INTERVIEW: A Chat With Peter James

Please welcome author Peter James, the creator of the DS Roy Grace crime thriller series, among other stand alone works. Mr. James has also been involved in films, plays, and television. He’s fond of cars and aircraft and enjoys skiing and motor racing.

Thank you for taking the time to visit and chat with me…

It’s a pleasure!

You’ve done and been involved in a lot of creative enterprises. Is there any one that’s especially memorable, a personal favorite, or both?

Most recently I have hugely enjoyed getting involved in theatre.  It has always been a dream of mine to see something I have written appear on the stage. For me, it’s a magical experience. I’ve had 3 of my books adapted for television and I’ve never been happy with those adaptations. But the stage adaptations of THE PERFECT MURDER and DEAD SIMPLE were just brilliant, I love watching the audience, as much as I love watching the play. Every time is different. DEAD SIMPLE the play is particularly special for me, because it’s the book that launched Roy Grace.  It seemed quite complicated having somebody on stage in a coffin for half the play but the set designer has done a really great job on it.

What do you think of how ebooks have developed since your novel, HOST, was published on two floppy discs?

In 1994, HOST became the first ever electronic novel and I was pilloried around the world, accused of killing the novel!

I do think that as e-books become cheaper they will become even more popular, but personally, I still love the smell and touch of printed books and they will be around for our lifetimes and way beyond.

There has been a lot of fear about ebooks, and there is of course justification in this because of the fear of piracy and the terrible damage done to the record industry, but I think this is different with books and the culture is different.  Many people, for the foreseeable future will continue to read printed books.  But for others it has opened up huge new potential for reading.  For instance one of my fans is a soldier out in Afghanistan.  Thanks to his Kindle he can take dozens of books with him out on operations in the desert, which he could never have done before as he could not have physically carried them.  I have many elderly fans who like the fact they can increase the font size on their ebooks.  And I have had dozens of emails from fans who have bought my recent novels electronically, but who tell me they have also bought the hardcover version to have on their bookshelves as collector items.  Personally, although I have almost all of the e-reader gadgets, in general I much prefer to hold a printed book in my hand.

Was a crime fiction series always your ultimate goal?

My first successful novel, back in 1988, was POSSESSION, a supernatural thriller and I wrote several in this vein before moving on to psychological thrillers and then to crime fiction.  The reason I began to write crime fiction was after becoming friendly with a number of police officers, both in the UK and the USA, and realizing that they saw life from a unique, privileged insider perspective.  I’ve always been interested in the human condition, why people do the things that they do, and no one has a better insight into human behavior than a cop during his or her 30 year career.  But much though I love writing my Roy Grace books – I’m currently working on the 12th in the series, there are other areas I’m very keen to explore.  I wrote PERFECT PEOPLE, a thriller about “designer” babies, which was published three years ago, in which I look at the choices science will ultimately give parents on choosing the genetic make-up of their offspring.  I loved writing it and the book was highly successful.  My publishers thought it would be fun for me to have a return to the supernatural, and they were right.  I had a great time writing THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL, and certainly plan to write more in this vein.  Possibly even a sequel!

What do you consider DS Roy Grace’s best trait? His worst?

I love the very human aspect of him, and it is a trait I’ve come to realize is common among good homicide detectives.  They bond with the family of the victim and it becomes personal to them.   His worst trait is probably not letting go of the past!

Is there anything to date that, when you think of it, brings you more satisfaction than any of your other accomplishments?

I always joke I’m an overnight success that took 25 years!  Because that is how long it took before I could start to live my childhood dream, to make a living out of writing novels. The moment I could do this gave me most satisfaction.

I’m also immensely proud that I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Brighton, for (in their words) “Peter James has been made a Doctor of Letters in recognition of his ongoing contribution to the arts and to the status, infrastructure and culture of Brighton and Hove.”  And I was awarded Honorary mastership of the Open University this year. To receive these awards was just amazing – particularly as I virtually got thrown out of school on my ear for only getting grade “e” in each of my three A levels! And then earlier this year I was voted by the UK public – readers of WH Smith, our biggest bookstore chain as the Greatest Crime Writer Of All Time.  That was a pretty special feeling!

