Robin Hood – The People’s Hero

Tradition labels Robin Hood not only as an outlaw but a rebel as well. In most of the tales, whether they be novels, films or television, Robin takes to the greenwood to fight for the poor and oppressed. And comes into immediate conflict with figures of authority, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Guy of Gisborne, Prince (actually Count) John of Mortain, various corrupt abbots and nobles etc.Villain Kindle Cover.jpg

We can all picture the scenes where Robin takes from the rich and gives to the poor and….

Wait a moment, let’s wind back to the original ballads.

In most of them Robin is certainly a hedge thief of extraordinary talent, supported by just a few of the crew we now think of as the Merry Men. He certainly combats people in power, but the ballads are less clear about what he does with the loot.

But he’s an exciting lad and you can quite understand why Robin has always been so popular with the poor and oppressed. The other essential British myth – King Arthur – gives us a noble figure too. A king who, with his knights of the round table, fights injustice in much the same way. But do you notice that the underclass scarcely gets a look in?

That’s why Robin Hood has survived as an anti-authority character. The poor and oppressed can identify with the idea of someone so anti-establishment triumphing over the medieval status quo.

And people who favour social justice still do today. Note the Robin Hood Tax Campaign that in its own way wants to take from the rich and give to the poor.

If the Robin of the ballads wasn’t quite that noble, it doesn’t matter. The British people – and I suspect a lot of folk in countries undiscovered in Robin’s time – love someone who cocks a snook at authority.

Robin Hood, if you accept the myth that has grown up, rather than the original ballads, is probably the most dangerous character in literature and popular culture.

The ballads undoubtedly began as oral accounts in a largely illiterate age. What was eventually written down is probably just one version of many, hence the various kings and locations mentioned within. (I shall blog more on this next time).

But what is clear is that the ballads were regarded as both popular and subversive from the very beginning. The written down surviving versions are only part of the story. The myth of Robin Hood, what most people know, expands and alters to cater to popular tastes.

Think of Robin Hood and we generally have two versions: a lower-born Robin of Loxley, and a Robin Hood (usually the Earl of Huntingdon or his son) who comes from the aristocracy but develops a social conscience. The television series “Robin of Sherwood” actually gave us both versions.

Now in the early ballads there is no hint of Robin of Huntingdon. He is a much later invention. And I wonder why?

Robin of Huntingdon, the noble who rides to the aid of the poor?

Could it be that his creator loved the stories but rather frowned on the idea of such a rebellious figure coming from the lower orders? Or maybe thought that the said lower orders weren’t capable of running a rebellious campaign? Or thought the tales might encourage people to rise up against their masters and start a bit of wealth redistribution?

Well, perhaps, though we will never know.

What I always find interesting in many of the later versions is that Robin Hood often sells out.

We all know the scene: having seen off numerous villains Robin Hood meets Richard the Lionheart and gets a pardon and the girl. In the Erroll Flynn film version he also gets a knighthood, a peerage and is given control over the peasants of Sherwood.

No one explains just how all of this helps the poor and oppressed of the forest…

In the TV “Robin of Sherwood”, the writer Richard Carpenter was cannier. His Robin of Loxley is dazzled by Lionheart and almost submits to his control, but eventually sees that the king can’t be trusted and that he won’t deliver the social justice that has been so bitterly fought for.

That’s better.

Medieval peasants would have cheered at Robin’s enlightenment. They may have had to obey and, in reality, had little chance of rising up in rebellion, but they were undoubtedly subversive in the few ways available – such as listening to oral ballads about Robin Hood. It was one of the few ways they could strike back.

When writing my own Robin Hood novels, I had to make a conscious choice about the background of my Robin. A man of the people or an aristocrat with a social conscience.

I decided on a fighter who has come from a poorer background. If he’s not quite a villein he’s not from the nobility either. My Robin might thieve but he’s essentially a rebel, seeking long-term solutions to social injustice. Robin finds that he has to make uneasy alliances in order to further his cause.

In the books I’ve been trying to get back to the spirit of the original ballads but, like all Robin Hood authors since, rejigging the tales to my own tastes without sacrificing the tradition.

