Interview: Ben Tripp on The Accidental Highwayman, world-building, and more!

You may know the name Ben Tripp from his Rise Again series, but his brand new book (something very different), The Accidental Highwayman (and his first book for teens), just came out! I’m thrilled that he stopped by to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!


bentrippCongrats on the new book! Will you tell us more about The Accidental Highwayman and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you. I’m very excited about this project. The Accidental Highwayman is the first in the Adventures of Kit Bristol trilogy. It comes from what you might call the overstuffed attic of my mind — where all the bits and pieces of ideas, memories, and daydreams end up.

As a boy in England I was always wandering the meadows and lanes, filling the world around me with imaginary folk. Forty years later, I realized they were still about, and it was time to tell their stories. Up to the attic I went and out they came.

Tell us more about Kit and Morgana. Why do you think readers will root for them, and what did you enjoy most about writing their characters?
I really enjoyed writing the ‘opposites attract’ relationship. They focus on their differences, and all the while it’s the things they have in common which are their strengths. There’s also an interesting dynamic at play between them in that Kit, who narrates, is really telling her story, insofar as he knows it. His adventures are the result of Morgana’s arc. He’s not the chosen one, the center of events — she is — and he’s happy to assist her however he can.

Speaking of characters, what supporting characters did you enjoy bringing to life the most?
If you’re a Dickens fan you know that half the fun is the supporting cast. It was great fun to describe the Münchausen-like impressario Cornelius Puggle, his lovelorn and somewhat concupiscent niece Lily, the blustering Captain Sterne, even Midnight the horse. I most enjoy eccentric characters who think they’ve got it all sorted out. They never do.

accidentalhighwaymanThe book takes place in 18th century England. What kind research did you do for it?
I’m fascinated by history — where we have been is where we will be found — and England has always been a second home to me. I researched anything and everything. You never know what will spark an idea or association. Accuracy is important to me, so for example I had to go to Hampton Court Palace and examine the roofing materials and layout of that bit of the architecture. It wouldn’t do to describe things inaccurately in a fantasy novel!

Ok, I admit that I’m a huge Disney fan, so for me, you have the coolest background ever. What made you decide to write books? Will you tell us a bit about that progression? Do you think your experience as a designer helped in your writing?
As an ‘experiential designer’ of theme parks, urban centers, and so forth, I was a literal world-builder for a quarter of a century. So literary world-building comes naturally. When I envision a story situation, all the smells and sounds and textures are there, as well as the visual details. I usually know what’s around the corner and inside the cabinet. That comes from a lifetime of visiting and developing real-world environments. The hard part is picking out which details are most germane.

But the novels spring mostly from a long-time hobby, which was screenwriting. I worked for all the studios over a decade and never got credited on anything, which isn’t unusual. One day I thought: Golly, there must be some medium by which I can write a story, put my name on it, and get it directly to the public. Apparently those are called novels. Here I am.

The Accidental Highwayman is quite a departure from your past titles. What made you decide to write a book for a younger audience, and what were the challenges for you (if any)?
I wanted to take a break from horror and write one of those sprawling all-ages stories like Treasure Island or Ivanhoe. Wasn’t particularly aiming it at young readers. It’s just that this sort of tale doesn’t have any naughty bits or language in it, so I didn’t include any. It was the publisher who informed me I’d written a YA book!

What authors, or books, have influenced you the most?
All of them.

treasureisland2What was one of your favorite books as a child?
There are so many. An unusual one was Dracula, which I read in fifth grade. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew those brides of his were something freaky.

What are you currently reading?
Fiction? Nothing, because I’m writing. I can’t read anything other than research material when there’s a manuscript going, or influences creep in. It’s the same reason I can’t listen to music with lyrics. Compellingly-arranged words are a distraction when I’m trying to arrange words in a compelling manner.

When you’re not writing, and manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I write something every day, but travel is the supreme activity. My comfort zone is outside my comfort zone. My bride and I divide our time between Los Angeles and London (she writes for European television) and nothing suits me better than getting lost in an unfamiliar place. You’ll always find characters and stories that way, too.

What’s next for you?
The Accidental Giant, which is part two of The Adventures of Kit Bristol. In which our narrator attempts to reach the faerie world in order to rejoin his lost love Morgana. Hijinks ensue, as they always must.

Keep up with Ben: Twitter | Website

About THE ACCIDENTAL HIGHWAYMAN:
The Accidental Highwayman is the first swashbuckling adventure for young adults by talented author and illustrator, Ben Tripp. This thrilling tale of dark magic and true love is the perfect story for fans of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

In eighteenth-century England, young Christopher “Kit” Bristol is the unwitting servant of notorious highwayman Whistling Jack. One dark night, Kit finds his master bleeding from a mortal wound, dons the man’s riding cloak to seek help, and changes the course of his life forever. Mistaken for Whistling Jack and on the run from redcoats, Kit is catapulted into a world of magic and wonders he thought the stuff of fairy tales.

Bound by magical law, Kit takes up his master’s quest to rescue a rebellious fairy princess from an arranged marriage to King George III of England. But his task is not an easy one, for Kit must contend with the feisty Princess Morgana, gobling attacks, and a magical map that portends his destiny: as a hanged man upon the gallows….

Fans of classic fairy-tale fantasies such as Stardust by Neil Gaiman and will find much to love in this irresistible YA debut by Ben Tripp, the son of one of America’s most beloved illustrators, Wallace Tripp (Amelia Bedelia). Following in his father’s footsteps, Ben has woven illustrations throughout the story.

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