Peter's Blog

Keep up-to-date with Peter’s regularly-updated Blog  

WHSmith Exclusive Interview with Peter James

Having sold over 15 million copies of his Roy Grace novels worldwide, several of which went straight to #1 on the Sunday Times Bestseller list, it’s safe to say that Peter James is one of the most successful and well-loved crime thriller writers in the UK. As well as winning multiple literary awards in both the UK and US, Peter has also been chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and has been awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of his services to literature and the community by the University of Brighton.

 With the paperback for the tenth Roy Grace novel – Want You Dead- out on the 23rd October, and his collection of short stories – A Twist of the Knife – out November 6th, Peter is certainly busy at the moment. We were lucky enough to spend an hour with the man himself to ask a few exclusive questions about his new book, his experiences writing and researching and what he’s got coming up in the New Year.

  View the full interview


Tales of the unexorcised (Sunday Express)

Do ghosts exist? Bestselling author Peter James thinks so having seen one. As we approach Halloween he tells the tale of spooky sightings in his home.

I have a dentist friend whose family was regularly chased along a corridor of their house by an angry female ghost and only recently a neighbour had all his colognes and aftershave bottles smashed in his bath by an angry spectral resident from centuries back who did not approve of alterations he had made to the house.

I have lived in two haunted houses and it is not a question for me of whether ghosts exist but what they actually are.

Is there such a thing as an active, sentient ghost like Hamlet’s father, encouraging his son to take revenge?

Or are they merely passive imprints, the energy of dead souls that has somehow remained trapped in a room or a corridor that certain psychic people are occasionally able to see?

In 1989 my then wife and I bought a historic house in Sussex that had once been a monastery.

“You’ll like this place, with what you write,” the owner told me mischievously.

“We have three ghosts.”

He was fibbing.

The house had four.

The first manifested while we were moving in.

I was standing in the porch with my mother-in-law, a down-to-earth magistrate.

I suddenly saw a shadow, like the flit of a bird across a fanlight, in the interior of the house.

“Did you see that?” she asked.

Despite the warmth of the sunlight I felt a sudden chill.

I knew she had seen something uncanny but I did not want to spook my wife on our very first day in this house.

So I shook my head and told her I had not seen anything.

In truth, I was feeling a little spooked.

In the morning my wife left for work and at 10.30am I took a break from writing to go downstairs for a cup of coffee.

On my way through to the kitchen I saw tiny pinpricks of white light all around me.

My reaction was that it was sunlight reflecting off my glasses.

However when I went downstairs for lunch the same thing happened and I was left with a slightly uneasy feeling.

In the afternoon, when I went downstairs to make a mug of tea, it happened again.

The next day it happened twice.

After lunch I took the dog for a walk and we had only gone a short distance along the lane when an elderly man came up to me.

“You are Mr James, aren’t you?” he asked.

“You’ve just moved into the Manor?”

“Yes, two days ago,” I replied.

“How are you getting on with your grey lady?” he asked, with a strange, quizzical look that unsettled me.

I suddenly saw a shadow, like the flit of a bird across a fanlight, in the interior of the house

“What ‘grey lady’?” I asked.

“I was the house sitter for the previous owners,” he explained.

“Six years ago I was sitting in the snug watching television when a sinister-looking woman, her face grey and wearing a grey, silk crinoline dress, materialised out of the altar wall, swept across the room, gave me a malevolent stare, gave my face a flick with her dress, and vanished into the panelling behind me.

"I was out of there 30 seconds later and went back in the morning to collect my things.

"Wild horses wouldn’t drag me back into that house.”

I was struck both by the sincerity of the man and his genuine fear which I could see in his eyes as he told the story.

It made the hairs on the back of my neck rise.

The following Sunday, at a family lunch, I took my mother-in-law aside and asked her what exactly she had seen when we were moving in.

She described a woman, with a grey face, dressed in a grey silk crinoline, moving across the atrium.

Many years ago I became friends with Dominic Walker who for a long time was Chief Exorcist of the Church of England (or Chief Minister Of Deliverance as he was officially titled).

He investigated paranormal occurrences to find rational explanations.

I asked if anything he had come across convinced him of the existence of ghosts.

His stories chilled me to the bone.

Those stories and my own experiences inspired me to write my new volume of short stories, A Twist Of The Knife.

As a postscript I should add something of the house’s history.

For much of the 20th century it was owned by the Stobart family, the most famous member of which, Tom Stobart OBE, photographer, zoologist and author, was the cameraman who climbed Everest with Hillary.

One member of his family was, reputedly, a strange lady who subjected Tom’s sister Anne to such cruelty as a child she was never able to form normal relationships.

Anne, whom we befriended in the years before she died, told us that this relative used to strap her hands to the side of the bed when she was a child to prevent her, should she be tempted, from touching herself.

Was she the grey lady in the atrium?


BooksLive Q&A: Ten Questions with Peter James

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!


Writers Write Interview with Peter James

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.


Category Select

Blog Articles Interviews