Updated: Feb 19, 2021
The very first Peter James book I read was Alchemist. A very powerful book, it changed the way I viewed not only the pharmaceutical industry but the way in which all big industries are run. It did what all good books should – it got me thinking. The second I read was Sweet Heart, a chiller of a tale that delves into aspects of the paranormal. What inspired you to write both books?
Thank you! For Alchemist - I’ve always been interested in conspiracy theories – the idea that there is a group of people who secretly control the world! I met the head of one of our biggest pharmaceutical companies who told me that his company were busy patenting human genes and that the ultimate power in the world will lie in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. For Sweet Heart – I became interested in of past life regression and underwent it myself as an experiment and it gave me the idea for this book.
I read in a newspaper article that The House on Cold Hill, your most recent paranormal book, released in October 2015, was inspired by true life events – can you tell us more about this?
The House On Cold Hill is very much inspired by – and modelled on – an isolated historic house in Sussex that my former wife and I bought in 1989, and lived in for a decade – which turned out to be very seriously haunted. Whilst I have never actually seen a ghost, there were things that happened at that house I really couldn’t explain. I saw on many occasions, tiny pinpricks of white light floating in the air. A medium who I used a lot during my writing of Possession, visited my house and she told me I was slightly psychic, and that is why I saw these pinpricks, and that while I was not actually seeing the entire apparition, I was picking up on some of its energy.
We both base our books in and around Brighton (our mutual hometown). How important is location to you and why?
For me there was only ever one location for Roy Grace to be based….my hometown of Brighton. To the outsider, Brighton is a hip, beautiful seaside city, but it has a long history of darkness - right back to its roots as a smugglers village! In Regency days it gained a reputation both as a fashionable bathing resort, but in 1841 when the London-Brighton railway line opened, criminals flooded down from London, finding rich pickings and a much nicer environment than their city! They brought cock-fighting, prostitution, pick-pockets, muggers, smugglers, burglars, and gangs. Simultaneously, with the railway enabling quick access from London, many wealthy Londoners brought their mistresses down here and it became known as a place for “dirty weekends”.
Three consecutive past Chief Constables of Sussex Police have all told me that Brighton is the favoured place in the UK for first division criminals to live in. The reasons are: Firstly it has a lot of escape routes, very important to all criminals: It has the Channel ports, Eurotunnel, and Gatwick Airport just 25 minutes away. London is only 50 minutes by train. It has a major seaport on either side – Shoreham and Newhaven, perfect for importing drugs and exporting stolen cars, antiques and cash. It has the largest number of antique shops in the UK – perfect for laundering stolen goods and cash. For many recent years it held the title the Tourist Board do not like me mentioning: “Injecting Drug Death Capital of England”! It has a wealthy young population combined with the largest gay community in the UK, providing a big market for recreational drugs. It has two universities, so a big drug-taking student community. A huge number of nightclubs and a large transient population. Very importantly it has not been over-written by other writers.
One of the characters in my books, Ness Patterson, a psychic, has worked with Brighton Police in the past to solve some rather heinous crimes. How open is Roy Grace, the main protagonist of your crime novels, to using the paranormal in this way? I ask because in the very early books I remember it was suggested.
A key aspect to Roy Grace’s character is his open-minded attitude to the paranormal. This is not just in his searching for his missing wife, Sandy, but his willingness to turn to the occult when desperate on a case. I have come to realize that being open-minded to absolutely everything is a key asset for an effective homicide detective. The use of mediums by police in the USA is far more openly commonplace than it is here – but I have met many UK police officers, at all levels from Chief Constables down, who are more than prepared to talk to any sensible medium who claims to have information. As one said to me: “If I am in a desperate situation and all else has failed, I would be derelict in my duties if I failed to listen to a medium who claimed to have information.”
I’m sure we’re all intrigued – what’s a typical writing day like for Peter James? Do you tend to do all your research before you sit down to write a book or research as you go?
My whole writing day is back to front… It is from the time when I was writing novels whilst working full time in film and television as a screen writer and producer, so I had to make my “Me time” to write. My writing day starts at 6pm in the evening, when I mix a large vodka martini, with four olives, put on some music, light up a cigar and get into a zone. I try to ensure that whatever I’m doing I leave myself time to write 1000 words 6 days a week. In terms of research – a lot I do before, but then as I progress I realise there is more I need to learn, and I’m an absolute stickler for research.
Who are your favourite authors in the paranormal genre?
Stephen King, M R James, Edgar Allan Poe.
The writing industry is a tough business and, in many ways, it is getting tougher. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
The best possible advice I can give to any aspiring writer is to read, read, read, and analyse, and write, write, write. Writing is a craft, and any craft is improved with practice. But most importantly is to read the most successful of the kind of works you would yourself like to write: So if you want to be, for instance, a crime thriller writer, read the blockbusters of the past fifty years. Analyse them, literally deconstruct them and try to figure out what made them so popular. This is what I did when I started out. I took the books I most admired, the ones I most wished I had written, and literally read them until I knew them inside out.
And (keeping fingers crossed!) do you plan to release any more books in the paranormal genre?
I had a great time writing The House On Cold Hill, and certainly plan to write more in this field. Possibly even a sequel!
Find Peter James on social media:
My brand new YouTube channel: www.peterjames.com/YouTube
My website www.peterjames.com