Human Interest

Interview with writer, John Bainbridge

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He’s authored 30+ books covering a diversity of content, from Rambles in the British Countryside to Golden-Age style spy thrillers. Yet it was John Bainbridge’s Victorian thriller set in 1853 London & Norfolk, The Shadow of William Quest, which kept me unerringly enthralled from the first word to the last. I’m therefore incredibly excited to bring to you an exclusive interview with John wherein we discuss The Shadow of William Quest, John’s background, and his opinions on writing in general:

 

Q: On the surface The Shadow of William Quest would appear to be a conventional tale of an anti-hero taking his revenge on those who have wronged him. Much like The Count of Monte Christo, with elements of the Robin Hood mythology and even, to me, comparisons with Baroness Orczy’s Sir Percy Blakney in her Scarlet Pimpernel novels. Without giving any plot spoilers, I’d like to say the more I read of the book the more I felt it moved away from this cliché and even played around with it – to the point of turning it upon its head. With so many twists & turns, how did you even start to plan The Shadow of William Quest?

A: I started with the vaguest idea of a Victorian vigilante seeking revenge on wrongdoers, picturing him ambushing them in sinister alleys. But I realised almost straight away that this would get terribly boring and could hardly be repeated very much. So I started to think more about Victorian society itself, picturing the people Quest might know and how they might have come together. I knew there had to be one over-riding storyline which would bring Quest into conflict with the Victorian Establishment. I knew also how the book would end. At that point I just sat down and started to write. Characters, situations and sub-plots seemed to come from nowhere.

book the shadow of william quest

 

Q: How did you come to create the character of William Quest?

A: He actually started off as a very different sort of character and had almost no back story. I’ve always liked the idea of the outsider seeking justice, whether it be the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Count of Monte Cristo, Raffles or even Batman. But I wanted Quest to be flawed and not a super-hero. I wanted to show how his hatred of injustice might have originated, and I wanted to accurately portray the society that created him. After all, he’s a killer, though rather a moral one. Vigilantism isn’t really a very good idea, so it was a kind of balancing trick, as I didn’t want the reader to lose sympathy with him.

 

Q: You read literature and history at the University of East Anglia, specialising in the Victorian Underworld. This certainly translates to a confidence in your writing when you’re describing the setting. What other research, if any, did you undertake in preparation for the writing of The Shadow of William Quest?

A: Much of it was in my head from those three years of my degree and the huge amount I’ve read since. I re-read a few classic works to make sure I was remembering correctly. I’ve always admired the books on the Victorian underworld by Kellow Chesney and Donald Thomas. During my degree at UEA, and in the Open University prior to that, I looked at Victorian society in its entirety, which you really need to do in order to see how an underworld was actually created.

 

Q: What is it about 1850s England which appeals to readers, do you think?

A: I picked the 1850s in particular because it was very much a turning point for the Victorians, the legacy of the Regency fading away and a kind of bogus respectability taking its place. But it was a rough and ready time. I think it was in the 1850s that the Victorians gained a kind of confidence. I suspect the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851 had something to do with that. But it was also a period of appalling poverty and inequality, and I wanted to show the differences between the different echelons of that society. I think it’s worth always remembering that there is not one Victorian Age but many. If I’d set William Quest in the 1890s, say, it would have been a very different book.

 

Q: The juxtaposition of the countryside and the cityscape are recurring themes within your work and certainly something which is often reflected upon by your characters, why is that?

A: The Victorian Age was when England transformed from a largely rural to an urban society. In the 1850s the balance was more or less still there, before increasing urbanisation took over. I’m interested in the countryside.  I write non-fiction about walking and the outdoors as well as the city. The legacy of the Victorians is still there in both. Many of my characters have a country background, even if they are now living in London. William Quest lives both in London and in the countryside, and only seems to find peace of mind on long country walks.

 

Q: Cathedrals and churches also appear frequently within both The Shadow of William Quest and your other work. Was this a conscious decision on your part and, if so, why?

