Writing an action thriller set on Dartmoor

Dartmoor, southern England’s last great wilderness, is the setting of the novel I’m writing at the moment – and it’s great fun setting a thriller in a place I know really well. The book is a sequel to my Sean Miller thriller Balmoral Kill, and will be out later this summer.

I’ve known and walked Dartmoor for over fifty years. I’ve long campaigned for it to be wild and free. I spent nine turbulent years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA)- one of England’s oldest environmental campaigning groups, founded in 1883.

Most of my books have accurate settings; I spent a great deal of time getting the area around Loch Muick right for the finale of Balmoral Kill. Dartmoor was even easier – I know it so well I can just close my eyes and picture any corner of the place.

This new novel – still working on the title – uses some considerable stretches of the Moor, including Spitchwick, where I lived wild in a wood for around a year, the area around Dartmeet and the spectacular Dart Gorge, which is the setting for one of the main action sequences.

Princetown features too, with my characters Sam Lovat and Billy Stanton staying at the Duchy Hotel, the place that was my office when I worked for the DPA, and the valley of the West Dart around the mysterious Wistman’s Wood.

There’s a lot of action in this one, including an escape from Dartmoor Prison, several gun battles and a long chase across Dartmoor.

It’s been fun to write…

And if you haven’t read the first Sean Miller thriller, set in London and the Scottish Highlands, it’s out now in paperback and as a Kindle eBook.

How do you hunt down a faceless assassin before his ultimate kill?

    You get Sean Miller… Sniper. Mercenary. Adventurer. He’ll stop at nothing. Do whatever it takes.

    As the shadow of the Nazis falls across Europe, a sinister conspiracy begins a secret war closer to home. Miller’s chase leads from the dangerous alleys of London’s East End to the lonely glens of the Scottish Highlands.    But where do his loyalties really lie? 

    Who will take the final shot in the Balmoral Kill?


Thoughts of Robin Hood

I’m still thinking a lot about Robin Hood lately, even though I’ve completed my four book novel series The Chronicles of Robin Hood.  The outlaw is such an essential British myth, that you can never quite get him out of your mind.

And Robin has a relevance to today, when the poor and dispossessed are still persecuted by the rich and powerful.Loxley New Cover

When you consider it, Robin Hood is quite a remarkable guy – with King Arthur one of the two essential British myths. For darned near a thousand years, the people of Britain, and then the citizens of the world, have been entertained by his exploits.

He reaches out and says something to us all to this day.

What’s the attraction?

Well, Robin Hood appeals perhaps to the rebel in all of us, the man who’s prepared to champion the poor and powerless against the uncaring rich and powerful. Mind you, if you read the original ballads he’s not quite so selfless.  But it doesn’t matter. People need a champion and Robin Hood’s quite a good one.

I think it’s interesting that you could take a medieval peasant away from his plough, transport him through time and put him down in front of a television and let him watch Robin of Sherwood say, or Richard Greene in The Adventures of Robin Hood and he’d get the point. (Assuming he wasn’t overcome by technology or changes in the English language, of course. I frequently am!)Wolfshead Cover_edited-5

I have always enjoyed the tales of Robin Hood, and my novels LoxleyWolfshead ,Villain and Legend, have been decades in the making.

It probably all started watching episodes of the Richard Greene series. Playing at Robin Hood was always the favourite game in our neighbourhood  – in those happy days when children could make a longbow or wield a sword without social services coming round to take you into care as a potential menace to society.

Unlike so many children today, our lives were spent mostly in the great outdoors, where we would vanish for hours on end, building dens and taking massive treks across the countryside. The countryside where I lived became Sherwood Forest during these youthful expeditions.

In the 1980s, the whole myth received a tremendous boost with Richard Carpenter’s imaginative remake Robin of Sherwood, which took the story in such interesting new directions. It thrills me that so many people were enthused by this and other retellings.

In many ways, in the years since my first encounter with the man in Lincoln Green, I’ve led a rebellious life.Villain Cover

I’m sure it all started under the subversive influence of Robin Hood!

I spent a year living – mostly alone – in a wood back in the 1980s. Park Wood, at Spitchwick on Dartmoor, just across the River Dart from Holne Chase, an old Norman hunting ground. It gave me  interesting thoughts as to just how medieval outlaws lived. There was the added spice that I was breaking laws for the common good, and I’m proud of that.

I’d practised archery over the years, and learned many of the arts of fighting. I took up fencing at university. I’d already practised a variety of martial arts. One or two of these skills I’ve had to use a few times – though I deplore violence.

Every writer on Robin Hood takes a different tack. Some of my fellow authors portray him as a saint or sinner, or, like me, a mixture of both. Outlaws, wolfsheads, come to the hidden places in the forest for various reasons in my books. Mostly through injustice.

Some writers prefer Robin in Barnsdale rather than Sherwood. I chose Sherwood out of sentimentality, I guess. In fact many parts of England have Robin Hood legends, something I’ve addressed in the final novel in the series, Legend.

