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Sudeshna Sarkar / 15 March 2014
Peter James has turned his killer instinct to perfect use, plotting a series of spine-tingling murders that have sold over 14 million copies. SUDESHNA SARKAR catches the man who gave the world
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace in the act
By his own admission Peter James would have probably remained a ham spy story writer if his house had not been burgled. But his house was broken into and when he reported the crime to police, a detective came home to investigate.
Nearly 30 years later, when James narrates this story to me, he forgets to include whether the stolen goods were ever recovered. Instead his conversation is about the wealth of wonderful things he gained from the experience — the friendship of the detective, the camaraderie of the local police officers whose lives he found to be far more fascinating than the three spy thrillers he had written till then, and the culmination of all this novel knowledge and insight into a new-found talent for writing whodunits which turned out to be bestsellers.
“Nobody sees more of human life in the course of his career than a cop,” he says, half musingly, half in admiration. “And of all the crimes that human beings commit, murder is the one crime for which there is no possible restitution.”
Treachery and murder has been part of human life since time immemorial and men have continued to be both fascinated and repelled by it. Think of Qabil in the Holy Quran who killed his brother Habil out of jealousy, or the betrayal of Jesus by Judas that led to the crucifixion.
“Look at Shakespeare,” James urges. “The stories of Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear and Titus Andronicus. Look at Sophocles’ Oedipus. That’s a crime novel.”
There’s something else too that James shares with Shakespeare. While the bard’s father was a glovemaker, so was James’ mother.
As he expounds the link on his web site: “My mother, Cornelia James, was Glovemaker to Her Majesty the Queen… The firm is today run by my sister, Genevieve and her husband, and still supplies the royal family, and there were plenty of our gloves on display during the recent jubilee. All those wonderful waves by Her Majesty on the boat on the Thames were in Cornelia James gloves!”
James’ crime fiction has given the world Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, the sleuth based on Dave Gaylor, the officer who investigated his burglary in the 80s, and now checks his manuscripts to ensure that there are no false notes. DS Roy Grace not only solves other people’s mysteries but nurses one in his own life as well, after coming home one day and finding his wife had vanished into thin air.
The other thing that adds zing to the Roy Grace books is the cunning use of the word “dead” in the title: From the debut novel Dead Simple to the ninth Dead Man’s Grip, to the newest one, Want You Dead, that will be released ceremoniously at a “big party in England” in June.
Besides the drama that he witnesses firsthand when he goes out with his police friends — to murder scenes, on drug busts and searches for missing persons — James also finds fodder for his plots in his own life. The eighth Roy Grace title, Not Dead Yet, was inspired by the fan who became obsessed with him. She flooded him with email, took his photographs with a long lens and began turning up at his public programmes with a chilling regularity.
Want You Dead is also about obsession. The idea came to him from a real-life incident he chanced upon during his trips with the police.
“It was a case of domestic abuse,” he explains. “It is about a man who became obsessed with a girl he had met through a dating agency. I take a lot of things that actually happened and then adapt them to the plot. Want You Dead is about the dynamics in a relationship, how people change. How men change and women blame themselves. Domestic abuse is much more serious than people think.”
Why do people love to read about blood and gore, even those who would never harm a fly?
The man who has made crime pay has given the matter a great deal of thought. “At the deepest psychological level, it is about what one can learn from this. What made a person behave the way he did? What made him kill his wife? What can I do to avoid that?
“At another level, human beings love puzzles. We love solving them and the unravelling of a crime fascinates us.
“At the third level, we all have a dark side to us. Even a few years ago people used to go to public hangings. We like reading about crime and murder in the safety of our own homes, in the company of our loved ones.”
Though James’ books have been published in 36 languages, sold over 14 million copies and been adapted for the stage as well as the screen, he has one little grouse.
“The writer is always at the bottom of the movie chain and business,” he says indignantly. “In 1993 I had three books adapted for the screen and was taken to the studio and introduced to the lead actor. He shook my hand as if I were a piece of dog turd.
“I thought to myself, you wouldn’t have been here but for me. Everything starts with the writer, somebody who puts a pen to a piece of paper. That is where it all begins.”
But last November, like the victims in his novels, James too had his just desert moment.
It was another adaptation of his books and he met Claire Goose, the British television actor who had a role in it.
“‘You must feel like God,’ she told me, ‘having created all this.’ Yeah, I thought. Finally somebody has got her priorities right!”
