HE’s an international bestselling author with 25 novels under his belt.
Arguably Britain’s biggest name in crime fiction, Peter James number one bestselling thriller series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace has sold 14 million copies worldwide and given him six consecutive Sunday Times number ones, as well as chart toppers in Germany, France, Russia and Canada.
His books have been translated into 36 languages.
In a previous life, Peter was involved in 26 movies – starring the likes of Robert de Niro, Sharon Stone and Michael Caine – in writing or producing roles.
And he’s about to have another lifelong dream realised right here in Southampton on the Mayflower stage next week.
His novella The Perfect Murder, which was 15 weeks at number one and remained for nearly a year in the top ten, has been transformed into a stage play, starring Les Dennis and Claire Goose.
“It’s a dream,” the 65-year-old enthuses.
“I grew up in Brighton where my parents had regular seats at the Theatre Royal and I used to sit there and dream of being a writer. Even back then, I thought I’d just love to see something I’d written on stage. I can’t quite believe it’s happening.
“I love theatre, to me it’s so magical.
“The curtain goes up and the audience are buzzing. There’s nothing else like it, the magic of theatre, to me it’s the biggest thrill of all.
“I’ve got a film in development and more books. I’d love to do a play a year of my books. Of all the things I’m doing, it’s the play that excites me more than anything.
“Wherever I am in the world, I try to go to see theatres, after all they say all the world is a stage. It’s massively exciting, but it’s going to be very nerve-racking, I think.
“But I’m thrilled with it as it has the essence of the book. The story is the same, except that it’s been expanded. It’s been turned from a novella into something really theatrical.
“I’m very protective of my work. Three films have been made of the books, which I completely and utterly hated, but this works wonderfully well.”
I’m talking to Peter in the rather apt surroundings of a plush converted prison cell inside the bar of London’s Courthouse Hotel.
He wears dark jeans and a dark jacket, adorned with a handcuffs pin badge, and dark spectacles. He is softly spoken and articulate.
Peter is always very aware of his surroundings, constantly on the lookout for new ideas.
“Most of my books spring from something that I have come across – often in the criminal world,”
he tells me.
He now spends a great deal of time in prisons – for research and in a bid to improve the average reading age which currently sits at nine – as well as on patrol in Sussex, in mortuaries and just mixing with police officers.
He met the inspiration for Roy Grace when he was burgled back in 1981 and The Perfect Murder came about after a throwaway conversation at a crime convention.
“Six years ago, I was talking to the Chief Constable of Sussex and I asked him whether he thought there was such a thing as a perfect murder and he said absolutely it’s the one we never hear about.
“A total of 230,000 people go missing every year. Most turn up in days, but if they’re gone for a month, they’re normally gone. Some will have run off and reinvented themselves, some have an accident, some are abducted.
“In the UK, there are 600 homicides each year and I’ve spoken to quite a few detectives at all levels that think there are probably the same amount again that you never hear about.
“The Perfect Murder is probably a husband murdering his wife or the other way around I decided and it went from there.”
Peter, a selfproclaimed petrolhead who likes to race classic cars in his spare time, has been able to poke fun at his adversaries through his writing.
He was at Charterhouse School cramming for Oxford entrance with fellow author Martin Amis, but didn’t see him again until an awards ceremony in 2010.
Peter takes up the story. “I went up and said, ‘You might not remember me, but we were at school together.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t remember you – and you only remember me because I’m famous.
“I stormed off and wrote on Twitter that I had just met the rudest writer on the planet. Ian Rankin (fellow crime writer) asked who it was. I told him and said I was going to get my revenge by writing Amis into the next book and giving him a very small penis. He bet me £1,000 for charity I wouldn’t. I still have a copy of the cheque framed!”
In Not Dead Yet, Amis Smallbone is ridiculed by a prostitute, who compares his manhood to a stubby pencil.
Revenge is sweet for Peter.
But he’s also seen the sinister side of celebrity as the victim of a stalker, something he also used as a plot.
“For 11 years, she turned up almost every week at every single event and would email me.
Five years in, she sent me photographs of a kind of shrine she had with articles and pictures taken with a long lens into my property.
“This was before the stalking laws were changed and there wasn’t a lot the police could do. But I upped security, because it was quite scary.
“I hadn’t had anything for a year and a half when she turned up at the library looking completely different and expecting me to know her. I got a 10,000 word email after that, so decided to do a piece with the Sunday Telegraph on my experiences of being stalked. I was getting five to 20 emails a day, but then it stopped. So she’s either now planning to kill me or she’s got the message.”
For such an engaging story-teller with many more tales to tell, I sincerely hope it’s the latter.
- The Perfect Murder is at the Mayflower Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets are available from 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk.