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1. What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It is a book I re-read whenever I feel in need of either smiling or laughing out loud. It manages to mix so many emotions, and contains so much wonderful, simple philosophy.
2. What is the best piece of writerly advice you’ve received?
To read and re-read the successful books that you’ve loved, in the genre in which you want to write.
3. Where do you write best?
At home with a vodka martini and my music playing. But I can write absolutely anywhere.
4. What was the first novel you read?
As a child I devoured all the Biggles books, Just William, and Famous Five. My first adult novel was DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover – well, the naughty bits anyway!
5. Who is your favourite fictional hero?
I have always had a soft spot for Sherlock Holmes (the Holmes of the novel, not the TV series).
6. Which books are on your bedside table?
Deon Meyer’s 7 Days, which I am loving. Face Off, the short story anthology where 22 crime and thriller writers have had their heroes work together on cases. Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon Geberth – not everyone’s idea of bedtime reading, especially with it hundreds of no-holds-barred crime scene photographs.
7. What are you most proud of writing?
The Roy Grace series – currently writing the 11th. Also I am very proud of my standalone Perfect People, which took me 12 years to research and write.
8. What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
I remember George Orwell’s Animal Farm having an enormous impact on me – for its simplicity and accessibility and then its subtext. I think this is one book I would consider giving to a child.
9. What keeps you awake at night?
I always try to finish a chapter before I switch off for the night, so that I can go to bed thinking about the next chapter. If I wake with a thought, I have to write it down immediately, otherwise I know it will be gone in the morning …
10. How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?
I guess I would return to producing films – although I would be very tempted to make a career as a profession touring car racing driver!
We had a wonderful time with Peter James, the British best-selling author of the Detective Roy Grace novels..
Peter was in South Africa to promote his latest novel, Want You Dead, as part of The Bloody Book Week. The guests were instantly taken by his opening declaration that the people in Johannesburg were the nicest he had ever met. His warmth, charm, and delightful sense of humour made the night one of our most enjoyable yet.
We also found out that Peter is passionate about researching his novels, creating a writing routine, and that Graham Greene changed the way he believed crime novels should be written. Most intriguingly, I learnt that some authors really do get their revenge in print by writing their enemies into their next novels.
The Writers Write Interview
Author: Peter James
Date of Birth: 22 August 1948
Date of Interview: 7 August 2014
Place: Winehouse, Ten Bompas Road, Dunkeld, Johannesburg
The Book: Want You Dead
1. Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Sherlock Holmes, but the Sherlock Holmes of the original Arthur Conan Doyle novels. I enjoy his quirkiness.
2. What is your most treasured possession?
A sketch portrait of H.G. Welles. He is one of my heroes.
3. Which living person do you most dislike?
Martin Amis. We studied together at a tutorial college to cram for Oxford Entrance. Then the first film school in England started up and I decided that was what I wanted to do instead. In 2010 we were both nominated, in different categories, for a book award. I went up to him and wanted to say hello. He said he didn't remember me, and that I only remembered him because he was famous. I was angry and his rudeness inspired me to tweet about the encounter. Ian Rankin offered me £100 to get my revenge in print. So I wrote Amis Smallbone, a villain with a tiny penis, into my next novel, Not Dead Yet. I have the £100 cheque from Ian Rankin framed and on display. Shortly after this happened, his new book came out at No 10. Mine came out at No 1.
From Not Dead Yet: "Amis Smallbone was, in Grace’s opinion, the nastiest and most malevolent piece of vermin he had ever dealt with. Five foot one inch tall, with his hair greasily coiffed, dressed summer and winter in natty suits too tight for him, Smallbone exuded arrogance. Whether he had modelled himself on some screen mobster, or had some kind of Marlon Brando Godfather fixation, Grace neither knew nor cared. Smallbone, who must now be in his early sixties, was the last living relic of one of Brighton’s historic crime families."
4. What is your greatest fear?
I am terribly claustrophobic. Although, I did once spend 30 minutes locked in a coffin in a small funeral home for research purposes. I did not enjoy it, especially as the person who was left to let me out with was a very old man.
5. Who or what has been the greatest love of your life?
Lara, the lady I'm with now.
6. What is your greatest regret?
I didn't finish reading for my original degree at Oxford.
7. If you could choose to be a character in a book, who would it be?
James Bond. I loved the era. It was less PC and he just had fun.
8. Which book have you read the most in your lifetime?
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. The novel made me want to become a crime writer. Greene changed the rules for crime writing with this novel. His villain is a 17-year-old named Pinkie who leads a gang of middle aged misfits. Pinkie is also a Catholic and afraid of eternal damnation. The opening lines is classic: 'Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.' I wanted to know who Hale was, why he was in Brighton and who wanted to kill him.
9. What is your favourite journey?
Driving to the south of France.
10. What is your favourite quotation?
'I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.' ~Kurt Vonnegut
11. Dogs or Cats? Which do you prefer?
Emphatically dogs. And I'll tell you why. You can do anything, come home, and the dog will still love you, but the cat will know if you've done something wrong. My dogs names are Phoebe and Oscar, after Oscar Wilde. Although we have a cat, 10 hens, alpacas, and lots more on the way.
12. What do you most value in a friend?
True friends know everything about you and still like you. I call them 'Far-Weather Friends'.
13. What quality do you most admire in a woman?
Mental strength. They tend to think more and do more analysing.
14. Which book that you’ve written is your favourite?
I have two. Dead Simple because it was the first breakthrough book for me. And Perfect People - a standalone book about designer babies. We will see them in our lifetime.
15. What are your favourite names?
Roy - that's the name of the detective in my series.
Lara - the name of the woman I share my life with now. I've always liked the name, though.
16. What do you do as a hobby?
I race vintage cars. I race a 1965 BMW.
17. Which are your three favourite books?
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
18. Where do you get your greatest ideas for writing?
From the police. I spend a lot of time doing the rounds with the police. I like to take true life situations and give my detective a puzzle to solve. I also go to homicide conferences. I do a lot of research. I always visit the place I will be writing about. I once wrote a novel set in Namibia, and I'd never been there. I stumbled through answers from journalists and I swore I would never write another book without visiting the setting.
19. What is your Writing Routine?
I write six days a week from 6pm to 10pm. This is a habit I got into when I was still producing films. I think a routine is essential if you want to take writing seriously. Although I can write anywhere if I have to, I like to write in my office at home in London.
20. What are your Top Writing Tips?
1.Read. Read. Read. Read books that have done well in the genre you want to write in.
2.I have this holy trinity of writing which consists of Character, Research, and Plot.
3.Structure is important. Know your ending before you start writing. You wouldn't just get into a car and drive without knowing where you're going. Know your most important plot points. This does not mean that things won't change, but you will never get stuck.
4.Writer's Block doesn't exist. If you have a plot with a proper outline you will never get Writer's Block.
5.Once you start writing a book, make time to write every single day. Find a comfortable number of words for you to write each day and stick to that number. I am comfortable with 1000 words.
6.Love your characters. Even your villains. And the way to make a villain lovable is to give him something to love.
7.And one from Graham Greene: 'Every writer has to carry a chip of ice in their heart.'
Follow this link for more photographs from the dinner with Peter James.
Guest Author: Peter James
In July 2011, I was having dinner in New York with a detective friend in the NYPD, Pat Lanigan. He told me that his great-uncle was Dinny Meehan, the feared and ruthless head of the White Hand Gang – the Irish Mafia who controlled the New York and Brooklyn waterfronts, and much else – from the 1850s until the mid 1920s. It was one of the White Hand Gang’s methods of disposing of enemies in the Hudson that led to the expression, taking a long walk down a short pier.
Dinny Meehan was responsible for kicking Al Capone and other lieutenants of the Italian Mafia, the Black Hand Gang, out of New York – which is why Capone fetched up in Chicago.
In 1920 five men broke into Meehan’s home in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and in front of his four-year-old son, shot Dinny Meehan and his wife. The wife survived, and the boy went on to become a famous basketball player. The culprits were never identified. There was speculation whether it was a revenge attack organized by Capone, or a power struggle within the White Hand Gang from Meehan’s deputy, “Wild Bill” Lovett. Meehan’s widow had no doubts, confronting Lovett in a crowded bar, and he was eventually murdered, too.
Pat Lanigan volunteered to let me see the archive material. It sparked an idea which grew into Dead Man’s Time, where instead of become a basketball player, the boy ends up in Brighton as a hugely successful antiques dealer and we pick up nine decades later, when he is an old man, with memories and a still unsolved family mystery.
Brighton, which began life as the smuggling village, Brightelmstone, has always been a magnet for criminals. It holds the unique distinction as the only place in the UK where a serving Chief Constable has ever been murdered – Henry Solomon, in 1844.
If you were a villain and wanted to design your perfect criminal environment, you would design Brighton!
The city has a large, transient population, making it hard for police to keep tabs on villains, and making it easy for drug overlords to replace any of their dealer minions who get arrested. Sited at on the coast, transients who drift down the country reach Brighton and have nowhere left to go, so they stay. Its main police station, John Street, is the second busiest police station in the UK.
It is hardly surprising that the term “knocker boy” originated in Brighton. Several former knocker boys helped me in my research, telling me their many tricks of the trade.
In 1996 the Independent ran the following damning headline:
If your antiques have been stolen, head for Brighton – The Sussex resort is now a thieves’ kitchen for heirlooms
Many of the seemingly legitimate Brighton antiques dealers were just as bad as the knocker boys, hiding behind a veneer of respectability. Simon Muggleton, formerly Head of the Brighton Police Antiques Squad, told me that although the police were well aware of the activities of the ring they were never able to make any arrests.
