In con­ver­sa­tion with

the best­selling crime au­thor talks to Fanny Blake about his new novel, Need You Dead, his love of rac­ing cars and his real-life re­search with the po­lice

Woman & Home - - Editor's Letter -

Peter James, the best­selling crime au­thor

“I wrote a com­edy that did so badly, I de­cided to turn back to nov­els”

Peter lives with his wife, Lara, near Brighton and in Lon­don’s Not­ting Hill. They have three dogs, five al­pacas, three emus plus hens and In­dian run­ner ducks. Peter has writ­ten 30 nov­els, in­clud­ing 13 in the in­ter­na­tional su­per­selling DS Roy Grace se­ries.

My mum, Cor­nelia James, was the Queen’s glove maker. She was a refugee from Vi­enna, study­ing fash­ion de­sign be­fore the war. Af­ter­wards, in 1945, there were no brightly coloured clothes avail­able so she dyed a range of gloves in 100 shades. Vogue called her the “Colour Queen of eng­land”. Hardy Amies asked her to make Princess el­iz­a­beth’s go­ing-away gloves in 1947. that shot her to star­dom. when mum’s busi­ness took off, my fa­ther, a char­tered ac­coun­tant, joined up with her. My sis­ter, Genevieve, and her hus­band run the busi­ness to­day. As a child I was em­bar­rassed hav­ing a mother who was such a well-known fig­ure. My par­ents trav­elled con­stantly and we had a live-in cook, a maid and a full-time nanny. i wished i could be like other kids; it was a lonely child­hood. i found so­lace in reading. Later, i be­came im­mensely proud of her and we be­came good mates for the last 20 years of her life.

Right from the ear­li­est I can re­mem­ber, I wanted to do three things: write books, make films and race cars. Books were a big in­flu­ence on me, and i was ob­sessed with cars from the age of two, when i fell out of my dad’s car. I started en­ter­ing writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions when I was about seven. i won sev­eral prizes dur­ing my school years and then, at 19, i wrote my first novel, which, luck­ily, didn’t get pub­lished. nei­ther did the next two!

After film school I went to Toronto and got a job as a run­ner on a daily pro­gramme for chil­dren. i ended up writ­ing for them. that was my real start­ing point. then i got in­volved in pro­duc­ing hor­ror films – un­til i wrote and pro­duced a com­edy that did so badly, i de­cided to turn back to nov­els!

I wrote a spy thriller called Dead Letter Drop. That got me an agent and, to my amaze­ment, a pub­lisher. then i met the novelist el­iz­a­beth

Buchan, who said if i wanted to be suc­cess­ful, i should write about some­thing i felt pas­sion­ately about. i went away chas­tened.

When my wife and I got bur­gled, a young de­tec­tive came to the house. He saw my early books and of­fered to help me with re­search. we be­came friends, and i got to know his col­leagues and found them ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing. no­body sees more of hu­man life in a 30-year ca­reer than a po­lice of­fi­cer.

I started writ­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers such as Twi­light and Posses­sion. In so do­ing, I was spend­ing more and more time with the po­lice. i was in­tro­duced to dave Gay­lor, a homi­cide de­tec­tive who has worked with me ever since on all the roy Grace thrillers. each time, i get a new mole­skin notebook, we go to a par­tic­u­lar ta­ble at a lo­cal pub and sit down to talk through the plot. i go away and write the first 100 pages, he reads them and tells me how roy Grace would think and act in real life.

Al­though there’s a lot of me in Roy Grace, I don’t know that I would be brave enough to be a po­lice­man. i ask ev­ery cop­per i meet if they’ve ever had to put their life on the line dur­ing their ca­reer. i can count on the fingers of one hand the num­ber who have said “no”.

My 13th Roy Grace novel, Need You Dead, is about a woman hair­dresser in an abu­sive mar­riage. Her se­cret lover has promised they will start a new life to­gether. But a chance pho­to­graph on a client’s mo­bile changes all that. when her body is found in a bath in a flat on Hove seafront, dS roy Grace is called in to in­ves­ti­gate and that’s when it all kicks off.

One of its in­spi­ra­tions came from lis­ten­ing in to a po­lice call han­dler in San Fran­cisco. A call came in from a terrified woman say­ing her ex was try­ing to break into the house. She was locked in the bed­room, but we could hear the ham­mer­ing. She was scream­ing, then we heard the door be­ing kicked in and “blam, blam, blam” – she was shot dead. After that, i wanted to write some­thing around such a mo­ment of ter­ror.

An­other was go­ing with the po­lice to visit a woman who had been as­saulted by her live-in lover. She said that she couldn’t leave him be­cause he was the only one who knew how to look after the trop­i­cal fish! when we were leav­ing, the fe­male of­fi­cer told me what a ter­ri­fy­ing num­ber of peo­ple are bro­ken by their part­ner in a do­mes­tic-abuse sit­u­a­tion. they have no sense of self-worth and feel that if they end the re­la­tion­ship, they’ll be on their own for the rest of their lives, so they’ll put up with any­thing just to stay.

All the Roy Grace books are set in Brighton. When I was a kid grow­ing up there, it was a seedy, slightly dan­ger­ous place. that has a lot go­ing for it if you’re a crime writer. it’s the only place in the uK where a serv­ing chief con­sta­ble was mur­dered in of­fice. three chief con­sta­bles have told me that it’s the favourite place to live in the uK for first di­vi­sion crim­i­nals, and in 1932 it was called the crime cap­i­tal of the uK and the mur­der cap­i­tal of europe.

The most fright­en­ing thing I’ve done in the name of re­search was be­ing nailed up in a cof­fin. i asked a lo­cal fu­neral di­rec­tor if he could put me in a cof­fin, screw the lid down and leave me there for 30 min­utes so i would re­ally have the sense of be­ing trapped. i heard the screws go in and i lay there think­ing, “what if he goes out to get a cof­fee and gets hit by a car?” that was the long­est 30 min­utes of my life. My big­gest re­lax­ation is my mad pas­sion for mo­tor rac­ing. i own three clas­sic race cars and com­pete in about half a dozen clas­sic car mo­tor races a year. do­ing any other sport, i still think about the book i’m work­ing on but when i’m rac­ing, do­ing 130 miles an hour down the Han­gar Straight at Sil­ver­stone, i have to con­cen­trate on what i’m do­ing. then i come back from a week­end’s mo­tor rac­ing com­pletely re­freshed.

Lara and I first met on a ski lift in Courchevel. Some months later, she in­vited me to a ski­ing re­u­nion. we were both newly sin­gle and that was it. we got mar­ried two years later in 2015, with cel­e­bra­tions in France and eng­land. My long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor dave Gay­lor was my best man.

I have al­ways loved an­i­mals.

As a child I had all kinds of pets, and Lara shares my love of an­i­mals. we de­cided to build up a menagerie of an­i­mals that in­ter­ested us. they are a very con­ve­nient sub­sti­tute for chil­dren be­cause we can ac­tu­ally park them and some­body can look after them if we go away!

The most ro­man­tic thing I’ve done was to sur­prise Lara on her birth­day with her favourite car – a clas­sic

80s Mercedes 500SL – an open-top two-seater. i put it in the garage with a huge rib­bon all around it and a bou­quet of flow­ers on the bon­net. when i opened the garage door, she cried.

need You dead (Macmil­lan) is out now. w&h

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