prince. What with news that there will be a new Gladiator movie, I may turn my attention to some of the characters in the Sword of Empire series once more. All roads, and decent sales, lead to Rome.