The worst of it all is we now know – if Robin Hood ever existed as a rebellious historical figure – that he failed.   We still live with poverty and injustice.

Time for Robin Hood to come back out of the greenwood…

My latest Robin Hood novel “Villain” is now out in paperback and on Kindle. Order before Friday morning and you’ll get it at the special pre-publication price. Just click on the link below.

 

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Why I Write Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robin Hood lately, now that I’ve completed number three in my novel series The Chronicles of Robin Hood.

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!

I have always enjoyed the tales of Robin Hood, and my novels Loxley and Wolfshead, 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 wooden 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.

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

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 was part of a protest against the government’s absurd badger slaughter policy.  By simply opposing government policy we were technically breaking the law. Outlaws? Well, in a way, though the penalties were rather lighter than those imposed on medieval wolfsheads.

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 in anger.

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. Some writers prefer Robin in Barnsdale rather than Sherwood. I chose Sherwood out of sentimentality, I guess.

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. My Robin questions the hierarchy of the society of his time much more than most Robins.

There have been thousands of interpretations and no doubt there are thousands still to come. We all have our own vision of Robin Hood.

If you want to read mine, the first three novels in the sequence are available in paperback and on Kindle.  Just a reminder – click on the links above and order before late Thursday and you’ll get your copy at the special pre-publication price.

 

 

Villain – An Extract

Here’s the opening of my new historical novel Villain. Do read and enjoy. There’s a link on the end if you want to go on reading. The paperback is already out and the Kindle book will be available on the last day of the month. Official publication day is June 30th. The price will go up then on all formats – so please do order today!

CHRONICLE THE THIRDVillain Cover

Prologue

Summer 1203 – Sherwood Forest.

‘Wolfshead! Running!’

The soldier pointed a grubby finger across the heathland. His commander reined in his horse and looked across the rough ground. Along the line of trees on the far side of the open countryside, a man was running, half-crouched as though trying to stay out of sight. Running in desperation. Running for his life.

Sir Guy of Gisborne raised himself higher on his horse, shading his eyes with a hand.

‘It could be anyone,’ he said.

‘It’s a wolfshead,’ the soldier persisted. ‘I know him from the taverns of Nottingham. You know him too, my lord Gisborne. It’s one of Robin Hood’s men.’

Gisborne stared into the evening light.

‘It’s not possible,’ he said. ‘They left Sherwood years ago. Probably all dead by now…’

‘That one’s back, my lord.’

‘Who is he?’

‘The villain called Scathlock,’ said the soldier. ‘Will Scathlock. Scarlet, they call him. Hair as red as blood. Matches his bloody reputation.’

Gisborne took in a deep breath. He looked down at the soldier and gave him an appreciative nod. He turned to his captain, who rode alongside him.

‘What do you think?’

‘Looks like him,’ said the captain. ‘Whoever he is, he’s running away. That gives us good enough cause to detain him.’

‘Get on with it,’ said Gisborne.

The captain turned back towards his men. There were only a dozen of them. Sir Richard of the Legh, who now commanded the shire, was reluctant to allow a greater force of men to march into Sherwood Forest. The villagers offered little resistance these days, and the old knight was against being provocative.

Gisborne thought such soft tactics a strategic blunder. The peasants of Sherwood needed constant demonstrations of brute force. Gisborne would have felt happier with a small army.

Like the old days.

The troops were a ragbag bunch, the sweepings of Nottingham Castle. The best soldiers were stationed in the south, held in readiness for an attack on Normandy. Such was the desire of King John. Gisborne regretted not bringing some of his own men from his estate in Bowland.

One man, a fugitive running in fear, was probably all that this ill-assorted dozen could cope with.

They were poorly armed too. An old man carried a hunting crossbow. The rest had spears, and those had seen better days. They were probably new at the time that William the Bastard harried the shire after his victory on Senlac Hill. Gisborne thought that some of the soldiers looked about as old.

‘If he gets away, I’ll have you all lashed,’ Gisborne yelled.

A couple of the men gave him filthy looks as they stumbled past his horse. My God! What had it all come to? An insult to the commander who’d defeated in battle that treacherous old madman Lord Malvoisin, at the time John was crowned King of England.