In some versions, the villains, such as Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff are out and out rogues.My versions aren’t quite as clear cut as that. And I’ve been kinder to Prince (actually Count) John than a lot of other writers – though I made him a bit more ruthless when he becomes king, though I still prefer him to the odious Richard the Lionheart.

My Robin questions the hierarchy of the society of his time much more than most Robins. As we should all do, though these are novels and not political tracts. But if Robin Hood isn’t a rebel fighting for the poor and against the unfairness of his society then he is nothing.

There have been thousands of interpretations and no doubt there are thousands still to come. We all have our own vision of Robin Hood. It’s encouraging that the present generation is being given inspiration by the legend of the old wolfshead.

I’ve finished the saga, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of it. I deliberately left the series open for a sequel. I may return to it, though at present I’m writing the next Sean Miller thriller, and after that the next in my series about William Quest, the Victorian vigilante – William Quest is himself a kind of Robin Hood, even though he fights in the Victorian rookeries rather than Sherwood Forest. I’ve written three books about Quest so far, The Shadow of William Quest, Deadly Quest and Dark Shadow.

I’ve also got an idea for another historical tale, which I might write next year, a story set in England in the 17th century.

A big thank you to everyone who’s bought one of my books. It means a lot! And another thank you if you’ve made a kind comment or left a reader review on the purchase site.

And please do tell your friends about the books…

All of my novels are available in paperback and as Ebooks on Kindle.   Here’s the link…


A Walking Autobiography


In a series of solitary journeys on foot the writer and novelist John Bainbridge explores the ethos of rambling and hiking in rural England and Scotland.

On his journey he seeks out the remaining wild places and ancient trackways, meeting vagabonds and outdoors folk along the way and follows in the footsteps of writers, poets and early travellers.

This is a book for everyone who loves the British countryside and walking its long-established footpaths and bridleways. And for the armchair traveller…Wayfarer’s Dole takes its title from an ancient tradition – In medieval times pilgrims travelling the road through Winchester to Canterbury would halt at the St Cross Hospital, a place of rest and refuge for those on holy journeys, and demand the Wayfarer’s Dole – small portions of ale and bread to ease the hunger and thirst incurred on their travels.

The Compleat Trespasser

Journeys into the Heart of Forbidden Britain
John Bainbridge

“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law. Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in. Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out. The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.”The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

In 1932, five ramblers in England were imprisoned for daring to walk in their own countryside. The Mass Trespass on to Kinder Scout, which led to their arrests, has since become an iconic symbol of the campaign for the freedom to roam in the British countryside.

The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into The Heart Of Forbidden Britain, written by outdoor journalist John Bainbridge, looks at just why the British were – and still are – denied responsible access to much of their own land. This book examines how events throughout history led to the countryside being the preserve of the few rather than the many.

It examines the landscapes to which access is still denied, from stretches of moorland and downland to many of our beautiful forests and woodlands. It poses the question: should we walk and trespass through these areas regardless of restrictions?

An inveterate trespasser, John Bainbridge gives an account of some of his own journeys into Britain’s forbidden lands, as he walks in the steps of poachers, literary figures and pioneer ramblers. The book concludes with a helpful chapter of “Notes for Prospective Trespassers”, giving a practical feel to this handbook on the art of trespass. At a time when government is putting our civil liberties at threat, destroying the beauties of our countryside, and your right to access it, this book is a most useful read.

Available in paperback and eBook on Kindle: Just click on the link to order or to start reading for free:

Why Indie-Writers Need Reviews…

A big thank you to everyone who’s bought or borrowed one of our books – writing can be a lonely business and it really helps to get feedback from readers. Now that so many books are bought online it really is important that readers who buy books from the big sites, such as Amazon, Kobo etc. leave reviews if they’ve enjoyed the book.

As Indie Authors, we especially appreciate your support. If you’ve enjoyed our books please leave a quick review. You don’t need to say much – just a line or two helps.

It’s a numbers game with these online booksellers – the more reviews you get the more they promote the books.

Thank you again to all our readers – and please do tell your friends about our books.

You can see a full list of our books at https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B001K8BTHO?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1552209743&redirectedFromKindleDbs=true&ref_=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&rfkd=1&shoppingPortalEnabled=true&sr=1-1

Writing a Victorian Thriller

A few years ago I wrote the first story of a Victorian vigilante called William Quest, a gentleman adventurer with a swordstick who seeks to right wrongs and even up the injustices of society. That book was called The Shadow of William Quest. There have been two sequels so far – Deadly Quest and Dark Shadow. There’ll be a further William Quest adventure later in the year.

The whole project arose from my interest in the Victorian underworld.

I’d always wanted to write a novel that is part detective story, part thriller, and which hearkens back to the traditions of the Victorian Penny Dreadful tales and the Newgate Novel.

Many a Victorian writer wrote these popular tales, which were the staple fiction diet of the newly-literate classes in 19th century England. I’ve read a lot of them over the years. The best ones are fast-moving, often sinister and have lots of action. They are occasionally subversive, pricking at the mores of the day with often undiluted social criticisms.