Guest post contributed by The Book People
If you're an eager bookworm, then the chances are you probably get through rather a lot of reading material. If that is the case, then why don't you put it to good use by telling the rest of the world just what you've been reading and what you thought of it? Book reviews offer a useful insight into whether or not a book is genuinely worth reading - so if you've read a book and you want to shout from the rooftops about or, alternatively, you want to advise people to avoid it like the plague, writing a review could be a very worthwhile activity. Here are just a few reasons why you might want to write a book review.
1) You've read a great book and you want people to know about it - as we've just mentioned, when you read an amazing book then the chances are you don't just want to keep it to yourself. You might feel, for instance, that the book hasn't received enough attention - or perhaps a fair hearing - from critics in the mainstream press. If you feel that strongly about it, then you can always set the record straight by writing a review of your own.
2) You've read a terrible book and want to warn others - it's also true that those of us who are resolute readers have probably encountered more than our fair share of awful books over the years. It might be a good idea, therefore, to write a review so you can warn others to avoid making the mistake you did by reading a particular book. Again, perhaps your opinion is at odds with that of mainstream critics - and thanks to blogs and social media, it's easier than ever for you to at least try to redress the balance a bit.
3) You want to boost an author's profile - it may be that you feel you've discovered an individual author whose output hasn't been getting the attention it merits from mainstream critics. Writing your own reviews therefore gives you the opportunity to promote that author, although there are a few caveats you should bear in mind. For one thing, you should remain strictly impartial, prepared to acknowledge any flaws you find in an author's work as well as their strengths. Furthermore, you should also avoid reviewing books by authors you know personally, as you may find it hard to be objective in your assessments.
4) You want to work on your own writing skills - analysing, reviewing and critiquing books is a skill in its own right, and the best way to hone this particular skill is through practice. It's worth remembering, of course, that planning your review in advance can be very useful in this regard. List a few key criticisms of the book and build your review around them. This should help you to ensure that your review is clear and concise - because if it isn't, you're likely to find that nobody will bother to read it through to the end.
5) You want to hone your reading comprehension - it's probably fair to say that even the most dedicated readers often find themselves skimming through books from time to time. Reading a book with the intention of reviewing it may therefore encourage paying a little extra attention, meaning that you get more out of the book than you would have done otherwise.
Post contributed by Rachael Pegram and Tom Blackburn in collaboration with The Book People
Best-selling author Peter James might need to call his latest work Dead Funny after releasing a photo of himself with pants on his head.
The Brighton writer has been in hospital in London for surgery on Carpal Tunnel syndrome on his wrist.
The injury is thought to have been caused by his prolific writing.
The author thanked his fans, who had sent him messages of support, by releasing the photo – complete with pants on his head.
He posted on his Facebook page: “I thought you’d like to see this pic of me this morning, pre-op!
“I didn’t realise these were underpants – I thought it was a hygienic hat I was supposed to wear – the nurses were very amused.”
Labels: article, blog
Hall of Fame Winners 2013:
Martin Ellis getting booked for speeding, in style, in Charles Pic's F1 car! He need something to read in case he gets bored whizzing around the circuits... (from Martin Ellis)
An authentic crime novel - blood and all (from Tracey Thomas)
Solving crimes are a piece of cake for Pam Walker…Happy Birthday! (from Stuart Walker)
Congratulations, you have each won a signed original 2010 copy of the Peter James novella - The Perfect Murder - which is currently touring the UK as a stage play starring Les Dennis and Claire Goose. Please contact email@example.com with your postal address.
Facebook New Year's Resolution winners:
They each win a signed copy of Peter's newly re-released first novel, Dead Letter Drop. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your postal address.
First prize chosen on the limerick tie -breaker goes to Anne Curtler of St Ives, Cambs. She wins an invitation for two to the launch in early summer in Brighton of Peter's tenth Roy Grace novel, Want You Dead plus a signed copy of the book. The winner is to be responsible for any travel and accommodation costs they may incur.
Second prize goes to Nicky Stevens of Ryde, Isle of Wight who wins a signed copy of Want You Dead on publication as does the third prize winner, Hilary Whipp of Cambridge.
The best limerick prize of two tickets to see Peter's stage play The Perfect Murder at a venue of their choice goes to Tony Cohen of Worthing.
The special draw prize for two tickets for The Perfect Murder at a venue of their choice goes to Helen Read of Romford.
Congratulations from Peter and Ken and Team Roy Grace. Would the winners please contact Peter's PA with their postal address and, if appropriate, their choice of venue and date to see the play. Tickets are selling amazingly fast so a second and third date choice would be most helpful. email@example.com.
