Friday 1 October 2021

Author Interview: Richard Foreman, author of Turpin's Assassin @SharpeBooks

Turpin's Assassin: Hero. Highwayman. Legend.
By Richard Foreman

Publication Date: 25th August 2021
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 173 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

"An utterly captivating reimagining of the Turpin legend." Jemahl Evans.

The highwayman Dick Turpin is now as famous as he is infamous.

His next ride could be his last.

Turpin travels to London, to sell on his latest haul to the fence, Joseph Colman, and see his mistress, the actress Marie Harley.

But the aristocrat and assassin, Pierre Vergier, has also recently travelled to the capital. The Frenchman is a hunter - and he has been given the name of his next prey.

But all is not what it seems.

Turpin negotiates his way through the criminal underworld and English society - realising that no soul is free from sin or folly. Including his own.

The hunter will become the hunted - and the outlaw will seek justice.

Turpin's Assassin: Hero. Highwayman. Legend is a fabulous retelling of one of England’s most notorious highway man, Dick Turpin (1705 -1739). Turpin rose to considerable fame after his execution on April 7th 1939 and since then his life and exploits have become somewhat romanticised. How must influence did the ballads, popular theatre and television have on you when you decided to write a series based around his life?

The majority of Turpin’s fame came a hundred years after his death, through the success of William Harrison Ainsworth’s Rookwood. The novel was the birth of the modern legend of Turpin (and to some extent the modern romanticised highwayman too). But Dick Turpin did achieve a certain degree of notoriety and infamy during his lifetime – and Turpin’s Assassin touches upon the outlaw’s relationship with his fame.

I (just about) remember watching the TV series, starring Richard O’Sullivan, when I was a child and, to some extent, I wanted my book to capture the spirit of fun and roguery in the programme. Most people are familiar with the idea of a dandy highwayman through the Adam Ant song, Stand and Deliver, too.

I must confess that, unlike the majority of my other novels (which deal with such figures as Julius Caesar, Henry V, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Bohemond of Taranto), I have given myself more scope to go outside the historical record. We shall see whether I have given myself enough rope to hang myself with. But, as I mention in the End Note, Turpin’s Assassin deals with the legend as much as the man. I got to make stuff up. I furnished my Turpin with a fictional mistress and confederate, Nathaniel Gill – as well as engineered an encounter with Samuel Johnson. My Turpin is part Robin Hood, part Byron, part Richard Sharpe and Harry Flashman even. At the same time, he is his own man and legend. Such a stance made the book liberating – and fun – to write.

As in life, Turpin is incredibly difficult to pin down. How difficult was it to pick apart the “legendary man” and find a semblance of historical truth?

Unfortunately, we do not have a wealth of letters from Turpin or those who knew him to draw from. There were plenty of newspaper pieces concerning the outlaw, but who can trust everything that you read in a newspaper? I like to think that I do not gloss over his more unpleasant crimes (including torture and murder), but I am guilty of romanticising Turpin too. Ultimately, we have more supposition rather than evidence when in comes to pinning Turpin down, although there is more material to draw from in relation to his capture and execution. We do have plenty of material to draw from in portraying eighteenth century London and the criminal underworld, however. In the end, though, we can but aim to attain historical truth, rather than wholly achieve it. But there is a bonus to knowing little about the “real” Turpin. It’s possible to turn a difficulty into an opportunity. There is space on the canvas to add to the legend. For instance, I was keen to explore Turpin’s relationship with his wife, Elizabeth – and hopefully find a semblance of human as well as historical truth. Turpin’s Assassin is the story of a murder and a marriage.

For 100 years Hounslow Heath was considered one of the most dangerous places in England to travel. So dangerous, in fact, that "An Act for encouraging the apprehending of Highway Men" was passed in 1692. What difference did this act make, and was there anything else that could have been done, in your opinion, to curb the danger that the highwaymen presented to travellers?

Despite the severity of punishments relating to numerous crimes (but particularly theft and acts of violence), it is surprising how many instances of highway robbery occurred throughout the 18th century (and beyond). Crime paid. We can always make some suggestions in hindsight, but crime will flourish in times of poverty and plenty. It’s a human and historical truth. There is an argument that the people then were, in general, less risk aversive than the are now. For instance, the probability of venereal diseases was high if one visited one of the copious amounts of brothels and bawds in London – yet still the trade flourished. Similarly, the perils of alcoholism (ruining one’s health and finances) were prevalent, before and after Hogarth’s Gin Alley. Yet people still drunk in amounts that even put me to shame. Can we not argue that highwaymen were happy to continue a life of crime, despite the dangers (and, for a few, because of them)? And those who rode through Hounslow Heath knew the risk but did so anyway, as much as our sensibilities might blanch at such actions. 

Your books are often described as atmospheric, gripping and immensely readable. What do you hope that readers will take away from your Highwayman series?

I suppose that the measure of the success of the first book will be how much people want to read the sequel (or one of my other series). It’s a new period and protagonist for me – as such I would be happy to hear from your readers in relation to what they enjoyed about the novel. It will help in potentially shaping the remainder of the series. I have enjoyed writing about Turpin and 18th century England so much - that I may eventually become as synonymous with the highwayman as Richard O’Sullivan.

More than most of my other works, there is a boyish enthusiasm and fun in the writing. Although Turpin’s Assassin is far from a comic novel, there is plenty of humour in it. At the same time, I have inserted some of my other traditional ingredients into the recipe. There is a twist or two. Readers may be interested to find out about 18th century London, as they have written to me in the past about how they want to now read more about Ancient Rome of the First Crusade.

Finally, wearing my publisher’s hat, if any authors read Turpin’s Assassin and are interested in writing something similar (or have written something similar) then they will be welcome to submit their own work.


This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription

Richard Foreman is the bestselling author of numerous historical series set during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, including the Augustus Caesar books, Sword of Empire and Sword of Rome. He is also the author Warsaw, Raffles: The Complete Innings and Band of Brothers, a series charting the story of Henry V and the Agincourt campaign. Richard writes modern thrillers too, under the pseudonym of Thomas Waugh. He is a judge for the HWA Crowns and the founder of the London History Festival. He lives in London.

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