Most of the writers are forgotten these days, but some went on to great heights. Even Charles Dickens used elements of the Newgate novel and the Penny Dreadful in Oliver Twist.

The first novel was set in London and Norfolk.  Deadly Quest is set entirely in London, mostly down by the River Thames. I tried to capture a real feeling of London in 1854. Fortunately, I’ve spent years studying Victorian social history – I did it as a minor subject in my university degree. I’ve devoted a lot of time since to an expanded study of the Victorian underworld, particularly as regards London. Dark Shadow moves away from London, taking Quest to the ancient city of York, which certainly had its dark side in Victorian times.

I’ve walked the streets and alleys used by my characters, by day and night. London has changed a great deal in 160 years, of course. York less so. Much of the London Victorian cityscape has been bombed or swept away by  developers. The London that is in my imagination is more real to me now than the modern city. There are traces of Quest’s London still to be seen, but they get fewer year by year…

Deadly Quest has scenes in a notorious rookery of the time called Jacob’s Island. A district of appalling poverty in Victorian times, Charles Dickens visited it with a police guard. It features in the climax of Oliver Twist. It was already partially demolished by the 1850s. The area was bombed by the Luftwaffe in the London Blitz. Redevelopment accounted for much of the rest. Today that once dreadful slum is a development of luxury flats. You can still visit Jacob’s Island, but it takes quite a leap of imagination to get back to Victorian times.

One problem I encountered in the sequels was that I revealed virtually the whole of Mr Quest’s back story in the first novel, explaining why he decided to take the law into his own hands, fighting for truth and justice and so on. In the new book we start with a completely clean slate.

In Dark Shadow, Quest is even working with the police, though he pursues the mystery in his own individual way. And at the end it becomes clear that Quest hasn’t sold out his own vigilante values.

It’s my intention to do a whole series of William Quest novels, though the original conception of a Victorian avenger has changed since the first book. The outsider now finds himself working on both sides of the law. This wasn’t unusual in Penny Dreadful novels of the Victorian Age, where the author often found his or her villain transformed into the hero.

With the creation of e-book and Indie-Publishing, writers are finding lots of new readers – a very similar situation to that experienced by Victorian Penny Dreadful writers. This new audience has appeared, eager for books. It seems to me that we should study the methods of the writers of Penny Dreadfuls and Pulp Fiction to cater for this expanding market.

They found a popularity after all, and created their own genres.

All of the William Quest books – and our other titles – are now available in paperback and as eBooks On Kindle. Click on the link below to order to see the John Bainbridge author page. 

And do please tell your friends and fellow readers about our books.


Writing the Dartmoor Novel

I suppose – given my connections with Dartmoor (the Moor, not the Prison) – that it was inevitable that I’d write a novel set there. I’ve featured the Moor a lot in my non-fiction books, written loads of magazine articles about the place, not to mention the TV and radio broadcasts. I also spent nine years as CEO of the Dartmoor Preservation Association – one of Britain’s oldest pressure groups. It’s a while now since I’ve walked the old Moor, and it’s interesting to revisit it in my imagination.

The new book doesn’t have a title as yet, but it’s a sequel to my thriller Balmoral Kill, set in 1937, and features my series character Sean Miller. That book’s been out a few years now and I thought it was about time I brought Sean Miller back. If you’ve read Balmoral Kill, you’ll know that Sean was heading back to Spain to fight in the Civil War. Let’s just say he gets diverted along the way.

As so often before, I started this book with the Dartmoor landscape in mind as a setting and not much else. I usually start with a setting and a character. The plot (I hate the word PLOT) comes later.

Apart from a few invented houses, I’m determined that my Dartmoor novel will be accurate to landscape. So accurate that readers who want to will be able to follow in Sean’s footsteps, walking every inch of the moorland scenes where the action takes place.

I’ve already written about Wistman’s Wood, where the story starts. Today I had Sean walking up the Dartmoor road from Ashburton. I’m not only writing about these places from my memory, I’m imagining them as they might have been 81 years ago. Actually, not a lot has changed.

Being a thriller there’ll be lots of action. Rather fun to disturb the peace and quiet of Dartmoor now and again. Oh yes, Dartmoor Prison will feature in Sean’s adventuring. How could I leave it out?

Dartmoor has featured in a fair bit of literature in the past. It’s where Sherlock Holmes pursues the Hound of the Baskervilles. There’ve been literary novelists too. Eden Phillpotts Dartmoor novels are well worth a read – the best of them up there with Thomas Hardy. I have always intended to set a novel on Dartmoor. Now is the time.

The book will be out in the summer, then I’ll be working on the next William Quest adventure. And if you haven’t yet read Balmoral Kill – out in paperback and as an eBook – here’s a link:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Balmoral-Kill-Sean-Miller-Adventure-ebook/dp/B00Q8I7LGO/ref=sr_1_17?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1548082038&sr=1-17&keywords=John+Bainbridge