On Friday 19th September, accompanied by Macmillan marketing supremo Charlie King and my wonderful publicist, Claire Barnett, I gave the Roy Grace tour of Brighton to six lucky winners of the competition run by my publishers (see earlier blog entry).

One particular bonus of an event like this is that it gives me the opportunity to spend quality time with some of my readers and learn what their likes, dislikes (if any!!!) and anxieties/hopes for the future about the Roy Grace series are. And I have to say that the more I meet my readers, the more blessed I realize I am – all of you whom I have met, at readings, or events, are without exception, really delightful, which makes the hard slog of writing a joy… well, a joy when I deliver, at any rate!!! And the good news is that I have finally delivered the first draft of the new Roy Grace novel Dead Tomorrow last Thursday. It will be published next June – unfortunately the process of editing and proofing takes that long…

One of the competition winners, Martin Johns, a very charming man who runs a YMCA in Towcester, near Silverstone, wrote up the tour, wth much insight, which is printed below. The photographs show the winners, along with Charlie King and some geezer wot created Roy Grace. The pictures show us in front of the police car I donated to Sussex Police, accompanied by Inspector Roy Apps, then in front of the Royal Pavilion, and then cavorting along the seafront in a manner that reminds me of Keith Waterhouse’s immortal words: “Brighton always looks like a place that is helping the police with their enquires.”

Roy Grace Brighton tour with Peter James

Roy Grace Brighton tour with Peter James

Roy Grace Brighton tour with Peter James

But of course Roy Grace will always protect you when you are in Brighton. As Charlie King wrote in an piece on the tour which appeared in the trade magazine, The Bookseller, “Fortunately all of those who came on Peter James’s Roy Grace Tour, went home alive.”

Although of course it might have made a great new Roy Grace story had one of them not…

Here is Martin’s wonderful review of the tour:

A Tour of Roy Grace’s Brighton

Being a fan of the Peter James crime novels featuring detective Roy Grace I snapped at the chance of a tour of locations featured in the Grace series with the author himself as guide. So earlier in the year, more in hope than expectation, I entered an online competition. I wrote my 50 word tie breaker on why I wished to take part in a tour with Peter James and duly forgot all about it. Then in early September I received an email from the Pan Macmillan notifying me that I had won a place. Could I take part? Of course I could.

Autumn had arrived, summer having failed to precede it. The train journey to Brighton with Gill my wife was however in bright sunshine, a portent of good weather to come. My instructions were to meet up at a hotel close to Brighton’s splendid Victorian railway station. The minibus parked outside the hotel inspired confidence in me that the tour was on and I hadn’t been the victim of an internet hoax. There had been no request for me to wear a carnation or carry a folded copy of the Times to identify me as a competition winner.

Sauntering into the hotel foyer, I immediately spotted someone who was unmistakably Peter James at the bar ordering coffees. He looked fit and younger that his 59 years of age. Peter was dressed smartly but casually in a dark blue jacket, white embroidered shirt, pressed jeans and black polished shoes. He was wearing a large wristwatch that I suspect hadn’t been bought from a beach seller. In his button hole he sported small silver handcuffs, signifying a prize from I believe his German publisher.

I introduced myself and met four other competition winners, each like myself middle aged; two representatives from his publisher and the tour minibus driver. Without further ado we with off. First up was a multi-storey car park, alongside the hotel and site of where in Dead Man’s Footsteps the skeleton of a women is discovered in a storm drain during construction work. Nothing too special there, but next stop was to be the mortuary.

From its entrance off the busy London Road, the ‘extra curricular mortuary’ appeared to be an enlarged version of the famous Brighton beach hut. The innocuous building is of course the workplace of Cleo, Home Office pathologist and Roy Grace’s lover. The real life Cleo, as Peter tactfully put it isn’t as glamourous as her fictional realization. Cleo wasn’t around for us to check. The builders were however, making alterations to enable larger refrigerators to be installed to accommodate cadavers. Brighton’s dearly departed are now on average much bigger than in former times when a healthier lifestyle prevailed.