Gisborne had got his old family lands back, but little else. Not the funds to maintain his estates, or the barony expected by a warrior who’d vanquished such a menacing enemy of the King. He still had to work for a living, and damned bloody awful work it was. Harrying poachers in the forest and keeping down those who still muttered rebellion in the taverns of Nottingham town. And then there was…

His complaint vanished from his mind as he looked up. The wolfshead had turned and was running back towards the trees. His own troop were barely halfway across the heath. They’d never catch him at this rate. Most of his soldiers seemed to be out of breath, their legs quivering beneath them.

Gisborne turned to his captain, drawing his sword even as he spoke.

‘Come on! We’ll head off that wolfshead. He might escape foot soldiers, if that’s what they call themselves. Let’s see the thieving bastard outrun two warriors on horseback.’

He dug in his spurs and screamed into the ears of his horse. A good mount, the finest horse he’d ever possessed. The one good thing to come out of his appointment as the Sheriff of Nottingham’s battle commander. There weren’t any others.

Gisborne looked up as his horse raced across the heath. The wolfshead had halted by a long line of forest oaks. Scathlock was no longer crouching. He was standing upright, looking across the heath at the attacking troops, a hand raised in the air.

‘Damn them!’ Gisborne cried aloud, reining in his horse and waving his sword down towards the ground, an indication to his men to halt their charge.

How could he be so stupid? These easy months in Sherwood had blunted his sense of danger. He would never have fallen into such an obvious trap in old times. In those days when he ruled the forest with brutality and terror.

He would never have charged towards an ambush with such carelessness.

‘My lord Gisborne?’

The captain was at his side.

‘It’s too easy,’ said Gisborne. ‘A lone wolfshead, one of Robin Hood’s men. Unarmed and just standing there in challenge. Get within range and we’ll have a flood of arrows come at us. Those trees are bristling with outlaws. I can sense it.’

‘We’re within range now, my lord.’

Gisborne could see the fear on the man’s face.

‘Then get the men back to the track,’ he said, turning his horse.

The foot soldiers were close by, stooping near to the ground, seeking protection from the ragged bushes scattered between the rough grass and the heather. No wonder they were all very old for soldiers, thought Gisborne. Their cowardice had preserved their miserable lives.

‘We’re falling back to the track,’ Gisborne shouted. ‘It’s an ambush.’

He glanced back towards the outlaw. Scathlock was armed now. A longbow in his hands and a quiver of arrows slung across his shoulders. But he made no attempt to let loose the arrow nocked on the bowstring. The wolfshead seemed content just to keep watching.

Gisborne turned back to his men. They were retreating, very swiftly, the way they had come. All but the captain and the soldier with the crossbow, an aged veteran of Lionheart’s wars in Normandy, called Alric. One brave man amongst a flock of craven sheep, at least, thought Gisborne.

Well, if he couldn’t take Scathlock in ropes back to Nottingham, he might yet be able to quash the arrogant villain.

He looked down at the remaining foot soldier. The man’s crossbow was wound back taut, a deadly bolt gleaming in the last of the sunlight.

‘Can you take him from here?’ asked Gisborne.

‘I can try, my lord,’ said the soldier. ‘But I could do with a proper weapon. This is just a toy for hunting. He’s barely within my range.’

‘Do your best, Alric,’ said Gisborne. ‘That’s all I ask.’

Alric stood between the two horsemen, levelling the crossbow at the distant outlaw.

It was an impossible shot, given the feeble weapon. Gisborne knew that only too well. The crossbow might once have served a castle child on his first expedition after deer. It was useless in combat, except at very close range.

It was an insult even to give it to a trained marksman like Alric. A greater insult for Sir Richard of the bloody Legh and the Sheriff of Nottingham to think it sufficient for a punitive raid into Sherwood Forest.

Gisborne looked at Scathlock. The wolfshead was still standing there, not seeming to sense the danger he might be in. Gisborne was wondering why when he heard the thud of the crossbow at his side.

There was a flash of light as the speeding quarrel caught a beam from the dying red sun. But in his heart Gisborne knew that the bolt would miss its target. The old soldier was a good shot. Gisborne knew him well. But it would have taken a miracle to hit Scathlock from that distance.

