Peter James is the #1 international bestselling author of the Roy Grace thriller series. Before writing full time, James lived in the U.S. for a number of years, producing films including The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes.
A TV adaptation of the Roy Grace series is currently in development, with James overseeing all aspects, including scriptwriting.
James’ novella ‘The Perfect Murder’, had its world stage premiere in 2014, and his first Roy Grace novel ‘Dead Simple’ has now been adapted for stage, and will tour the UK in 2015. In 1994, in addition to conventional print publishing, James’ novel ‘Host’ was published on two floppy discs and is now in the Science Museum as the world’s first electronic novel. Famed for his in-depth research, in 2009 James was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Brighton in recognition of his services to literature and the community, and in 2013 he was awarded an Outstanding Public Service Award by Sussex Police with whom he rides along regularly. He has also been out many times with the NYPD and the LAPD in the US and with many other police forces around the worlds, as well as doing extensive research with offenders in prisons and psychiatric institutions.
He has served as two-times Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and is a board member of the US International Thriller Writers. He has won numerous literary awards, including the publicly voted ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards People’s Bestseller Dagger in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize for Perfect People in 2012. James’ novels have been translated into thirty-six languages and three have been turned into films. All of his novels reflect a deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in–depth research and has unprecedented access, as well as science, medicine and the paranormal. A speed junkie, who in his teens was selected to train for the British Olympic Ski Team, he holds an international motor racing licence and switches off from work by racing his classic 1965 BMW.
Soaring into heaven moment
That moment came on a Tuesday morning in October, 2012, in a room at the Intercontinental hotel in Toronto, Canada, when I got a call from my wonderful editor, Wayne Brookes at my publishers, Pan Macmillan. He was whooping with joy down the phone, telling me that my 8th Roy Grace novel, Not Dead Yet, had that just knocked Fifty Shades Of Grey off the top of the bestseller list! I was already on the thirtieth floor of that hotel, but I soared through the roof and through the clouds, with joy! And that joy has never totally faded. Even today, two years on, I still get introduced as ‘That guy who knocked Fifty Shades Of Grey off the top of the bestseller list!
That infernal fire time
The years of rejection letters as an unpublished author. It was as if there was a wall – like a Berlin wall – on one side of which were the publishers and the published authors, and on the other side were all those desperate to be published authors – and never the twain should meet. I became hugely despondent in my mid-twenties, really believing that the dream I’d held since the age of eight, of being a published author, would never come true. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be any good at writing novels, that I just did not have what it took.
The purgatory point
It may surprise a lot of people, but whilst one of the greatest days of my life was the day my agent rang me, back in 1980, to tell me that my first novel, Dead Letter Drop, had been accepted by a publisher, one of the very worst days was the day, 18 months later, that it was first published! First I bought every newspaper and scanned each for a review. No reviews. Then I went out, racing around first Brighton, looking in every bookstore for the display of my book. No book to be seen, in any bookshop, neither in Brighton, nor London, nor, from reports of friends and family around the country, in any other bookstore, either. For my second novel, Atom Bomb Angel, I hired a publicist in the hope of changing everything. His fee was my entire advance, of £2,000. He arranged an amazing three week book promo tour, in which I did virtually every radio station, every newspaper and every television station in the entire UK. But still there were no books to be seen, except in about five stores !
The reason, I learned later, was that my publishers only printed a run of 1,800 copies of the hardback, of which around 1,750 were pre-sold to libraries! It was a salutatory lesson – I learned that a bestseller is not made in the bookstores, in the first instance, it is made in-house by the publisher. They decide on the print run, the advertising and marketing spend and whether your book gets displayed well in the major stores depends entirely on how much your publisher is prepared to pay. Boy, do I make them pay these days !
Years, drafts and words thereafter, would you do this differently and again?
Woody Allen once said, “If I could live my life over again, I’d do everything exactly the same except I wouldn’t have gone to see the film of The Magus”.The late, great Peter Cook said, “I’ve made lots of mistakes in my life, and I could repeat them all exactly.” Life has to be lived forwards, yet perversely it can only be understood in reverse. I think all of us are the sum of our parts, so I would have to question whether, if I went back into the past and changed anything, I would be lucky enough to be so successful over again. Writing is a craft, no different at certain levels to other crafts, where practice does truly make perfect. A wannabe carpenter’s tenth table is going to be better than his first, because practice does make perfect – or at least less bad! My first novel was actually my fourth – I had written three novels in my late teens and early twenties which, luckily, never got published, before my fourth. But I was to write a further four before I finally achieved my ambition, to make the best-sellers list Top 10 – and exceeded it by reaching No 1. Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would do anything different. Instant success can be a dangerous thing. I’ve seen so many writers get a massively hyped first novel, and then struggle for the rest of their careers to match it – and rarely do. I am very happy with my lot – an overnight bestseller who took 31 years to get there!
What does Peter James the writer
Fear the most?
I’m scared of heights, and I am deeply claustrophobic – that claustrophobia helped a lot in writing my first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple, in which one of the characters is buried alive in a coffin in remote woods after a stag night prank goes wrong, with everyone who knows where he is – bar one person – dead in a car wreck. And that one person has a very good reason to keep quiet. I had myself put into a coffin, and the lid screwed down, for thirty minutes, as part of my research. It was the most terrifying thirty minutes of my life!
Desire the most?
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 – and my dream would be to win a race either in the Goodwood Revival or the Silverstone Classic. My team mate and I got 2nd in Class at the Silverstone Classic this year. Dreams can come true.
Hate the most?
One of my biggest hates is rudeness. I always say it takes the same amount of effort to be rude to someone as it does to be polite to them. You get so much more out of people by being polite, and it makes the world a nicer place. Why do people need to be rud e? I also hate mosquitoes. If I ever got to interview God, my first question would be why He made mosquitoes.