One of the most scary moments I’ve ever had was last April, researching Dead Man’s Time in Marbella, the capital of the so-called Costa del Crime. A British bar owner greeted me by saying he was a big fan of my novel, Dead Man’s Grip. ‘I liked the torture in that one.’ He said. ‘Had a bit of a nasty shooting in here,’ he told me. A dispute between two men over a girl, resulted in the boyfriend being shot in each testicle and another six times in the chest. I asked the bar owner what the price was for getting someone ‘whacked’ in Marbella. ‘You just have to give a Moroccan a Bin Laden,’ he replied. He explained a Bin Laden is a €500.00 note – apparently as scarce as Bin Laden sightings used to be, and a Moroccan would take a day ferry across from Ceuta, do the hit and be back in Morocco the same day – and could live two years on that money. Life doesn’t come – or go – much cheaper.
Peter James is the #1 international bestselling author of the Roy Grace series, with more than 14 million copies sold all over the world. His novels have been translated into thirty-six languages; three have been filmed and three are currently in development. All of his novels reflect his deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in-depth research. He lives in England. The 10th novel in his Roy Grace series, Want You Dead (Minotaur) will be published in the US November 18, 2014.
The British crime author Peter James is back with Want You Dead, the latest thriller to feature his popular detective Roy Grace. He speaks to us about his newest work and dark inspiration.
You have published a new book annually for the past 10 years, not to mention regularly visiting literary festivals. When do you actually have the time to write?
I do plan my life a certain amount when it comes to my work. But at the same time there are certain things that also happen that you don’t expect. It’s like what John Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” People think the life of a writer is to just sit in your garage, write a big book and then go have a long lunch. But I do spend half of my year attending book festivals and I write when I am doing it. So I got used to writing in the back of the car and I remember finishing one novel on a plane to Singapore.
Your latest book Want You Dead has you focusing on the darker side of online dating. How did the idea come to you?
A lot of what I write is influenced by real life. With Want You Dead, the origins of that book was when a detective from Brighton phoned me up. He told me a story about a [female] doctor who signed up to an online dating agency. She met a man and she liked him but he was a little bit clingy. The man had a very colourful past and every time he would come to see her he would leave something in her flat, like he was stealthily moving in. Now the girl’s mother, she was suspicious about him and she hired a private detective to investigate and she discovered he had a real dark past. That gave me the inspiration for this novel.
Want You Dead is a real page-turner. Would it be fair to say that your writing style in the series has developed, whereby the plots are faster now?
I would say that. The first Roy Grace book [2005’s Dead Simple] was pretty fast-paced, but I gave myself the luxury in the new books of slowing it down a little bit and going more into depth. I am now deliberately writing at a faster pace again. I basically like writing the way I like to read. I want people to get hooked on the first sentence. That’s why I spend weeks on the first line or first page. Because that to me is everything.
With Roy Grace being such a loved character, do you feel like he belongs to readers now as opposed to being solely your creation?
I do feel like people have ownership when it comes to Roy Grace. So I have to be careful about what I do with him. I get so many emails that say “Don’t let him do this” or “He is now in a happy relationship so don’t ruin it”. People get heated about it, to be honest. That’s a great predicament to be in as an author. I love it. I love the fact that Sherlock Holmes is still receiving letters at Baker Street. I think the hardest thing in writing is to create a believable character and one that people fall in love with. When a writer does that, then it becomes even more difficult, as Arthur Conan Doyle found out when he wanted to get rid of Sherlock Holmes and do something else. People didn’t want that, they wanted Sherlock Holmes.
View the interview by following the link:
As Peter James was born in Brighton, Sussex, on the South Coast, he has very kindly allowed us to talk about our new Internet Television Channel for the area, TVS Television. TVS Launched on 5 July 2014 with the Live broadcasting of neighbouring Eastbourne’s 999 Display. The event was filmed and broadcast Live by TVS on Sussex Police’s website. It will then be available to view on demand on the website for TVS at www.tvstelevision.co.uk.
TVS where back in the early 1990s Peter was a regular guest on the Fern Britton show, is making a comeback after 22 years and will feature lots of community interest programmes, to include documentaries on events such as Pride 2014, a series on Sussex music band talents, a Paranormal series, a children’s series and much more. So it will have lots of exciting new content, under the umbrella of the good old name.
TVS is on Social Media. We can be found at www.twitter.com/tvs_television and www.facebook.com/tvstelevision. Please do hop along and Follow us. If you have any ideas for content you would like to see broadcast then please do contact us via these methods or via our website www.tvstelevision.co.uk.
Can James grab book chart crown from King?