He watched as a cloud of bark dust spurted out of the oak tree, two feet to the right of the outlaw. A terrific shot, to get such accuracy with that toy. They saw Scathlock raise his arm and bow a salute at his opponent.

‘I’m sorry, my lord,’ said Alric.

‘Not your fault,’ said Gisborne. ‘Not your fault at all.’

As he turned to look down at the soldier, something like a gust of wind dashed past Gisborne’s horse. The arrow caught the little crossbow and sent it spinning backwards into a thorn bush.

Gisborne was relieved to see that Alric was unharmed. That was a blessing. The old man had fought beside him in the battle against Malvoisin. Very bravely too, considering his vintage. Courage was rare in Sherwood these days. He needed soldiers like Alric.

Scathlock had nocked another arrow to his bow, and the string was half drawn. The outlaw was stepping backwards into the trees. In the darkling of first night, the forest seemed to be changing from green to a long line of black, becoming more menacing than ever.

‘Let’s get out of here,’ said Gisborne.

~

Will Scathlock stood in the shade of the trees and watched Gisborne and his men scamper across the heath to the road which led south to Nottingham.

Almost too easy, he considered. He could have killed Alric, but spared him. They’d once drunk together in the tavern carved into the rocks below Nottingham Castle. A pleasant old man, Scathlock had thought. Worth a dozen of Gisborne. Now that was a regret. Rather than demonstrating his skill at archery by shooting the crossbow out of Alric’s hands, he should have put the arrowhead deep into Gisborne’s gizzard.

It had been his last arrow, his quiver was filled only with deceptive twigs. If there had been other outlaws this day, they could have slaughtered Gisborne and his little force. But as Scathlock melted into the trees, he walked alone.

Only the legend of Robin Hood and his outlaws haunted Sherwood Forest these days.

Tales told at firesides in miserable huts in the forest villages or in the old ballads, raucously sung in the taverns of Nottingham town.

One

The Shire of Westmorland

‘What’s that village?’

Alan a Dale followed Robin Hood’s pointing finger, looking down from the hillside to where a cluster of cottages surrounded a church. The little settlement stood on the edge of a broad vale, surrounded by rising sweeps of craggy moorland.

‘Sker-Overton,’ the minstrel replied, ‘though the villagers call it Orton in their dialect.’ He pointed to the long stretches of exposed limestone on the surrounding hillsides. ‘There are the scars of rock from which it takes its name.’

‘Would they be friendly to us?’ asked Robin.

‘Not friendly enough, though I knew a woman there when I was the minstrel at the castle of Brough. She’d be old and haggard by now. Their lord works them into the ground.’

‘Doubt she’d be pleased to see you,’ muttered Much. ‘How many of your bastards litter the place, Alan?’

‘Not enough to take our part in any struggle,’ Alan replied, ‘and all too young anyway. No, there’ll be no comfort for us there.’

‘Then it’s another night on these bloody moorlands,’ said Much. He shivered. ‘This is the coldest summer I’ve ever known. Better to be back in Sherwood. At least we’d have the shelter of the trees.’

‘Or even Inglewood,’ said Alan.

‘It’s too much of a risk to go back there,’ said Robin. ‘Too close to Carlisle. The Sheriff of the shire has a regular army scouring Inglewood Forest for us.’

‘I thought King John had stripped the shires of their soldiery,’ said Much. ‘Needed ‘em to fight in Normandy.’

‘Not these northern shires,’ said Alan. ‘King John daren’t leave his northern flank exposed. The Scots’d come marching into England at the least excuse.’

‘Well, if Nottingham’s empty of troops, let’s go back there. We could run wild through Sherwood, with no one to gainsay us,’ said Much.

Robin looked down at the village.

‘I made an agreement with Sir Richard of the Legh,’ he said. ‘He curbs the power of the Sheriff and treats the Sherwood villages with fairness. But only as long as I stay away. From what Tuck said when he came visiting, Sir Richard’s keeping his word as best he can.’

