By Maggie James
I'm delighted to welcome novelist Peter James to my blog today! Peter is the author of the best-selling crime thrillers featuring Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, which have sold 18 million copies worldwide. Peter also writes supernatural fiction, such as The House on Cold Hill, a book I enjoyed very much. Welcome to my blog, Peter! With no further ado, let's proceed with the interview.
To what extent does DS Roy Grace reflect aspects of your own personality?
Roy Grace is based very loosely on former Chief Superintendent David Gaylor of Sussex CID. I was lucky enough to shadow David for many weeks over several years, during which he rose from Detective Inspector to Detective Superintendent. His office is Roy Grace’s office, and one of his areas of specialization was cold cases – also shared by Grace. But there the similarity ends – David is happily married and has no particular interest in the occult – although he is very open minded.
I like Roy Grace the most of any character I have created, and there is a lot of myself in him. I’m in some ways quite a loner, too. I have a fascination for the paranormal. I share his views when he attacks bigots, when he attacks horrible architecture, or when, in ‘Not Dead Enough’, he launches into a tirade at the terrible state of our hospital in Brighton, the Sussex County. Roy Grace is a man who believes that we all have an obligation, with our lives, to try to leave the world a slightly better place than when we first came into it. That’s my view and it is partly why I write, to examine and try to understand better the world we live in and why people do the things they go. But I do also love the terrible Norman Potting. He is able to say all kinds of politically incorrect things that can no longer be said!
Out of all your antagonists, who’s been the most fun for you to create, and why?
Jodie in ‘Love You Dead’, and Dr Crisp in ‘You Are Dead’. Jodie is inspired by a woman I met in a prison, who murdered her husband and mother-in-law, she is so evil she makes you smile at her audacity. Similarly, I like Doctor Edward Crisp’s combination of charm, quirkiness and utter evil – modelled on someone I know who is in a different profession.
What’s been your most challenging novel when it comes to plotting, and why?
‘Dead Like You’ because it took place in two different time periods which was very complicated.
How does your writing day shape up? Lark or Owl? Plotter or Pantser?
My whole writing day is back to front… It is from the time when I was writing novels whilst working full time in film and television as a screen writer and producer, so I had to make my “Me time” to write. My writing day starts at 6pm in the evening, when I mix a large vodka martini, with four olives, put on some music, light up a cigar and get into a zone. I try to ensure that whatever I’m doing I leave myself time to write 1000 words 6 days a week. In terms of research – a lot I do before, but then as I progress I realise there is more I need to learn, and I’m an absolute stickler for research.
In the past, you’ve been very involved in film production. Do you see yourself returning to working in the film industry in the future?
I was a film producer for many years but I realized in 2005, shortly after making the film I'm most proud of, Merchant Of Venice with Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons, that actually, I much prefer writing novels. The problem with films is that they are such a collaborative process; it becomes almost like a committee, but up to 20 people who each believe it is their film! For example you have the screenwriter, and very often a second screen writer or “polisher”, the producer – sometimes two or even more. The executive producers, again sometimes two or more, the director, the principal actors, the director of photography, the set designer, the editor, the composer, the distributor and so on. Each and every one of these has influence on the end product. And most normally have egos the size of aircraft carriers. With a book the creative process is utterly pure. There is just myself and my agent and my editor. If I don’t want to change one single word I have written I don’t have to. I love that freedom from the “committee” process of film-making. I’d be very happy never to be involved in that industry again!
Have you always been interested in the paranormal, or does your curiosity stem from your haunted house in Ditchling?
Yes, I’ve always had an open on mind on the supernatural and I’ve met countless normal, rational people who have had something happen, at some point in their lives, for which they have no rational explanation.
The House On Cold Hill is very much inspired by – and modelled on – the isolated historic house in Sussex that my former wife and I bought in 1989 that you refer to, and I lived in for a decade – which turned out to be very seriously haunted. Whilst I have never actually seen a ghost, there were things that happened at that house I really couldn’t explain. I saw on many occasions, tiny pinpricks of white light floating in the air. A 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.
Tell us about the work you do with the charity The Reading Agency.
I hugely support the Reading Agency, which tries to raise the standard of literacy in our nation. It’s a terribly sad statistic that the average reading age in a UK prison is currently equivalent to that of a nine-year-old child.
I give talks to help people with reading difficulties and I also give talks in prisons every year to try to encourage literacy among prisoners.
Like me, you’re passionately fond of animals. Tell us about your new venture into keeping alpacas!
My wife and I spent time with my publicist, Tony Mulliken, and his wife Pam at their home and they keep 6 alpacas. We saw what lovely creatures they are and we have a paddock at our Sussex home that was empty, so we decided to look into getting some of our own. We researched far and wide, and found an amazing local breeder, Spring Farm Alpacas, in Fletching, who care so well for their herd. They are hugely passionate about all the animals and know them all by name. Our 5 boys arrived in December last year and we just love them! They are very inquisitive creatures and full of character, they make us laugh every day!
Also like me, you’re a foodie. What’s your favourite savoury food? Favourite sweet dish?
Savoury: oysters and anchovy olives.
Sweet: peanut M & Ms!
You love cars. Are there any racing or driving ambitions you’ve yet to achieve?
I love cars and in particular, historic motor racing, so my dream is to win the Saint Mary’s Trophy at the Goodwood Revival!
You can find and follow me on :
My website: www.peterjames.com
My brand new YouTube channel: www.peterjames.com/YouTube
Thank you, Peter, for a great interview! It's been a pleasure talking to you.
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