Meet the man who created DCI Banks - appearing at this year’s St Albans Literary Festival

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson - Credit: Archant

With 23 novels, four television series, two novellas, five short stories and counting, Peter Robinson’s creation Inspector Alan Banks is a household name.

A detective relocated from the bleak streets of London to the calmer but apparently no less deadly Yorkshire Dales, Banks made his debut in 1987 and continues to captivate readers across the globe.

In light of Peter’s scheduled appearance at the St Albans Literary Festival on July 9 where he will be discussing breathing life into fictional characters with fellow celebrated crime author David Mark, the Herts Ad caught up with Banks’ creator to talk crime and creativity.

Typical technical mishaps with phones out of the way, we soon get down to discussing how much imagination versus real life experience comes into play when creating a character.

“I think your own personality and experiences work through your imagination,” Peter says.

“They’re jumbled up, altered and distorted by it. I don’t think anything’s truly original. Whether it’s elements of your own character or things you’ve observed - people you’ve observed in the street, friends, memories of people – it all comes through the imagination and gets changed and mixed together in different ways and different forms. And one hopes that what comes out seems original and believable.”

In that case, can a character ever be entirely free from their creator? The Banks featured in Peter’s novels must become DCI Banks as played by Stephen Tompkinson in ITV’s hit series – is he somebody different on screen?

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“Oh yes. The character changes according to the medium in which he’s depicted. You can do things in a novel that you can’t do on television and you can do things on television that you can’t do in a novel. I love the scenes when I have Banks just sitting listening to music, drinking wine, thinking about the case. You can’t film that. I mean, all you’d see is a guy drinking wine looking out of the window – it’s boring!” he laughs.

Peter explains how on television Banks tends to be more ‘talky’ and emotional, whereas this is actually uncharacteristic for the detective, who is quite stereotypically English and introverted.

“He’s definitely a different character on TV,” he clarifies, “but I think it’s more to do with what TV needs, rather than him actually being different.”

Does he think a character is ever fully formed then?

“I’m pretty sure that each character is a work in progress, and it’s what keeps me interested, you know. I wouldn’t ever think a character is ‘finished’. You get to know the character slowly, the way you get to know another person.

He’s really resolved on this point: “You write about the character but you don’t plan out every detail of what the person’s like and what they would do. You know you’re going wrong when you keep trying to make a character do something and it doesn’t feel right.”

Banks is predictable to an extent; he might get a bit heated in an interrogation, but Peter’s sure he would never lash out.

“If I see Banks getting up and slapping someone it’s going wrong. So I know where he would draw lines. The interesting thing is you don’t always know where characters will bend lines, so you can be a bit surprised yourself sometimes.”

Is character writing often a surprising process?

“I think it would be a very kind of wooden character if you knew what was happening in every situation. You have to work it and rework it until you get the right feel.”

For tickets to the Making the Detectives event taking place at St Peter’s Church, visit the website.