‘Well, we can’t stop here,’ said Alan. ‘They’ll hunt us down eventually. It’s not like Sherwood. We don’t have the cottagers on our side. With the great forest of Inglewood denied to us, there’s nowhere left to run. Unless we go and skulk up there…’

He pointed to the long and distant ridge of the Pennines. The highest peaks in the mountainous range still bore traces of snow from the harsh storms of the winter and spring.

‘We’d be dead in a week,’ said Much. ‘We’ll freeze tonight unless we get a roof over our heads or a fire started. Do you think the others have found something to eat?’

‘Let’s go and find out,’ said Robin, turning his horse away from the valley and the village. Alan a Dale and Much, sharing a horse, followed in his path.

The old track led first across the heather moorland and then into a deep groove in the hill that might hide them from any distant observers. Mercifully, it kept away the freezing breeze which swept down from the higher hills nearby.

‘D’you think they’re still after us?’ asked Much.

Robin nodded. ‘They won’t stop now. We ruffled too many feathers with our raid on Carlisle. It was madness.’

Do read on by clicking the link…

Villain – The Chronicles of Robin Hood

My new book Villain – the third in The Chronicles of Robin Hood series – is now available for pre-order on Kindle. Publication date is 30th June. The paperback is already available. Order before the publication date and you get either version discounted – the price goes up on the 30th.Villain Cover

Well, here’s what it’s about:

“AD 1203. Plantagenet England. A gripping historical novel and the third instalment of The Chronicles of Robin Hood. Robin of Loxley is in exile in the dark forests of the north, when a killing and a betrayal drive him back to his old battleground of Sherwood Forest.

A good man is slain and the full terror of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisborne is unleashed. With the King in Normandy and a people’s champion dead, only warriors outside the law are there to fight for the poor and desperate.

Outnumbered and surrounded by his enemies, Robin Hood is forced into waging a murderous campaign against the forces of evil.

Fighting against overwhelming odds, the outlaws divided and with a vicious warlord attacking the people of Sherwood, can Robin Hood and just a few of his men hold back the forces of oppression?

An exciting new historical novel by the author of Loxley and Wolfshead.”

To order just click on the link to pre-order the Kindle version. Look under “Books” for the paperback.

Please do share and tell your friends. Small publishers taking on the mighty publishing empire of Rupert Murdoch need word of mouth advertising.

 

Robin Hood is Nearly Here

My new Chronicles of Robin Hood novel – the third in the sequence – will be available for pre-order on Kindle next month.

And as always, readers who pre-order on Kindle will get it cheaper than the publication day price.

It’ll also be out in paperback.

I’ll be announcing the title very soon.

A lot happens in this one – it starts with a chase across northern England. We discover a possible clue as to the identity of the outlaw Adam Bell.  We have a menacing new enemy for the wolfsheads of Sherwood Forest. New friendships are formed and someone dies. And Sir Guy of Gisborne finds out that….

There’s lots of action, lots of battles and Sherwood will never be quite the same again.

But I’ll stop there before I give the entire story away.

So please keep following this blog. There’ll be weekly updates and Robin Hood features over the next few weeks.

And the title, cover and pre-order opening date will appear here first.

Thank you for all of the kind comments about the first two books in the series Loxley and Wolfshead.

I appreciate your support very much. If you’ve left an online review on the Amazon sales page I’m very grateful. Every review helps sales.

If you haven’t read the first two books, please do click the links below. You can start reading them online for free before ordering. And they’re both in paperback as well as on Kindle.

Thank you

John

PS. Please do spread the word…

 

 

 

 

Robin Hood riding through the….

As the theme tune to the old Richard Greene TV series goes…

Well, riding through my imagination at the moment as I’m close to finishing the third book in my Chronicles of Robin Hood series. One more book to do after this. All this labour might explain why I’ve been short of blogs on this site for a while. There’ll be far more coming as publication day gets nearer.

The new book finds Robin in even more danger, as old allies are no longer there for him and the power of his enemies grows even stronger.

So keep watching the blog for more updates.

And if you haven’t read the two books in the series so far please do look – they’re out in paperback and on Kindle.

Please do tell your friends about the books and leave a review if you enjoyed them and bought them from Amazon.

Thank you, John.