A CRIME author is hoping to bag another number one as he battles it out with a legendary horror writer at the top of the bestseller book charts.
Peter James has been meeting his fans in Sussex this week to mark the release of his tenth Roy Grace novel, Want You Dead.
Early sales figures put the Brighton-born author marginally ahead of The Shining author Stephen King, but the winner won’t be announced until next week.
On Tuesday night, The Argus’ editor Michael Beard hosted a special question and answer session with Mr James to discuss his latest book in front of an audience of Argus readers.
The author has been thrilling crowds with book signings across the county, which are set to continue at Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham on Monday.
Mr James said fans had travelled from as far afield as York 270 miles away to see him at the book signing and that he took great inspiration from speaking to fans and meeting professionals who could assist him researching future books.
He added: “It was great fun, I really enjoyed the evening and Michael threw some interesting questions and I had some good ones from the crowd.
“When I am writing to deadline it feels like I am locked in my cage so it is a relief to be released and it’s always great to meet my readers.”
Peter James, the crime author, reveals his favourite haunts in Brighton, the setting of his Roy Grace novel series
Brighton's unique in that it's got a quite dramatic coastline on one side, and only a few miles north there is the South Downs national park (0300 303 1053; www.southdowns.gov.uk) and some of the most stunning countryside in England. The city itself also boasts some stunning classical Regency and Victorian architecture, but at the same time, you only have to walk along some of its twisting old alleys and lanes to imagine yourself back in the 18th century. Last but not least, it’s got a dark underbelly to it which I first discovered when I read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock as a kid – and that’s, in large part, why I set my Roy Grace crime novels there too.
Anything special I should pack?
Take something to wear on the beach, be it some flip flops or sandals. It would be a shame to visit and not at least go for a walk by the sea, and if you’re feeling brave, even dip your toes in the water. Take a Brompton bicycle too – there are now some great cycle lanes the length and breadth of the city.
What’s the first thing you do?
I love to go for a stroll along the Undercliff Walk which goes right the way along from the Brighton Marina (01273 693636; www.brightonmarina.co.uk) to the Black Rock area. I love walking there in the winter on a stormy day when the tide is literally smashing over the breakwater; it’s just so incredibly atmospheric. I also love going down to Brighton Pier (www.brightonpier.co.uk) which I still think boasts the best fish and chip shop I know anywhere in the world. The views from the pier are fabulous too – I have fond memories of going fishing at the end of the pier as a boy.
What’s the best place to stay?
As much as I like The Grand Hotel (0118 971 4700; www.grandhotelbrighton.info), I’d recommend the Hotel du Vin (08447 364 251; www.hotelduvin.com) which is absolutely gorgeous. I love the atmosphere of the place, and the rooms are beautifully decorated with a real attention to detail. They also serve terrific food in the restaurant downstairs.
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
I like to go to Bohemia (01273 777 770; www.bohemiabrighton.co.uk), which I reckon is the best bar by far in Brighton. It’s in the Lanes, has got various levels and boasts a trendy rooftop bar which is a great place for a glass of cool white wine in the summer.
Where is the best place for lunch?
I really like English’s (01273 327980; www.englishs.co.uk), an old traditional seafood restaurant with an outdoor dining area too. Whenever I eat there – I usually opt for the lobster salad – I feel like I’ve travelled back in time to a Graham Greene novel.
And for dinner?
There’s a very nice, very stylish restaurant at The Grand Hotel called GB1 which I can wholly recommend. It opened last year and everything I’ve ever eaten there, be it oysters or sole, has been terrific.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
Everyone one should go the Royal Pavilion (03000 290900; www.royalpavilion.org.uk) , with its extraordinary oriental appearance, and North Laine (www.northlaine.co.uk), with its funky artisan-style shops. The Old Police Cells Museum (01273 291052; www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk) is also well worth a visit – Brighton started life as a smuggling village and has a long criminal history – as is the Penny Slot Machine Museum. At certain times of the year, you can also take a tour of the sewers, which is absolutely fascinating.
What should I avoid?
If you’ve got any sense, you’ll stay away from the bit of London Road between the bottom of Trafalgar Street and St Peter’s Church, a rather grungy, dodgy sort of area.
What should I bring home?
There is a funky, quite unique tailor’s called Gresham Blake (01273 609 587; www.greshamblake.com) where you can pick up quirky cufflinks and other fun inexpensive gifts. You could also get some whelks or cockles down on the seafront. Last but not least, a stick of Brighton Rock.
Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?
Bucharest, which could have been the most stunning place if Nicolae Ceausescu [Romania’s former Communist dictator] hadn’t destroyed half of it, and if it didn’t have a mayor who is said to be corrupt. It could be an amazing place but not right now.
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- Peter James Newsletter August 2014
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- Peter James Newsletter July 2014
- Crime author Peter James meets fans (The Argus)