The British crime author Peter James is back with Want You Dead, the latest thriller to feature his popular detective Roy Grace. He speaks to us about his newest work and dark inspiration.

You have published a new book annually for the past 10 years, not to mention regularly visiting literary festivals. When do you actually have the time to write?

 I do plan my life a certain amount when it comes to my work. But at the same time there are certain things that also happen that you don’t expect. It’s like what John Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” People think the life of a writer is to just sit in your garage, write a big book and then go have a long lunch. But I do spend half of my year attending book festivals and I write when I am doing it. So I got used to writing in the back of the car and I remember finishing one novel on a plane to Singapore.

 Your latest book Want You Dead has you focusing on the darker side of online dating. How did the idea come to you?

 A lot of what I write is influenced by real life. With Want You Dead, the origins of that book was when a detective from Brighton phoned me up. He told me a story about a [female] doctor who signed up to an online dating agency. She met a man and she liked him but he was a little bit clingy. The man had a very colourful past and every time he would come to see her he would leave something in her flat, like he was stealthily moving in. Now the girl’s mother, she was suspicious about him and she hired a private detective to investigate and she discovered he had a real dark past. That gave me the inspiration for this novel.

Want You Dead is a real page-turner. Would it be fair to say that your writing style in the series has developed, whereby the plots are faster now?

 I would say that. The first Roy Grace book [2005’s Dead Simple] was pretty fast-paced, but I gave myself the luxury in the new books of slowing it down a little bit and going more into depth. I am now deliberately writing at a faster pace again. I basically like writing the way I like to read. I want people to get hooked on the first sentence. That’s why I spend weeks on the first line or first page. Because that to me is everything. 

With Roy Grace being such a loved character, do you feel like he belongs to readers now as opposed to being solely your creation?

 I do feel like people have ownership when it comes to Roy Grace. So I have to be careful about what I do with him. I get so many emails that say “Don’t let him do this” or “He is now in a happy relationship so don’t ruin it”. People get heated about it, to be honest. That’s a great predicament to be in as an author. I love it. I love the fact that Sherlock Holmes is still receiving letters at Baker Street. I think the hardest thing in writing is to create a believable character and one that people fall in love with. When a writer does that, then it becomes even more difficult, as Arthur Conan Doyle found out when he wanted to get rid of Sherlock Holmes and do something else. People didn’t want that, they wanted Sherlock Holmes.

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