by Jim Palmer, leisure editor
When your books have sold more than 15 million copies all over the world, it is difficult to imagine you would be jittery about your most popular one being adapted for the stage.
Especially since the first stage adaptation of your work – last year’s The Perfect Murder – was so well received.
But Peter James, author of 26 novels including 10 Roy Grace murder mysteries, admits a little fear over Dead Simple, which makes its stage debut at The Orchard Theatre in Dartford on January 14.
Peter said: “I’m nervous about Dead Simple because it has been the biggest selling of all 26 books I have written and technically it is pretty challenging to stage.”
The story begins with a stag night prank gone wrong and the prospective groom (EastEnders and Hollyoaks’ Jamie Lomas) buried alive.
Peter said: “The set designers have done a very clever job on this. There is a major change in the second act. The hard thing was deciding how to portray the coffin.
“Jamie Lomas is really enthusiastic, going for it. He has got a great attitude for it.”
He added: “We have had to make quite a few changes to the book and it has got a different ending so that people who know the book won’t be able to go ‘I know what’s coming’.”
As with The Perfect Murder, Peter has been heavily involved with every step of the production from working with scriptwriter Sean McKenna to assisting with casting and being present for rehearsals.
He said: “I had three books adapted for television some years back and I so disliked the way they went about it and I vowed that anything else I had adapted I would have an element of control over.”
As a youngster Peter visited the Theatre Royal in Brighton every week and said it was a big ambition to have a stage show.
He said: “I think fear works really well (on stage). I was a big fan of Woman in Black and it is very chilling on stage. I think that worked better on stage than on television.”
Peter’s work has benefitted from many years of working with the police and his knowledge of the way they work and the idiosyncrasies of police speak have helped make his novels so popular.
But the way his research started many years ago was unconventional: he had just released his first novel when he was burgled. The policeman who came to his house spotted his book and offered him the chance to hang out with the officers for research.
Peter said: “Over a few years I started meeting their friends and they were homicide detectives, traffic cops, divers, crime scene investigators, response officers – I just found that world fascinating as a writer.
“Nobody sees more of human life in a 30 year career than a cop. They see everything.”
Peter’s most famous character, detective Roy Grace, was based on a real police officer and for the stage version of Dead Simple, Peter persuaded him to come and visit the cast.
As well as characters, Peter has also gained story inspiration from real police tales.
But Dead Simple came from Peter’s personal experience.
He said: “I went on a pub crawl of Sussex pubs and fetched up in Brighton about midnight and my friends thought it would be hugely fun to strip me and leave me stark naked except for my red socks on top of a pillarbox and then phone the police and say there was a naked pervert in the city.
“I spent the night in a cell.”
He added: “When I was a kid I read Edgar Allan Poe’s Premature Burial and it had a big impact on me.
“I just thought ‘what would be the worst thing you could do to someone on their wedding stag night?’ Put them in a coffin. And then get killed so they’re stuck there.”
Peter, 66, has had a long career, latterly as novelist but also as a screenwriter and producer in America.
It all began when he studied at Ravensbourne College, then based in Bromley.
He said: “One of my most abiding memories of film school was the only cockroach farm in the UK at that time was in Bromley.
“It was a terraced house and it had an enormously long garden. It must have been 100-150 yards long and it was just sheds in which this guy had every type of cockroach.
“I had no idea there were so many different breeds. There must have been hundreds of different breeds.
“I will always remember him, he’d say: ‘the thing is, if you want this guy to be active, you put him in a frying pan and just gently warm him up for a few minutes. And if you want him passive, put him in the fridge for about two hours.’
“I used that in one of the Roy Grace books.”