As Peter James’ next book comes out this month, Laura Cartledge gets the inside story on the author’s writing.
It isn’t surprising to learn crime and thriller writer Peter James is passionate about reading as well as writing.
But what is interesting is that while the author goes into prisons to give talks promoting literacy, he’s just as interested in being there to listen.
The results of conversations with inmates have featured in his novels, including his last offering Love You Dead which features a black widow storyline.
“Five years ago I was giving a talk in a prison near Manchester and there was one lady who was clearly well read, asking lots of questions about lots of authors and I was fascinated about what she was in for,” he recalls. “So I made a beeline for her afterwards. You don’t ask ‘what you are in for’ as that isn’t the etiquette, but I asked ‘how long do you have left?’
“The lady replied nine and a half years and how it was for poisoning her mother-in-law, whose bank account she had embezzled.
“She had gone into hospital to die, she said, but she didn’t die – she came home ‘the old bag’. So she poisoned her and then realising her husband would find out so she had to poison him too.”
While Peter admits he discounts 99.9 per cent of the information he comes across, he says ‘usually it is something that captures me’.
“I can have moments after you meet someone and think ‘that is it’,” he enthuses. “I love it when you get that moment and think I know what I am going to write. I have a few things cooking at the moment.”
Something he says is helped by the ever-evolving nature of crime.
Peter’s latest offering, Need You Dead, is testament to this and he deems it to be ‘a modern spin on the classic who done it’.
“It is very interesting how the incidents have changed and I wanted to reflect that in my writing,” he agrees. “The nature of crime has changed a lot, I remember about 12 years ago I was at Brighton nick for the morning meeting where they review everything that has happened in the last 24 hours. The detective said it was a historic day as there had been no break ins overnight and I said ‘you’ve done it, you’ve solved crime’, only for him to explain that now the traditional burglar who would climb up your drainpipe can make much more money selling drugs or with internet fraud with much lower penalties.
“This latest novel is very much hinged on a key suspect who is a victim of cyber crime.”
The 13th offering in Peter’s Roy Grace series is released on May 18 and tells the story of Lorna, a woman stuck in a ‘marriage from hell’.
“She has been having an affair with a man called Greg who has been promising he will leave his wife and start a new life with her,” reveals Peter. “But everything she’s been told is a lie and she plans to confront him.”
When Lorna is then found dead in the bath in Brighton, it might seem a open and shut case, but in true Peter James style as the investigation lengthens so does the list of suspects.
While Peter confesses he is fond of bringing forensic and technological advances into his writing, he states ‘policing is still a massively human endeavour and I can’t see that changing for the forseeable future’.
“At the end of the day I think the most important thing in fighting crime still boils down to good policing,” he adds. “The technology is helping but it needs out of the box thinking.”
A quality Peter’s next book sounds like it will serve up by the ark-load.
“It is a thriller on what would happen if someone had absolute proof of God’s existence,” he says simply, explaining the stand alone which is due out in October has been 23 years in the writing.
“That came about from a chance phone call one June afternoon,” he confesses. “A man asked, are you Peter James? The author? And when I said yes he said ‘thank goodness I have been phoning every Peter James in the phone book for the last two weeks’.”
The man asked for four days of his time, to which Peter said ‘I can give you half an hour’.
“I was intrigued,” Peter smiles. “When the man arrived he said ‘it was good of you to see me, you and I have to save the world’.”
What followed involved compass references and an epic manuscript, which soon planted a seed in Peter’s mind.
The result he describes as being within ‘Dan Brown terrain’, before adding ‘but I am hoping it will be better’.
When asked if he can imagine doing anything else, Peter replies: “When I was a kid I wanted to do three things, I wanted to make films, write books and race cars.
“I did the films for the first part of my career then decided I prefered writing the books and I do the cars for my hobby.
“I am compelled to write and I would write even if I wasn’t getting paid. I love the whole process.”
Need You Dead, by Peter James, published by Pan Macmillan in hardback is released on May 18 at £20, find out more at www.peterjames.com
This first featured in the May edition of etc Magazine pick up your copy now.