Your name: Peter James
Tell us about yourself: I was born and brought up in Brighton and I now have homes in Notting Hill in London and near Brighton in Sussex. Before I became a full time novelist I worked in film – both as a producer and screenwriter.
Tell us about your latest book: You Are Dead is about Brighton’s first serial killer in 80 years – which presents a totally new challenge for Roy Grace as there is no past experience in the county to call on. In this instance the serial killer is targeting women of a certain appearance and age – as many real life serial killers have done so in the past.
When did you start writing? I wrote my first novel when I was 18. I had written three novels in total by the time I was 22 – luckily none of them have been published but they got me an agent!
Where do you write? I write in my office in Sussex and my flat in London. Over the years I’ve learnt to write anywhere – in the back of taxis, hotel rooms even on an aeroplane. In fact I finished my last novel on a plane to Singapore!
Which other authors do you admire? My favourite author is Graham Greene. He is the writer who made me want to write. I read Brighton Rock when I was 14. When I’d put it down I thought: I want to write a crime thriller set in Brighton which is 10% as good as this. I’m also a big fan of Patricia Highsmith – I’m actually on a panel discussing her work at the Harrogate Crime Festival this year. In terms of modern writers I’d say Michael Connelly because I’m a stickler for research and Michael, who used to be a court reporter, always gets his research right.
Book you wished you’d written? Brighton Rock. And Silence of the Lambs. Both, in their own ways, changed the crime novel. Brighton Rock because it broke all the UK traditions of a dead body in the first chapter, and Silence Of The Lambs which broke the tradition of good versus evil by introducing the element of bad versus evil…
Greatest fictional criminal mastermind: Gary Soneji, in the early James Patterson novels is the most evil and cleverest of all fictional characters. He’s a brilliant creation.
Greatest crime or criminal from the real world: For my latest book I did a lot of research into serial killers and the most intriguing, to me, is Ted Bundy. He worked as a lawyer for the Republican Party, he was charismatic, good looking, highly intelligent and he killed 106 female colleague students. Even when he was in the dock, a female witness got confused and mistook him as the defence attorney.
Greatest fictional detective: Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle invented modern forensics and placed the modern detective on the literary map.
What scares you? I am claustrophobic. For the first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple – the play of which is currently on tour – a central character is buried alive in a coffin after a Stag Night party goes horribly wrong. Part of my research method involves fully experiencing what my characters will – short of actually dying! For Dead Simple I went into a funeral parlour and asked them to put me in a coffin for half an hour and screw the lid down so I couldn’t get out. It was a family run place and they left their doddery old grandpa to take the top off. Being in that coffin was like a worst nightmare come true and I started to worry that this old man wouldn’t drop down dead before he could let me out.
Are you ever disturbed by your own imagination? Yes. I often think that, knowing what I know, I could commit the perfect murder. I don’t think I ever would commit murder because I couldn’t live with my conscience, but I also I believe everyone has a darker side. When I’m planning the killing of a story I have to put myself in the mind of the murderer and try to justify their actions to themselves – which is dark area to explore. During my research I’ve met several murderers and mass murderers, in and out of jail, an experience which is both intriguing and scary. I recently met Paul Teed who murdered his father, stepmother and 10 year old stepbrother in Brighton in 1985, after he was released. What fascinates crime readers and writers is examining the different between us and that human being capable of killing another.
3 crime books you would recommend to EVERYONE
Do you listen to music when you write? Yes in the evenings. I do my best writing between 6 and 10pm when I sit down with a stiff drink and some music. I begin listening to modern music – The Kinks, Van Morrison – and then move on to classical music –opera- as the evening progresses.