A: Religion was a big issue for Victorians, though, contrary to popular belief, only a substantial minority went to church. I have a interest in cathedrals and old churches and spend a lot of time visiting them. Mostly, you are seeing exactly what the Victorians saw,

 

Q: During the British Victorian Era there were thrillers written such as the Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas in 1844, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in 1868, and, of course, A Study in Scarlet, the first story to feature Sherlock Holmes, was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1887 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The execution of the story within The Shadow of William Quest certainly gave me, as a reader, a strong sense of the era in which it was set (the 1850s). Were you influenced at all by thriller writers and works from that era when writing The Shadow of William Quest? Which ones?

A: I’ve read them all over the years and I suspect that they influence me both consciously and sub-consciously. But I’m also interested in the literature, such as chapbooks, sold at public hangings and in the street markets, produced for a newly-literate audience. In Quest I created a character called Jasper Feedle, who writes and sells these as a sideline from his other nefarious activities. It’s worth seeking out works by writers such as Reynolds who penned the never-ending Mysteries of London. By reading these I find myself getting closer to the thoughts of the characters of the underworld.

 

Q: Writers such as Alexandre Dumas, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are frequently attributed that, often controversial, mantle of  greatness. Their works are cited as being great either in a technical sense, in the way they capture a moment in time, or simply as a form of entertainment. As a writer who has come after them  I don’t want to say following in their footsteps as you may not hold them in such great esteem yourself what, in your opinion, makes a “great” thriller work? If you believe such a thing as a truly “great” book exists at all?

A: I think any writers who’ve lasted for a century or more have some claim to greatness. I like the infinite variety of our literature, the fact that I can get pleasure from reading Hardy as well as Doyle. There is, I think, no one great form for the novel – Dickens strode across the boundaries between straight novel and crime novel and thriller. My only real definition for a thriller is that it should make the reader reluctant to put it down.

 

book Deadly Quest

Q: There is a second novel featuring William Quest; Deadly Quest. Will there be a third?

A: I’ve just started the third William Quest adventure, which will be set in York. I’m finding this interesting in that William Quest knows London very well indeed, but doesn’t know York, which makes it harder for him to deal with his enemies. Hopefully, it’ll be out by the end of the year.

 

Q: You have been writing for quite some time now. What advice would you give to anyone thinking about writing a novel?

A: Sit down and write! It’s very easy to put writing off and, of course, it is important to give time for research. But I never feel happy unless I’m getting words on the page most days. My background is in freelance magazine journalism where, unless you work, you can’t pay the bills. My books usually began with a setting and then a character. I hate the word “plot”. I find that just thinking of that awful four-letter word puts people off writing. I prefer “framework”, a story progression arising out of the setting and characters. I find very often that if you actually sit down and write, ideas and characters seem to come from nowhere.

 

Q: Your works are available to buy through Amazon but are there any other channels readers may use connect with you and your writing?

A: We run the Gaslight Crime blog at www.gaslightcrime.wordpress.com where we regularly review classic crime and thrillers, as well as bringing news about our own books. I also have a blog at www.johnbainbridgewriter.wordpress.com where I post about writing and the historical novel series I’m writing. For fans of walking and the countryside I post about my rambles in the countryside at www.thefreedomtoroam.com

 

Purchase The Shadow of William Quest here

 

 

T.G. Campbell is a British Crime Fiction Author living just outside of London, England. Her debut novel, The Case of The Curious Client, won the Fresh Lifestyle Magazine Book Award in April 2017. A month later she was honoured to accept the opportunity to become a monthly columnist. Her novels follow a fictional group of amateur detectives operating in 1896 London called the Bow Street Society. She undertakes extensive research and study of the British Victorian Era to ensure accuracy in her work; study/research which includes visits to museums, attending Victorian Era-themed events, and a whole lot of reading. It’s her passions for history, true crime, and British Victorian culture which she wants to share with Fresh Lifestyle Magazine readers. All her works may be found on Amazon and more can be found at www.bowstreetsociety.com  

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