Here is the link to the quiz with answers: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/27323799/Xmas%20Quiz%202013%20With%20Answers.doc
Labels: article, blog
He's sold 14m 'DS Roy Grace' books (with their iconic 'Dead' titles). Now Peter James is preparing a seasonal thriller...specially for MoS readers.
Peter James: The Books Interview.
Bestselling British crime novelist Peter James is holding court. 'I'm a stickler for accuracy,' he says. 'A lot of writers say accuracy doesn't matter. But, besides entertainment, people want to learn about human nature and the world. If you feel you're not in safe hands, you lose that confidence in an author.'
Clearly readers believe that James knows his subject, as he has sold more than five million copies of his crime novels in the UK - and some 14 million worldwide, as well as producing films with stars such as Al Pacino.
He is best known for his character Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, in what is one of the world's most popular detective series, translated into 36 languages. The ninth and latest Grace novel, Dead Man's Time - about the antiques world at its shadiest and set in Brighton - topped paperback charts last month.
Despite being at an age when most people are slowing down, James, 65, regularly puts his own life in danger in the pursuit of realism for his books. He joins the police almost every week on real raids and investigations, coming face to face with burglars, drug dealers and traffickers - from whom he moulds his fictional characters.
He recalls going to a tough area of Brighton, his home town, in the early hours: 'I was with a young sergeant and a very young, inexperienced Indian woman police officer. Ten yobs with bottles and cans were walking down the street, screaming racist insults at her. I could see this was turning really ugly. Back-up can take 20 minutes at that time of night and that location.
'I could see them squaring up for a fight. I'm thinking, "Do I run or get back in the car?" I thought the only way I could keep face was to get stuck in. I did box at school. I looked for the smallest one. "If it comes to that, I'll hit him first." Then one of them suddenly points at me and says, "Who's he?" I had my hand in my pocket. Quick as a flash, the sergeant says, "He's with the FBI." Silence. They all just put their hands in the air and handed over their bottles. They thought I had a gun on me.'
DS Grace is modelled on a recently retired detective, Dave Gaylor, who checks James's manuscripts for accuracy. The fictional character is so believable that some fans assume he is real, asking James to pass letters to him, hoping he can solve their problems. 'I even got love letters for him', he says.
Being in the public eye has drawbacks, though. James was stalked by a fan for years. She would turn up to talks and book signings, emailing repeatedly and creating a shrine to James in her home, complete with candles, newspaper cuttings and long-lens photographs of him. The woman inspired a plotline about obsession in Not Dead Yet, the eighth Grace book.
James and Grace have done for Brighton what Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse did for Oxford. The stories are full of twists and turns, like Brighton's old alleys - but the characters are more unsavoury than Dexter's, leading one Dutch reader to write to James for reassurance that Brighton was not too dangerous for a visit.
Now James is turning his talents to the stage and screen. His 2010 novella - The Perfect Murder, a darkly humorous story about a murderous married couple - has been adapted for the stage as a 'modern Agatha Christie' thriller, with a cast headed by Les Dennis. It will be the first in a series of annual plays based on one of his books and tells of a man planning to kill his wife, with-out realising that she's also targeting him. Its title was inspired by asking a chief constable whether a perfect murder does exist. The reply: 'Absolutely. It's the one you never hear about.'
James is now single, having been married for 19 years, then with a partner for 15. 'People change,' he says, 'and if you don't change together and don't have children, which bind many relationships together, it is easy to drift apart. An author's life looks glamorous, but it is very hard living with one. I lock myself away day and night.'
He writes between 6pm and 10pm, sitting at the computer with a vodka martini, some olives and jazz or opera playing. 'It's a ritual,' he says. He touch-types, thanks to his 'best-ever' present when he was 17: 'My dad got me a little portable typewriter, and this big battleaxe taught me to touch-type, standing over me and covering the keypad. If I looked down, she's hit me with the ruler on the knuckles. Terrifying. But I can type really fast.
His mother was glovemaker to the Queen and his father an accountant. Educated at Charterhouse in Surrey, where he failed his A-levels, distracted by 'girls, poker and cigarettes', he did odd jobs (including cleaning Orson Welles's house) to pay for film school. He worked as a children's television writer before becoming a producer.
He jokes that critic Barry Norman dismissed one of his earliest attempts - Spanish Fly, with Terry-Thomas - as the worst British comedy since 1945: 'I've still got his review framed. Probably about right.' But he proved himself with productions such as The Merchant Of Venice, starring Al Pacino.
A chance encounter galvanised his writing. In 1981 a detective came to his home after a burglary. Spotting a James novel, he offered to help on research. A close friendship ensued. 'Nobody's seen more of the world than a cop.'