Here’s the links if you want to find out more about the first two books…

Writing a Victorian Thriller

I’ve now written two William Quest thrillers set in the 1850s, The Shadow of William Quest and Deadly Quest. I’m in the planning stages of writing Quest number three. Here’s how it all began. I hope this might be helpful if you are planning your own thriller set in the Victorian period.

So how did William Quest come about?

I’ve always wanted to write about aspects of the Victorian underworld, but I wanted a setting that was London and Norfolk. For a long time I had this image of a gentleman carrying a swordstick walking along a London alley. I knew straight away that he was on some sort of quest for vengeance. His name, in these preliminary thoughts was Edward Stanton. Then one day the name William Quest flashed into my mind. It seemed to fit. I knew it would open with a killing but had only the vaguest ideas as to where to go from there.

So did you write out any sort of detailed plot plan?

Not really, and I’m glad I didn’t. I scribbled a few pages of very rough ideas in a Moleskine notebook. Many of these got rejected as I went on. I knew that there had to be some sort of back story for Quest. I had thoughts on what that should be. Then I sat down and it really wrote itself.

Did it come easily?

Much easier than anything I’ve ever written before. Whole characters just appeared, complete with names. I had no idea that there would be a character called Jasper Feedle at all. He just appeared one morning with that name. Walked out on to the pages, complete. Wissilcraft, the spy, was someone else who built up his part. He was meant to be a very minor character, just in a couple of scenes. And then there he is, driving the whole plot forwards.

Did you do much research?

I took a minor in nineteenth century social history as an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia. I always had a considerable interest in the Victorian underworld so I had most of that information at my fingertips. I have always had an interest in Victorian London and Norfolk and wanted a contrast between the London rookeries and the lonely countryside of Norfolk. Recent visits back to Norfolk gave me ideas for the scenes there and for the climax.

How do you work?

Mornings only! An early start and then only to lunchtimes, then the brain gives up. I usually write between 850 to 1400 words a day. I try to write every day. I really want to do more words.

Do you have a favourite character?

It has to be Jasper Feedle. Mostly because he saved me a lot of labour and came on like an actor, gave the performance, without any great effort from me.

Why the Victorian period?

When I was younger my period was always the 17th century. My university experiences and reading since diverted me to Victorian times. I think it a fascinating period. People think they know it, but…. And there are several periods within the period. The Regency attitudes linger on for a long time into Victoria’s reign. I found that fascinating and it was one reason why I set Quest as early as 1853. Much of Dickens’ work is driven by those attitudes. Worth remembering that there were thirty years of Victorianism after Dickens died. They were rather different years, much as the 1980s were different from the 1940s.

A good time to be alive?

If you were well off. Most of my ancestors were working class during Victoria’s reign. Many had unpleasant and early deaths. But there were wonderful people fighting for reform as well. I wanted to reflect both aspects in the novel. But at the end of the day it is a thriller and not a social novel. But Victorian values are not something, generally, we should wish back. Like Quest and his friends I would like a fairer and much more compassionate world.

But the relics of Victorian Britain are still there?

They are indeed. In Britain we are fortunate that we can walk down the same streets and often see the same buildings as our Victorian ancestors. Walk down many High Streets, look up above modern fascias, and we can still see the buildings they would have seen. A lot of Britons still live in the same houses as the Victorians. Much of our civic architecture is Victorian. We should make sure the planners and developers leave it alone.

Future William Quest novels?

The first sequel, Deadly Quest, is already out and set entirely in London. It kind of wraps up some of the stories which began in the first novel, though both are complete in themselves. In the new novel, the one I’m about to write, Quest finds himself in Victorian York, fighting new enemies and facing fresh menaces.

What advice would you give to anyone writing a Victorian thriller?

Don’t dwell too much on the plot until you have immersed yourself in the period. Sometimes the best ideas come out of that period. Read widely, walk those Victorian streets, look at their art, listen to their music, read their literature. It’s a bit like time travel. You need to be living there in a bit of your mind. Once you can get into that state the ideas should come. Better than trying to force a plot on to the period.

The first William Quest novels are now out in paperback and on Kindle. Click on the links if you want to sample a chapter or two, or order.