Peter James

Writer Paul Moore on the Crime Writer who inspires him.

Due to ill health and boredom I started writing children’s stories about five years ago; my kids loved them, which was great, but I needed a bigger challenge. Then one day in a charity shop I came across an author called Peter James and his book intrigued me; a picture of Brighton Pier and the word ‘murder’ and the book was sold. It was the best fifty pence I’ve ever spent.

Just two days and four hundred plus pages later I had finished reading one of the best books I’d ever had the pleasure to read. There was one point where a character was trapped in a coffin and so good was the description that at the end of the page I had to breathe in and out properly as if I was in there myself. It was the inspiration I needed and although I’ve yet to be published I write everyday.

So how did Peter James get into crime writing and become such a success? His story is a double edged sword, as you will read in the following extract from his website:

What got me started was when I got burgled just after my first-ever book had come out, 30 years ago, which was a really bad spy thriller! A young detective came to the house and he pointed at my book and said if you ever want any research work get in touch, and he gave me his card. My wife and I went on to become friends with him and his wife, who was also a detective. We started to meet their friends and realized that almost all of them were other police officers and that it was a very inclusive world.
Once they got to know and trust me, they started inviting me to go on patrol with them and then to increasingly adventurous things, such as crime scenes. A single day can include attending at a cot death, sorting out a domestic fight and dealing with the victims of a major crime. I started to realize that nobody sees more of human life than the police. So I thought that if you actually want to understand human life there is no better way of doing it than through a crime novel.
I am currently the chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and I really fight the corner for the crime fiction market because many people don’t think we write serious literature. My argument for that is that William Shakespeare wrote plays because in those days people didn’t read books. Most people didn’t read, or if they did they couldn’t afford books, so if you wanted to communicate through writing you wrote a play. Over half his plays have a courtroom scene. I think if Shakespeare was writing today, he would be writing crime fiction because it allows you to explore so many of the big themes which dominate our lives. Certainly King Lear, Hamlet, Richard III, Othello and Macbeth would be on the crime fiction shelves today!’

He makes good points. Crime is a window into the world. And of course, when you write about a subject, the more you know about it, the easier it is. James has been being stuck in a car underwater and hung off a cliff, and those personal experiences come through in his writing.

James went on to Ravensboune Film School and was inspired to write by Graham Greene. He wrote children’s stories (no longer in print) before moving into more serious fiction, which started with the Possession in June 1988. Dreamer followed it up the next summer; both books making clear a strong belief he has in the paranormal. He wrote another eight books, moving to the crime genre, but his best was yet to come.

In 1994, in addition to conventional print publishing, Penguin published his novel, Host, on two floppy discs, billing it as ‘the world’s first electronic novel.’ It caused huge controversy, it was pilloried on the Radio 4 Today Programme for attempting to destroy the novel, and it was front page news on many papers around the globe, all equally furious.

In May 2005 the first of the Roy Grace series came out with the first book, Dead Simple another of his books I just couldn’t put down. So far there have been seven Roy Grace books, all of which have the word ‘Dead’ in the title.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet the great man on two occasions and a nicer man you could not wish to meet. The first time I met him he was doing a question and answer session with his readers and he explained how he went out in a squad car at least once a week. He found after a few journeys that every time he went into a restaurant he looked up and down to see if there were any criminals in. He later explained that criminals do the same thing, only they’re looking for the Police.

He has picked up numerous awards for his writing and his books have been published in thirty four languages around the world.

So what does the future hold for Peter James? I would say he’d write at least five more Roy Grace books, but my hope is that he doesn’t kill the main character off, which would feel like a death in the family. After that, I’d imagine he’d go back to the Paranormal.

If I’m half the author the great man is I’ll be a success; until then I’ll keep on writing.

Paul Moore

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to download from Amazon and Smashwords. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.