From the mortuary we headed out past Wild Park, where in 1986 two young girls were found murdered in what became known as the Babes in the Wood case. A self evident and salutary reminder that reality can be much more horrifying than mere crime fiction. At the edge of the city we came to the faded art deco style Sussex House, CID headquarters and where Detective Superintendent Grace has his office. The area next to ASDA is something of an industrial estate, where we witnessed police officers stocking up on snacks from a takeaway van.

From here we took the bypass out of the city and towards Shoreham. Coming into view on the horizon and set within spectacular countryside, overlooking the sea was the imposing sandstone gothic chapel of Lancing College. We turned off to visit the less imposing Shoreham airport.

Small airfields with no permanent customs can be important to the criminal fraternity as Peter pointed out to us. The reason for coming was however to observe the police special search section’s large bright yellow vehicle that’s based at the airport, together with the police helicopter. Peter revealed that his next book would involve a body washed up on shore and thus the involvement of police divers and search teams. The gruesome task of searching underwater in the pitch black for a body was discussed.

Peter announced that his next Roy Grace book to be titled Dead Tomorrow will involve the smuggling of human organs for transplants and features action set in Rumania. Peter James also told us that he was due to complete the book “this weekend.” It’s planned to be published in June 2009. Through the town of Shoreham, where Roy Grace lives, we passed the contrasting views of gravel dredgers and the homes of the rich and famous, and maybe in some cases infamous. Despite being in the top rank of British crime writers Peter hasn’t had the greatest of luck in winning literary prizes. As we journeyed he mused that he might have to put on his ‘best runner up face’ again when attending the soon to be held ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

The minibus took us back to Brighton; to the main police station. Here we were invited to have our photograph taken with Peter James, a couple of uniformed police officers and the police car he has sponsored. Peter like all writers are constantly on the conveyor belt of marketing and promoting his work. Of course the tour itself was very much a part of this publicity. As someone observing American literary life once observed ‘one dreams of the goddess Fame – and winds up with the bitch Publicity.’ Peter though appeared to thrive on it and good for him.

With Peter playing the role of the Pied Piper, whilst raving on about Brighton, we were off to walk through the area known as the Lanes. Its narrow streets far from clone Britain; an array of boutique shops, some perhaps a little more shabby than chic. The shop where side kick detective Glenn Branson gets Grace to modernize his wardrobe was pointed out. Writer Philip Roth’s biographer has written, “Going out with Philip Roth in Manhattan is like going with Louis XIV to Versailles: the King is in his kingdom.” To walk around Brighton with Peter James was like being with the King in his kingdom. That said, even on a warm sunny day Peter was painting a picture of the darker underbelly of this seaside town. Its high crime rate and level of drug misuse. The Brighton of piers, queers and racketeers.

Amid the outdoor cafes we furtively huddled in a group near a small green to be instructed by Peter in the practice of street drug dealing. Two young men wearing small rucksacks glanced over to us then quickly melted into the background.

Eventually we ended up on the seafront and onto the pier, where we were treated to fish and chips, with champagne. Over lunch Peter was eager to both answer and ask his readers questions. I asked about the rather awful Norman Potting with his scruffy appearance and sexual innuendos; a character redeemed by making breakthroughs through his diligence. Potting is included as to give reference to the politically correct constraints now imposed on the police. The good news for me is whilst disapproving of Potting’s opinions, I will enjoy the fact that he is featured more strongly in the next of the Grace series. We discussed plots, other characters, the problem of switching scenes, chapter and book length, among other things. His teasing end to Dead Man’s Footsteps with the reference to Sandy, Grace’s long disappeared wife was questioned. All Peter would reveal was that he does know what happened to Sandy. We’ll have to wait. Peter James described how he carefully chooses the names of his characters. Cleo comes from Clea Montis, a character in Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.

It was time to say our goodbyes. My overall impression of the tour was of Peter James’s willingness to engage with his readership face to face and being generous with his time. Peter’s genuine love of Brighton came across strongly, as did his determination to conduct detailed research and represent police procedure accurately. Most of all came over his respect for the police in doing such a difficult and challenging job; a job Peter said he’s not brave enough to do himself.

Should I retire to Brighton and start up the Roy Grace Tours? After all you can do the Rebus Tour in Edinburgh. I think I’ll wait for a few more Roy Grace books before making up my mind.

© Martin Johns