I’m delighted to be able to welcome Peter James to the blog. Author of the Roy Grace series of detective thriller novels as well as stand alone books such as Alchemist, Perfect People, and Host. Peter has sold millions of copies of his books and has had them translated into 36 different languages. When he’s not writing, Peter enjoys skiing, tennis and motor racing. Thank you for agreeing to take part today Peter, let’s begin the interview.
You say that everything changes when you read. What was the first book you read as a child that changed something for you?
When I was 14 I read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and this book totally changed my life. It is quite simply the book that made me realize I wanted to be a writer, the first time I read it, as a teenager. It is also the inspiration behind my setting the Roy Grace series in Brighton. This timeless novel is both a thriller and a crime novel, although police play a small part and the story is almost entirely told through the eyes of the villains and two women who believe they can redeem them. Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, that makes you feel you know them inside out and have probably met them, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable. It is for me an almost perfect novel. It has one of the most grabbing opening lines ever written (Hale knew, within thirty minutes of arriving in Brighton, that they meant to kill him.”), and one of the finest last lines – very clever, very tantalizing and very, very “noir” – yet apt. Green captures so vividly the dark, criminal underbelly of Brighton and Hove, as relevant now as when the book was first written, and the characters are wonderful, deeply human, deeply flawed and tragic. And yet, far more than being just an incredibly tense thriller, Greene uses the novel to explore big themes of religious faith, love and honour.” And additionally, a bonus, It is also unique for being one of the few novels where the film adaptation is so good it complements rather than reduces the book. But it is not just Brighton Rock – I learn so much from Green’s writing. I don’t think any writer before or after him has been able to create such vivid characters with so few words and description.
You were there at the beginning of the digital age of books. What do you think of how the industry has grown since then?
In 1994 my novel Host became the first ever electronic novel and I was pilloried around the world, accused of killing the novel! I do think that as e-books become cheaper they will become even more popular, but personally, I still love the smell and touch of printed books and they will be around for our lifetimes and way beyond. There has been a lot of fear about ebooks, and there is of course justification in this because of the fear of piracy and the terrible damage done to the record industry, but I think this is different with books and the culture is different. Many people, for the foreseeable future will continue to read printed books. But for others it has opened up huge new potential for reading. For instance one of my fans was a soldier out in Afghanistan. Thanks to his Kindle he could take dozens of books with him out on operations in the desert, which he could never have done before as he could not have physically carried them. I have many elderly fans who like the fact they can increase the font size on their ebooks. And I have had dozens of emails from fans who have bought my recent novels electronically, but who tell me they have also bought the hardcover version to have on their bookshelves as collector items. Personally, although I have almost all of the e-reader gadgets, in general I much prefer to hold a printed book in my hand.
On your website you discuss living in haunted properties. Does any one instance stand out above all others and conclusively prove to you the existence of ghosts? Yes, The House On Cold Hill is very much inspired by – and modeled on – an isolated historic house in Sussex that my former wife and I bought in 1989, and lived in for a decade – which turned out to be very seriously haunted. Whilst I have never actually seen a ghost, there were things that happened at that house I really couldn’t explain. I saw on many occasions, tiny pinpricks of white light floating in the air. A medium who I used a lot during my writing of Possession, visited my house and she told me I was slightly psychic, and that is why I saw these pinpricks, and that while I was not actually seeing the entire apparition, I was picking up on some of its energy.
What would Roy Grace’s opinions of working with psychics be? Is he open to the idea or sceptical?
A key aspect to Roy Grace’s character is his open-minded attitude to the paranormal. This is not just in his searching for his missing wife, Sandy, but his willingness to turn to the occult when desperate on a case. I have come to realize that being open-minded to absolutely everything is a key asset for an effective homicide detective. The use of mediums by police in the USA is far more openly commonplace than it is here – but I have met many UK police officers, at all levels from Chief Constables down, who are more than prepared to talk to any sensible medium who claims to have information. As one said to me: “If I am in a desperate situation and all else has failed, I would be derelict in my duties if I failed to listen to a medium who claimed to have information.”
Which do you prefer writing the most, antagonists or protagonists and why?
I enjoy writing both equally and it is always fun to create a convincing villain.
You’ve achieved a lot with your writing but are there are any milestones or targets you still want to reach?
I have two big, unrequited ambitions. The first is to be No 1 simultaneously on the UK Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller lists in the same week. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is getting closer….! The second is to win a major motor race. I race classic cars – currently a 1965 BMW, a 1958 Austin A35, and a 1958 Fiat Abarth Evocation – and my dream would be to win a race either in the Goodwood Revival or the Silverstone Classic. My wife, Lara has recently got her race licence and we have started racing together, and we came third on class in our first race, this year. Maybe dreams can come true….
Your novel The Alchemist left a lasting impression on me. Are there any novels that have done the same to you?
I have literally just finished re-reading ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ by Thomas Harris. I rate this book, along with Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’, as one of the two greatest crime novels ever written. Harris’ prose is quite startling in its clarity, he uses very clever and very subtle sense changes but most of all his characterisation is sheer genius! Not only is Hannibal Lecter an utterly charming, utterly monstrous human being, each one of the secondary characters is every bit as well portrayed right down to the spoilt bitch of the Senators daughter! This book was the game changer for the crime novel. Up until The Silence Of The Lambs we tended to see good versus evil, but here in this book we have bad versus evil.
Finally, what piece of advice would you give someone who is just starting out as an author?
The best possible advice I can give to any wannabe writer is to read, read, read and analyse, and write, write, write. Writing is a craft, and any craft is improved with practice. But most importantly is to read the most successful of the kind of works you would yourself like to write: So if you want to be, for instance, a crime thriller writer, read the blockbusters of the past fifty years. Analyse them, literally deconstruct them and try to figure out what made them so popular. This is what I did when I started out. I took the books I most admired, the ones I most wished I had written, and literally read them until I knew them inside out.
Thank you again Peter for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you want to find out more about Peter and his books then head over to his Blog: http://www.peterjames.com/books
You Tube: www.peterjames.com/YouTube
As always, thank you for reading,
All the best,