You’re a patron of and actively support numerous charities. How do you keep up with all of them, the speaking engagements, racing, your other hobbies and pursuits, life in general, and writing? Does it come needing little sleep, help, or organization combined with excellent time management skills?

Maybe I have cloned myself 😉

What is your favorite aspect of writing? Least favorite?

I love getting into the ‘zone’ around 6pm each day.  I typically mix a vodka martini, put on my music, turn off the phones and ignore emails. It is my “me time” and that martini is a treat I look forward to throughout the day!  I do this six days a week during the seven months I am working on a novel. My least favourite aspect is my vast email mountain.

Is there a genre you’d like to try?

Over the years I’ve been a published author I have experimented with different genres.  I began writing spy thrillers, then moved to supernatural thrillers, then to psychological thrillers, as well as a black comedy ‘The Perfect Murder’ which was turned into a hugely successful stage play, before turning to the crime thrillers that have been so successful, globally for me.  I am fascinated in the human condition and why people do the things that they do, and I find my crime thrillers are the best way I can study human behaviour.  I am going to start writing, later this year, a religious themed thriller that has been a work-in-progress for 23 years, but after that I’ll return to crime, with an occasional ghost story as a change.

Can you share any tidbits about your Work(s) in Progress?

I’m currently working hard to finish Roy Grace 12, it’s called LOVE YOU DEAD.  I have the stage play of the novella I mention in the previous question, THE PERFECT MURDER, coming back on tour early next year so we are casting for that. It will star Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace and has had two hugely successful nationwide tours already. I hope also to share some good news about Roy Grace on TV soon!

Do you have a favorite book? Author?

My favourite writer is Graham Greene.  When I was 14 I read Graham Greene’s BRIGHTON ROCK and this book totally changed my life.  It is quite simply the book that made me realise I wanted to be a writer, the first time I read it, when I was a teenager.  It is also the inspiration behind my setting the Roy Grace series in Brighton.  This timeless novel is both a thriller and a crime novel, although police play a small part and the story is almost entirely told through the eyes of the villains and two women who believe they can redeem them.  Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, that makes you feel you know them inside out and have probably met them, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable.  It is for me an almost perfect novel.   It has one of the most grabbing opening lines ever written (Hale knew, within thirty minutes of arriving in Brighton, that they meant to kill him.”), and one of the finest last lines – very clever, very tantalizing and very, very “noir” – yet apt. Greene captures so vividly the dark, criminal underbelly of Brighton and Hove, as relevant now as when the book was first written, and the characters are wonderful, deeply human, deeply flawed and tragic.  And yet, far more than being just an incredibly tense thriller, Greene uses the novel to explore big themes of religious faith, love and honour.”  And additionally, a bonus, it is also unique for being one of the few novels where the film adaptation is so good it complements rather than reduces the book.  But it is not just BRIGHTON ROCK – I learn so much from Greene’s writing.  I don’t think any writer before or after him has been able to create such vivid characters with so few words and description.

Have you read one lately that you’d recommend?

I recently really enjoyed I LET YOU GO by Claire Macintosh. I was first sent it as a proof, asking for a quote, and I was utterly gripped.  It is wonderfully written, with credible and interesting characters, and has one of the most astonishing twists I’ve ever read, turning the story completely on hits head halfway through.  It was one of those rare books I put down thinking, “Gosh, wish I’d written this!”

In the haunted homes you’ve lived in, did you ever personally encounter a ghost?

What I saw often were tiny pinpricks of white light floating in the air, but I personally never actually ‘saw’ a ghost.  The medium who I used a lot during my writing of possession, visited my house and she told me I was slightly psychic, and that is why I saw these pinpricks, and that while I was not actually seeing the entire apparition, I was picking up on some of its energy.

What would you most like to do or experience that you haven’t yet?

I love historic motor racing so my dream is to win the Saint Mary’s Trophy at the Goodwood Revival!

Thank you again, Mr. James. I’ve enjoyed “meeting” you.

Likewise! Many thanks.

Y’all can visit Peter Jameshere. He’s also on Facebook and Goodreads.

If you’re already acquainted with DS Roy Grace I’d love to hear your thoughts.

YOU ARE DEAD will be my introduction to DS Roy Grace. I’ve been assured they can stand alone. My review will be sometime next month. May have quite a bit of catching up to do, we’ll see!

Looking forward to starting.

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