Bestselling crime-fiction writer and producer PETER JAMES chats with DIVYA KAUSHIK on interesting stories which gave birth to his spine-chilling thrillers
Thank God Peter James thought of weaving his real-life encounters and stories he came across into bestselling thrillers, else the world would have been deprived of such nail-biting, spine-chilling novels. He truly is the man of stories and a charmer, who took a stopover in Delhi while he was on his way to Bengaluru. Over tea in the manicured lawns of The Imperial he told us that he finished one of his novels while travelling and how easy it is for him to cut off from his surroundings and immerse himself in his world of crime and mystery. James is most popular for his Roy Grace novels and the latest in the series of Dead Man’s Time. Like everything else in James’ life, Roy Grace too has an interesting story about its existence as one of the prime characters in his novels.
James was happy to share it. “For the last many years I have had a relationship with the police in my home area in Sussex. It started when we got a burglary and a young detective came to our house to take the fingerprints. He saw my first book, which didn’t get published then, and asked me if I am a writer. He gave me his card and I became friendly and started moving more often with him while he was on a job and realised they have a fascinating job. I am interested in human story and nobody sees a human life as closely as cops do. He took me to an office in Brighton to a detective inspector who was in his mid-30s then. He was called David Gaylor and I noticed there were crates all over the floor and it was a mess. I asked him, ‘Are you moving office?’ He replied, ‘No these are my dead friends.’ He said that each one of those was the case file of an unsolved murder – what we now know as ‘cold cases.’ He said ‘I’ve been put in charge of reopening these. I’m the last chance the victims have for justice, and I’m the last chance the families have for closure.’ We became good friends. I was writing my early books then and I went with him during the case investigations. I realised how every murder is a puzzle. Dave helped me know the police procedures and got me through to people who would tell me how they approach the case. In 2001, my publishers asked if I have ever thought of creating a fictional cop as my central character. I went to Dave and asked him if he would like to be a fictional cop. He loved the idea and that was how Roy Grace was born. While I am writing my books, we discuss stories and he reads over 100 pages of the novel and guides me how Detective Grace would think and act or conduct the case. So there is a real person behind Superintendent Roy Grace. “
Peter wanted to write since childhood and the first thing he wrote was a letter to Enid Blyton, saying “I just read Five on a Treasure Island and they have spent seven days on the treasure island and none of them used a toilet.” She was kind to reply to her little fan. When he was 11, he read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. “It showed me the crime underbelly of Brighton. I was completely blown away by the account. I was born and raised in Brighton and I was shocked to read his account,” he said. So is Graham Greene the reason he chooses to base his novels in Brighton? “Not really. One should always write about what one knows the best. Every crime novel has to be based on a location. Brighton since 1932, has been called the ‘Crime Capital of England.’ It is a wonderful place with beautiful seaside but it is known for its antique trade and dark underbelly which Graham Greene exposed perfectly. Brighton has a major sea port on either side, good for importing drugs, great for exporting cash, stolen cars, stolen antiques. It’s got the largest number of antique shops in the UK, so it’s a great place to fence stolen goods. There are different kinds of crimes in different parts of the world and each crime writer has to base his writings in some part.”
Most of James’ stories come from real life cases. Dead Man’s Time came because a New York cop told him about his uncle who had a nourishing mafia and was shot in his bed in front of his four year old son. The novel also exposes illegal antique trade of Brighton. His novel Not Dead Yet was inspired by his own stalker. “I had a stalker for about 11 years and it was really scary. The cops said they could not do anything unless she kills me,” he told us. Dead Like You was inspired from the real life case of a rapist “who used to pick up woman with sexy stilettoes. I always wanted to write about rape as rape victims are rarely spoken about and cases are mostly not reported.”
James has been involved in 26 movies as a writer or producer. He was nominated for a Bafta for his film The Merchant of Venice. Now we are waiting to see one of his Grace series as a film but he said, “It is a different ball game. I enjoy writing as you can explain a lot of things through chapters. In a film you have to condense everything.”
As he was signing off, we noticed he has some traits of the characters he weaves – a mysterious smile and roving eyes.